I am a small, independent writer, known by few. In the blogosphere and news, I am gaining notoriety for being "that girl who writes a lot about heroin."
The exposure and reach of my articles has enabled me to connect with so many people from all over the world. I receive emails daily from others who have been touched by addiction in some way or another. I hear from addicts who just attended their friend's funeral and admit to me that they used in the parking lot of the funeral home. I speak with addicts who have been clean for years, addicts who have been clean for days and addicts who are still actively using and desperate to find recovery. I hear from parents who have lost their children to drug overdoses, who share with me the eulogy they wrote for their child. I hear from families who have gone into debt, going as far as taking second mortgages on their homes, just to keep their children in rehab. I hear from individuals who are in romantic relationships with someone suffering from addiction; one woman who reached out to me told me her tale, her pain, and how she is expected to marry him next month. I hear varying stories from people whose best friend, cousin, sibling, neighbor, aunt, or uncle has been in and out of jail, overdosed, or found recovery.
In light of every single tragedy and experience, rises a heightened awareness and empowerment. It amazes me how resilient humans are. I have seen many, like myself, rise from the ashes of their tragedy, and become a pillars of hope -- advocates for change.
Some run podcasts, some petition congress, some run non-profits, and some organize events. Almost all volunteer their time and expect nothing in return. No matter what each of us is doing, it's all for the same common goals: to educate, spread awareness, break the stigma attached to drug addiction, and keep the memory of the ones we lost alive as we refuse to let them die in vain. My contribution to this effort is my writing. I write honestly, usually putting out my first draft. My articles have gone viral substantiating to me that there is community of people out there who are suffering and struggling, and need to connect with something to feel less alone.
In 2006 I lost my cousin to a drug overdose and ever since, drug use, most notably heroin and prescription bill abuse, has become a growing epidemic.
Like many who have lost loved ones to this disease, I advocate knowing it will not change my situation. With every article published, my cousin remains buried, my family remains forever altered because of addiction. But do I feel hopeless? No. Because it is my hope that with every single article I write on this epidemic, I will not only spread awareness, but give others the courage or the "push" to speak up. I feel a shift lately -- many families are speaking up, and quite loudly may I add.
Many have called me "brave" to share my story. I am not brave. It took me many years to even speak about my cousin. What I am, is not embarrassed. I am not ashamed to say I lost my cousin to a drug overdose, because my cousin was so much more than her addiction.
"See you later, Cuz" were the last words my cousin ever said to me. Last words. What an unusual concept. We rarely know they are the last as they leave lips. Our conversation leading up to our goodbye has remained mostly private, just between us two. Though it was a dark time, I am certain she believed in her last words to me. I am certain she believed there would be another day.
Her last words were a promise. And though, yes, we will never see each other again in the physical, I do believe I see my cousin all around me. I do not just think of her when I see a syringe or an empty bag of heroin on the street. I see her in so much more than that, like in dusty Emerson books and in old Broadway ticket stubs. In magazines we used to thumb through. In her mother's laugh. In an eye roll after hearing her father's latest joke. In a drive by a lake. In yellowed photographs. In the steep hill of her front lawn. In shopping for CDs and cheesy Sandra Bullock movies. In ponytails and black hoodies. In the title song from "Rent." In sushi dinners in New York City. In Christmas mornings and sarcastic remarks. In an order of buffalo fries, (extra spicy.) In Goo Goo Dolls song lyrics. And most importantly, in my heart.
I use my words as a vessel to reach her. To stay connected to her. To keep her connected to us. To hold up my end of our promise. This has allowed me to connect with so many others who have also made it their mission to change the public's perception of addiction and hopefully, in turn, change public policy.
That is why I am donating 100% of the royalties earned from my new book to the Willow Tree Center in my home state of New Jersey. This center helped breathe life back into my aunt and uncle after losing my cousin. This organization not only has helped many families become educated on addiction, but also provided resources needed during their grieving period if they lost someone. For small places like Willow Tree, every penny donated makes a huge difference and can impact a family you have never met but share so much in common with.
My book, Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately, is designed in the style of an old-school mixtape. There is no Table of Contents. Instead, there is a "Track List." There are no chapters. Instead, the book is divided into two parts, or as one would say in the 90's, two "sides." Side A holds poetry that touches on all aspects of the human condition like life, death, love, moving on, evolving, growing up, hometowns, family dynamic, life after trauma, and make-ups and breakups. Side B holds the "remixes" of these poems, in the form of blackout poetry, also known as "found poetry." Side B gives the material a fresh twist by creating new poetry out of Side A. There is also a very special surprise at the end of each track.
The book only costs $6.99 and was Amazon's No. 1 Hot New Release in Poetry by Women, the No. 2 Hot New Release in Poetry, and is currently sitting at #16 in Women Authors. I self-published this effort with the help of Radiant Skies Publishing Group, a small collective of writers who volunteer their time and expertise to ensure little books like mine are well edited and polished.
After hearing from so many parents about the lack of resources, not just for the addict, but also for the family, I knew I needed to do more than just sit behind my computer. There are organizations all over the country like Willow Tree providing the help they could afford, some even on a volunteer basis, to families where addiction is present, and I know that any little bit of support will help them stay afloat and help even just one more family.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.