The Last Addictions Memoir (Hopefully): An Evidence-Based Recovery Story Pt. 13

By Anne Giles 06/20/17

Let's see if we can create what society terms an addict. Let's take a person, born to live a free and human life, and compromise that personhood with addiction.

Untitled sculpture by Trish Shelor White
Untitled sculpture by Trish Shelor White Photo

When the teachers at my school reconvened for workshops prior to the start of the school year, I walked towards the auditorium with a colleague and confessed, "I keep having bad dreams about the student who pushed me."

I didn't tell him that a toilet seat had been placed around my neck the previous night, down side up near my face, splashed with excrement. In the dream, I was also an observer, a member of an audience including the student, watching myself motionless, dejected and alone in that filthy pillory, my mouth a circle of anguish.

When I was a teenager in Blacksburg, Virginia, my family was a member of Shawnee Swim Club. The pool's manager was a handsome, beautifully shaped man, a former kicker on the football team at Virginia Tech. I was 12 and flirted awkwardly with him. Even now I can feel a flash of shame from what I experienced as an intentionally arctic, superior response from him to my overtures.

A few years later, when I was 16 and had my driver's license, I was the first to arrive just as the pool opened. I was changing in the locker room when the pool's manager entered unexpectedly. I pulled a towel up to cover myself. He apologized, lingered to adjust a light switch, then left. Although I accepted the intrusion as the pool manager's prerogative, I felt scorn at what seemed a blundering error.

I married a Virginia Tech engineer and moved to Tampa in 1983. In 2006, weary from the heat of Tampa, the end of my marriage, and the end of a long-term relationship after my marriage, I sought safe haven when I returned to my hometown of Blacksburg, Virginia. I arrived just in time to be a few miles away when William Morva gunned down a police officer on our scenic walking trail. Next, my pool manager was revealed to be a multi-decade child molester fixated on little girls, not on pubescent girls unless no one else was around and they were nude in the locker room. Then I had my private tragedy of the student pushing me off balance in my classroom. Then Cho shot up the present, past and future at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.

When I told my fellow teacher I was having nightmares, that was in August 2007, four months after the shootings. These were the years of "no child left behind" and aides accompanied children with difficulties in the classroom. In one class, I had half a dozen students headed to college, half a dozen students headed for work in the trades, and half a dozen students with special needs, each with an aide. During one activity when students and aides were moving around the room, I was posting the students' illustrations from the activity on the wall. A student positioned himself between me and the other students and adults, turned his back to them, and leaned towards me as if he were going to tell me a secret. I leaned in to hear it. He looked me directly in the eyes and said softly, intimately, "I'm going to shoot you."

Within days, I was on my knees before my principal's desk, sobbing, begging my principal to let me go. That was in September 2007. In November, I was released from my contract. And that was the end of a teaching career spanning a previous 25 years.

Would it have occurred to the student to threaten to shoot me if the shootings hadn't occurred at Virginia Tech, 10 miles away, only four months earlier? The question plagues me but the answer is unknowable. The student denied making the statement and, due to his careful positioning and low tone, no one saw or heard him say it.

Had it really happened?

Only novelists Gregg Hurwitz and Nathan Hill could devise a more sinister experiment than the one I propose. Let's see if we can create what society terms an addict. But let's get real and use the correct term. Let's take a person, born to live a free and human life, and compromise that personhood with addiction. Let's see if we can create a person with an addiction."

We know how to predispose a person to developing addiction. Let's really stack the odds in our favor. Let's pick a female subject since substances will affect her brain and body more quickly and intensely than if we used a male. Let's start her off with one too-hard parent who attacks and one too-soft parent who doesn't protect, setting her up with chronic childhood stress from ACEs (adverse childhood experiences). Let's find someone with a generous, loving heart so that no matter what anyone does, she still cares and tries. Let's pick someone psychologically minded and sensitive so she'll notice discrepancies between her inner experience of reality and what others say is real.

For example, she'll notice when her mother says, "Love is unconditional," and spanks her. Inwardly, she will experience disorientation and little shocks from these mismatches. She'll need to control her startle response to stay satisfactory to her caregivers since she's dependent upon them. The energy needed to control all this will keep her weary. We'll borrow these techniques from professionals who have learned which methods of psychological torture keep prisoners compliant.

The competition between her inner and outer realities will result in cognitive distortions that will further confuse and plague her. We'll toss in some "crazymaking" and "gaslighting" to give us control over much of her thinking about herself and over her behavior. As a result of our efforts, she'll doubt her reality and her worth, look to us to confirm it, guess passionately at what might please us and do it, or simply do what we demand. Her nervous system will fire fast, spike high, and return very slowly to stability.

And now, let's break her heart. Let's make her infertile. No baby to love, to do for, to do right by. Let's eject her from the human family. A thoughtful person, she'll understand that we, begrudgingly, will permit her to stay on the planet for a while - as long as she doesn't bother anybody and works hard to keep earning her place - but her DNA is absolutely not to be part of the future of the species.

Then let's traumatize the hell out of her.

Let's make her feel unsafe in her environment (Morva), shock her perception of her sexuality and her ability to read others' responses to it (Utin), make her feel unsafe in her body and her workplace (the pushing student), and blast up every belief she holds dear, including an inchoate love for her university (Cho). Let's let that snarl and twist just a few months, but no longer. Then let's have someone else's child, in her care, within a chummy distance, in the chapel of the school room where she worships, with no witnesses, whisper that he's going to kill her in the bloodiest way she's ever known (the final student).

Now let's pour her a glass of wine.

The Last Addictions Memoir below:

Part 1 here  Part 2 here  Part 3 here Part 4 here  Part 5 here Part 6 here 

Part 7 here Part 8 here Part 9 here Part 10 here Part 11 here Part 12 here

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. She writes about addictions treatment, recovery and policy at As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder.
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Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., is a counselor, writer and business owner. As of this writing, she has been abstinent from alcohol since December 28, 2012, and is in remission from alcohol use disorder. You can find Anne on Linkedin and Twitter.