NY Magazine shares a jarring photo essay. (Trigger warning, the images are pretty graphic.)
Most documentary projects about addiction expose someone else’s self-destructive behavior, but Graham MacIndoe took a very different approach: He photographed himself during the years he was addicted to drugs. He’d place a cheap digital camera on a table or bookshelf, set the self-timer to take a photo every so often, then turn his attention to the rituals of his habit: filling a crack pipe, cooking heroin, shooting up. Over time, he became more deliberate about lighting and composition, but the point was not to glamorize what had become a solitary existence, the monotonous repetition of an addict’s daily life.
These images offer important perspective in light of the recent discussion about treatment and responses to addiction. There’s been a lot of discussion about natural recovery. I think it’s important to distinguish between problem drinking or drug use and addiction.
People with drug and alcohol problems, even serious problems, stop all the time without help. For them, the drug is just a drug. It may feel really good. It may have a pretty strong pull. But, they’ll quit once they have a good enough reason—a child, incarceration, loss of a job, divorce, etc.
This looks like addiction, where the drug is no longer just a drug—it’s survival. The brain of the addict treats the drug as it’s most basic survival need. It’s not a learned behavior. It’s not a lifestyle choice. It’s not secondary to a crappy environment. Few addicts will be able to initiate and maintain recovery without help. (There’s no doubt that, historically, treatment providers have done a lousy job differentiating between addicts and problem users.)
The good news is that Graham is in recovery now.
I posted about tough love earlier this week. Here are his thoughts on tough love:
People need to be nurtured out of addiction. That tough-love thing of turning a blind eye because you think you can do nothing is really destructive. Because you’re getting somebody at the lowest ebb of their life who just needs something, and they don’t know how to do it.