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.
This article will review data obtained from both clinical and preclinical investigations demonstrating that exposure to stress has a significant impact on drug addiction. The preclinical literature suggests that stress increases reward associated with psychomotor stimulants, possibly through a process similar to sensitization. While it is not conclusive that a similar process occurs in humans, a growing clinical literature indicates that there is a link between substance abuse and stress. One explanation for the high concordance between stress-related disorders and drug addiction is the self-medication hypothesis, which suggests that a dually diagnosed person often uses the abused substance to cope with tension associated with life stressors or to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression resulting from a traumatic event.¹
Last year, Jennifer spouted plans of feeding 20 of her family members and friends Thanksgiving dinner. This was the day before the holiday, the day she hoped to make all of the cash she would need for it. She crafted the big dinner in her head while weaving between semis on the track in a thin black velour jacket. It was the first of the cold's bitterness, the way it is most years in New York. She would have to suck a lot of dick that day.
She imagined the type of food she would cook, the time it would take to prepare (turkeys take a long time), where she would have her guests sit (likely she would need to tote chairs from a neighbor's apartment) and how she would dress (all done up in a skirt) in her mother's house in Queens.
It's lucky that johns come out around the holidays.
Of course she has a place to go, and she has to hurry. Grocery stores might close. She just needed to make $60 first, for the food and for crack.
Jennifer on Thanksgiving Eve: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
The next day, the day of Thanksgiving, between large trucks she walked again. Just her and the wind. Jennifer can always be found walking when most people are celebrating something: Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas.
One year from that Thanksgiving, she is inside a van on that same track, her mania kept secret from the wind-whipped outside world. It is cold, but she has had a lot of crack. And so, she doesn't feel the freezing temperature or the voices intermittently telling her to sit and to stay.
Her friends, the ones who had given her a place to stay the night, encourage her to eat, push her stale donut holes, old coffee on a decorative paper plate. She spits out both in a paper cup, a mush which lands in the grooves of the floor when she misses. The floor becomes wet and sticky with donut and used heroin water.
The friends don't much notice her extremes: the way she can't stop moving, the way she can't find anything, the way the flame of her lighter won't hold still long enough for her to light a crack pipe. She tries but ends up snorting crack rocks off the end of the stem.
A Van for Three: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
She is often manic but this manic is special. This manic is seasonal. She can't stop moving, side-hugging, straddling. She ruins others' highs.
She pulls a dildo from a red purse buried under piles of fabric and wiggles it in friends' faces before they leave to do business -- drug collecting and tricking, making money to keep the van running through the freezing night.
Alone in the van, Jennifer chain smokes half-lit cigarettes and shiny ashes fall in clumps to her lap. Each time, she leaps.
"Shit, I'm on fire. Shit, help."