J was a curly-haired sophomore who drove what we called the party car: whenever he showed up he would unload an enormous duffel bag of hookahs and weed and terrible alcohol, for some reason usually electric blue bottles of Alizé. There were other drugs, too, but I didn’t partake so I couldn’t tell you what all he provided. It was never clear to me where it all came from, how my prep school classmates scored their ‘shrooms, E, coke and meth, or who met the actual drug dealers so that my friends could distribute in the parking lot before first period.
J’s parents found out about his habits and the company he was keeping and sent him off to boot camp rehab out in Utah, which sounded like it was as much a scared straight punishment program as it was treatment for any actual substance abuse issues.
After J went other classmates peeled away in short order, five or ten more pulled from class mid-week, leaving us with rumor and speculation: he was in the psych ward at UCLA before they would let him get on a plane; she was doing heroin in her bedroom by the time her parents figured it out. These rumors ought to have served as cautionary tales, but seventeen year olds experimenting with hard drugs are not exactly looking for the lesson in things. It seemed like every time one of them went, those who remained would redouble their efforts, hellbent on proving to everyone just how untouchable they were.
My peers and I were given free time and privacy and plenty of petty cash and we’d been drinking on the sly for years. It was the sheer reckless low-class introduction of actual drugs that started the trouble, at least I always thought: well-heeled parents discovered The Dangers of the Street in their living rooms, manifest in their children, and so they sent the whole package away to get treated, out somewhere safe, sane, sanitized.
But what, if anything, was being treated? Addiction can come at you down any number of streets, according to the language of recovery, which drops proper names for the phrase drug of choice. Addiction is a mind-state, a disease, a lifestyle, in some cases the whole of a life; it doesn’t much matter what you’re beholden to, specifically, when you’re really in its grip. We all believed, then, in the hierarchy of substances: weed as gateway, with an even-rung ladder descending to heroin. It was what you tried rather than how you felt about it that mattered; it was doing the bad drugs that got you in trouble, not doing the safe ones over and over again.
The trick of addiction is that it flattens the playing field completely. The treatment centers and twelve-step meetings of Glory Goes and Gets Some are stocked with an assorted and motley crew, all ages, races, creeds, and backgrounds represented. And yet beyond that treatment center and even within it, the rules of the world still apply; who gets treated and for what, how we talk about it and what the consequences are: they are absolutely affected by who the addict was, before she was an addict. “Here was Glory, beloved baby girl of professional parents, going into neighborhoods her great grandfather had worked all his life to get out of, sniffing around for heroin, the opiate of the people. Marie Antoinette in her little peasant dress, Glory in her leather jacket,” as Carter has it in Parachute Silk. Any self-pity on this point would be unbearable, holier-than-thou, and cloying, but Glory’s self-reproach is always salted with open acceptance and good humor. “Of course by tastefully furnished I mean not furnished in the style of the working class. That’s the kind of evil fascist I am,” she says cheerfully, describing the apartment of a Minneapolis neighbor.
It isn’t only Glory’s privilege that keeps her safe: you can be saved by privilege and never understand how or why. “I knew that self-destruction was a vile method of slumming; I knew that there were people who got destroyed whether or not they wanted to,” she says. Privilege can be the beginning of laziness, resting on parental affection and the blanket certainty of having money; certainly my high school friends were lazy, snorting coke in their cars and then becoming enraged when their parents discovered the leftovers in the glove compartment, moving the car on street-sweeping day while they slept off last night’s bender. It was hard to like them, then, though most days it was also hard to like myself, whose teetotaler choices seemed to be to stay home and cry or go out and seethe with self-righteousness and anxiety. When the crisis point came, as it did for several of them, I was never there to intervene—I’d held myself too far aloof to be trusted by anyone in serious need. Anyway, it turned out that getting to rehab is really only half of the battle, the half that privilege will help with; once you’re there, as Glory’s story demonstrates, getting better is up to you.
It’s easiest when you have a lot to get rid of some of it, so then you can have something to blame when things go wrong. Sometimes I believe that’s really what those friends were trying to do: making themselves weak so that they’d have to be noticed and cared for. It’s a method of self-destruction I know intimately, though I took other paths to get there. But that’s one difference between using and being an addict: one has a purpose, however hazily known or pursued, where the other has no ends, no end. What Glory has, ultimately, is energy, boundless, and a “trumpet mouth”: she is no victim, swooning and lost. She tells us about the senseless things her body wanted, and how she learned to ignore it and still take care of herself, about setting boundaries around need and desire, the body and the self.
“It’s better not to think in these religious extremes. Better to just break it down into smaller, more manageable units of time. The nice thing about small units of time is how they add up. I’ve added them up, so far, into two years, three months, four days, and right up into this minute, right now, on my porch,” Glory says, and this is the truth at the center of every story about addiction: it is all journey and process, recovery. It is not one story but a series of them, each its own unit, building. Sobriety means giving up on waiting because: waiting for what? The choices come down to relapse or death. Sobriety means radically re-imagining the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives; it means giving up on the idea that we’re privileged or punished, that we’re so different from everyone else around us. “Laughter is how you’ll know the merciful end of time has made its first stop,” Glory says, “that and the people running outside to tell everyone.”