I will never write about addiction, even though I should. I do not visit its hard landscape easily. I lived there once. It consumed me. The Addict dragged me to its jagged edge and left me there screaming as he plunged into its heart. When I am forced to describe addiction to others, I use spare language. I do not embellish. There are no colors or smells or quirky characters we met along the way. There are nouns and verbs. They are black and they are white. This is very unusual for me. When I am forced to remember addiction, however, it is vivid. Like a slide show set too fast in HD. Each lurid frame stands out, in Technicolor, then clicks to the next. There was the suspicion. Have you ever watched a soul grow gaunt? My conviction. The confirmation. Sneaking out of the house. Lying. Stealing. Weird friends in weird places. Dozens of justifications. Holding him prisoner at the cabin until we could find a bed. A facility in a canyon, literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Committment. Counselors whose only credentials were their personal addictions. Daily letters. Embracing 12 Steps. Success. Failure. Rejection. Ejection. A trip over the pass to the canyon in an old Land Cruiser with a broken windshield. Liberating him, guns blazing. Me thinking I could love him out of it. Holding him prisoner in the cabin again. The first AA meeting. And the next. And the next. The slides are clicking by so quickly now. My throat tightens at the show, because I know what is next. My mother dying unexpectedly 72 hours later and 3000 miles away. Him in the church giving the eulogy in my father’s kilt, looking like shit, but pouring humor and love eloquently from the pulpit. The relapse twelve hours later. The next AA meeting. Enrolling him in a school program. Running away. The worst words I had ever heard hurled at me in a coffee shop. A homeless woman coming to my defense. Changing locks. Telling me not to go to his graduation (I went anyway). The rat hole where he lived with a horrid girl (I can still get the dry heaves over the smell). Looking back, it seems as if I arrived there all at once and it lasted forever. Maybe that is because it does.
I will never write about addiction, even though The Addict says I should. Later that year I went to a yoga retreat in Nayarit, Mexico. We ate good food and shook our chakras. We spent time on the mat, detoxed, played in the surf, napped on hammocks. People poured their “nevers” onto the bamboo floor of the pagoda where we practiced. But I never once said the word “drug” or “addiction” out loud. When I came home and told The Addict, he told me I needed to get over it and move on, as in talk and write about it, because he had.
I read the Daily Prompt: Never (June 5). I did not have to ask what I would never write about. I already knew.
The Addict’s name is not really The Addict, of course. He is my son and it is ugly to call him The Addict even to make a point. He is funny, handsome, a writer, a fashionista, kind, popular, and beloved. He held a job for three years until he got another. He gets there on time and performs well. He sings beautifully. He remembers to write thank you notes. He can get good grades. He holds most of our extended family close with his texts and posts, which alternate between hilarious and touching. He lives in an apartment that is usually clean. He remembers to feed his cat.
Several months ago David Sheff published, Clean, Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. Sheff is a journalist. I had read Beautiful Boy, Sheff’s account of his family’s journey through son Nic’s addiction. I went to hear Sheff talk about his book at a local recovery cafe in April. I did not want to go to the recovery cafe to spend the evening thinking or hearing about addiction. I do not want to go anywhere to do that. What new could there be to know? On a certain level, I had come to think, all of our individual addiction stories are recycled from scraps of the collective story. But I went because I already felt a kinship with Sheff through Beautiful Boy. Not going, I thought, would be like not bothering to meet up with a friend in town on business just for the day.
I read Beautiful Boy long, long before I entered the addiction landscape. And when I put it down, I felt as if Sheff had described my own beautiful boy. The similarities were eerie, but I was able to shrug them off with a smugness that only mothers whose eldest children have not yet hit puberty enjoy. As I closed the book, I knew my beautiful boy was upstairs sleeping in a clean bed. He could, and would, still curl his long tan limbs in my lap. And I always knew where he was. We were all so far from the ragged years ahead.
I went that night and I listened. Sheff’s premise is that America’s approach to addiction is all wrong. Addiction is a disease, not a moral failure. Psychological and cognitive disorders are frequently at the root of drug use. “Most drug use isn’t about drugs; it’s about life.” And most of all, there is no “tough love, only love.”
I downloaded the book to my iPad before I reached my car.
I think it is time to write about addiction.