Listening to Sylvia’s confession, I simultaneously felt compassion and a kind of distaste for her. I had no doubt her story was true, yet something unnecessary, even artificial, came in through her revelation. What made her share it in front of everybody, with her boyfriend present?
In the not-too-distant future, I, like any substance abuse counselor, would often hear similar outpourings from women (and from men, too, by the way) who were molested. At the time, however, I was taken aback and bewildered.
Remembering Sylvia today, I can see the connections between her relapses and her public sharing. It was not coincidental. She was comprised of two halves: Sylvia the drug user who “lived like a prostitute,” and Sylvia the young girl who was molested. These were the only two ways she knew herself. Every time she tried to kick the drugs, she encountered this “stained and denigrated” girl who hated herself with all her soul.
What was the meaning of her confession? Was it just for show, an attempt to draw attention? Or was it a cry of despair before a coming relapse?
She left the Institute and I never saw her again.
There are many Sylvias, with very similar stories and nearly the same destinies, who cross the threshold of substance abuse clinics every day in America and other countries.
I’ll say more about female drug users in due course.
The Peter Brothers
As soon as Sylvia left me, a man by the name of Peter sat next to me. My namesake, with Irish roots. He looked to be about forty-seven, but it would soon be revealed that he was thirty-eight.
Seeing as this is the second time I’ve mentioned a discrepancy between age and appearance, I’ll tell you that the majority of drug users look older than their years. Some in the drug world believe that heroin users look younger than their age, allegedly because heroin has a “freezing” effect on the aging process. This is a myth. A fifty-year-old male heroin user, if he lives to such an age, looks like a very old man. It was difficult for me to believe that the majority of the students were my peers, ages thirty-five to forty, but looked at least a decade older. In their complexion and facial expressions, one saw old age, weathering, and sickness.