A couple weeks ago, I came upon a book on amazon that caught my eye. The cover is lovely, and the reviews were glowing, but that wasn't what peaked my interest.
My career thus far has been as an Addictions Therapist. I've worked with children as young as 14, adults as old as 79, and every age or socio-economic status in between. One thing that remains a constant is the manner in which addiction can bring a person to the very depths of a living hell. Many don't make it through alive.
“I could feel my chin falling towards my chest, my back hunching forward. My body was acting on its own, and my mind was empty, like all my memories had been erased. There was scenery behind my lids. Aqua colored water and powdery sand that extended for miles. I was never going back to coke. I wanted more heroin. And I wanted it now.”
Leaving behind a nightmarish college experience, nineteen-year-old Nicole and her best friend Eric escape their home of Bangor, Maine to start a new life in Boston. Fragile and scared, Nicole desperately seeks a new beginning to help erase her past. But there is something besides freedom waiting for her in the shadows–a drug that will make every day a nightmare.
With one taste, the love that once flowed through Nicole’s veins turns into cravings. Tracks mark the passing of time, and heroin’s grip gets tighter. It holds her hand through deaths and prostitution, but her addiction keeps her in the darkness. When her family tries to strike a match to help light her way, Nicole must choose between a life she can hardly remember, or a love for heroin she’ll never forget.
I decided that I had to read this book, not only because the subject matter was of personal interest to me, but because I wanted to see if the author knew what she was talking about...
I started reading. I kept reading. I got sucked in, and couldn't put it down. The whole time I was reading, one part of my brain was engaged in how gruesomely entertaining Nicole's story was, and the other was how gruesomely accurate the depiction of addiction was. My first thought after finishing the very last sentence was, "Wow."
My second thought was that every single Addictions Therapist or Counselor who has not experienced an addiction of their own should be mandated to read Nicole's story. Here's the catch. This is a work of fiction, technically. "Nicole" doesn't exist. But the reality is that there are thousands and thousands of men and women like Nicole.
I engaged the author, Marni Mann, in a discussion, because I was fascinated by how she managed to write such a "true story". I asked if she would be willing to do an interview for this blog, and she very graciously agreed to discuss the creation of "Memoirs Aren't Fairytales: A Story of Addiction."
Me: What made you want to write about heroin addiction?
Marni Mann: I have several addicts in my life. I‘ve lost track of how many times I’ve been affected by their disease, and my pain turned into a novel. I chose heroin because it was a drug I didn’t know much about. I wanted this novel to be a challenge, meaning the descriptions of being high would require a lot of research. I chose a first person narrative for the same reason. It not only allowed the readers to get close to the main character, but it required me to become that character, feel her pain, exhale her breath, carry the weight of her past and future.
Me: Tell us about the research you conducted in order to write with such
accuracy and really explore the nitty, gritty details of where this lifestyle
Marni Mann: I read books, watched documentaries, and spoke to professionals. Those really helped when writing the technical aspects of the novel. The personal touches came from listening to real voices of addiction. I met with addicts and recovering addicts, paying close attention to the lingo they used and the descriptions of being high after they shot up heroin. I wasn’t just surprised by their candor, but how they welcomed me into their world and trusted me with their stories.
Me: Was it emotionally challenging to write Nicole's story?
Marni Mann: Nicole kept me awake at night. Her story would swirl around my head like a talking bubble and her pain would tear through me. Like I said before, in order for me to write this story I had to become her; her addiction sat in my stomach, her experiences caused knots in my throat, her tears filled my eyes. Nicole’s baggage wasn’t the size of my purse. I carried an 18-wheeler on my shoulders for two and a half years because that’s how long it took me to write and edit this novel.
Me: Why do you think drug use is often glamorized in the media?
Marni Mann: Most of us live boring lives. We stay home on Saturday nights because we’re too tired to change out of our sweatpants. Our 9-5 jobs suck the life out of us, we care for our kids, animals, family, responsibilities, and it’s a lot to handle. We want excitement. We want what we can’t have. Celebrities provide that escape; they have fame and fortune and most of us will never experience that. In my opinion, the media is giving us exactly what we’re asking for. We want the thrill, a taste of something we’ll never have, and drinking and drug use is a part of that. With shows like Intervention, Celebrity Rehab, and Sober House, I hope people realize it’s not all private jets and trips to the Playboy mansion. It’s darkness, isolation, poverty, and death. We thought Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson had it all, didn’t we?
Me: Most stories about addiction mention self-help groups (such as AA/NA). Was there a reason why you chose not to include these resources as part of Nicole's journey?
Marni Mann: This is a hard question to answer because I don’t want to give away too much information. Memoirs Aren’t Fairytales is a story about addiction. Scars from a Memoir, the sequel, addresses the different aspects of recovery, including NA and rehab.
Me: What would be some advice you might give to someone who themself is struggling with an addiction, or who loves someone who is active in an addiction?
Marni Mann: To the friends and family of an addict: Remember, an addict has to want sobriety as much as you want it for them. I encourage you to attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings. You need support because you can’t do this alone. Both groups are extremely beneficial; they teach you how to stop enabling the addict, the effective ways to stage an intervention, and they’re the ears you need during this difficult time.
To anyone struggling with an addiction: You can do this. There’s a will inside you that’s stronger than your addiction. That will is to get clean. To live. To wake up each morning and the first voice you hear isn’t your addiction. It’s from the people who love and support you, and who are proud of your success and accomplishments. Find that will. Utilize the resources that are available such as 12-Step meetings, counseling, or rehab.
Some people will avoid this book because it will make them uncomfortable. That's ok. But if you want to know what addiction really is like, if you want to understand how someone smart, talented, and seeming to have it all ends up living on the streets, then you must read it. If you want to hear the story of thousands of young people in the U.S., read this book. If you want to know the faces of the hundreds of people I have worked with over the past 11+ years, read this book. If you know and love someone who has an addiction, read this book. Marni Mann has created a masterpiece, and I dedicate this blog to everyone whose life has ever been touched by addiction in some way. I'm grateful to her for her participation and for the lives that will be touched by her work!
If you are interested in purchasing this book, you can find it at the following links: