Every addict has a story to tell
By Steve Wildsmith | (email@example.com)
Addiction memoirs are curious things.
For a recovering addict like me, they’re fascinating glimpses into an alternate reality, because most of the stories mirror mine. The writers of some travel to lower depths, while others may have profoundly different insights on the back end. Most, however, try to frame the experience as a cautionary tale for the majority of non-addict readers who happen to pick them up, and they usually follow a similar format:
• This is what it was like when I was young.
• I had a beer/a joint/a pill, and it opened up doors of perception in my brain that altered the way I saw the world.
• It was fun, at first. And then it wasn’t.
• I hit a bottom of dereliction and degradation and profound misery that most people can only imagine.
• I found salvation through Jesus, a 12-Step program or sheer force of will.
• My life is profoundly better.
Such a narrative is par for the course for most people who come out of the other side of addiction, and it’s no different in the 2008 memoir by New York Times journalist David Carr in his 2008 book, “Night of the Gun.” Carr, however, takes a different approach: He treats his subject matter — himself — as if he’s reporting an actual story. He digs up old arrest and treatment records and interviews dozens of old friends, acquaintances, co-workers and lovers. And in so doing, he finds out that the way he remembers things doesn’t exactly line up true with reality.
At its heart, it’s an addiction memoir, but “Night of the Gun” also tells the story of how memory — especially one damaged, altered and addled by chemicals — can be a faulty thing. It shook up his perception of events and, ultimately, himself, and I found myself wondering how my story might change should I undertake the same sort of narrative journey.
Some people from my past — Lee, my old running buddy back in Myrtle Beach; or Haig, a friend I met in my second treatment center — are still around and doing well, from what I can tell on Facebook and in periodic conversations. Others, however, are lost to the forces of time and addiction, and I can only speculate as to where they might be. Guys like Jo-Jo and Big Anthony, for example, were cut from similar cloth when it came to drugs, but their lives revolved around the hard streets and bad neighborhoods of which I was just a visitor. They were born there and lived there, and chances are they’re either still there or they died there. I hope not, but I know addiction well enough to say their odds of escaping weren’t good.
But then again, some people probably said that about me. And in the end, my speculation doesn’t matter, because we all have our own reality to live.
I’ve tried my best over the years to write columns that are true to the best of my knowledge. I don’t like to glorify my using days, but neither am I going to pretend that it was sheer misery from start to finish. That would be untrue, because every addict who winds up homeless, friendless and without a job or family willing to answer the doorbell was once a drug user who felt invincible and on top of the world in the beginning.
The good times, however, quickly fade, and the trap of addiction is that the memories of those times tend to linger long after the bad ones have faded. But in telling my story over and over, I can stay in touch with the depths of despair from which I escaped. I can remind myself of the darkness that almost claimed me, and I don’t ever have to go back.
All I can tell is my own story — to the best of my recollection, with all the honesty I can muster, and find peace in that telling. So far, that’s worked for me. I’m no recovery expert by any means, but I am an expert on my own life, and to date it’s been one heck of a ride. I’m grateful I’m still around to take it.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.