Neither Schleger nor Berkowitz pretends that drugs are anything but a bad habit. “[B]ad things happened, of course,” writes Joe Berkowitz. “I’ll probably never look certain people in the eye again; certain doorways, I’ve likely darkened for the last time.” When, after two years with no alcohol or greater insight into his admitted “addictive personality” he opts to drink again, he insists it will “have to be a measured, organized chaos.”
Schleger says he’s “not motivated to achieve total abstinence. That’s why I have tried to find a middle way, hopefully reducing the amount of harm I inflict upon myself.” And yet he also documents such harm: lung damage, irrational paranoia and “a level of chaos and tension that I don’t really enjoy.”
This is where their rationales sound so familiar to anyone who’s been near addiction. The mere awareness that abstinence is frightening should be, well, frightening. But those for whom the substance is becoming problematic play semantic games, twisting and stretching motive and consequence.
How else to make sense of Schleger’s assertion that “I may be making subpar decisions regarding how to spend my time and money, but I’ve also had a lot of fun.” Or Berkowitz’s admission that “my problem with alcohol had always been a problem of knowing when enough was enough.” Isn’t that pretty much the definition of an alcoholic?
The role of the family in their moderation approaches struck a personal chord:
What’s particularly chilling for me, though, is that both enlist those who care about them. “I need my friends and loved ones to help keep me in check,” says Schleger. Berkowitz, who’s in the “best relationship” of his life, wakes after a blackout to his girlfriend’s insistence that “it wasn’t as bad as all that.”
I tried for years to keep my mother in check — hiding her booze, watering it down, reminding her that she had a child (me!) who enjoyed being fed and put to bed and mothered – and it is, simply, too much to ask of anyone. It’s enormously selfish.
On the policy side, a sister of a victim of addiction describes the destructive combination of addiction and criminalization:
He threw himself whole-heartedly into whatever grabbed his interest. Pair this determination and drive with an early tendency toward extreme sensitivity and depression (he would be later diagnosed with Bipolar disorder) and you have a recipe for disaster when, in his early teens, Nick was exposed to addictive substances. These drugs quickly took hold of the reins of his life, guiding him onto ever more destructive and irrational paths.
From the onset, my brother’s life was a living testament to the nightmare repercussions of the failed War on Drugs. This tender-hearted young man was treated like a criminal and imprisoned when he should have received treatment. His sweet face is the face of mass incarcerations in the U.S., of people serving ridiculous amounts of time behind bars for minor drug charges.