magine turning your head and holding your arm out, as if for a blood test. You feel a slight prick, you loosen the tie, and then suddenly this warmth floods up, you feel a rush that begins at the base of your spine and surges up until it explodes in your head, like light. Then, for hours, you float in a bubble of warmth and well-being; dreams as vivid as movies drift before your eyes. This is why people like heroin.
     Imagine you no longer feel like an ordinary girl, bland and vulnerable, but like a girl who is daring, an outsider, a risk-taker, one of the guys. This is why I tried it in the first place.
      But why is a question junkies never ask. They know why. The question for a junkie, is why not? You have to have a very good reason to give up that rush. After all, you’ve come to love the ritual, even the smell of sulfur, the flame beneath the spoon. You love the liquid lightning that fills your veins and blossoms in your head. You love the dreams, more brilliant with color than anything you’ve seen in life: a car so red its edges are silver in the sunlight, poppies exploding into color, again and again and again, orange, purple, vermilion, the dark velvety center. And then the psychic numbness that envelops you for hours, where you have no worries, no fears, no anxieties, no guilt, no other desires.
      So why is not the question. You may as well ask why people have sex—which, as we all know, can have as deadly side-effects as heroin.

I was sixteen when I started. Thin, thin, always dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt, hair long and wild, I imagined I was a bohemian. The rules didn’t apply to me. I didn’t have to attend school to get A’s and B’s. The year was 1970. Janis was still alive, I think, maybe even Morrison and Hendrix. The Civil Rights Bill was six years old. Watts had burned, so had Newark. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy had all been killed. Vietnam was old news. The Cold War was simply a part of the landscape. We wanted out. Sometimes it seemed as if the world were falling apart. The center was not holding. We were kids, living in the borderlands of Arizona, in a town ringed by missiles. We couldn’t imagine a future. Instead, we shot dope. We ran it across the border. We were falling from idealism to despair. I’d fallen. Needle to the vein. My blond boyfriend from West Texas was threatening suicide and planes like dark predators were circling overhead.
      By May of my twentieth year, I had not only grown up, I felt old. I had quit using every toxic substance I’d ever tried. This includes pot, hallucinogens, cocaine, speed and alcohol, none of which required any effort at all to quit, as well as the two that caused me difficulty, heroin and tobacco. I could claim that this makes me an expert, not only on addiction but on recovery, but I am ambivalent about everything: what constitutes addiction, whether physical addiction leads to psychological or visa versa, and whether or not people can be “cured.” Whether addiction is a disease—or a symptom. Part of me believes I was never addicted to anything—and that may be true. I started smoking at fourteen, for instance. Can I really say, that at twenty, I was addicted to nicotine? Likewise, even though I started using heroin at sixteen, I abstained for my entire senior year in high school—instead popping several Percodan every few hours. (My boyfriend, true to his Texan roots, was a Cowboy, but of the Drugstore variety.) Since I used opiates daily for only a few years of my life, was I truly an addict? Perhaps I was on the road to addiction and mercifully waylaid.
      I have proof, at least, of physical need: I was cranky as hell whenever I tried to give up smoking and felt withdrawals whenever I tried to quit heroin. Yet physical withdrawals are simply the most obvious manifestation. Addiction is the absence of choice. To illustrate, when I was sixteen, I was sitting in a park when I realized I was out of cigarettes. Upon discovering that fact, I really wanted one—which meant I would have to stand up, walk a block home, scrounge for thirty-five cents (yes, thirty-five), walk two blocks to the discount store, and buy the cigarettes. (This not only gives you an idea of how lazy—or stoned—I was but of the oppressiveness of summer heat in Tucson.) At any rate, I realized that if I quit smoking, I could choose not to take the walk. What liberation! Ever since then, addiction, for me, has meant that a substance compels me to consume it. If I feel like I have to have it—even if, physically, I don’t—then I am addicted.
      In some fundamental way, then, it makes little difference if the precious amber liquid is scotch in a glass or heroin in a syringe, if escape comes in a vial of cocaine or is provided by little pills in a prescription bottle. The underlying desire is the same. Perhaps each of us, given the right (or wrong) substance and the right (or wrong) set of circumstances, is a potential addict. After all, you don’t have to be an asthmatic to suffer an asthma attack; you simply have to be exposed to something that will trigger the reaction. And you never know what that something might be.
      For this reason, I’ve never blamed my family. My parents were as typical of their WWII generation, with its alcohol use and repression, as I am of the Vietnam generation, with our drug use and penchant for openness. To be fair, my father would never have considered a few highballs a “problem” and my mother would insist that a stiff upper lip is an admirable quality. When I was coming of age, we thought psychedelics would liberate our minds. It never occurred to us that cocaine was dangerous; it certainly wasn’t thought to be addictive. And heroin? Well, they had lied to us about the dangers of every other drug, why should we believe them about this one?
      But we should have. And perhaps because we didn’t, the Vietnam War helped spawn a heroin epidemic—at least that’s what they called it when use crossed the border from the ghettos and the barrios into the suburbs. Ironically, my husband, who is Mexican-American, didn’t use when he lived in the barrio; it was only later, after his parents moved the family into a white neighborhood, that he hung out with anyone who was doing drugs heavier than marijuana. All the guys we knew coming back from Nam were strung-out on China white. In the four years I was shooting dope, sixteen people I knew died of drug overdoses. Sixteen people just like me. Middle-class, white. Children of doctors, lawyers, and restaurant owners.
      Heroin is pernicious, but whether that’s due to inherent properties of the drug or to the black market lifestyle, we may never know. I don’t suppose there are enough independently wealthy junkies for an accurate survey; I do suppose that bootleggers during Prohibition led equally unhealthy lives. At any rate, according to my brother-in-law, who has been in prison on drug charges three times and who is still on methadone maintenance, many of the (mostly white, middle-class) addicts we knew frequent the same clinic he does, still addicted nearly thirty years later. Only four of us, my husband and myself included, were able to quit in time to make “normal” lives for ourselves. Statistics are equally frightening: only one out of thirty-five addicts will stay clean and sober; some relapse after ten or fifteen years; most become alcoholics; in one study, of the 10% who had “recovered,” half were counted as not relapsing only because they had died. Death as a cure—imagine that! I fit the profile of the addict most likely to stay clean: young, female, addicted for under five years.
      This suggests that the longer one uses, the more fierce the psychological addiction, yet we also assume that psychological factors—childhood trauma, history of family dependency, unhealthy living situations, poverty, etc.—make some of us more vulnerable in the first place. A chicken or the egg sort of cycle. Some research indicates that people who get addicted to opiates may already have a deficiency of dopamine in their brains, which predisposes them to addiction to substances like heroin. But whether you’re predisposed or not, if you use heroin with any regularity, you will get addicted because heroin takes over a natural function of brain chemistry: it replaces dopamine. When the heroin stops, no dopamine, your nerves are screaming. Physical addiction is simple. If you don’t do it, you experience pain; since you did it in the first place to alleviate or avoid pain, you just do it again. Basic Pavlovian theory. You know what cures you.
      On the other hand, people who have abused drugs like metham-phetamine or cocaine, which stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, are always left with a need to have that center stimulated. (Ecstasy, as I understand it, like Prozac, increases the amounts of serotonin in the brain and thus causes changes in brain chemistry, at least temporarily.) In other words, even when there is no physiological predisposition to addiction and no physical dependency, because the drug itself causes changes in the brain, those changes can create a strong psychological addiction—in the case of cocaine, to anything that will stimulate the pleasure center. Even sex. So far as I know, cocaine is not physically addictive, only psychologically, but, hey, monkeys will give up food, water, and sex for cocaine. Monkeys will die for cocaine.
      No big surprise there. People die for cocaine. I once met a real estate developer who had lost everything, and he had quite a bit to lose, to that white powder. He said, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you make too much money.”
      But back to the monkeys with monkeys on their backs: monkeys who have unlimited access to heroin gradually level out their use. They still eat, they still sleep, they still have sex. They simply do enough heroin to keep from going through withdrawals. This experiment, which I read about in the Stanford Alumna Magazine, was published in the mid-eighties, when cocaine was thought of as nose candy, something one might indulge in at cocktail parties. (Please pause for a moment to consider what that target audience might have been doing in its spare time.) Whatever else the experiment’s purpose, it did prove that there is no “just” to psychological addiction.
      Physical addiction, no matter to what substance, seems to be the least of an addict’s problems. There’s methadone for the junkie, Nicorette gum for the smoker. Drunks, speed freaks, crack heads and their brethren coke heads have no choice but to go cold, I guess—although researchers are experimenting with new drugs which affect serotonin levels and seem to reduce the addict’s cravings. But even if you have to take the old-fashioned route and go cold, your body gets over it. People do kick. Some stay clean for years before going back. It’s the psychological pull, the craving, that’s so hard to overcome.
      For some people, of course, addiction is a symptom of an underlying disease, clinically known as a dual disorder. For example, many schizophrenics or manic-depressives are addicts; prior to being diagnosed, they used (and became addicted to) illicit drugs in an attempt to balance out a brain chemistry that was naturally out of whack or had been thrown out by trauma. For the rest of us, though, the question is how do you liberate yourself from desire so intense it rules your life? I can answer only for myself.

One: I didn’t get sent to prison.
      Everyone I know who’s been there, male or female, is still an addict. I’ve never been there and I’ve been clean for nearly thirty years. This is also true of other people I know who didn’t go. An unscientific survey, perhaps, but revealing.
      Prison does not cure addiction. In fact, there’s such an ample supply of drugs in prison that a person could go in clean and come out with a habit. After all, what do we think happens when a bunch of drug users are confined in the same place and they have a captive market? They exercise a little capitalistic know-how, that’s what they do. They’re familiar with supply and demand. The guards and visitors bring it in. In the 70’s, in the state prison in Florence, Arizona, the wars between the Mexican Mafia and the Aryan Brotherhood were over the drug trade as much as they were about race. Legend has it that the head of the Mexican Mafia once stood out in the middle of the yard, brandished a pistol, and dared anyone, including the guards, to kill him: proof he was in control and fearless.
      When I was nineteen, I met a guy just out of the joint who had a permanent hole in his arm, hidden by his prison blue tattoo. He didn’t need a needle. He just put the sharpened point of the glass bippy (made out of an eyedropper) right in the hole and shot up. That’s how he’d done it in the joint and, once he got out, even though syringes were easier to come by, that’s how he preferred to do it. As I remember, he didn’t even have to register to be sure he was in the vein. He put the point of the bippy in, the blood just washed in and then, when he squeezed the little rubber bulb, the dope backwashed into his vein. Now, I might be wrong about the physics of the bippy because the whole open wound thing made me squeamish and so I didn’t watch very carefully, but some of the guys I knew were endlessly fascinated. They were impressed. They wanted a hole of their own; they longed for easy access.

Two: My life began to resemble a bad movie OR the illicit lost its allure.
      Nirvana, chemically induced, cannot last. Eventually you start using more. Several times a week. Then every day—this is the point at which heroin addicts consider themselves strung-out—then several times a day. Before long, you don’t get a rush, you don’t get high at all. You’re shooting dope, now, to keep from getting sick. To stay normal.
      Scenes from how the illicit lost its allure:
      Mr. Bippy shoves a gun in my face and demands my wake-up. I am busy, at the moment, needle in my arm. Fuck you, I tell him, you think we’re afraid of you?
      No acceleration of my heart. Nothing.
      Franklin and Val come over to cop. She has just suffered her third miscarriage and, perhaps because of that, he lets her get off first. Almost immediately, her eyes roll up in her head and she hits the floor. She is out. Franklin sits down on the bed and ties himself off. The whole time we’re trying to revive her, Franklin is busy finding a vein. We slap her, rub ice cubes on her, shake her. Nothing. We consider shooting her up with salt water, which we’ve heard is the antidote, although we’ve never seen it done. Finally, we drag her to the bath tub and hold her head under cold running water. She comes out of it. Franklin is sitting on the bed, nodding. He rubs his face. Huh? he says, looking at his wife. That was some good shit, Babe. (Or something to that effect.)
      A few weeks later, having been evicted from the apartment over gunfire—(I told you it was a bad movie)—I’m lying in a bed in a motel so run down they’ve filled the swimming pool with dirt. Fernando, my future husband, is lying next to me. We’ve saved a tiny bit of dope for the next morning, but we have no money. Fernando says, “It’s time to kick. Something bad is going to come down.”
      At the time, this seemed to me a profound statement and perhaps it was, implying as it did, cause and effect. Consequences. Lying there next to him, I knew what I couldn’t articulate. The medicine had become the disease. We had fallen into a kind of despair, where we couldn’t remember how we were before. Where the things that happened seemed to happen to other people and we were the numb observers. Where there was no future, or if there was one, we couldn’t imagine it.
      But this is what I remember most: the day Val nearly died was a gray day, windy, dust and bits of dried leaves in the air. After she came out of it, I watched them climb on their motorcycle, Val so thin, Franklin, all big, tattoos on his arms. She put her arms around him, leaned into him, and they sped off. I kept seeing her go out, lips blue. What if she nodded out on the highway? She would slip, like a rag doll, beneath the traffic behind them. He wouldn’t notice. He wouldn’t care. Could this happen to me? Where nothing nothing nothing would matter? Not Fernando. Not if I was pregnant. Nothing. Except dope?      

Three: We took a vacation from our addiction.
      Fernando and I went into a fourteen-day detox program, courtesy of money the Nixon administration had set aside for treatment. It was the first time I’d met junkies who were old, in their thirties and forties. They were parents. Some were pregnant. Some had school-aged children waiting in the car. Some juggled wiggling, pajama-clad toddlers as they stood in the morning medication line. Waiting there behind them, I felt like Miss Granola Girl herself. I remember thinking, you mean this could be your life?
      Tommy, our counselor, was small, quiet with dark, dark skin, blue black. He used to say, I’ve had my jones for twenty years. He’d been clean for the last two or so but he never gave himself credit for that. He counted all the years, from the first time to the present, as his habit. Any intervening years off dope didn’t count either. Once a junkie, he said, always a junkie.
      Questions Tommy asked us: are you two a couple, do you love each other? or are you just spoon partners? who leads and who follows? when? what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to get it? have you ever betrayed each other? how did that feel? how far will you go? what lines will you cross?
      One day, Tommy told me I was a self-medicating junkie. I didn’t understand what he meant. He said, “Something eats at you, you want to cover it up.”
      That seemed to me such a normal impulse, I couldn’t believe it had anything to do with my having a habit.
      Our last day, Tommy held his hands in front of his face, his fingers pressed together, a black butterfly. “Look at you two,” he said to us, “What are you doing here? You have a chance to make it. You can fight this sucker, don’t give in.”
      He sighed, “It’s going to be hard. You’re used to hundreds of dollars passing through your hands every day, now maybe you’ll spend $20, $10, that’s all, groceries, gas for your car. You’re used to excitement: you got to hustle for money.” He shrugged at us. “Now you’re going to be bored. Watch TV. What can we do, you’ll say to each other. How often can a person go to the zoo? What do normal people do? What did we do before we got strung out?” He looked from Fernando to me, back again, and then laughed, “You can’t remember what you used to do, can you? Well, try. Because there’s going to be only one thing you want to do and you can’t let yourself do it, not even once.”
      He was right. Straight life was achingly boring. Within three days, we were using again. But it was different. It was no longer unconscious. After that, whenever I got off, or convinced Fernando that we should get off, or was convinced by him, I had to admit I was rationalizing. This sounds very simple, but it seems to me that the ability to stand outside yourself and critique your own behavior and have insights into your motivations is invaluable. You can no longer lie to yourself. You find yourself disgusting. Weak. You are no longer comfortable with your junkie self. You want to be strong, to have control. After all, you probably started using because you felt invincible, outside anyone else’s rules, daring, independent, and now, you have to admit it, you’ve become pathetic, sniveling, dependent, the very things you despise in the junkies around you. No thank you.

Four: Why not? A good reason to quit.
      I got pregnant. Background details: It was 1974. I was almost twenty years old. I had been clean, completely clean for over three months, when Fernando and I got married. He had gone on methadone maintenance. We were living in his parents’ house, along with his eight brothers and sisters. It was a small tract house on the south side of Tucson. Most everyone in the neighborhood, except for me, was Mexican. Even the Chinese people who owned the neighborhood grocery spoke better Spanish than I did.
      In memory, that was a time of light, yellow light in the kitchen in the mornings as I sat with Fernando’s mother and his younger brother and sisters at the breakfast table. A time of stories about La Llorona and the Mexican revolution. This was when his mother began to initiate me into the family, when I began to believe that dreams did mean something, they could tell the future, for instance. Not only that, but two yolks meant twins. A fork dropped on the floor meant company was coming soon. You should make the sign of the cross when you salted the food. This was when I began to see that there was another world beneath this one, a world of spirits, a world where you made sense of the disparate pieces of reality by weaving them together into a story, where you paid attention to vague feelings that things “weren’t right” and, by doing so, saved yourself untold grief.
      Why I started using again, in that time of healing, when the self that had been dormant inside me—feelings, perception, my spirit—was waking up, I don’t know. Maybe waking up was painful. Maybe it was the one last fall, the one you have to take before you can close your eyes on your old life, turn your back and say, no, that’s not me. That’s not who I am. At any rate, I had started chipping again, was into a little recreational use. I wasn’t strung-out but I was headed in that direction—even though I had an inkling I might be pregnant.
      One day we went to a friend’s house, a pool party, and while the others were swimming and drinking beer, we were in a back bedroom listening to John Barleycorn Must Die. I was sitting on the bed, I tied off, and suddenly I was filled with the same despair I’d felt as I watched Val ride away on that motorcycle.
      After I got off, I went outside and stretched out on a lounge chair by the pool, the light, a thousand flecks of white were bouncing off the turquoise water. Fernando sat down next to me. I closed my eyes. Someone opened the door and “Freedom Rider,” that saxophone, flooded out. Fernando told me he wanted me to see a doctor. A doctor would tell me what I already knew: a not-child but human nonetheless, was swimming inside, his eyes bulging, his heart beating, the veins in his delicate pink brain pulsing with the red veins on the insides of my eye lids. Fernando’s hand was lying on my belly, curved, a dark shadow before the sun; maybe, from inside, the eyes could see the shadow of his hand.
      And this is when I realized the truth. The lie I’d been telling myself was that if I didn’t know, I couldn’t be hurting it. I couldn’t be responsible. But in that moment, I could see through the lie: the doctor pronouncing some words would not make it so and it would not make it not so. My knowing or not knowing changed nothing. If I was, I was. And, if I was, I might be hurting it.
      Fortunately, I was not physically addicted; I did not have to go through withdrawals, which can be very dangerous for a fetus. In fact, with heroin, the withdrawals are more dangerous to the fetus than the drug and so a woman who becomes pregnant while physically addicted needs to keep using or to go into a treatment program so she can be gradually withdrawn. (Good luck getting into one. Waiting lists for treatment programs in New York City are eight months long, not much help for a fetus.) I was lucky. I had only to fight the cravings, and that was hard enough, but it was as if those months of pregnancy put me in a place where I was forced to remain drug free. Much like a rehab program might do. It gave me a hiatus from physical addiction where, I convinced myself, I couldn’t do any drugs.
      In a way, the craving was like grief: it could still overwhelm me at times, but at least it wasn’t constant. I felt like I was moving out of darkness into light. My senses and feelings had begun to wake up. Being pregnant made me realize my body was important. Addicts tend to think of their body as “other” in a strange way. The body is not who they are. It is nothing, then, to stick a needle into it.
      This mind/body split really isn’t so unusual, of course. It’s a fundamental dualism in Western philosophy. We think of it as normal; we learn to deny our bodies from childhood. I’ve heard the psychology of it explained this way: when you are a child, your feelings are who you are and when you are not listened to or are told to deny your feelings, you are learning to deny yourself. The message to you is: if my feelings are not important, then I am not important.
      With addicts, though, the split must be magnified. I remember, when I was strung-out, staring at my arm, the blonde fuzz and the freckles, and puzzling over the fact that it was my arm, that somewhere inside this body, there was a me. Feeling Michael move inside me, watching my breasts and belly swell, feeling the uncomfortable twinges of pregnancy, even morning sickness, made me aware of my physical presence: my skin, my veins, my breathing, my heartbeat. I had become essential.
      It took me a long time, though, to realize that the spirit isn’t separate from the body; the spirit is of the body. The spirit needs the body to feel, to grow, to be with others, even to see and hear the world. The spirit is of the body, not separate from it, which is why death, any death, is a kind of violence.

Five: So it’s connection that’s important.
      Not only to your own body, but also to those around you. When you’re strung-out, nobody else much matters. Oh, you might tell yourself they do and, to a certain extent, they do, but drug addiction is the ultimate form of solipsism. Even drinking is. There you are, wrapped in your own little chemical cocoon. Protected. Disconnected.
      Even strung-out, I had loved Fernando. After he went on methadone maintenance, he issued his ultimatum: we couldn’t see each other unless I went on maintenance or got clean. I got clean. I chose him, so we were already connected, but my being pregnant deepened our connection, committed us to one another, to Michael, to the family we were creating, in a way that marriage vows hadn’t.
      Living with his family mattered, connected me to his mother and brothers and sisters, made them my chosen family. Choosing to have Michael, to stay clean for him, committed Fernando and me to something larger than us, than even the three of us, to something indefinable. We chose to put our connections to one another and to others above our own desires. This was not conscious, but it is what drew us back into life.

Six: I stepped out of the continuous present.
      I’ve heard that living in the moment is a good thing. There are books devoted to it. But, for a junkie, there is only the moment, the continuous present. There is no cause, no effect. No memory, no hope. No consequences, no foresight. You are suspended completely out of time. It’s kind of like prison in that way: you go in, time stops, you come out blinking your eyes.
      An example: when I got so pregnant I could no longer fit in my clothes, I gave them all away. It never occurred to me I might need them again. I bought no baby clothes, no crib, no bottles. About three weeks before I delivered, my mother and sister threw a shower for me. I remember holding one of those little gowns up. The baby became almost tangible. I embroidered two tiny tee shirts. My only preparation.
      Yet pregnancy is the perfect metaphor for the future existing within the present. How can you be pregnant and not imagine a future? After all, once the kid gives you a swift kick in the bladder or swings from your ribs a few times, you have a sense of him as a separate being. My life went from being lived completely in the moment to being focused on the future. I couldn’t imagine him, but I couldn’t wait to have him.
      This meant I had to project my self into the future, to begin to imagine myself as a different person, a mother, no less. This was not easy. To go from complete solipsism to always putting the baby first.
      Imagine the shock.

Seven: The faith of others.
      Nothing is more annoying than people reminding you you’ve fucked up. Hey, you think, tell me something I don’t know. Their nagging provides the perfect excuse: well, if that’s what you think, I may as well do it.
      Tommy had said, you two can beat this. He believed it. We came to believe it. He said, if you slip once, it’s okay. Just pick up from there. We believed that. Our parents believed we could do it. Not once did I hear them question us. They knew we could. They knew we would.
      Not only did they believe in us, but they acted out of their faith. Fernando’s parents took me in, gave us a place to live. Later, my parents helped us buy a house. These were real, tangible ways of helping us get started in the world, of helping us put the old life behind us so we could start a new one. They knew we could be strong.
      The first time I told my parents I’d been using and quit, my mother had said, “So it’s over then.” Punto final. As if it were as simple as making up your mind.
      And, of course, it wasn’t. And, of course, it was.

Eight: Windows of opportunity.
      Sometimes quitting is agony. Sometimes it’s a piece of cake. That’s what I mean by a window of opportunity. And that’s what I’m looking for right now, a window of opportunity so I can quit drinking. Now I don’t drink with the same desperation as I did drugs. In fact, I think of myself as a moderate drinker. Besides, my doctor tells me to have a glass of wine every night. Of course, he probably means four ounces, not half a bottle, but I look at one of those little glasses and think: Right. Like I could stop there. Why bother?
      My friend tells me, “In Europe, everyone has a glass of wine with lunch. Two with dinner. They don’t think anything of it.”
      But my daughter insists two drinks a week is moderate drinking for a woman which makes me a heavy drinker. Plus, because her best friend’s mother died of breast cancer, Kathryn is worried about the increased risk. It’s good for my heart, I tell her. She just shakes her head. It’s why you can’t lose weight, she tells me.
      The other reason? I’ve had a glimpse of my future. Alzheimer’s, like breast cancer, runs in my family, only Alzheimer’s has hit both sides. For some reason I don’t quite understand, Alzheimer’s causes your brain to produce less of the chemical that transports impulses from one neuron to the next. Obviously, this would slow down your thinking. Alcohol use, then, widens the synapses between your neurons, which means that the impulses we call ideas, memories, and thoughts have a greater distance to cross. Put it together, wider gaps, less chemical for transport: not good.
      Still, I can’t imagine myself without a vice. I like being a woman who enjoys indulging. I don’t eat low fat anything. I like my prime rib bloody, my oysters raw, and my chili hot. I think sweaty sex on a summer afternoon keeps your marriage alive. I love to walk around my house late at night, a glass of wine in my hand. I like a cold tsing tao with my yu shiang eggplant. It’s hard to eat camarones al mojo del ajo without a few margaritas on the rocks. (Yes, with salt.) And who can imagine steamed mussels, roasted garlic, and fresh sourdough bread without a good cabernet?
      Not drinking makes me feel like a Calvinist. Like a grinch. Like I should clean my house and wear nylons.
      On the other hand, isn’t worrying about it a sign? After all, it is common for ex-addicts to become alcoholics. Why, every summer evening, do I feel compelled to drink a gin and tonic? Does the fact that I can’t pass by the wine section of the grocery store without salivating mean something? Is it significant that I love to look at the bottles of wine and try this one or that? What about the way I love the ritual of using a corkscrew, pouring the wine into the goblet, twirling it around like I know what I’m doing?
      But what would bring about the window of opportunity?
      My only insight so far: I need to think of myself as a hedonist, not an addict. Instead of spending thirty bucks a week on wine, I’ll spend sixty every two weeks for a massage. In other words, I haven’t quit drinking but I don’t keep any booze in the house.

Nine: Avoid plunges into despair.
      I’ve never understood how people could believe that one shot of dope, one drink, one hit off a cigarette meant you were addicted all over again. That is a myth, as far as I’m concerned, designed to scare you. It’s not like, one time and you’re hooked again.
      No. It’s that, if you slip, it could plunge you into despair. Despair that you didn’t really quit; you promised yourself and broke the promise. Again. You’re weak. Despair because the craving is renewed and you have to face it again. You are going to have to stand in the grocery store and stare at those shelves filled with beautiful bottles of perfectly good wine and know you can’t have any. Despair because you know that giving in would make you happier than not giving in, because you know that a bottle of wine, a paper with heroin in it, could bring you joy.
      What is wrong with you that a chemical can bring you joy?
      Avoid plunges into despair like the plague they are.

Ten: But never say never again.
      This is what terrifies the addict. The idea of never again. You have to admit, there might come a time when you really need to do something like heroin. Or have a good stiff drink. The word never is too final; it sets you up for failure.
      When I was eighteen, I fell in love with Keith Richards. I was reading an interview with him in Playboy and he said he’d quit using heroin for the time being. He figured when he was eighty and sitting on his porch in a rocking chair, he could start using again. My sentiments exactly. It gave me hope. Made the prospect of life without dope easier.
      I need to feel that, on any given day, I can walk into a restaurant and order a glass of cold fume blanc to go with my figs and prosciutto. I can see myself there at a table in the sun. Ecstatic.

Eleven: Eleven steps only: I can’t leave it up to God.
      The Higher Power I believe in gave me free will. Just as He didn’t put the needle in my vein, the glass in my hand, or the cigarette between my lips, neither will He take them out. He is not going to give me a magical fix where I don’t want it any more—and, truth be told, that’s the only cure any addict wants.
      For someone like me—and, unfortunately, I’m not all that unusual—who began smoking dope and drinking at the age of fourteen, my whole sense of self, of who I was in the world was formed while I was under the influence of one substance or another. I saw myself as someone who was adventurous, a risk-taker. I wasn’t afraid of anything. But then I got pregnant. Suddenly I was someone who would poison her own child. Someone who was not powerful but powerless. This juxtaposition caused me profound dissonance, a state that, according to Piaget and other theorists, is conducive to insight and therefore change: Who was I? I had to choose, to create a new sense of myself. And so, with help, I did.
      Still, I sometimes wonder: which was the defining moment? The moment I first felt chemical nirvana? Or the moment I chose to stay clean for Michael?
      When I was in my twenties and thirties, I never would have admitted publicly to using drugs. Out of fear, I erased that girl, denied her, believed I had transformed myself completely. Now I can admit I am not so different from her. Both moments defined me. After all, a heroin addict is not so different from an alcoholic and neither is so different from the rest of us, or from those among us who need prescriptions to keep the darkness away. There are people who can’t survive, without help, the circumstances of their own lives. Is it any surprise that 85% of all women heroin addicts were sexually abused as children? And, of course, because all cycles are cyclical, there are men and women so broken they haven’t been able to raise their own children. Lives so damaged, so hopeless, that self-destruction is a relief, that the idea of hitting bottom—or of “bringing the bottom up”—is a perverse joke. There’s always another bottom to hit. There is no voice so scathing as the one inside your head.
      If I’ve learned anything from addiction, it’s compassion, of the liberal variety, and so I have to ask: if my “cure” implies a cause, what constellation of forces would have to come together to help people like my brother-in-law, who for years self-medicated, first with heroin and then with methadone. He’s only recently been diagnosed as schizophrenic but he probably had those problems when, at twenty, the state threw him into prison for selling about twenty dollars worth of heroin to an undercover cop. Whatever happened there, we don’t know. But he never recovered. He hears voices. He rarely leaves the small studio apartment we rent for him. He doesn’t qualify for disability. He’s the big guy at the grocery store, the one you don’t want to look at.