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Strolling “Craigs List Avenue” for Drugs: Tatiana’s Story

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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For the past few weeks, I’ve been going to Bronx, NY with photographer Chris Arnade, collecting and documenting stories of addicts in poverty-striken areas to be part of a larger series I’ll begin sharing here. This week, we met a young woman named Tatiana as a residential patient at a substance abuse clinic.

Tatiana is 24, from “a good family” that raised her in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and she began using opiates in 2009. At her low point, she began selling herself to get heroin, on “Craigs List Avenue,” as noted in her poem below. She’s had thoughts of suicide, fantasizing about throwing herself in front of the subway train, and cut herself when she was younger. For drugs, she renounced her full college scholarship.

Now, she’s been clean for 100 days and wants to go back to school, into international nursing, perhaps working in refugee camps. The poem she shares below is semi-autobiographical, the rest collected from other addicts in recovery. When asked what she would say to other addicts, she explains, “There’s a better way.” To non-addicts she would say, “Addicts are sensitive people who don’t know how to deal with their emotions.”

Take a look at Tatiana’s portrait, and see more of her story on Chris’s flickr page, the beginning of his “Faces of Recovery” photo series.

What’s the disease of addiction mean to you?
The inability to stop
jamming a needle into your veins
though you don’t have any good ones left?
What about sleeping in cardboard
boxes, park benches, in stairwells
because you needed the next one.
Fuck rent, light, food –
just use.

What was your hustle?
Sell drugs you didn’t even do?
Sell anything & everything –
TVs, food stamps, refrigerators, household products
Hell,
your body will do.
Finding yourself behind dumpsters,
alleyways, cars you didn’t even know
Or did you stroll on Craigs List Avenue?
starting with “strictly massages”.
But that’s not enough for the Beast within.
It needs you to hate yourself more.
Lower prices for higher (risks
of) bundles, rocks, bags,
that didn’t even get you high anymore.

It’s what makes you steal from your family
manipulate your mentally ill grandmother
into giving you money
what makes you lie to anyone you’ve
ever
cared about.

It goes much deeper than that.
Not a moral deficiency
but a sickness that kills
with proficiency
that starts when you’re little –
the people pleasin’ & actin’ out
wanting to be fitted for a new set of skin
because the one you had itched
and there was a hole in the seam
(where your soul seeped out)
and it was never good enough
for anybody –
not realizing you didn’t have to be good
enough for anyone but yourself.

It’s what makes you believe you’ll be right back
this time
Because this time,
it will be different.
It has to be — because I’M in control.
I can stop whenever I want
before the money runs out
before I lose my job,
my home, my kids
Before I lose my LIFE.

That’ll never be me.

It’s what told you robbing that bank
was a good idea,
that you’d leave one of your kids
at a gas station in Jersey
before you’d leave a single box of Symilac
out of the ten you had.
What denied you the necessities of life.
It’s what broke you down,
had you fixated,
STUCK
in a primitive, animalistic state.
What numbed you when you ate out of the park
What told you
THIS, is normal.

It’s normal to not bathe for days
Sleep on trains,
lie to everyone you know, including yourself.
It’s normal to want to die
to stand in the subway HOPING
someone bumps you into the tracks
as the 5 train paushes into the station.
What told you you won’t ever be any other way.
Once an addict, always an addict.
So keep doing you, &
keep feeding ME.

It’s what had you scraping spoons
and bags and stems –
praying for the slightest feeling outside
“normal”.
What had you looking for anything & everything
to get you outside yourself.

It’s what had me
throw away a full scholarship to a private college
at the end, too busy shooting pills
to take responsibility for my life.

It has us stealing time
like drunk drivers
stealing lives.

What does the disease of addiction mean to you?
It means we’re strong to still be standing after
all we’ve been through.
It means we’re wise, if we learn from our past.
It means we’re innovative — we will find
the means & ways to get what we want.
It means we’re persistent.
It means we can trust ourselves, trust in this
process
if we trusted our schemes would work.
It means we can have FAITH in a Higher Power
if we had faith in the drug man.

It means we can do anything
ANYTHING
we want
in this life.

Cassie Rodenberg About the Author: I write on culture, poverty, addiction, and mental illness: I explore things we like to ignore. I also teach public school in New York City's South Bronx. Follow on Twitter @cassierodenberg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. geojellyroll 1:39 am 04/1/2012

    Waste of space on ‘SCIENTIFIC American’, blah, blah,….

    This website deteriorates again into social commentary.

    Hey editors…Chemistry, Physics, Zooology, Cosmology…? All types of actual ‘science’ going unreported.

    Link to this
  2. 2. sbrazell 3:54 am 04/1/2012

    This article is totally out of place on this web site, and I say that even though I’m an addict myself.

    Link to this
  3. 3. NatureTM 4:30 am 04/1/2012

    I don’t think you commenters understand SciAm doesn’t limit itself to being some esoteric scientific journal. There are plenty of peer-reviewed professional publications if you’re looking for the pure science. The way I understand it, this site serves a separate but overlapping purpose for a readership including both scientists and those intelligent, logically-thinking members of the public. It’s difficult for me to believe an open-minded person wouldn’t gain some insight and perspective from reading this well-written, albeit specific and personal, narrative.

    Link to this
  4. 4. GG 11:15 am 04/1/2012

    If drugs were legal, they would be affordable. They would probably sell at the price of beer, or even for less than that.

    If drugs were legal, they would also be chemically clean. Many of the toxic side effects of street drugs are not coming from the drugs themselves. The toxicity comes from the polluting side compounds. Pharmacologically produced drugs would not have all those toxins in them. Pharma-quality meth does not make your teeth fall out. And so on…

    If drugs were legal, proper dosage guidelines could be offered. Medical warnings could also be offered.

    The addiction would still be there, of course, but at least people would not have to sell out their entire lives to get high. Addicts could still pay rent, buy food…they would not have to sell everything, including selling their bodies.

    The drug mafia greatly benefits from this, of course. The law enforcement mafia also greatly benefits from this. Cops have a “raison d’être”, and the prison business is booming. You can even invest in the prison stocks: http://www.ehow.com/video_4790914_invest-prison-stocks.html
    Actually, I would not be surprised if drug mafiosos invested their extra cash in prison stocks…

    And if drugs were legal, Scientific American could actually focus on Science, instead of publishing such sob stories.

    Just sayin’…

    Link to this
  5. 5. hanmeng 1:05 pm 04/1/2012

    Wouldn’t a scientific article about addiction discuss the assertions that “There’s a better way” and that “Addicts are sensitive people who don’t know how to deal with their emotions”?

    Link to this
  6. 6. Sis-boom-bah 1:54 pm 04/1/2012

    Its a nice reminder to all of us who get caught up in the research and theories why its so important to understand addiction.

    The human battles and political struggles are being waged daily in dingy recovery halls in places like the Bronx, far from the lab.

    Link to this
  7. 7. DNLee 10:39 pm 04/1/2012

    God Bless you Tatiana! Here’s to you for being 100 days clean.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Bora Zivkovic 10:56 pm 04/1/2012

    I am really glad you are starting this series. It is essential to put human faces on important stories for which jargon-filled scientific papers fail to emotionally move us. I was wondering if the photographer would let you use the photos in the posts, for an even stronger impact?

    Link to this
  9. 9. naomi.baz@gmail.com 12:08 am 04/5/2012

    I am grateful for this poem. Although it may seem an abnormal place to find it, I think that it holds more power in its contrast to the rest of Scientific American. And after all we are all in this together. I may not share the same experiences but I appreciate the honesty, and can relate to struggle and need.
    I am very impressed by the way this poem is structured. Hats off to the use of space. I love the way the word “ever” is separated.
    It reads like a narrative, and is visual without being overly direct.
    An example of a simple writing style done very well.
    Thank you for sharing this, and thank you to Scientific American for having the balls to do something different.

    Link to this
  10. 10. nevikk 11:13 pm 12/24/2012

    I am not surprised at the number of eggheads badmouthing Tatiana’s poem as well as the article on addiction that precedes it. It’s part of the common hypocrisies that occur on a daily basis. I’m of the understanding that Science, in it’s many forms, is basically about finding answers for the good of humanity. For discovering cures to diseases. For finding any possible ways to turn back the path of destruction that we, as humans have committed against our planet.
    Why then, is it considered a waste of time/editorial space to discuss the tragedy of addiction in IT’S many forms?
    Being an addict with four years clean following 30 years of addiction, I know all too well that once initiated and introduced to the human body, the addiction that follows is frighteningly uncontrollable. And you know what? Science plays a MAJOR role in converting the juice of papaver somniforum (opium poppies) into raw opium, then to morphine and ultimately heroin. Science also playa a major role in producing crack cocaine, methamphetamine and ANY parmaceutical product on the market. Why can’t Science take responsibility for correcting some of the damage it helps create?
    I am surprised at the shortsightedness and lack of compassion I see in many of the comments made regarding this article.

    Link to this
  11. 11. nevikk 11:20 pm 12/24/2012

    @sbrazell; If you are an addict, as you claim to be, then maybe if you were to educate yourself regarding the relationship of Science and the drugs/pharmaceuticals that Science helps create. I think the article on addiction is highly (no pun intended)appropriate in this magazine. Hasn’t Science been involved for many years now, studying the causes of addiction, the role of neurotransmitters and receptor sites, and other aspects of addiction?

    Link to this
  12. 12. dingydust 1:43 am 10/30/2013

    GG:

    i know i’m more than a year late on this, apologies, but—if, for some strange reason you are still checking hereupon out:

    great comment.

    until the end.

    i dig yr point, i do—i doubt that there is a single person who has ever read this site or, indeed, scientific american in any form, who despises the way we have created a seeping overglut of sophomoric poems based upon one of the few dangerous 1960s fallacies: everyone is an artist, everyone is a poet [etc & ect].

    this is no more true than the idea that everyone is a neurologist. but we have allowed this, & not that, in the mistaken sentiment that allowing this, & [of course] not that, causes no harm. all one needs to understand that harm is created is to take a peruse at the literature that was created before, & that which was & which continues to be, created after.

    be that as it may, as it is, her poem is not that bad. the worst efforts come, as do so many of the most regrettable & reprehensible things, from the everlovin bourgeoisie. she is not of that, & this sentiment was long known. why it has been forgotten i cannot say, only that it occurred when, for some sad simultaneity, money infused the arts while mtv & HIV decimated, then routed, them.

    i could go on forever about this—but scientific american is not the place to do it. otoh, it also wasnt the place for people to complain, somewhat reasonlessly, about one smidgen of writing enclosed inside a post, enclosed inside a series that has proven its value many times over.

    still: the body of yr comment is exceptional. that’s the most important point. throw in compassion, so help me, & we might actually have a drug program.

    Link to this

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