Thursday, August 2, 2012

Addiction and Horror: The Damage Done

Servante of Darkness: August 2012

Literary Horror in Fiction and Nonfiction

Hammered by G.N. Braun
Euphoria by Lorraine McLeod
Iced by Ray Shell
and More
Reviewed by Anthony Servante


I grew up in East Los Angeles, California, USA. Drugs and addiction are old hat to me. I’ve seen people die before my eyes, mutilated, robbed, stabbed, humiliated and arrested. So death and horror were part of my childhood. I was jaded by the commonplace activities of the drug culture and as a teen indulged in it myself: marijuana, hashish, mushrooms, LSD, and Speed was as strong as I went, but where there’s one, there’s the other stronger stuff: heroin and morphine, downers and uppers. But as jaded as I was about seeing others die, I did not want to die. Paranoia was the reminder for the deaths of those around me: Snowman froze to death waiting for a bus that no longer ran. He had on a t-shirt in the freezing rain. Slow-Mo had a heroin stutter, but he was a veteran, so the kids looked up to him. Rainbow bit off the nose of a man who tried to resuscitate him from an OD. Short-Stuff shot a tecato who tried to rob his store and Shorty went to jail 'cuz the guy was an ex-cop. Chuy sliced the eyelid off a guy who was staring at his girlfriend. Every time I indulged in some high, I became extremely self-aware. I could feel my heart beating, louder, harder, as if it were about to explode. The fear of this self-awareness ended my experimentation with drug abuse.

So when I decided to do a column on Addiction and Horror, I expected to find horrors beyond my experiences. In some ways I did; in others I didn’t. So I read beyond the nonfictional accounts of addiction and turned to fiction for the horrors exaggerated by the tale tellers. In Eurphoria, the ancient Mexican culture of drugs and sacrifice becomes a metaphor for today’s drug scene. In F. Paul Wilson’s All the Rage, there is a drug that drives men mad; it resembles the effects commonly seen in Angel Dust users. In Iced by Ray Shell, the author depicts the fall of a rising academic star into the throes of addiction and gives us a look at one possible scenario into a realistic drug addict. Maya Angelou praised Iced for its gritty depictions of the streets. On the nonfictional side, we look at De Quincey and his depiction of opium addiction. The chief criticism of his work is that he glamourizes the opium lifestyle, almost painting himself as heroic, an anti-hero so to speak. He added an addendum to the second edition to address the darker side of its usage. The same criticism follows Braun in his work, Hammered. This is a 9 to 5 look at the heroin scene. The horror comes from its complacency, its cold and distant approach to addiction. Forgive me my jaded view on this subject, but it may help to understand how horror for one person is not so for another and vise versa. Loss of control for me is death, but some addicts are in control of death by keeping it close-by. It isn't until death's icy touch reminds them that control is subjective, and then the hard decisions must be made before losing control becomes a permanent thing. .

Addiction and Horror: The Damage Done

An Examination of Drug Abuse and Its Depiction in Literature

By Anthony Servante

Addiction to drugs has been portrayed in literature for many, many years, both as fiction and as nonfiction, from Euphoria by Lorraine McLeod, All the Rage by F. Paul Wilson, and Iced by Ray Shell, to Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey, Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, and Hammered: Memoir of an Addict by G.N. Braun. There is that rare book, however, that traverses the line between fact and fiction, capturing the horrors of addiction while involving the reader with the repulsive side of the lifestyle without the glamour often inherent in such fictional accounts. Hammered is such a book and therefore the focus of this article. Although I use other books, both fiction and nonfiction, they are only to contrast drug uses for literary purposes. Your shadowy host will discuss the varying degrees of addiction in the literature of Horror compared with the social and mental horrors found in nonfiction accounts, and try to clarify the line that divides fiction from nonfiction in the lifestyles of addicts.

Addiction is control. The common misconception is that the abuse of drugs leads to a life of chaos for the individual and society. But the control of drugs is meticulous: from the cartels to the dealers to the buyers; and in turn the use of drugs is equally maintained. One acquires the money to purchase the ware, organizes the lifestyle to fit around its use, and enjoys the high knowing that after the comedown from the drug of choice, it is time to start acquiring the funds to resume the cycle. The acquisition usually comes in the form of a steady job, so the highs of the addict cannot exceed the risk to losing the work. That is the balance, the control. Only when the dope is uncut or of a higher quality than the drug user is accustomed to does the user break the cycle, commonly by overdose, which doesn’t always lead to death but to days missed at work or the loss of the job. But this break is not the rule but the exception, for the user does not want to detour from the routine that takes many years to refine and fine tune. In fiction, this cycle is nominalized and the elements of the routine are exaggerated by allusion and metaphor.

Let’s begin with the fictional work Euphoria by Lorraine McLeod. Lorraine has been writing for many years. Her short story 'Parasite' won the July 2010 Story Slam. Her new novel Euphoria has just been released. Summary. “A club drug that makes ecstasy look like caffeine, Euphoria, is an instant hit, but it turns addicts into killers. Each victim brings ancient Mayan demon Grohah closer to physical life. To fulfill the prophecy of a new world in 2012, many must die in order for Grohah, an ancient demon, to walk the earth again. Ordinary people are faced with extraordinary choices. Which is worse, the evil we can see, or the evil we can’t?” Euphoria concentrates on creating a realistic drug to propel the supernatural events of the storyline; it portrays addiction as seen from the point of view of a hardboiled cop, an emergency room doctor, and a drug dealer/demon worshiper.

McLeod metaphorically sees the cartel as old Mexico “demons” as exemplified by Grohah, and the victims as children and their parents. I asked Ms. McLeod, “What drug are you mimicking or is it just a made up drug? Is it crack, heroin, ecstasy, or??” She answered, “I made the whole thing up, but I did base it on two hallucinogenics used by the Mayans and the Aztecs. One was derived from the flower, Morning Glory and the other, an hallucinagenic mushroom. Both of these were from Mexico. I then added coke in there for a bit of extra flavour!” In the books, the drug is described, “This batch was perfect. His secret ingredients included the seeds from a rare flower of the family Convolvulaceae, which was once used by the Aztec civilization to induce hallucinations. The more common example of this species of flower could be found in most garden shops, but he’d travelled to Mexico for just the exact one he needed. Little trace of the substance would be found in the human body once the effects had worn off.” McLeod further explains, “I took a few liberties. I made Grohah a demon from the Mayans, and included some stuff from the Aztecs. This is because the Aztecs did have some culture similar to the Mayans but I wanted to connect both civilzations in the book.” The drug is part of a ritual; the addicts lose complete control of themselves, succumbing to the old gods of ancient Mexico. The story works as a metaphor for the presence of the Latino Drug Cartels via their illegal substance presence throughout the world. The drug euphoria could be any medical substance that is manufactured illegally and distributed via the streets for a higher purpose, namely money. The big picture minimizes the buyer, the addict who supplies the money. These addicts, or victims, lose control of their lives literally, for a metaphoric god.

Lorraine McLeod

The book as fiction is excellent reading. I enjoyed the parallels to the Mayans and Aztecs, especially the 2012 predictions of the end of the world. A hardboiled detective story with a love story subplot, Euphoria mounts a tension filled story that is as exciting as it is horrific. Don’t let Lorraine McLeod’s dainty picture fool you. She wields a mighty pen and tells a tale not for the squeamish. But her addicts are literally sacrifices for the storyline. We are still far away from our depiction of the “real” addict who is in control.

In All the Rage by F. Paul Wilson, Repairman Jack is always in control. "Wilson has written in just about every genre--science fiction, fantasy, horror, medical thrillers, political thrillers, even a religious thriller. So far he has about 33 books and 100 or so short stories in 24 languages" (from Amazon profile). All the Rage takes Jack into the underworld of drug abuse where control is a matter of perspective. As in Euphoria, the drug is not a conventional one but a supernaturally based one: I asked F. Paul Wilson about his drug in the novel and whether it was based on any real medical substance. Wilson answered, ‘”I conceived of Berzerk as one of those drugs that has a good application in the proper dose but dangerous in excess. It's a confidence builder in the proper dose and can overcome social phobia, banishing shyness, allowing one to be more assertive in life. At too high a dose, it has only negative effects. As the dose increases the person becomes overly aggressive, hostile, and prone to unprovoked violence and insensate rage without a thought as to the consequences.” If used correctly the drug controls the patient, but if abused, the patient loses control. In essence, Berserk could be any drug that can be misused. The addict to such a drug would destroy his own self-restraint. Just as alcohol in excess eliminates inhibitions, Berserk provokes a total shutdown of the addict’s control over his own actions, turning him into a lethal weapon. This is the common view of drug addicts—out of control monsters preying on victims for money to buy their next high. They are the outsiders to the world of restraint, of citizens who obey the red lights and walk between the white line cross-walks.

F. Paul Wilson

Jack represents the fringes of society, society being the conventional law and order system that balances man’s desire for recklessness and his need for restraint. He operates outside the law but with the purpose to balance those illegal or immoral actions that law enforcement cannot or will not deal with. Thus Jack is always teetering on the verge of loss of control, the control he has taught himself to maintain since he was a child, after the loss of his mother. F. Paul Wilson further explains: “Jack carries a ball of smoldering rage around with him. He controls it most of the time, only rarely letting it out of the cage. One of the reasons for writing All the Rage was to see what would happen if someone slipped him a dose of Berzerk.” So, again we see that loss of control is associated with the abuse of drugs; in proper dozes the drug does good and vice versa. The assumption then is that a drug addict is not in control, even violent and a threat to society; and again we see the loss of control being represented by the supernatural, here, for instance, by The Otherness, which basically represents the opposite of balance. The Adversary Cycle books, of which Repairman Jack is part, deal with a world out of balance, a plaything between two great forces. All the Rage represents this great struggle at a human level, using drug addiction to stand in for good and evil. It is one of my favorite books in the series, and the scene where Jack loses control is classic F. Paul Wilson. But, although Jack could represent the addict’s id, our addict in control is still not seen.

Which brings us to Iced by Ray Shell. "Shell is an African American film, TV and stage actor, as well as a writer. He also plans to begin production on the filming of Iced this Winter 2012" (Wiki). In his fictional account of a crack addict, Cornelius Washington, a student begins a downward spiral in his loss of control over a promising future. He has lost control over his life and has no routine. However, as he still clings to some dignity, he manages to find work, but cannot maintain the routines as his control deteriorates. We begin to see a semblance of the addict in control, but for the sake of literary exposition, the hero must fall. He resembles that clichéd drug addict; here there are no supernatural events at work, even though such addicts are referred to as “vampire-zombies”. There is no big picture with drug dealers or cartels. The addict himself is the big and small picture. The drug is crack cocaine, a real drug. Here he simply succumbs to his temptations and degrades himself in sexual and immoral ways in order to obtain crack rocks to smoke from his pipe or whatever handmade device he can put together to puff his ware, his drug of choice. But without any semblance of the cycle of control for this poor addicted character, the fiction here is marginalized into its plunge toward the character’s total downfall, the total loss of control. Cornelius writes in his journal: “I had to face the cold. Cold that clamped itself to your skin and bit until you were blue. Until you couldn't feel anything anymore. Until you wished that you were dead. Afraid to go to sleep at night because you knew you wouldn't wake up. I saw a couple of Vampire-Zombies leave the earth that way during that hellish winter. The dealers who cleaned up the bathroom would haul their bodies out like sacks of sand and fling them onto the garbage dump behind the building.” Then our narrator recalls his last day as a Vamp-Zom. SPOILER! SKIP THIS PART AND GO TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO KNOW THE ENDING OF ICED. The main character in a drugged stupor lifts an infant over his head and throws it off the roof, defying those pleading with him not to. He has become a monster, albeit, a human one. This is as far as fiction can take us into the world of drugs. Demons as metaphors for drugs, drugs as the basis of the loss of self-control, and finally, one’s total loss of self, an addict without human identity, more monster than man. Those who haven’t read it may want to read Iced for its poetic style of writing and the prose depiction of a college boy turned into a Vampire-Zombie, a crack addict who only survived because of his horrific final act as an addict. And here we take one step toward the addict in control that we find in nonfiction literature.

Which brings us to the nonfictional depiction of the addict.

(Please note: A free copy of this book is available thanks to the Gutenberg Organization)

Let’s turn to Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey. De Quincey’s drug cycle, his routine, was so normal, so lacking in any sensational chaos or plunges into fits of self-destruction that critics accused him of glamorizing the lifestyle of the addict. To counter this criticism, the author added an Appendix to the second printing of his book to depict a more horrific side to the routine and its consequences, something akin to the deterioration of the addict in Iced. He writes of his initial encounter with the drug: “Opium! dread agent of unimaginable pleasure and pain! I had heard of it as I had of manna or of ambrosia, but no further. How unmeaning a sound was it at that time: what solemn chords does it now strike upon my heart! what heart-quaking vibrations of sad and happy remembrances!” He then goes on to describe the ecstasy of his first dose of the drug: “…this negative effect was swallowed up in the immensity of those positive effects which had opened before me—in the abyss of divine enjoyment thus suddenly revealed. Here was a panacea, a φαρμακον [potion] for all human woes; here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered: happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat pocket; portable ecstacies might be had corked up in a pint bottle, and peace of mind could be sent down in gallons by the mail-coach.” Thusly, he establishes his routine, informing his reader that the drug does not exaggerate activity but rather it is activity that normalizes the use of the drug: “Thus I have shown that opium does not of necessity produce inactivity or torpor, but that, on the contrary, it often led me into markets and theatres.” The routine has now been established, and his writings soon followed, but the criticism of his exuberance of lifestyle and his description of such met the success of his book. As we will see later with G.N. Braun, De Quincey too underscores his drug use with psychological trauma in youth.

The infamous Appendix to Confessions tries to assuage the reader from any impressions that the lifestyle of an opium addict was anything but glorious: “Those who have read the Confessions will have closed them with the impression that I had wholly renounced the use of opium. This impression I meant to convey, and that for two reasons: first, because the very act of deliberately recording such a state of suffering necessarily presumes in the recorder a power of surveying his own case as a cool spectator, and a degree of spirits for adequately describing it which it would be inconsistent to suppose in any person speaking from the station of an actual sufferer; secondly, because I, who had descended from so large a quantity as 8,000 drops to so small a one (comparatively speaking) as a quantity ranging between 300 and 160 drops, might well suppose that the victory was in effect achieved. In suffering my readers, therefore, to think of me as of a reformed opium-eater, I left no impression but what I shared myself; and, as may be seen, even this impression was left to be collected from the general tone of the conclusion, and not from any specific words, which are in no instance at variance with the literal truth.” So, even in sobriety, De Quincey was still on the defensive. The literary higher-ups were bearing down on him. But it is true that many writers of the day followed in his footsteps and took up the opium habit simply because they read his book. They followed his routine. If he could survive the drug and become a famous writer, so could they. They would become addicts in control and become part of the cycle. Only in this day and age, the dealers were legal pharmacists, making it so much easier to begin the vicious circle of addiction.

In Naked Lunch, William Burroughs addresses the pyramid, the cycle of the addict from the lower depths of acquiring drugs to the leisurely life of the dealers living for the pleasures on the higher rungs of the cycle, living for providing highs to the addicts on the lower rungs. Tom Burgis writes: “The dependency pyramid: Naked Lunch satirises society organised through addiction. Addiction and the desperation it engenders in junkies become an allegory of consumption and of the savagery that ensues when people fall prey to what Burroughs calls ‘the algebra of need.’ The basic point, as Burroughs explained once he was straight enough to write an introduction, is that opiate addicts exist in a pyramid: ‘The pyramid of junk, one level eating the level below (it is no accident that junk higher-ups are always fat and the addict in the street is always thin) right up to the top or tops as there are many junk pyramids feeding on peoples of the world and all built on the basic principles of monopoly. In the novel's dystopian locale, Interzone, these principles of monopoly underpin the dominance of The Pushers, who keep ‘a million screaming junkies’ in thrall by ‘inventing needs.’ In Interzone, power is the only cherished thing. As an inhabitant explains, ‘control can never be a means to any practical end ... It can never be a means to anything but more control ... Like junk ..." In today’s terms, the lower addicts were the 90 percenters, while the higher level addicts comprised the 10 percenters or the elite. He describes the lower levels as skinny skeletal men who oftimes used longer hypodermic needles in order to find an artery because all the veins had receded into hiding from the probing needle, and sometimes, when using the longer needles, struck bone in search of an artery. The higher levels were fat men with nice suits who were often confused with non-addicts because they had the same routines as straight shooters or squares to use the parlance of the Beat Generation. They still had strong veins that protruded the skin. And in this combination of the junkie pyramid and the routine of the addict, as depicted by De Quincey, do we find the addict in control, the straight shooter, the top of the rung user.

Which finally brings us to Hammered: Memoirs of an Addict by G.N. Braun. "G.N. Braun was raised in Melbourne's gritty Western Suburbs. He is a trained nurse, and holds a Cert. IV in Professional Writing and Editing. He is currently studying for a Dip. Arts (Professional Writing and Editing). He writes fiction untied to any genre, and is the author of 'Boneyard Smack', 'Bubba wants YOU', 'Insurrection' (all available as free downloads from Legumeman Books) and 'Santa Akbar!' (published in Festive Fear: Global Edition, out through Tasmaniac Publications in Australia). He has a short story--'Autumn as Metaphor'--in the charity anthology Horror For Good, as well as numerous articles published in newspapers. He is the current president of the Australian Horror Writers Association, as well as the past director of the Australian Shadows Awards. His memoir, Hammered, was released in early 2012 by Legumeman Books. He is the owner of Cohesion Editing and Proofreading " (Amazon Profile). Braun is all about routine. His work suffers the same criticism De Quincey endured, that it lacks a horrific element, but he dared to show that the cycle he established was itself the horror he lived. Its normalcy resembling Burroughs' higher addicts on the rungs of the pyramid was itself the routine of self-destruction imitating a productive lifestyle. The drugs for Braun were the reward for a life of maintenance. What I found so honest in the book’s portrayal of addiction was the hope that today was the end of the cycle, just as the last pack of cigarettes by the smoker was always his last pack, and the one after that, and the one after that, but this one for sure is the last one. It is a vicious cycle but a cycle nonetheless. That belief that this is truly the last one, the last fix, the end of the routine, perpetuates the routine. Hope is the horror and to face the horror, one must admit that one cannot break the cycle and that this is not the last pack, not the last fix, just the next one before the next, and thereby recognizing something new in the cycle, that there is no hope of quitting. But therein lies the break in the routine. No longer is this the last pack; it is the next pack and I will never quit because I am an addict. Admission is made. The man in the mirror is you, not the quitter, but the drug abuser. And with this break in the routine, this realization, this effusive epiphany, the cycle is broken. I am an addict.

Braun reaches this moment of self-realization and finally breaks his cycle, but this is not a happy ending, for the cycle pulls him back in. He quits, then says, I can quit so I can do one more and then quit because I proved I can quit. And the new cycle begins. I am not in control of tomorrow without carrying the regrets of yesterday or the false hope for quitting. I can only control right now. What I do right now is all that matters, otherwise the cycle begins again. But let’s begin with the creation of Braun’s cycle of addiction and recognize the development and maintenance of his routine.

G.N. Braun

As a young boy, Braun was molested by a trusted instructor. He lost his self-worth. He coped, but as the years went by, he needed help to deal with the feeling of being victimized, of losing control over his own self-esteem. With his first high, he found that help. He could function as a part of the law and order world of society. He studied to become a nurse, found a source of income, and developed a habit to feed. From this routine, he was normal again, the kid who had a second chance, for if he could forget the abuse ever happened, it never happened and his life could resume under these new circumstances, with drugs and highs to balance the forgetting and the moving forward.

In fiction, we saw nature (and often the supernatural) controlling us; euphoria destroyed addicts and the metaphoric dealers (demons) controlled their lives. Repairman Jack was in control, but the drug Berserk unleashed him, thanks to the Otherness. Cornelius succumbed to crack cocaine and became a Vampire-Zombie, a killer without remorse. In nonfiction, however, drugs control by routine and give one the sensation of control; chaos is nature vs control of chaos by surrendering to it, come what may. Be in control of the horror or the horror will be in control of you. The addict in control vs. the addict out of control. De Quincey maintained his opium addiction and became famous for it via his journal of his routines. Burroughs discusses the existence here that is organized with a means and ends. In the nether world, on the lowest rung of the pyramid are the zombie-vampires, in a uni-existence based solely on keeping a level of “highness” rather than keeping a life afloat for which to get high. The fat get fatter, the thin thinner. The goals are different. One for money, the other for the high. The Vampire-Zombies are the means for the money; crime is the means to get high because that is how they get the money. It starts with borrowing, stealing, robbing, and then murder. Braun’s routine was enabled by an enabler, his friend and lover Carolyn, just as her routine was enabled by Braun: I asked him about this relationship, “Hey, G, Got a few questions for you. 1. Do you think you were enabling Carolyn? She seems addicted to you. 2. Do you think you and Carolyn together made a poison mix (or as King Crimson says, Three of a Perfect Pair)? 3. The central conceit I have found in your book is "control" and lack of it. Since you lost control as a kid, you seem to be struggling to regain it, usually over the people around you. You even mock those in control, the courts and the cops. When you control the flow of smack between yourself and others, you seem almost elated with power. Could you expand on this, whether you agree or disagree? Thanks, Anthony”. Braun responds: “Hi Anthony,
1) Yes, as she was also enabling me. I think we were both co-dependant.
2) Absolutely. We were both bad for each other.
3) I can see what you are saying in regard to control, for sure. In that subculture, respect and a semblance of control were everything. I always felt better when I had both.
The loss of control I went through when I was a child echoed down the ages, and I swore that I would always have control of my circumstances from that point, and then turned to drugs, which are almost a dictionary definition of no control. Ironic? I think so. When I was dealing, and I was the one holding the reigns, I felt better than I had for a long time. I was in control of when I had the stuff myself, and to some point, in control of Carolyn's usage, too. When I was busted and I went back to not being in any control, I felt worse than I ever had. At that point, I began to see that the only way to take back some form of control was to get off the stuff.”

Carolyn’s story is interesting as it mirrors Braun’s. She risks her kids and her education and her future not on GN but on the lifestyle. GN enables her. Hers is the story of addiction hidden within the allusion of progressing in life: a student, a parent, a lover. Together these two are poison, and we can only imagine what the kids had seen and what they know and live with. The kids are worth the risk of getting high, as he rationalizes that he will quit for the kids. The high is for himself; the girl is angry with him for shooting up alone, without her, “jealous” of his high. Even as she tries to turn him into the police, she promptly takes him back when he eludes the law. She acts oblivious of his presence as she goes through the motions of a normal life, all the while living at the lowest level of the addict, at the precipice with her kids at her side. His disrespect and description of the law enforcement authorities is a form of denial. To depict the cops as slow and incompetent shows him as street smart and savvy. He hides drugs in his cell, he holds stolen books after he is caught shoplifting, and his getting high or selling the books for a quick high right after being released may come across as a savvy guy who put one over on Joe Law, but in fact it shows him as a unrepenting addict who has no intentions to quit. This is the last high, remember? Even when the courts show him mercy and suspend his sentence, his first thoughts are that the courts are incompetent and he is free to get high again. It is scary to think such addicts with such thoughts are on the streets looking at us sober folk as ghosts and shadows to their goals. Seems more annoyed by heroin than addicted to it: The Bureaucratic approach to addiction, as Burroughs describes it.

Burroughs Junkie Pyramid

When Braun “quits” and feels back in control of a sober existence, he rationalizes his new routine: “I felt great after day eight, although I hadn’t really suffered at all during my stay. Between the Valium and the sleeping tablets, as well as the Clonidine to ease the symptoms, I always felt more normal in there than I did outside. I really thought this would make the difference, but I scored within ten minutes of my check-out. It’s like a switch flicks over to ‘stupid’ as soon as I’m loose in Melbourne with money. I don’t think of anything but the rush of the taste. Once I’m stoned, I regret it, but up until then, I just concentrate on getting high.” Braun has the same misgivings attributed to De Quincey—not enough horror and too much of the mundane. But what many critics do not realize is that the routine of addiction is itself the horror inherent in its usage. That a new control has taken hold. This is no glamourous world of noir fixtures; that voiceover is the conscience of survival: what must we do today to meet supply and demand?

The luxuries are described when supply and demand is exceeded as when GN buys in bulk from his new source and takes on the new role of dealer; but it’s a fascade. He is still a junkie, but with a bigger supply. The demand is the same. He has no hardboiled detective out to get him. As a matter of fact, the police, as Braun describes them, are inept to the evasive tactics of the dealers and addicts. Even when GN is apprehended, he still manages to sneak in his supply into the station. This is closer to the real world where drugs are common in the prisons and jails and often used as currency, often referred to as “sucking tit.” For Burroughs, this world has its structure just as any organization does, with administration, middle management and assembly level workers. GN makes the transition to the middle management but finds he is out of his league. Friends turn on him, his enabling girlfriend further enables him, and he comes to rely even more on his adopted mom for support of his lifestyle. There was one friend/addict who fit this bureaucrat junkie: “Tran was one of the better-looking street-addicts. He at least maintained a facade of civility, making a cursory attempt to maintain a level of personal hygiene and dress that didn’t make him stand out to the cops too much.” Braun strived for this level of appearance but the lifestyle had its interruptions, and then it was back to the old routine: “Addicts can justify anything to get another hit. Soon enough we were back to scoring every few days, then every second, which quickly became every day. Finally, we [Braun and Carolyn] got to a day with no cash and started to get sick by lunch. I called Mum and begged for money. Within two weeks, we were both back on methadone. The whole thing just seemed too much, too big a hurdle to be able to overcome without stronger self-control.” Finally, Braun realizes his cycle is his life as an addict, not as a potential ex-addict on the verge of his last injection. He tells the reader: “I still remembered a place of scrawled graffiti and scattered rubbish, of piss-soaked legs sticking out of a cubicle and water balloons blatant in a puddle of vomit. I remember lying in the park afterwards and wondering just what the fuck I was doing. It’s something that will always be with me. I will remain an addict for the rest of my life. I’ve spent so many years feeling nothing that the pain is a way of knowing that I’m truly alive... for the first time.”

Do drugs equate violence?

But there were more relapses. The effusive epiphany only breaks the cycle; it doesn’t end it. Stopping ends it. Quitting perpetuates it. It’s the old Mark Twain sardonic comment on addiction: "Quitting is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times." But to stop. That’s new. Stop today. And stop again tomorrow. Relapse then stop again. This was the new routine for Braun. The vicious cycle was broken. The horrors behind him: the severed finger, the betrayal of a friend/addict pointing a gun at him to steal drugs, the rejection by Carolyn who found someone new to enable (although this last horror was a blessing as that too broke the vicious cycle). Now the next step in this new routine was simply stopping for longer and longer periods of time. Not quitting forever, but stopping a day at a time.

For this article I attended an AA meeting and talked with ex heroin addicts. Their experiences echoed GN’s story. They had jobs. They had routines. For years. They sometimes upgraded the routine by partnering with another addict who was also employed. No one ever downgraded their position by partnering with a unemployed addict because that would threaten the routine by introducing an unpredictable element. Where there is risk, there is possible loss of control. There was no big picture. The dealer usually was a friend they trusted, not some shady character with a thin moustache standing on the street corner. They had families and responsibilities. Addiction was but one of the duties of their routine. Make the kids’ lunch, pay the bills, get high, go to work. Pick up the kids. Make dinner. Kids watch TV. Get high. Like clockwork. I asked them if they’d ever reached a higher level in their routines, like becoming a dealer to gain more access to drugs at a cheaper price. One woman answered: “I couldn’t risk going to jail as a dealer. That’s too much time away from the kids. They’d take them away. When you get busted for being an addict, then you get programs, you get leniency, you get methadone. If you stay low, you’re safe. If you try to reach the sky, you fall bad.” The others in the group nodded their heads in agreement.

G.N. Braun

GN Braun reached for the top of Burroughs’ pyramid and fell into sobriety. The courts were lenient. They were also ineffective. They mistook him for someone at the top of the hierarchy of junkies. He was merely a wannabe. This saved him. But just as he fell through the chinks in the armor of law and order when he was abused as a kid, so too did he fall out by the same chinks that tried to prevent further drug deals in the neighborhood by arresting a user trying to climb the pyramid. Braun thus got that second chance, to stop. He’ll never quit. His horror is a new one: the relapse leading to the cycle and reestablishing the routine again. In Hammered: Memoir of an Addict, G.N. Braun follows in the footsteps of the AA addicts I met with, taking it one day at a time, and also those of De Quincey who changed his routine just long enough to weather the relapses with his writing. Burroughs resigned himself to living the life of a junkie but lived till the old age of 83 leading a productive routine as a writer as well. Braun teeters between the two choices on a daily basis: to go the way of De Quincey or Burroughs. In fictional terms he is Repairman Jack, taking life one day at a time, full of rage, striving for control in the mundane enjoyments of friendships with an assortment of characters and of course in the administrative and proofreading missions he undertakes to keep his rage at bay and help others. But here Braun is his own man. What he decides today is all that matters. We will continue to be his friends. We will continue to read his writings. We will take him one day at a time as well.

Thank you, dear readers, for joining the Servante of Darkness again for another venture into the shady side of literature. We will have a peek into the literature of Horror and the Historical Novel when next we meet. Until then, burn the darkness at both ends.


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