Jason Smith's Bitter Taste of Dying
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Jason Smith's Bitter Taste of Dying
As an addict, Jason Smith went on a wild ride. His new book The Bitter Taste of Dying, published by Thought Catalog, chronicles his battle with addiction and the dark places that it took him to.
Smith deftly tells a story that will draw in anyone that has ever been a hardcore addict, or has been close to one. His addiction begins as his best friend, the one thing that helps him deal with his anxiety, the thing that makes him feel whole. But with drugs of this nature, we all know how the story ends, and soon Smith is in hell.
Traveling to Europe, China, and Tijuana while heavily addicted to fentanyl, OxyContin and Xanax isn’t easy, but he tried. Throughout it all, he hustled and survived, for a while anyway. As he relates in his book, “maintaining an addiction for a single day requires more thought, planning and on-your-feet problem solving than many ‘normal’ people use in a month. Addicts are problem solvers to our core.”
In time though, Smith comes across problems in his addiction he cannot solve, including time in a Tijuana jail cell where he is beaten and forced to drink water from a mop bucket. He tried to solve the problem by committing suicide, but thankfully failed, before finally getting clean.
The Fix spoke to Jason about his book and his recovery.
How did you go from hardcore addict to successful writer?
Basically, I’ve been at this writing thing for a little over a year now. I sort of woke up out of a 16-year fog and just started writing. I’m not sure where it came from, because I never wrote before this. It’s not like I was a struggling writer throughout my addiction, trying to get noticed. I came-to at the age of 33, and shortly thereafter I began writing. That cathartic feeling you get from writing—that’s what I chase today. Today, I have two beautiful kids, an amazing wife, blah, blah, blah. All the shit I swore I’d never get while I was out there running around trying to stay well.
As an addict, you spent much of your life hiding your behaviors and addictions. How did it feel to put it all out there for the world to see?
I’d assumed it would be really difficult because outside of my close friends and immediate family, nobody really knew. What I discovered was, in fact, it was a tremendous relief. Living a lie requires more lies to maintain the first lie, and it starts to pile up. And that gigantic pile of lies, manipulation, half-truths, all the shit you have to do to keep up the facade—it gets heavy after awhile. Writing about it felt like I was finally able to set it down and move on with my life, on to whatever came next. I also discovered that just because people didn’t know I was a drug addict, that doesn’t mean they didn’t see the behaviors of someone addicted to drugs. And if you just take those behaviors by themselves—and don’t explain that drugs were the reason for them—then you just look like an asshole. So in a way, I think the book, to those close to me, explained a lot of very curious behaviors over the years.
Although you write much of the book with a tinge of humor, the book is also very black; can you tell us a bit about some of the dark places that your addiction brought you?
I think it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself, and self-deprecation can be endearing without making light of some very serious situations. You have to offer the reader a momentary escape from the dark shit from time-to-time. Otherwise, it’s too heavy. There are quite a few dark places in the book. Jail in Tijuana was messy, and kicking fentanyl in that cell is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Sleeping outside of a train station in Nice, France, after an overdose, with no money, no passport, and no idea what my next move would be. Getting fired from my job in Shanghai, not knowing why my eye was black or why my hair was blue. These were all dark, dark experiences, but not so much for what they were—situations I was in as a direct result of my using. What made each of these so dark was what came next. What came after. What made them so dark was the fact that regardless of how bad it was, I still used again as soon as I was presented the opportunity, knowing damn well that as bad as it was, using was going to make it worse.
You hear people say all the time “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.” My insanity was far worse. I did the same thing over and over knowing exactly what was going to happen, but did it anyway. Shit, at least the other way, there’s hope of a different outcome. I never had that hope. I knew exactly what was going to happen; yet I did it again. That realization, to me, is really dark.
I related very much to you being such a good manipulator throughout the book. When one is living day-to-day, and doing things that are horrifically wrong in every way, one often gets really good at it. How have you dealt with that aspect of things during your recovery? I guess what I am asking is, how have you learned to be honest?
I think for most addicts that’s one of the most difficult things, getting clean and then realizing all of the damage you accumulated during your run. I hurt so many people over the years, and when I got clean, being so used to the feeling of instant gratification that the drugs always offered, I wanted to fix it all at once. Just throw out a blanket “I’m sorry” statement and move on, as if none of it ever happened. But the world doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way, and fortunately, I had someone in my life upon whom I could lean for guidance and direction in mending those relationships. It was a slow process, and here, two and a half years later, I’m still working on it. For me personally, a 12-step program worked really well in navigating the world of early recovery. That’s not to say 12-step works for everyone, or is the end-all be-all for recovery. But it’s a part of my story, and I’m extremely grateful for that.
To people that are deep in their shit, right in the middle of their addiction, they often see no way out. You are living proof that people cannot only get out of their addiction, but thrive. If you had the opportunity, what would you say to someone that is living now the way you did in your past?
You’re not alone. You’re not alone in what you’re going through, or have gone though, that there are people who’ve been just as fucked up as you, or done the dirty, conniving shit you’ve done in order to maintain your habit, and they made it out, alive and well. I had a chance to sit down with Jerry Stahl, who wrote one of the best drug memoirs out there, Permanent Midnight, and he told me that he never gives advice but he’ll always share his experience. I really like that approach. I’m just a guy, and this is my story. It doesn’t qualify me to tell anyone what they should do, or what they ought to do. I’m certainly no recovery expert. All I can tell you is what I did, and where it’s taken me. And if you would have told me, in the midst of my addiction, that my life would look like it looks today after I got clean, I would’ve called you crazy. Then probably hit you up for $20.