A Walk Down Misery Street

I don’t know how others saw him, but to me, Kevin was an ordinary young man, educated and with good manners. If I hadn’t met him at this school, it wouldn’t even occur to me to fish out whether he was an addict. Also incomprehensible to me were the fervor and insolence with which my classmates attempted to extract this information from him, demanding an answer to a question that, in my view, carried little if any weight: “Are you in recovery?”

What a shallow view! How could I not understand that two distinct worlds existed: the world of the addicts and—as drug users themselves refer to it—the world of the “normies”? Who separated these two worlds? Who had drawn a thick line—no, dug out a trench—between them? The users themselves, who had once upon a time crossed over this border? Or the “normies,” who cast off these sick, dangerous folks who do not wish to follow the rules of society?

Who created this world of addicts? What is its law and culture? Day after day I started to see the fuller picture.

Drug users form a kind of fraternity, a commune, an order, where everyone is accepted at any age, gender, and status—teenagers and seniors, men and women, the highly educated and the illiterate, the working and the unemployed, the single and the married. Good, gentle, sentimental people. And you will meet true monsters as well.

Within this brotherhood, within this order, there is no mutual affection. They may steal from each other, despise, betray, and kill one another. But the bottom line is that anyone who has crossed the line into drug addiction enters this brotherhood, whether he wishes to or not.

Yes, an addict can detect the special scent of a fellow addict. It’s enough for him to notice a fleeting glance, a word, a vocal intonation, a barely discernible movement of the lips or brows of his companion to identify that before him stands a brother. He too is an addict, someone who understands, like nobody else on Earth.1

Once addicted to alcohol or a drug, a half-pint of vodka or a bag of heroin—put on a scale by your sick soul—will outweigh everything else in your life: the well-being of family, professional career, personal health, and even life itself. This is what definitely separates the addict from the “normal world.”

The world is hostile to the drug users, has no love for them, fears them, and doesn’t believe them. We kick addicts and alcoholics out of their homes and fire them from their jobs. We take away their children. The police follow them and put them in jail. Judges bang their gavels after issuing harsh sentences.

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