I have a terrible memory when it comes to my own life. Ask me where you've seen that actor before, and I'll troll around my brain until I find the answer. Make an inquiry into the state of Scott Weiland's career, and I'll have your back. But the moment you mention that one night we discussed possible solutions to my smoke detector problem--the incessant beeping, a sharp trill every forty-five seconds, bothered me so much I ripped the whole thing off the wall, and I won't remember I've removed the offending equipment, let alone recall the conclusion to which we came, or even that I floated the idea of hammering it into submission, though that certainly sounds like a suggestion I'd make.
Therefore, personal essays present a problem. How can you trust that my story is accurate? How, for that matter, can I trust it?
I suppose we never know for sure. Fact checkers can come in behind us and do some sleuthing, making every attempt to verify details presented in the work. However, that will never be enough. Someone will always come forward and say, "It didn't happen that way at all." In the case of James Frey, we may realize as a reading public that the author has duped us.
My advice is to take the following approach: acknowledge that you're presenting the truth as you know it, that things may be missing or condensed, that someone is bound to disagree. Be as honest as possible, not only with your readers, but with yourself. Lying won't get you anywhere.
And in the event that you find yourself veering into untruthful territory, perhaps you should stop and start over with the intention of crafting a piece of fiction. You'll save yourself and everyone else a great deal of strife.