Life, Mentals

On “trauma”, and therapy

September 23, 2014
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For the past few weeks I have been trying a new therapy with my long-suffering psychologist. I’ve been seeing her since 2009, hoping she could pop my heart back into place, then looking for some direction in life, then having a mental breakdown, then just general crying and whatever.

She is an excellent therapist. I am a person who is frustrated by platitudes and who cannot abide spouting them in favour of actual tactics. Telling me to “let it go” or “live authentically” will send me into a spiral of despair so dire that I may end up just binging on Gilmore Girls for several weeks, because that’s what my authentic self would do. What I like about my counsellor is that she says, “Try doing this actual thing. And if that doesn’t work, we can try this literal technique, or this set of tasks that really exists.”

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Life, Love, Storytelling

Things that remind me of people: Pepsi

September 18, 2014
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The first time I fell properly in love, I was 12. We had gone down the coast to a place called Wirrina. Lots of times, actually. Dad would run team building exercises and the rest of us would swim in the world’s largest* indoor pool. Three pools, there were. Tiered, with a waterfall and very hard edges and a scratchy bottom. One of those pools that you left with blisters on your big toes.

There was a miniature golf course, too. I think you had to pay to play on that, but my brother and I would sneak in behind a row of cactus and play the holes with a ball we’d found in a creek and a stick we’d torn off a tree. It was hilly, for a golf course. Sometimes the ball would roll right out of the course, just from standing. So we got what we paid for, I guess.

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Book Reviews

Book review: We Are Called to Rise

September 10, 2014
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We Are Called to Rise

by Laura McBride
Simon & Schuster 309 pages

In their words: We Are Called to Rise is a boomtown tale, in which the lives of people from different backgrounds and experiences collide in a stunning coincidence. When presented the opportunity to sink into despair, these characters rise. Through acts of remarkable charity and bravery, they rescue themselves.

Lovely Bookworld sent me this book, so I could tell you about it.

With thanks to Bookworld for sending me this tale. Buy their books you guys! I’m reading this right now.

3.5 stars.

We Are Called to Rise calls itself “a story about a child’s fate”, and that is the crux of it. Told from the perspective of four people, in that not-linked-yet-but-you-know-they-will-be-because-otherwise-why-would-they-even-all-be-in-this-book way, it is ostensibly about the different ways that different people are affected by conflict, grief and unrest.

It was strong out of the gate. The writing is excellent and the character development — especially of Bakshim, the “child” to whom the “child’s fate” refers — is solid. McBride begins her tale with distinct character voices and strong story hooks. I had read about forty pages when someone told me this was “their favourite book ever“. So, you know, I was settling in for something significant.

My thought as it applies to all books is that four narrators is too many, and I do think this book was weakened by having so many points of view. Bakshim’s chapters are easily the strongest, though the voice seemed a bit off to me, in places, for an eight-year-old (The Eye of the Sheep was truer, I thought). He is a sweet, naive boy and I truly felt for him from beginning to end. Our friend Luis, injured in Iraq, gives a believable and moving insight into finding the courage to go on with life. Avis is passive and unlikeable. Roberta is absent and unnecessary.

And the setup is obvious (little boy with Albanian parents, former soldier-turned-cop, injured soldier-with-empathy, woman involved in child protection). I felt as though McBride was being deliberately coy in unfolding the story the way she did. I found myself shouting at the book, because I am an insane person: “We know they’re going to have to face something together. Just tell us what it is!” and then eating great handfuls of biscuits while watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

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Look at this cover though. Beautiful, right?

I was about a third of the way through when I realised that the character voices had begun to sound the same. On reflection, I wonder a little whether this was a deliberate choice by the author, whether she was using this technique to illustrate how people come together in times of crisis. But I suspect not. Then I reached the second “Roberta” chapter and realised I’d forgotten who Roberta was, so had to go back and find out. I began to flounder a little, to feel myself floating out to sea.

The chapter of The Main Event is shocking. And sad. And a fine commentary on race and religion as it is perceived in western societies. But it’s followed by inaction, which I found very frustrating. I kept turning pages in search of the fallout. Even Luis glosses over his recovery process in favour of reflection and musings.

Sometimes books like this end in glorious, theatrical climaxes. The reason for all the players becomes obvious, and we are rewarded for going with them in their separate threads. This one doesn’t. I threw the book. I had to be consoled with back rubs and The Grand Budapest Hotel. I don’t like to throw around grand disdain, but this is simply the worst ending I have read all year.

And yet, here I am giving it three-and-a-half stars. That’s because it contains great writing, and important social reflection, and things about stuff that people should know, and it doesn’t trivialise any of it. It is a fine book and a decent read, if you just stop thirty pages before the end.

Beautiful Things

Some things that are good

August 13, 2014
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I don’t know about you, but I needed to write down some things I actually like for a minute, so I didn’t plummet into a kind of oblivion for which I’m not yet ready. So here are five things I like today.

1. We Were Liars.

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This is the book I’m currently reading at school pickup time. Not to be confused with the book I’m reading at bedtime, which is A Man Called Ove. It is speedy and in all ways YA clever romance in the spirit of John Green, but that is just fine. It reminds me of times when I pushed my heart all the way into a teenage boy and knew, unequivocally, that it would definitely and absolutely stay right there. And the other times when I retrieved my heart and it was missing the bit at the top reserved for warm breath on my ear.

2. Avocado and feta mash.

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At the boulangerie, which is a fancy word I use because I went to France once and read books in a claw-foot bath, they sell two kinds of baguette. You can buy a campagnard baguette, which is one made of bread, or a rustic baguette, which is also one made of bread but is $1.00 less than the other type of bread.

Choosing a good avocado is very important, and I do this by selecting the one that most resembles touching the end of my nose. Helpfully, this is also a good way to determine when you are not ovulating (when you are ovulating, your cervix will feel soft, like your bottom lip). You can also pick off the dried stem end and look for green underneath. Buy some feta from the fromagerie, which is another word you learn at private school, and then mash the two things together with a fork, paying careful attention to the smugness of your face.

Spread all up and down the baguette and top with a little lemon juice and some cracked pepper.

3. The David Attenborough DVDs in the Herald Sun.

Obviously the Herald Sun itself is terrible in all ways. But the kids and I sit down every evening now and watch the day’s DVD. We’ve learned about leopard seals and fungus that lives inside ants and the cartoon face of a horny bird of paradise. We push ourselves together on a couch designed for two and wrap one pink blanket all the way around. Our knees get cold, but our brains get full.

4. True Detective.

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We watched Parks and Recreation three times (fast forwarding the Ann/Tom thing, spoiler alert). Which was great, but it did mean that we missed watching True Detective at the same time as everyone else. Now, though! Now we are watching two episodes a night, which means we will be finished by the weekend. The writing is amazing. And I mean, everyone said that it was, but the words that come out of Matthew McConaughey are spellbinding.

5. Excellent people.

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It will come as no surprise to you that there are people on the internet with big hearts and big brains, and that yesterday when we were all blanketed with sadness, they spoke thoughtfully and wrote insightfully.

And what can you even say about it, about the way the world crushes some of us? Stuff like this:

In the news, Mentals

When someone gets off the boat

August 12, 2014
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Beware: triggers lurk here.

I’ve never cried at a celebrity death. In fact, I’ve watched others do it with some disgust, like, Why are you making this about you? I’ve never read a celebrity’s death notice and thought, here is something that affects me personally, me, this person who is not a celebrity and never met you.

But today I did.

Today caught me on a downward swing. A kind of day when I slept late and didn’t feel the world pulling me out of bed. You know. The kind of day that isn’t really a day, but just some time between two other days. That kind of day.

And my dad said, ‘Robin Williams died.’
And I said, ‘Oh, how sad!’
And my dad said, ‘How did he die?’
So I looked it up, and the stories said, apparent suicide.

And you know, it just smashed me right in the ribs, and I cried in my car until the windows got steamed up.

I felt it there, laughing, laughing in my body. Laughing because it knew what would come after the crying. That after the crying there was the not-crying, the desperation. The relentlessness. That after the crying there was the eternity of the relentlessness. That once I stopped crying I would sit and I would think about the relentlessness.

I did sit and think about the relentlessness. I thought about how depression moves in minutes. That sometimes you just get through one minute. Sixty seconds. Sometimes you get through it one second at a time. Sometimes you get up in the morning or the afternoon or the night and you think, I just need to get through the next one second. That’s all I’ve got. All I’ve got is the resilience to tackle this one second.

And your whole body aches. You’re physically exhausted, like your brain is running sprints. You feel it when you sit in your chair and your body becomes the chair, and then you’re trying to hide inside the chair because the chair never has to tackle life second by second. And you’re looking out at the room from inside the chair and you’re wondering how many seconds you have to live through before you can go back to surviving one minute at a time. And how many years you can spend living minute by minute before you just get fed up with living minute by minute and you go back and climb inside the chair.

The thing about depression is, we are as good at it as we’re allowed to be. And maybe we’re better at depression, as a society, than we used to be. I mean, I can talk freely about it here on my blog, and we can have a day every year when we talk about it or whatever.

But it is an equaliser.

And the trouble with an equaliser is that it equalises.

This morning I was depressed in the usual way. I dragged my sorry self out of bed and got a hot chocolate and thought, well, here I go, out into the world for some reason or another. Off to the supermarket. Kid left her music folder at home. Feed the dogs. Notice the weather. Bring in the bins. Stand in the street. Listen to the clanging of the level crossing. I was depressed in the usual, equal way. The way we talk about. The way we are allowed to think about, collectively, in society. The black dog way.

Oh! I am being chased by the black dog! Like everybody!

Equalised.

And then, someone dies.

Most of the time, we don’t even know. Six people commit suicide in Australia every day. They do it in their homes and in their schools and at their workplaces and even in public. And mostly, we don’t know.

But sometimes, someone dies and we all hear about it. Sometimes it is someone we admired. Someone who was above the depression, someone who was running ahead of the black dog. Someone who wasn’t part of the equalising, but was instead part of the revolution. The depression revolution.

And suddenly, that person is us.

Sometimes, the only thing that staves off the snapping jaws is the knowledge that other people can do it. Sometimes you wait for your one second to pass, and then the next second, and the next second, and the only reason you can do that is because you know that someone else is managing to do it minute by minute. Collectively, you are winning the battle against it. Collectively, you can be hopeful.

And then, someone drops out. Someone forgets to pick up the baton.

And suddenly, that person is us.

The ground seems closer. The water at the bottom of the ocean clears and the way through is right there. It is a reminder of the battle, of the second by second. It is a reminder that our options are fight or die, and that fighting is such hard work, that sometimes the relentlessness of the fighting is more than we can bear and we stand to the side for just a moment

and that person might be us.

And who is leading the revolution?

And everything is dark.

Lifeline: 13 11 14. My email: anna@crinkle.com.au.

Storytelling

Levelling Up

August 11, 2014
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On the weekend, we carefully introduced the kids to a core function of our lives. A veritable smorgasbord of imagination. A fundamental element of our ongoing happiness.

The best — nay, only — way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Roleplaying.

The game of choice was Pathfinder, a kind of Dungeons & Dragons with less of the terrible new stuff. We were up early on Sunday morning to surprise them with the pomp and circumstance of it: choosing a miniature, rolling up a character, randomly generating an elven name.

Georgia was all for it. For years, she has interrupted our D&D sessions to ask classic noob questions like, “How did you get killed by a level one kobold?” and “Why does it sort of smell like mushroom farms?” She threw herself at the character sheet and shouted: WHAT IS CONSTITUTION? WHAT IS MY INITIATIVE? WHAT DOES SENSE MOTIVE MEAN? Within seconds she had an elf ranger, deft and agile, ready to leap from high branches and duck under small bushes.

Lily was less keen. And by that I mean, Lily hid in her room and refused to come out. Perhaps she believed, as I once did, that the mean kids from school would come around and witness this foray into certain social doom.

“Come on!” we said. “You can be a wizard!”

Inexplicably, this did not entice her.

“Come on!” we said. “You can lead the adventuring party through the dangerous north! You can fight dragons, eventually, once you’ve levelled up ten times or more! You can eat corn chips!”

Gaz, who is an arborist, helpfully roped her to a chair and taught her how to build a character. By the end of it, she had this:

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(Poop, though not technically a skill, is an important part of roleplaying.)

And so, we were ready to play. We lined up our 20-sided dice (I called it a D20, Georgia said, “Um, it’s an icosahedron” because she is a scientist) and we got our chicken nuggets from the oven and Gaz said the magic words:

You are in a tavern. It is mid-afternoon.

Gaz is an excellent Dungeon Master. Not in the squinty Beauty and the Geek way. He’s funny and insightful and he works brilliantly on the fly. I tried to be Dungeon Master once. I thought, I’m a storyteller, I will be so much better at this than Gaz. But mostly it was me standing and shouting, “No! The plot point is to the WEST. THE WEST!” for a couple of hours.

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We played while the rain came down, and then we played while the sun was out. There were some classic moments: Calling Dad a Horse’s Butt; Drowning the Killer Ants; Telling Dad He Smelt Like Wee. We rolled for initiative and explored life in six-second rounds. We fell in holes, set things on fire and made friends with a giant.

This morning, Lily asked if we could play again tonight.

What a nerd.

Book Reviews

Book review: The Eye of the Sheep

August 5, 2014
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The Eye of the Sheep

by Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin 308 pages

In their words: Sofie Laguna's first novel, One Foot Wrong received rave reviews, sold all over the world and was longlisted for both the Miles Franklin and Prime Minister's Awards. In The Eye of the Sheep, her great originality and talent will again amaze and move readers. In the tradition of Room and The Lovely Bones, here is a surprising and brilliant novel from one of our finest writers.

Book marketers take note: I bought this one solely because of Emily Maguire’s testimonial on the cover. I couldn’t find that version anywhere on the internet, so here is a terrible scan for you.

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“A sparkling, heartfelt wonder,” she says. I was in the bookshop at the time because I wanted something either sparkling or heartfelt or a wonder. It makes sense, then, that I bought this one.

I didn’t read the blurb, or any pages. I just picked up that silly-faced dog and hot-footed it out of there via the bakery.

But, oh man.

This is the story of Jimmy, a boy who goes too fast. His mind, his mouth, always going. I have a child like that of my own, a child who has sat next to me and talked until I have asked her to stop. A child who might have wondered, maybe more than once, whether anyone cared to listen to what she had to say.

So, I read this book. By the end of page one, I had been abducted by it.

This might be the most truthful narrative by a child that I’ve ever read. It is a hard-hitting story, set in Melbourne’s west and peppered with that everyday sinisterness that weasels right into your guts. I worried for Jimmy, wanted better for him, wondered who might come to save and protect him. And each time I did, I was struck by the knowledge that some kids — real ones, ones with oxygen in their blood — face this reality every day. That this was part graceful and considered storytelling, but also brutal social realness.

Laguna writes with a frankness that should be applauded. Through Jimmy, we see reflections on love, abuse, childhood, poverty, fear and family. More than that, she has almost created a brand new language for him, and it sings. Where we might have been bogged down by darkness, we are instead captured by Jimmy’s naivety and willingness, and his unique way of perceiving people and the world.

As the brothers played and spoke and swallowed beer, and the balls clicked and smacked and sank, the sounds became a lullaby — not the one Mum sang to me when I was small; a different one, an accidental one made of men.

Though it comes to a wrenching crescendo, it leaves in its wake a sense of betterment and openness.

Were I a gambling man, I would have this on every shortlist in 2015. It is a truly remarkable work and one from which I suspect I have not yet recovered.

Life

Things that make me think of places: blue tongue lizards

July 31, 2014
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Years ago, before I had children but after The Big Event, I lived in a share house in an inner suburb of Melbourne. I had never lived in a house on my own. Not really. There was a month (a month? three months?) in a bungalow in Elsternwick, where I slept mostly on a mattress in the living room, and primarily with my tongue down a boy’s throat, but other than that someone had always accommodated me. I had moved out of my parents’ house, into my grandparents’ house, around and around until I had landed back at my parents’ house without a hint of remorse and they put me up on the sofa bed, which was like a bit of metal with fabric scraps on it. My bedroom had been turned into a study.

We had found the house it on the internet, and although only one of us had any employment to speak of, we went in my friend’s Pulsar to the estate agent to put in our application. It was my dream house, and I would have done anything to live there. I’m certain this had almost nothing to do with my recently-ex-boyfriend living in the next street. Stalking distance.

Having not lived properly on my own, ever (when I lived in a Sydney flat “with my dad” (who was there once a week) I spent my money on Maltesers and video games, and in the mornings I took my hangover to work and we thought about what else we might buy, and dad paid my rent and bought me a glass-topped table where I sat and played Nintendo 64), I didn’t know what it was like to move into a house. I think part of me thought that when I got there, when I pushed the key into the lock, the furniture would materialise. That when I swung the door open, the electricity would be on. Someone must have organised that already. Someone at the real estate agents would have set that up for me.

I was there alone on that first night. It was cold. I lit a fire and tried to read to its light from within my sleeping bag on the hard floor. When that got too dark, I used my phone as a lamp. When my phone went flat, I lay in the darkness and sang to myself. Block out the ghosts. Block out the ghosts.

We rounded up two strangers for housemates, and the cute one got the room at the front that overlooked the Yarra. It had a sunroom that hung off the side like an ear, and he brewed beer in it and cute girls came and sat in it, and on Friday nights we all squeezed in and listened to him play guitar.

The other housemate had a room off the hallway. If I try to draw a floor plan of the house now, I can’t find this room, but I’m sure he was there. Mostly sure. I don’t know how long he lived there, but after he left the room became a place to store junk and trade white powder for money. I didn’t even notice when he left; just that the room was empty.

I had the whole extension to myself: one big room with an unfinished wall in the middle, and a green bathroom with no windows, where mould climbed up and around and on to the roof, and possums gnawed at it while I pretended to sleep. On Sundays my parents gave me fifty bucks and we drove in the Pulsar to buy a pouch of tobacco, a loaf of bread and a block of cheese.

At the front of the house was a long window with a deep sill, where we smoked and watched Oprah. Rolling tobacco into tight maggots. Pinching the end to save the rest. The pouch would last all week, if we were sensible. We tapped ash into beer bottles, into pizza boxes, on to a pile outside the window. The porch sagged in the middle, as though a giant had stood on it.

One weekend we went in to the city to see a band play. It was my friend’s brother’s band, and they’d come over from Adelaide for this gig. We drank some beers and ate some parmas and they came back to the house and sat in the window. Our heads filled up with needles. The cute housemate came out to shout at us: “I’ve got fucking work tomorrow!” so we went out to the street and found a shopping trolley and pushed each other along the road and the purebred dogs all barked at us until we tipped over into the gutter and someone cut his head open and he was shouting, spinning around in the street and shouting and someone had a trumpet and they stood in the rain and played it and the guy with his head cut open punched a car window and we were showered with safety glass.

After that, the cute housemate moved out, and I moved into the front room. I sat in the sunroom like an ear on my own and wrote letters to my boyfriend while he was at work. I bought a mouse, watched it in its metal prison, fed it bits of carrot and paper. After a few days my cat knocked the cage to the floor and I found the mouse in two pieces under my pillow. 

The pouch only lasted three days that week. When I moved out, I found a blue tongue lizard cooked flat in the grill tray.

In the news, Life

What Peaches Geldof did

July 28, 2014
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When it comes to dying of a drug overdose, you can expect to be thought of, postmortem, in one of two ways. Here is a quiz to help you predict the media fallout after your untimely demise:

1. Do you come from a family of drug addicts?

2. Have you prolonged your death through other questionable life choices?

3. Are you a mother?

If you answered ‘no’ to all of these questions, the media merely have ownership of the sadness of your decline. Oh, the heartbreak. What a wasted talent. Gone before her time. So tragic. Your parents print a long letter to you in The New York Times. Your girlfriend is photographed in her first tearful public appearance. See: Cory Monteith, Heath Ledger.

Which is not to diminish the sadness of their avoidable deaths. Not in the least. But we have two ways of thinking about drug use, and that is the first.

Peaches Geldof died of a heroin overdose. You probably know this already, if you are inclined to read wailing opinion pieces on terrible websites. As you will now know, Peaches owed it to her children to shake her addiction. Luckily, all that is required to recover from addiction is pressure and guilt from strangers, and the media have always been forthcoming with that.

I read a revolting piece of “writing” last week that stated, amongst other atrocities against humanity:

But I simply don’t believe what Peaches Geldof did can be in any way compared to everyday transgressions like glancing at your phone while you drive. There is nothing I have done or will ever do that is in the realms of what Peaches Geldoff did.

(I’m not going to link to it because it’s so appalling, but if you are so inclined, you can copy and paste: http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/peaches-geldof-inquest/#g1Z4iS8fZDdQZEsg.99)

Here ye, here ye, merciful media: there is nothing I can do, ever, in the course of my natural life, that is even remotely as terrible as what Peaches Geldof did.

We know this is true because the author:

1. Was not born to a person whose death was caused by drug use. Children of addicts are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, social issues, normalisation of addiction, and are more likely to have access to said drug use. They are more likely to become drug addicts themselves. Astala Dylan Willow Geldof-Cohen and Phaedra Bloom Forever Cohen are more likely than most to become drug addicted adults. They are more likely to consider suicide. Statistically speaking.

2. Did not spend a lifetime being watched and scrutinised by the media.

3. Is an angel from heaven who should surely be lauded for her efforts in maintaining only “everyday transgressions like glancing at [her] phone while [she] drives.” Which, by the way, causes 1% of all road casualties.

What we can learn from this piece is that after you are a mother, you owe the world your commitment to being a mother. Mother, first and foremost. You are a mother. Where do you get off, going around being addicted to stuff? How dare youHow could she fail to realise the burden she placed on her children? If only she were the child of an addict herself, and therefore able to fully comprehend the consequences of her actions.

But then, is focusing on the tragedy of her death the best alternative?

Consider this piece by Wendy Squires.

We see two media portrayals emerging: you are the worst kind of parent because you fucking died instead of caring for your toddler; or, you are a tragedy, eventually succumbing the way we always knew you would. You must be shoved into one basket or the other. You must be labelled in a way that the public can understand, for the media’s sake. You must be pigeonholed, identified, scrutinised.

What you are not, when you die of a drug overdose, is a person. You are not someone who had a favourite TV show or a dog, or someone who liked an open fire on a Sunday afternoon, or someone who read Joyce or baked scones.

The only ways we are allowed to understand drug addiction, as a society, are as a slight on our community or as a hopeless tragedy.

Sociologists and psychologists talk about the danger of this binary outlook as it applies to good and evil. That in establishing that Hitler is “evil”, we a) absolve ourselves of any relationship to his behaviour, because we are Not Evil, and b) dehumanise his actions, denounce him as the antichrist, and as a result we fail to see it in other people. Here is a good piece to read.

The same type of thinking applies to drug addiction. We cannot be responsible for drug overdose if it was an unavoidable tragedy. We cannot be held accountable if the person was beyond help, or fundamentally terrible.

If the best treatment is prevention, what we need is a better way to identify and treat risk factors. And we can’t do that if we see our own children, friends, brothers, aunts and think: “Well, they’re not a hideous, terrible person. And they’re not a beautiful tragedy. Therefore, they’re not at risk.” We don’t know what the risk of drug addiction is because the media have always fed us these two saleable archetypes.

Is it any wonder, then, that we continue to live in a society that condemns the actions of addicts instead of establishing greater understanding, better services and, I don’t know, help? We don’t even know what they bloody look like.