James Koch is a chef and aspiring writer who has battled with addiction for a majority of his forty-one years. This piece is a reflection on his relationship with substance abuse and the written word.
Throughout my whole life I’ve had to deal with reoccurring bouts of depression. I’ve tried many different remedies to “cure” these episodes, but the end result is always the same. My run-ins with depression are merely the excuse I use to let my addictions run wild.
The addict’s mind has an uncanny ability to string together the weakest set of reasons so as to justify abusing any substance. Anything goes in the name of healing thy soul, self- preservation and numbing all feeling completely.
In my case, these chemical vacations have always had a silver lining: I usually end up with an exceptional burst of creative writing. The pieces don’t usually have anything to do with why I was depressed in the first place, but they do help to exorcize whatever demon was gnawing on my soul at that particular time, and for this I am eternally grateful.
With age I have gotten better at navigating the dark waters of my addictions. So much so, in fact, that I feel comfortable attaching words like “functional” or “recreational” to them (as in “functional alcoholic” or “recreational I.V. drug user”). This may seem like splitting hairs to the non-abusers out there, but, trust me, there’s a huge difference between a functional and a full blown alcoholic, and I’ve got my two year degree from outpatient rehab to prove I know what I’m talking about.
Regardless of the name I attach to the problem, the solution is the same. In the end, it is my writing that gets me through it all. I wouldn’t have lived through any of this if I couldn’t pour myself out onto a clean white sheet of notebook paper every once in a while.
One day I’ll be happy… maybe earn my living as a writer of some sort. But, until that day comes, I’m happy to be silently broadcasting whatever my heart desires to an audience of none. For me it is the act of writing that matters most; the solitary pursuit of putting pen to paper that enables me to feel more connected, more human than I have ever felt.
The following is an excerpt from a piece entitled “Confessions of a Barstool Pirate,” written under the pseudonym Who Will.
I’ve got a terminal (or rather a non-terminal) case of being in the right place at the right time. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know if it’s luck or something more divine, or even something supernatural.
Occasionally I have a vision about what it would be like to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a sense of euphoria washes over me. I become more aware of the present and for at least a little while I forget that there is a devil named Anxiety holding a gun of failure to my head, repeatedly whispering in my ear, “You’re a loser, you’re nothing!”
I remember what I felt like before I sold off all of those pieces of my soul; pieces of a life that I swore I would buy back one day. With them I’d become better, I’d become whole, and I’d become driven. I guess that’s why I’m telling you this. Because as we get older we forget which dreams we traded in for a paycheck.
Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones. Lucky enough to have some kind of mental defect that inspires a bizarre chain of events and encourages the forces that be to press my face up against a mirror where I must take an unflinching look deep into my soul and defend my life and my choices – all of them. Right down to the last drinks, the last line and the last syringe. And if those choices can’t be defended, I’ve only myself to blame when I can’t get back to the life I once had.