Halloween and addiction go hand in hand, for to be an addict is to live in fear, wear a mask, and witness intense horror that most only have nightmares about.
The intoxication from a pint of vodka, the electric buzz from snorting cocaine, the warm embrace from shooting heroin – drinking and drugging provides the height of human experience. It’s the promise of heaven on earth, but the hell that follows is a constant hunger, a cold emptiness. The craving to get high is a yearning not unlike that of any other blood-thirsty monster.
The best way to tell these truths of addiction is through a story, and dark truths such as these need a piece of horror to do them justice.
As a recovering addict of 20 plus years, and an addiction therapist for many of these, I have a different view of reality. Like so many others in my position, I live and breath around addiction and individuals who crave substances to not feel sick. Who overdose and die. Who do anything it takes to get these substances and live lives in ways that makes normal fringe cringe with terror.
What some folks see as a horror story, we see as a Tuesday afternoon.
Writing tales of addiction becomes my own way to express my fears. My novel, Milk-Blood, about a ten year old girl who is haunted by urban decay and becomes addicted to heroin, has been viewed as a terrifying story and has been optioned for film, but I did not write it to scare others. That is not it.
Nope, I figured out that I like to write addiction-horror because I am the one who is scared. I am just a scared little boy, and writing squeezes that out of me. Despite all my years of sobriety, I’m still that scared little kid, and now my fears have become full grown.
Addiction is part of it, but it is much more. I am scared of a universe where it seems God has forgotten us at times. I am scared of randomness of tragedy. Scared of my own feelings and expressing them. Scared of my own limitations, that I am wasting my life, born with whatever talents that are like seeds in the soil ready to grow but never saw sunlight. Scared of looking certain people in the eye. Fear they’ll understand me for a second, and that we’ll connect, or fear I’ll never be understood by another living soul. Scared I am doing it wrong. Scared you are mocking me right now. Scared I’m waiting for my real life to begin while I live some fake one. Scared that the finest humans of this world are destroyed by the worst ones in mass, unnoticeable genocides. Scared of that mole on my back.
Scared of that relapse that awaits me around the corner.
So that’s why I write horror, and often addiction horror. It is not to scare others, but rather because I am the one who is afraid.
Makes perfect sense that a coward like me relied on drugging and drinking for so long. But the greatest fears grow the strongest courage, and somehow I found the courage to stay clean and sober. Writing is the new drug that brings out the weird. The dark. The terrible way I sometimes see the world.
I should note that I have an immense capacity for joy. I smile often, have an incredible family, am blessed with many riches, and my favorite song growing up (which still makes me happy) is Disney’s “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” There are plenty of days I can’t open my mouth without a song jumping right out of it. I feel the light and happy just as much as the dark, and do believe there is a spirit that flows through all of us, and it is one of beneficence. And I see that shining light of God’s grace in grateful addicts every day, and that is part of what helps guide my way.
Writing about the darkness shines the light, too, into the horrors that live inside of me. All those existential fears need a face, and I need to stare them down so I can move on. That face is often the face of addiction, the monster that has killed so many, and has been my own life-long demon, staring up at me from street gutters ready to drag me down should I let it.
But not today. Today, I write.