Like any culture, like basketball or politics or Hollywood, the world of drug addiction has
its own language, a parlance that is specialized and exclusive. But to be an insider in the drug world, to be
in the know, in the mix of it, is not necessarily desirable, or something you want to admit to. So before you
actually commit, you start off using your own words, your old words. "Letís go buy drugs," you say to
your new friends, or "Letís get something for tonight," though they all say, "Letís cop," or "Letís score."
But these sound strange to you, as if youíre trying too hard, as if youíre mimicking the natives. So you stay
with "Letís go buy drugs" for a couple of months, until even to yourself you sound awkward and amateur.
Then you give in-to "cop," letís say-but you put quotation marks around it, you give it a little spin, lest
anyone think you are unaware of how it sounds for you, who is still new at this, to be using the lingo like an
old hand, like a pro, like a seasoned addict.
Except everyone around you uses this lingo regularly, and the irony goes unnoticed,
unappreciated; this is a crowd that cops every day, a crowd thatís so high from the drugs they are copping
that theyíre often unsure what month it is, what year, whoís the president. And if youíre going to be part
of this world, if youíre going to join, you might as well get rid of the quotation marks and the efforts at
distance; you might as well accept that this is your language now, too. Youíre going to "cop" or youíre
going to cop, youíre going to "score" or youíre going to score-itís all the same anyway, quotation marks
or not, the same drugs, the same risk, the same high. The energy it takes to stay apart is wasteful, in that it is
draining: it undermines your primary goal, which is to lose consciousness, to blast your mind into oblivion,
and for this you must cooperate, you must capitulate. A hundred percent; or else why bother in the first
But then one day-months, years, later, when youíre a thousand miles past irony and
detachment, when youíre tightening a belt around your arm or handing another cup of urine to the nurse at
the methadone clinic-you realize that your drug life is over; youíre exhausted; youíre finished. Thatís
when you stumble into a twelve-step program, something Anonymous, and discover that thereís a whole
new language to learn, a whole new vocabulary that sounds alien and a bit absurd, but you have to learn it
to understand what others are talking about, to be understood if you decide to speak. For instance: every
day you will "make" a meeting. You wonít go to a meeting, or attend a meeting. You make a meeting
because thatís what everyone else does, because you hear it over and over-"if you donít know what else
to do, make a meeting," and "meeting makers make it." And if you decide to speak at the meeting that you
make, youíll "share." You may not feel as if youíre sharing, you may feel selfish and stingy, but thatís
what it will be called. People you respect, people with ten or twelve years off drugs, will say, "Thank you
for sharing" after youíve spoken; soon youíll find yourself, without thinking, without paying attention,
saying, "Thank you for letting me share."
Itís a language youíve read in self-help books, that youíve heard on television talk shows,
that youíve laughed at and rolled your eyes over, but now itís your language; and just as with "copping"
and copping, "scoring" and scoring, the only one who will know that youíre separate, the only one who will
notice, is you. The effort will soon become wearying, and youíll need all your energy to get through the
day, your blood spiked with panic as you try to face your family, the office, the subway. This panic, this
terror, that makes you yearn for chemical release-in meetings they tell you this is your "disease." You
may not believe addiction is a disease. You call it a disorder, an illness, even an affliction, but after a while
your tenacity starts to feel fanatic, or at least superfluous, since everyone else is saying it some other way.
They are all, in fact, saying it the same other way, all except you.
The thing about recovery, about the language of recovery, about the very nature of
recovery, is this: you feel, on the one hand, ridiculous-maybe youíre a teacher or an architect, maybe
youíre fluent in plate tectonics or Impressionist art or constitutional law. Now youíve wound up in a place
where people speak in aphorisms, many of which actually rhyme-"show up to grow up," "put some
gratitude in your attitude," "fake it Ďtil you make it." They grab your arm after a meeting and tell you that
the committee in your head wants you dead; the brain, they insist, is dangerous terrain. Yet they all, every
one of them, must know something that you donít, because in the middle of the night theyíre asleep in their
beds, while youíre out alone, in truly dangerous terrain, trading your watch or your VCR for a $5 vial of
Which is what gets you, finally, what got everyone else and what gets you, too: not the
watch or the VCR, not the police or the paranoia, but the fact that youíre out there by yourself. The old
crowd is gone, dispersed, done in; and a lot can be overlooked in the name of companionship, in the name
of a hand on your arm. So when the day comes that you hear yourself say "Iím an addict"-a grateful
addict, a grateful recovering addict, who came for the drugs but stayed for the hugs-well, if youíre going
to say it, you might as well mean it.