The Addict by Michael Stein: Thoughts on a Book of Addiction
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The Addict by Michael Stein lets the reader peer through the windows of an extremely secretive world of the abuse of legally prescribed drugs. In doing so it reveals the disturbing yet fascinating story of a young woman whose life has fallen under the thrall and spell of addiction.
Lucy Fields is a scared and susceptible 29 year old woman who is extremely addict to Vicodin, the most widely prescribed painkiller and a dangerous narcotic. The Addict is the story of her journey as she attempts to beat her disease. It is a story of hope, redemption, guilt, pain, despair, and denial and borders on the realm of romance.
The Addict also presents Dr. Stein’s intense personal struggle against fighting a disease, which people choose to keep or lose. He attempts to heal and hope for his clients, while staying firm in his duties.
Lucy speaks off about her family’s denial of her disease, as she explained that she has them convinced of her sobriety for five years. The family believes it is the actions of Lucy’s boyfriend, Brian that has led her down a path of destruction. Lucy describes her mother’s denial as ‘being incredibly impressive’ (pg. 106). However, Dr. Stein wonders if this is true, which in itself is a form of denial, a denial that Lucy is being honest with him.
Lucy also describes her mother’s disbelief of her father’s verbal abuse, saying ‘one minute she (her mother) makes excuses for his screaming---he needs to see someone for mental health help---the next minute he’s the dream husband’. This denial also has it’s own effects on Lucy. Her mother’s unwillingness to face the facts of her abuse leads to a relationship of least resistance. Lucy is now pressured by her family to obtain sobriety seeing as how much denial they are in.
It is evident that Lucy can use this denial to her advantage; point and case when she is moving out of her apartment due to her sexually aggressive landlord her roommates instantly begin looking for a new roommate. One roommate goes on a rant about drug addicts, completely unaware of Lucy’s past. She has managed to deny that lifestyle in the form of omission.
The Addict is also filled with occasions of redemption and guilt, opposite ideas on the emotional spectrum as Lucy attempts to overcome her wrongdoing and provide a better, happier life for herself.
After having left her abusive drug addict boyfriend, Brian, Lucy comes to terms with the reasons of her acceptance of destructive men. At one point Brian engages in a disturbing and assertive quest to find her. Eventually he does so, calling her constantly at work. When Lucy is informed of his calls she relates to Dr Stein that ‘the other good news is that my immediate reaction was not to talk to him’ (pg. 247). This shows Lucy’s goals of redeeming herself in maladaptive relationships, overcoming the need to engage in such dangerous relations.
With redemption comes guilt and Lucy is wracked with it, carrying it heavily upon her shoulders. At one point while discussing Brian, Dr. Stein states she must be disgusted with Brian, using the Reflective Listening technique of Motivational Interviewing. Lucy responds with saying ‘more with myself. I’m angry at myself. I’m a waste of human life. I’ve had every advantage and squandered it because I’m a lazy, hedonistic, slothful, selfish person. Incapable of having a relationship with anyone, mother, father, sister, people, anyone. Most days I think I’m just pathetic’ (pg 251-252). You can see the amount of guilt that comes along with the descent and waste of succumbing to substance abuse. No one sets out to become a drug addict; it is no ones life or dream. This can be reasoning behind the difficulty of letting go of the drug, having to face that guilt.
Eventually it comes to light the evident reason Lucy began to use drugs, the death of her baby sister, which she believes she is to blame. Dr. Stein relates this by reasoning Lucy must be thinking ‘was I the cause of my sister’s death? Will I die in some horrible silent way, too?’ (Pg. 256). He also notes that ‘Lucy’s guilt was so strong she had to do something self-destructive. She once told me she didn’t care if her body rotted (pg. 258).
As you can see Lucy’s addiction is in constant imbalance due to her immense guilt for her sister’s death and her wish to redeem herself, and live a truly enjoyable life. The most evident example of Lucy’s deep guilt is her reluctance to face herself, which Dr. Stein relates ‘but I remembered the way Lucy always ducked when she passed the mirror en route to her chair’.
Hope and hopelessness are an integral part to The Addict and Lucy’s story in general. By nature the act of rehabilitation is intertwined with hope and hopelessness as the person with the addiction attempts heal herself. Lucy states elegantly; ‘I’d like to be happier than I am. Get more sleep. Feel less lonely. I’d like to have honest relations with people I feel connected to’ (pg 115). This demonstrates her hope for a better future and perhaps her willingness to attempt to reach it.
Sadly, as stated above, hopelessness goes hand in hand with hope itself. Lucy recounts horrible times in her life of despair and sadness. She recalls a friend who had died of an overdose, at which she falls silent. Dr. Stein says this is the ‘loudest kind of suffering’ (pg 252). It is obvious Lucy has a tendency to sink into bouts of hopelessness, which is not surprising. This mixed with feelings of guilt can drag a person suffering from addiction down into the ultimate hopelessness, giving up on sobriety and accepting their current state.
Michael Stein's Website
- Michael Stein Books
Michael Stein - Writer, Doctor, Teacher, and Author of 'The Addict', 'The Lonely Patient', 'In the Age of Love', 'The Lynching Tree,' and other titles.
For those in Need
- Opiate Addiction
Opiate addiction is is a physical illness involving a central nervous system disorder caused by long-term opiate intake.
Can Lucy Make It?
Hopelessness also brings loneliness, which Dr. Stein relates of Lucy; ‘She was solitary; she could just walk away’ (pg 252). He recognizes the danger of walking the borders of hope and hopelessness, a person with addiction being able to easily slip and fall into the despair.
As Lucy’s story continues, she attains her sobriety. While in session Dr Stein remembers her having said ‘For some reason I still believe that I could have a meaningful life’ (pg 261). Even in her deepest moments of despair and sadness, Lucy still had hope, dreaming of a life without drugs or addiction or pain.
In one of the last sessions we see of Lucy and Dr. Stein they reminisce of her very first session, when Dr. Stein uses the method of Self-Motivational Statement by responding to Lucy, ‘but you came back’ (pg 273). Here Lucy responds to his motivational interviewing skills, by explaining her transformation and motivation to change.
Lucy says it best by stating; ‘I really did want something to change. I started to listen to a little thing in my head that said: there’s a chance you can live. At other times in my life I’d felt I really wanted to change, but I guess that feeling didn’t last. To come back from a lifelong problem is next to impossible’ (pg 273-274). She has recognized her emotions, understanding her feelings and need to change.
Romance, oddly, plays a part in this story. Dr. Stein has an underlying attraction and admiration of Lucy and her troubles. During his initial physical examination of Lucy, he goes into deep detail of touching her body, how it feels, and how she reacts to his touch. He often had a dedication and joy towards her that he did not have towards other patients. He goes as far as to state ‘I liked that she needed me.’ (pg 104).
As the story continues on his attraction to Lucy grows deeper emotionally and even becomes further physically attracted to her, though he seems to barely admit it to himself. Dr. Stein described a part of Lucy’s beauty as ‘her pretty mouth and thick dark hair, her red cheeks. It was like a gift’ (pg 116). He truly began to enjoy her company as a friend, even stating ‘Lucy, on the days when she felt like talking, was good company’ (pg 127), which obviously shows his comfort ability with his client.
Dr. Stein also begins to care deeply for Lucy, hoping against hope for her sobriety. He also allows her to stay in his ‘program’ as it is referred to, long past the point he would have allowed any other patient. He begins to express emotional responses to situations in her personal life. When listening to Lucy about the abuse her on and off again boyfriend, Brian deals her, Dr. Stein thought to himself ‘I felt myself getting angry at him, and at her. I heard myself talking less kindly. She knew to take precautions, to make provisions, to watch out’ (pg 233). Here Dr. Stein shows his act of counter transference, by projecting his emotions onto Lucy and Brian, but more importantly having an emotional connection to his client outside the social norms.
-S . A. (2009). The Addict: One patient, one doctor, one year. NYC: Harper Collins
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