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Addicted: Notes From the Belly of the Beast
by Lorna Crozier & Patrick Lane, editors
Greystone Books 
Reviewed by Midevil, 5/30/2005

Addicted is a collection of short essays about substance abuse, written by Canadian authors. The stories flow, but at times it’s like swallowing shards of glass, especially when the writers hit raw nerves. Frequently, their images conjure up memories of similar incidents that happened, both to the self and others. The editors, Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, assert that the collection has been published to help not only themselves but the readers. “No one is lonelier than addicts and those who are a part of their lives,” they write. Addicted doesn’t romanticize addiction and, true to the preface, there are no glorifications found within its pages.

The experiences of each author differ, of course, but they all have a commonality in that the addicts are constantly drawn to their respective vices. Lane’s piece about drug abuse incorporates such memorable moments as vomiting after drinking and coking, only to begin again right afterwards. Other authors, like Stephen Reid, can’t deny the pull of heroin. His story was written from behind bars, after a lifetime of breaking drug and theft laws in Canada and the United States.

These stories repel and compel the reader at the same time. Peter Gzowski’s writing in “How to Quit Smoking in Fifty Years or Less” is so engaging that you brush over the harshness of his situation (he has to carry around oxygen) while chuckling at the cigarette comments. Later, my thoughts return to the essay’s ending, when he leaves rehab and finds out that he was drinking non-caffeinated coffee while he believed the opposite. I share the joke with coffee drinkers I know, and somehow, the oxygen tank aspect doesn’t make it into the conversation. Gzowski manages to infuse commentary on our culture’s addiction to being addicted, “No, I’m afraid I can’t pass the buck for my weakness quite as easily as do the people who’ve been launching class-action suits.” While taking responsibility for his own vices, his narrative reminds the reader that addicts run the gamut, from wispy little teenagers to heavyset military personnel. It’s about compassion, not accusation.

Evelyn Lau’s “More and More” almost made me run away screaming from reading further. “When did it begin?,” she asks of her cyclical addiction, which is a common question. Although her writing is poetic, the uncontrollable reality of addictions — especially to food, which can’t be denied in the need to survive — weighs heavy on the conscience, like a stone at the bottom of the stomach that has been shoved full of munchies after a night of poly drug use.

None of the self-abuse is new, no matter how original the writing. The reader is reminded that there is nothing special about her brand of addiction. Somewhere in the human psyche lies the chain which binds the user in loyalty to substances. David Adams Richards notes, “My greatest fear of all, of course, was failure.” Deeply embedded psychological factors play into fueling addiction, regardless of conscious efforts to stop.

There is no barrier, on the other hand, when the writers’ words reveal how they treat the people close to them. Spouses leave, and sometimes the addicts themselves leave, while others manage to stay together. Reid’s daughter and wife only get to see him once a week at prison visits. In “Not Swimming, but Drowning,” John Newlove’s mother is extremely frustrated with his underage drinking. His drunk father admits, “What can I say?” Lois Simmie’s “An Open Letter to Laura” provides a potent example of the alcoholic mother. She wasn’t violent, but she did break many promises to the kids. She almost killed her son while driving home drunk. Her story doesn’t escape death though; she highlights the fact that a different mother dies of cirrhosis when her son was only fifteen.

Whatever substance is the chosen tool of self-destruction, these stories “are not confessions,” but glimpses into addictive behaviors and the human mind. The fact that the people presenting the stories are all writers does not take away from the reality that they are like any other addicts. As a result of their self-awareness, there is no contempt or judgment evident in any of the stories.

The writing is strong, even when the authors are at their weakest moments. The authors’ words draw the reader in for more. Some of the imagery and descriptions will keep the readers engaged throughout the stories. Readers who feel that they are on the outskirts, lonely in some sort of hellish addiction, will find comfort in knowing that so many others have been and are still there. At the same time, the rather blunt and honest battles with addiction can make readers feel quite uncomfortable. There is disappointment while watching authors fall back to unbreakable habits. Some of the content, such as the sexual abuse Reid suffered at the hands of a pedophile doctor, will be upsetting for a number of readers.

For anyone interested in an unvarnished look at addictive behavior, this collection of essays is a must read.

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