The White Noise

The White Noise

A hit of addiction and mental illness, chased by chemistry and culture.

Strolling "Craigs List Avenue" for Drugs: Tatiana's Story


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


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


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,


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


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


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


we want

in this life.

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

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