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 --
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
It goes much deeper than that.
Not a moral deficiency
but a sickness that kills
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
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
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
in this life.