Walk Down Misery Street

What a timid one! So sly! He was clearly one of us—a junkie. Why should he contort himself into the semblance of a normal man? Why pretend? What was there to be ashamed of? Does he think he’s better than us? No way! He is cut from the same cloth. He’s from the very same dirty, corrupt, screwed-up world we are! Or . . . is he?

Kevin worked as a counselor in a rehab clinic. He was a teacher by profession, but about a year ago quit the school job and entered the substance abuse field. In the clinic where he was now working, his boss required him to get a diploma as a substance abuse counselor.

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 the 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.