Voices on Addiction: We Don’t Talk About Recovery



We don’t talk, for instance, about wine at dinner parties, or wine at house warmings, or boxed wine on the front stoop, or beers at the game, or mommy juice in sippy cups, about open bars or happy hours, champagne toasts or cakes drenched in rum, about all the gatherings—the celebrations—where we drink water, usually from the tap, because that’s all there is for us.

We don’t talk about thirsty Thursdays, how our co-workers stroll to the karaoke bar down the block, short-wire their nerves with sake, and then, one by one, blow off steam with off-pitch songs. We don’t talk about the stink of stale beer and stale bodies, or how the volume swells and how our voices rasp against the sound. We don’t talk about how someone always spills their drink, loses their keys, or drops their phone, and we are there to help—always, we are there to help—because we are clear-headed and because they are not. We don’t talk about how much we want to leave but stay anyway, because if we leave now, we won’t get that promotion, won’t be seen as team players; our colleagues will call us hard to read and difficult to work with—loners.

We don’t talk about being the designated driver every time, and every time pretending not to care.

We don’t talk about our friends who aren’t in recovery, how we tell them about our addiction, and how they forget. Over and over, they forget. And how, on our birthday, they ask to take us to the bar or the club, and how, if we say, I’d rather not, how even if we say, Sure, but let’s go out to eat instead of out to drink, that friend will scowl and never invite us anywhere again. We say to ourselves, Those aren’t my people, but the rejection chafes. It baffles, every time.

We don’t talk about small talk, how people outside recovery banter about kids and work and hobbies while we smile and keep quiet, because they wouldn’t understand about the three cars we totaled in our twenties, or the pills we stole from our aunt’s bathroom cabinet, how we OD’d, how we know more about supervised visitations and the long tail of a criminal record than we do about college applications or retirement savings, but we are learning.

We don’t talk about how our lives have transformed.

We don’t talk about what happens when we have children, how every day we worry the birds of addiction are building nests inside their bones.

We don’t talk about how, after our brains dry out, sometimes we find they have deteriorated, have been damaged or developed deficiencies, or sometimes were there all along, hidden beneath the dregs of a bottle or under a blanket of opiates.

We don’t talk about the restitutions that can’t be paid, the amends that will rot on the shelf. Some hang over us like a veil, catch at our heels, drag the floor, a consort of lace-stitched demons. There is no exorcising the past. The past is affixed to our wrists, the crowns of our heads, our knees. It drags, and all the demons drag with it, terrible, tender, little imps whispering, their words altering time like a wedding dress, future, past and present, basted and hemmed, overlapping, indistinguishable.

We don’t talk about the way trauma lives in the body. We don’t talk about the years it takes to regrow our skin, to reknit our synapses, how our bodies can’t always manage on their own—may never manage on their own—and isn’t it a miracle we have anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and somnambulants and supplements and CBD.

We don’t talk about surgery or chronic pain or aging, how life keeps happening, how sometimes we must take the pills, and sometimes we must take the pain. We learn meditation and visualization and deep breathing, utilize acupuncture and acupressure. Sometimes there are narcotics, and when we eat those little moons from the skies of our palms, our bodies dull and our minds sizzle-pop—electric, ungrounded, star-shot. And we must tether ourselves, bind ourselves tight, to keep from falling off the wagon.

We don’t talk about the onset of cravings, how their sharp little teeth can nip after five years, fifteen years, even forty-five years clean and sober.

We don’t talk about relapse or death, how staying in recovery means bearing witness to those who slip. We don’t talk about how hard we try to save them, and how sometimes—oftentimes—we fail.

We don’t talk about the funerals, and midnight calls, and hospital rooms that have embroidered themselves into the fabric of our lives.

We don’t talk about the fact that recovery doesn’t end twenty-eight days later, how most of us don’t even get twenty-eight days. We get a weekend, an afternoon, maybe a few midnight hours, and then it’s one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, for the rest of our lives.

We don’t talk about how that wasn’t the story you wanted to hear.

We don’t talk about the way we eat our truths and swallow our words, because of stigma, because of self-preservation, because no one asked, because it’s no one’s business, because there aren’t words enough, because the intersections are so complex, because we are exhausted, because it’s not our job to explain, because nothing changes, because there isn’t space or time or appetite, because it’s uncomfortable, because recovery is supposed to be a happy ending but it isn’t. It’s a beginning, and what comes next is rough, and joyful, and relentless. We only talk about that with each other in rooms we hope you’ll never have to visit. But if, or when, you do, we will be there. We will listen.



Rumpus original art by Clare Nauman

Voices on Addiction is a column devoted to true personal narratives of addiction, curated by Kelly Thompson, and authored by the spectrum of individuals affected by this illness. Through these essays, interviews, and book reviews we hope—in the words of Rebecca Solnit—to break the story by breaking the status quo of addiction: the shame, stigma, and hopelessness, and the lies and myths that surround it. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, adult children, extended family members, spouses, friends, employers or employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors, victims of crimes, and those who’ve committed crimes as addicts, and the personnel who often serve them, nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, prison guards, police officers, policy makers and, of course, addicts themselves: Voices on Addiction will feature your stories. Because the story of addiction impacts us all. It’s time we break it. Submit here.

Sarah’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Normal School, Prairie Schooner, and Scary Mommy, among others. She is the recipient of the Maine Literary Award for Nonfiction, the Glascock Prize in Poetry, the Katherine McFarland Prize for fiction, and is currently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in the woods of Maine with her wild family and very tame dog. More from this author →