Addicts and Honesty - Page 2

By Tony O'Neill 12/12/11

Sometimes people in recovery share wildly exaggerated drinking and using histories. What do you do when rigorous honesty doesn't come easy?

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“Tony, how are you, man?” Mike slurred. In the background I could hear music, a TV blaring, glasses clanking. “You wanna get together?”

I looked around my room. It was festooned with discarded needles. The room was heavy with the scent of unwashed bodies, and a sickly mix of ammonia and cooked junk.  

“It’s not a good time,” I muttered. “Where are you?”

“I’m drunk,” he said. “And listen, I have to tell you something.”

He proceeded to lay a monologue on me that was half confession and half drunken ramble. In between telling me that he loved me and that I was “a good kid,” he confessed that he’d made up the entire thing about the government and the experimental paint. It had been a total fabrication, and—he was crying as he told me this—he was sorry for bullshitting me.

“So wait—what about your leg? What about the cancer?”

“There is no cancer, dumbshit! I lost my leg because I drank too much. I’ve got diabetes.”

I remembered the anger in his face as he’d railed against the government and the slick lawyers who’d dragged the case on so long that most of his friends and coworkers had died before the case was concluded. He’d literally been shaking with fury as he cursed the duplicity of those in charge, and their unfeeling attitude towards him and the others.  

“So why were you so angry?” I asked as gently as I could.

“Tony. I’m 55 years old. I lost my wife, my kids, my house. I’m a one legged drunk, with nowhere to go and no one who gives a shit whether I live or die. You’d be angry, too.”

Morrissey once sang, “Everyone lies, nobody minds, everyone lies,” and it’s a line that seems truer with every passing year. Even eight years after ending my love affair with the needle, I suppose I’m not so different. I never did manage to make the 12-step program work for me. I did, however, manage to find a kind of sanity by channeling my energies into writing. Which is, of course, one of those rare careers—like politics—that actually rewards liars.  

After all, what is fiction, if not the same kind of storytelling that Mike indulged in—just on a bigger scale?

Tony O'Neill is the author of several novels, including Digging the Vein and Down and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. O'Neill is a regular contributor to The Fix who has covered many topics, including Jerry Stahl and abstinence.

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