THE LOVE AFFAIR OF ADDICTION
In May of 2001, I wrote an essay for Time magazine that I had titled The Love Affair of Addiction. They changed the title to Dope: A Love Story, but other than that, they didn’t change a word. I’ve been going through a huge stack of my past articles, knowing I have to embark on the arduous task of scanning them and saving them on disk rather than on paper in a manilla folder. Since I’m particularly proud of this piece I decided to edit it down a bit and re-print it on my website. So, with a few edits and trims, here it is again 12 years later:
I once knew a girl who fell deeply in love at the vulnerable age of 15; her paramour was drugs. The girl would look at you with wide, dark eyes that seemed simultaneously to plead for understanding while pushing you away. Her lover came in several disguises – white cross Methedrine, orange triangles of Dexedrine, “black beauties,” long white lines of coke. She followed her lover everywhere – into parking lots with strangers, into dark cars, into the shadows along steep mountain roads, into apartments with five locks on the doors. When her lover wasn’t with her, she was left with her own terror of how to move through the world alone. She didn’t know how to deal with people alone; she needed her partner, her other half. You need to know this about drugs: unlike people, drugs don’t judge you or look at you too closely. They don’t ask you to reveal yourself or confide your secrets. They just take you away – far away. They let you hide, escape, which is what frightened people long to do.
One night this girl’s terror became too much. She sat alone in a bathroom, dark except for the blue-white glow of the streetlamp outside spilling across her hands, her wrists, the small square of the razor blade as it moved closer to the soft web of her veins. She imagined blood spilling over white porcelain. She imagined the end. But someone had told her something long ago when she was a child – that God put each of us here for a reason. A thought took shape in her mind, even through the jangle of nerves and the blur of emotions, ragged by then from years of drug use. She felt God’s heart breaking at the touch of cold steel on her soft young wrist. She felt like she was betraying Him. She put the blade back into the medicine cabinet.
That girl was me. I was 19 at the time. My story would be neatly tied up if I said that after that night, after I put away the razor blade, I never did drugs again. But stories are rarely that neat. It was years before I divorced my lover. I lost work, I risked my life, I even stole prescription pills from people’s medicine cabinets. I’d reach past the razor blades and grab the pills. Dying can be accomplished in many different ways. I finally stopped because I kept feeling I was letting God down, because I didn’t want to die that way, and because I knew my lover was cold and cruel, hardly faithful.
But love always leaves a shadow. Every time I see a movie in which people are doing coke, I can almost taste it in the back of my throat. The memory feels too close, the desire a spark that can never be completely extinguished. But I chose decades ago to live every day, every month, every year without the lover who once took away my fear. I don’t know why the world is scarier for some people, why some of us run toward the refuge of drugs. But I do know why some of us quit. I followed the white lines of coke laid out on mirror after mirror. In the end I was left with just the mirror. I had to look at myself.