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Iron Man: Addiction and the Lives We Tell

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


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This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade’s photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.

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Sociological accounts of the process of recovery from dependent drug use have emphasised the importance of the individual constructing a non-addict identity for themselves. Following Giddens we identify the process of providing a narrative of their recovery as one of the mechanisms by which addicts may seek to achieve this. The narratives of recovery which are the subject of this paper were elicited in the course of semi-structured interviews with a sample of 70 recovering addicts. There were three key areas in which the addicts’ narratives of recovery could be seen to be constructing a non-addict identity for the individual; firstly, in relation to the reinterpretation of aspects of their drug using lifestyle; secondly, in relation to the reconstruction of their sense of self and thirdly, in relation to the provision of convincing explanations for their recovery. In certain respects, the addicts’ narratives of recovery are similar to the accounts of recovery provided by drug workers and addictions researchers. The paper argues that the correspondence between addicts’ own accounts of their recovery and those of professional drug workers may be not so much the result of the intrinsic nature of the recovery process as a product of the socially constructed nature of the narratives and the fact that the latter may have been developed in conjunction with those working in the drug treatment industry.¹


Iron Man: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

The other side of Hunts Point, the industry where produce like avocados and bananas is packed into trucks, is a space that houses more auto parts than people. The air is never devoid of rumble.

People from the residential side drift here for heroin when times get lean, when the 5 a.m. corner drug dealer is absent.


Iron Man: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

It is here that Iron Man pushes his cart, fills it with pallets or metal pieces or other found things. He’s always pushing, pushing and telling what happened before.

In the beginning, he was born in South Carolina to a 12-year-old mom. Then, it went different ways.

Once, Iron Man served in the army, where he first dabbled in drugs. Once, he did crack. Something happened, so the government still refuses to pay the pension. Once that’s taken care of, he won’t be homeless.

Once, Iron Man was a unicyclist, rode his cycle up and down the street for all the world to see. Kids would shout and want to ride on his shoulders. He can drive anything with wheels, carts and bikes that sometimes look like other people’s.

Once, Iron Man played basketball, against the Harlem Globetrotters even. Once, he rode a bus with them that broke down. Those were the glory days, couldn’t do drugs then. He was self-cured of dependency.

Once, Iron Man recorded a rap album called Cinderfella.

Now, Iron Man pushes his cart, does 100 chin-ups each day, stays clean.


Iron Man: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

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More Hunts Point Addiction Writing
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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. Uncle.Al 5:54 pm 12/29/2013

    Advocacy demands dependency, depravity, and desuetude. If god loves the poor, crippled, and stupid, then god can bloody well pay for them or take them back. My wallet is broken.

    Link to this

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