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Secrets and Lies

Many former addicts experience euphoric—sometimes delusional—recall when they try to remember how bad their lives had become. Fix columnist Nic Sheff describes how he stays in the present without white-washing his painful past.


Living with a past you'd rather forget Photo via

By Nic Sheff


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When the publishers of my new memoir about addiction and sobriety, We All Fall Down, told me they wanted to send me on a nine city speaking tour, I was totally grateful, of course. I mean, I know what an honor that is. And, especially these days with the economy and everything, I realize that not many authors get a chance to promote their books the way I have. So it makes me feel really great that they’d be willing to invest so much in me.

But, at the same time, I was pretty terrified, too.

I mean, the kind of funny thing about having had to go on a book tour like this was that, you know, the only reason I could write We All Fall Down (and my first book, Tweak) to begin with was because I was completely incapable of dealing with life and being around people unless I had a whole lotta illegal substances in my body as some kinda buffer against reality. And, yeah, I’m two-and-a-half years sober now, but the world’s still a big overwhelming place for me and I can’t really relate to most people, so having to go on a tour across the country and talk at book stores and on the radio was like the last thing I felt prepared to do. I remember that things were very, very bad and I was so deeply unhappy—but I don’t remember what that unhappiness actually felt like. And that’s one of the reasons I think it is so easy to forget just how bad things really got.

Honestly, it scared me a whole lot.

But I had to do it.

And so I did—you know, taking it one day at a time and all.

I can’t believe it, but I really did it.

I mean, every day felt like a hundred years going through it, but now, looking back, it seems like I just snapped my fingers and it was over.

Although, I guess everything in life is like that.

Looking back, it’s like no time has passed at all, but when you’re stuck in the middle, it feels like things are never going to end. Maybe that’s something important for me to remember.

I mean, in the past I always felt like anything I was going through was gonna last forever. If I felt depressed or hopeless, I thought I’d always feel that way. But things do change. Things do get better. And, looking back, all the pain and suffering and turmoil is just an abstract blur. I’m not even sure what it even felt like exactly.

It’s the same thing when I’m sick. When I have a cold I can’t remember what it felt like to not have a cold—to not have a sore throat and a clogged head and to be all lethargic and everything. It feels like I’m never going to get any better because I can’t remember how it felt when I was healthy.

And when I’m healthy, well, I can’t remember what it felt like to be sick—except in the most vague, abstract way.

Pain is the same way, actually. When I speak at high schools and tell kids about the abscess I got in my arm from shooting drugs, I can remember having this giant hole in my arm after the doctor opened it up. I can remember having to stuff the hole with medical bandages—every inch and crevice of the hole, that is. I remember having to use this long wooden Q-tip to jam the strings of bandage into all the little open sores and pockets in my arm that had been eaten away by the infection. And I remember that it hurt.

But I don’t remember the pain specifically at all.

Which is the same way it is with my alcoholism, too. I remember that things were very, very bad and I was so deeply unhappy—but I don’t remember what that unhappiness actually felt like. I can’t fathom now what the emotional pain and desperation was like then. And that’s one of the reasons I think it is so easy to forget just how bad things really got.

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