“Addiction is a thief of your goodbyes”

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In this moving essay at The Rumpus, Heather Stokes recounts what addiction has stolen from her and her mother. A bother and uncle addicted to crack stole not only possessions from the family house, but most importantly Heather and her mom’s personal safety and any chance at stability. Eventually, a boyfriend’s coke addiction costs Heather her freedom, after she embezzles from her job to help feed his habit.

Her pause snapped me back into the conversation. I disinterestedly responded, “I’m sorry, can you ask the question again?”

“What do you feel addiction has stolen from you?”

I knew that she was more than likely referring to my own addictions, but I did not want to talk about those. Instead, I went back in time, back to a time before I knew that substances and people were not meant to be abused. The many years my uncle, brother, and father spent in and out of prison, leaving my mother and I alone—years that robbed me of having a father, of having a stable male presence in our family. Years that morphed into the “I’ll just do it myself” attitude that haunts my relationships to this day. I thought about the shame I felt as I walked past the neighborhood bodega, eyes fixed to the ground, to avoid making eye contact with my brother who stood outside, shaking in the middle of three-day crack cocaine binge.

These were the silent losses. The things that are not talked about in the glamorization of addiction played out on your favorite television shows. Things left unspoken between family. Like opening the kitchen cabinet to find a little corner ripped off the roll of aluminum foil—my uncle used them to construct his aspirin bottle crack pipes. Cut-off straws that were useless to drink your Pepsi with made the perfect suction for inhaling poison; I would often find them discarded under the crab apple tree in front of our house. Some mornings, I would even find my uncle discarded there with them, his disheveled body wrapped around the tree, surrounded by rotten crab apples as if the poison had seeped into them, too.

Read the essay