First Person Drug Accounts: Does the Truth Matter?


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Discussion paper to provoke debate at St George's Medical School

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First Person Drug Accounts: Does the Truth Matter?

  1. 1. First Person Drug Accounts Does the Truth Matter? Anne Welsh
  2. 2. Autobiographical Writing <ul><li>O wad some Power the giftie gie us </li></ul><ul><li>To see oursels as ithers see us! </li></ul><ul><li>~ Robert Burns, ‘To A Louse’ </li></ul>
  3. 3. Derrida on Drugs <ul><li>We cannot trust in the simple opposition of symptom and cause … any more than we can count on a simple opposition of memory and forgetting … The pharmakon will always be apprehended as both antidote and poison … the drug addict may seek to forget even as he takes on the work of an anamnesic analysis … To this end the addict uses a &quot;technique,&quot; a technical supplement which he also interprets as being &quot;natural&quot; … Another thread would bring us to that very common distrust as regards the artificial, the intrumentalization of memory, thus as regards the pharmakon, both as poison and as antidote. </li></ul>Derrida, J. (1995) 'The rhetoric of drugs', in E. Weber (ed.) J. Derrida. Points: interviews, 1974-1994 . Stanford University Press: 235 .
  4. 4. Uses of First Person Accounts David Clark. Personal Stories ,
  5. 5. Uses of First Person Accounts Fitzhugh, K. (2006) Crystal meth and other amphetamines . Heinemann
  6. 6. Uses of First Person Accounts
  7. 7. Uses of First Person Accounts DfES (2004) Drugs: guidance for schools .
  8. 8. “ Glamour <ul><li>All writing about dope, like all taking of dope, harks back to the mythological, the glorious First Time. This is the truth behind the calumny ‘to write about it is to glamorize it’. But to be silent about it is also to glamorize it by making it secret and forbidden… </li></ul><ul><li>Writing about heroin will ALWAYS be perceived as ‘glamorizing’ the drug, no matter what you say. No, I don’t think taking heroin is a good idea. Period. But given that I did it already, I might as well write about why and what I learned from those years. And one of those things is that doing heroin isn’t as scandalous as writing about it … </li></ul><ul><li>We distrust writing about heroin … almost more than heroin … itself. The structure of addiction is maintained by this taboo about writing about it.” </li></ul>Ann Marlowe. How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z. Virago, 1999: 153-5.
  9. 9. Drug Fictions & Narrative Arc <ul><li>“ The problem with heroin fiction may be that the aura of the drug is so strong as to lead the writer to neglect conventional lures like suspense, character development and convincing dialogue. He forgets that nonusers won’t accept fulsome descriptions of the glory of the heroin high in exchange. </li></ul><ul><li> On a deeper level, heroin is stronger than imagination; it enforces its own reality. Dope is antifiction. A novel about heroin is weighted down by the inherent consistency of everyone’s experience of the drug in a way that a novel about love or revenge is not; those experiences are universal but not identical. Few writers are skilled enough to overcome this obstacle. So heroin demands nonfiction, memoir, truth-telling, but even here the trick is to outwit the drug, to introduce what the drug will not: surprise.” </li></ul>Ann Marlowe. How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z . Virago, 1999: 141-2.
  10. 10. Narrative Arc <ul><li>“ Above all is the sheer immediacy of these accounts. Saw-toothed, stripped down, exposed, and gratefully alive, these people and their stories combine into one of the oldest forms of literature: the quest saga.” </li></ul><ul><li>Stephen Davis. ‘Redemption Songs’ in Gary Stromberg and Jane Merrill (eds.) The Harder They Fall: Celebrities Tell Their Real-Life Stories of Addiction and Recovery. Hazelden, 2005: 6. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Writing the Truth <ul><li>“ What follows is the truth. It would be easier to write if I could call it fiction. If this book is categorized as fact, I am accountable; it is a real person the reader will judge.” </li></ul><ul><li>Olivia Gordon. The Agony of Ecstasy. Continuum, 2004: 3. </li></ul><ul><li>“ If only I could claim that I did not do any of what I have described, that I am a sane, always happy, never-drugged, young novelist. But I will not try to hide myself by calling this fiction.” </li></ul><ul><li>Olivia Gordon. The Agony of Ecstasy. Continuum, 2004: 172. </li></ul>
  12. 12. A Million Little Pieces
  13. 13. A Million Little Pieces James Frey’s messageboard, 2005
  14. 14. A Million Little Pieces
  15. 15. A Million Little Pieces
  16. 16. A Million Little Pieces Frey, J. (2006) ‘A note to the reader’ A million little pieces. Random House.
  17. 17. A Million Little Pieces - Legacy <ul><li>“ This book is a memoir and derives primarily from my memory. I’ve changed some names, locations and physical details. Also, I’ve altered some conversations to make them coherent, and in a very few cases I’ve changed the chronology. All of that notwithstanding, I’ve done my best to portray my experiences honestly. Leaving Dirty Jersey is not about redemption or recovery, but I would like to think that the last three years of my life have been just that, and nothing has been more crucial to turning my life around than revisiting my past with ruthless honesty.” </li></ul>James Salant. ‘Author’s Note’ Leaving Dirty Jersey: a Crystal Meth Memoir . Ebury, 2007.
  18. 18. A Million Little Pieces - Legacy <ul><li>“ This is a true story but not always a rigidly factual account: some conversations and incidents have been reconstructed where they could not be entirely remembered. Names have been changed and identities disguised.” </li></ul><ul><li>Horatio Clare. Truant: Notes from the Slippery Slope . John Murray, 2007. </li></ul><ul><li>“ This work is a memoir. It reflects the author’s present recollections of his experiences over a period of years. Certain names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and certain individuals are composites. Dialogue and events have been recreated from memory and, in some cases, have been compressed to convey the substance of what was said or what occurred. </li></ul><ul><li>Nic Sheff. ‘Note to Readers’. Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamine. Pocket, 2008. </li></ul>
  19. 19. A Million Little Pieces - Legacy Tom Sykes. What Did I Do Last Night? : a drunkard’s tale. Ebury, 2007.
  20. 20. Publishing Post-Frey <ul><li>“ It was a paranoid time in memoir-land” </li></ul><ul><li> ~ Tom Sykes </li></ul>‘ Fake memoirs are all the rage. But in my case, creativity with the truth was simply not an option’. The Guardian , 24 March 2008.
  21. 21. Publishing Post-Frey Tania Glyde,
  22. 22. The Generic Trope Goes On
  23. 23. Alcoholics / Narcotics Anonymous
  24. 24. Recovery Narratives
  25. 25. Types of Recovery Narrative Vilma Hanninen & Anja Koski-Jannes (1999) ‘Narratives of recovery from addictive behaviours’. Addiction 94(12): 1837-1848.
  26. 26. Diaries for Data Collection
  27. 27. Life Cycle of a Syringe Thomas J. Stopka et al. (2004) ‘Writing about risk: use of daily diaries in understanding drug-user risk behaviours.’ AIDS and Behavior 8(1): 79.
  28. 28. Emotional Correlates of Use Thomas J. Stopka et al. (2004) ‘Writing about risk: use of daily diaries in understanding drug-user risk behaviours.’ AIDS and Behavior 8(1): 80.
  29. 29. “ Experience of Illness” <ul><li>“ A personal story or an interview may unravel and unburden the individual’s changing relationship to the surrounding world as a result of sickness. A narrative of this kind reveals the ‘experience’ of illness … and is an alternative account to the medical account of the disease.” </li></ul>Brian Hurwitz et al. (2005) Life histories and narratives of addiction . Foresight Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs Project: 20.
  30. 30. Experimental Disclosure
  31. 31. Accessing Treatment <ul><li>“ I went to see Dr Nathan, my GP. I had always found her manner matter-of-fact to the point of unfriendly … Within five minutes she was pressing me to take Prozac and tranquillizers. I declined. A friend of my mother’s recommended a psycho-therapist … Dr Valerie Gough … was a rather stiff, old-fashioned lady of sixty-five. I immediately liked her but realized she knew nothing of ecstasy. My problems were too modern and uncouth for her.” </li></ul>Olivia Gordon. The Agony of Ecstasy. Continuum, 2004: 128.
  32. 32. Accessing Treatment <ul><li>“ I was terrified of the doctors and terrified of the label. Once they pin that on you, I thought, you have had it. Diagnosed Manic Depressive … And then it will be on your medical records, on your employment records … How is that going to look on my CV, alongside the criminal record? … And there was something much more frightening about drugs someone else prescribes and controls than drugs you take yourself … I did not have the guts for those.” </li></ul>Horatio Clare. Truant: Notes from the Slippery Slope. John Murray, 2007: 275-6.
  33. 33. ‘ Failed’ Attempts & Relapses <ul><li>“ psychoanalysis </li></ul><ul><li>I tried this too, for four years, and I got into heroin about midway through. For a long time I thought that a black mark against my analyst, but I am now open to the possibility that it was self-medication directed at the painful process.” </li></ul>Ann Marlowe. How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z. Virago, 1999: 257.
  34. 34. ‘ Failed’ Attempts & Relapses <ul><li>“ I detox on the floor of the apartment. Spencer [AA sponsor] doesn’t think I need to go to the hospital. According to him, well, I should rely on my Higher Power to get me through this. I am so weak and shaking – throwing up – not able to sleep … All I can do is shiver in bed, staring at the ceiling and struggling not to pull my skin off.” </li></ul>Nic Sheff. Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphatemines . Pocket, 2008: 133.
  35. 35. ‘ Failed’ Attempts & Relapses <ul><li>“ I preferred the groups to the meetings, and I participated often, offering feedback that I convinced myself would be helpful to the person sharing. Had I been honest with myself, though, I would have known that the only reason I ever spoke was to enhance my [tough-guy] image.” </li></ul><ul><li>James Salant. Leaving Dirty Jersey: a Crystal Meth Memoir. Ebury, 2007: 39. </li></ul><ul><li>“ I hated New Standard. The schedule was easier than GSL, the rooms nicer, the food better … But I felt as if I’d just gone from something “adult” and “real” to more spoiled upper-middle-class bullshit … From the first day, I plotted my escape.” ( Ibid : 49) </li></ul><ul><li>“ The truth, of course, was that I wasn’t wholly dedicated to recovery. As much time as I spent writing a dream journal and bad poetry, I spent more talking shit about the year I’d spent on the streets of Riverside.” ( Ibid : 320) </li></ul>
  36. 36. Going With The Process <ul><li>“‘ Why don’t you do some drawings around what’s come up for you in group today.’ </li></ul><ul><li>That seems to be their answer for everything. I try to think about what they’ve said, but it’s just too much for me … All I want to do is smoke a cigarette and not deal with any of this crap. I do want to love myself and not need to seek approval from other people, but that just feels impossible … If all the other rehabs couldn’t help me, then why should this place be any different? </li></ul><ul><li>It isn’t. It won’t be.” </li></ul>Nic Sheff. Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphatemines . Pocket, 2008: 295.
  37. 37. Going With The Process <ul><li>“ One of my first assignments at Mesa Vista was to write a good-bye letter to my drug of choice … I would write two good-bye letters – one to every drug I’d ever done, and one specifically to crack … The letters helped me see the progression of my using as well as its treacherous end … I was definitely an addict … those letters helped me fight cravings to use.” </li></ul><ul><li>Cupcake Brown. A Piece of Cake: A Memoir. Bantam, 2006: 401. </li></ul><ul><li>“ I had to write about the effort getting high took. At first, I didn’t think it took effort, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that staying high wasn’t easy.” </li></ul><ul><li>Cupcake Brown. A Piece of Cake: A Memoir. Bantam, 2006: 402. </li></ul>
  38. 38. All About The People? <ul><li>“ The people who lead the Empowerment group are these two complete opposites. The man, Ray, is older – looks like a Hell’s Angel or something, with a long ponytail and Marine Corps tattoos. He is big and surly, but still sweet somehow. The woman who co-leads the group, Kris, well, I like her all right.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Nic Sheff. Tweak: Growing Up on Methampheramines . Pocket, 2008: 296. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ The focus here is really on loving yourself. That idea is something I never really understood before Ray. He talks to us with such honesty.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Nic Sheff. Tweak: Growing Up on Methampheramines . Pocket, 2008: 301. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Basically I’ve really just been trusting in the process here. I want it to work. I want to change and I actually have hope that it might be possible.” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Nic Sheff. Tweak: Growing Up on Methampheramines . Pocket, 2008: 301 </li></ul></ul>
  39. 39. All About The People? <ul><li>“ She had the same sweet voice , and the same pleasant and friendly personality she’d shown me at the meeting. She told me she’d been clean for five years … Knowing that she’d been clean for that long, I was even more eager to work with her because she obviously knew what she was talking about.” </li></ul><ul><li>Cupcake Brown. A Piece of Cake: A Memoir . Bantam, 2006: 415. </li></ul><ul><li>“ To the ‘old-timer’ women in recovery who were extremely instrumental in my recovery (names are followed by years of sobriety …): Chaney Allen, 32 years (at death); Carol K., 31 years; Carolyn S., 26 years; Ms Francis, 26 years (at death); Venita R., 20 years.” </li></ul><ul><li>Cupcake Brown. A Piece of Cake: A Memoir . Bantam, 2006: 540 (Acknowledgments) </li></ul>
  40. 40. All About The People? <ul><li>“ It was the other clients who were crucial. I happened to be at Turning Point at a time when most of the other guys there were more serious about cleaning up than glorifying our old life-styles … They convinced me that being tough wasn’t cool.” </li></ul><ul><li>James Salant. Leaving Dirty Jersey: a Crystal Meth Memoir. Ebury, 2007: 338-339. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Even more than my relationships with the therapists, it’s the clients who really make the most difference for me. </li></ul><ul><li>The people here are just incredible and, well, I don’t feel like such a freak after being around them. Everyone is just as fucked up as I am – if not more so.” </li></ul><ul><li>Nic Sheff. Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines . Pocket, 2008: 307. </li></ul>
  41. 41. On Not Doing AA <ul><li>“ The first nosey query, only the first of many nosey queries that the newly sober person gets to deal with, is ‘Are you doing AA?’ This may be followed by a question about rehab, often from a person who doesn’t really know what rehab is. I’m aware that I didn’t take the conventional route, and after six months my counsellor told me that I have had an ‘unusual recovery pattern’.” </li></ul>Tania Glyde. Cleaning Up: How I Gave Up Drinking and Lived . Serpent’s Tail. 2008: 171.
  42. 42. Memoir Writing as Literature <ul><li>“ In this instance, I absolutely believed what I read ” </li></ul><ul><li>James Frey’s publisher interviewed on Oprah </li></ul><ul><li>“ Autobiography cannot … be seen to draw its social authority simply from a privileged relation to real life. Rather, authority is derived through autobiography’s proximity to the rhetoric of truth telling.” </li></ul><ul><li>Leigh Gilmore. ‘Policing the truth: confession, gender and autobiographical authority’ in Ashley et al. (eds.) Autobiography and postmodernism . University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. </li></ul>
  43. 43. Memoir Writing as Literature <ul><li>“ Our culture has lent dark powers to narratives of drug use, more than to drug use itself, and I am taking advantage of them, like a painter using the severity of northern light.” </li></ul>Ann Marlowe. How to Stop Time: Heroin from A to Z. Virago, 1999: 280.
  44. 44. <ul><li>Slides available from </li></ul>