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Writers on the Edge: 22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency
Use the word addiction and the first images that come to mind are ones of pills, powders,
needles, crack pipes and bottles of booze. Most of us might picture a homeless man staggering
down the street clutching a brown paper bag in one hand, or a bone-thin junkie with a syringe
Minus the severe physical, potentially life threatening withdrawal symptoms of the
alcoholic or narcotics addict, today’s definition of addiction includes all kinds of compulsive
behavior. Gambling. Cutting. Sex. Overeating. Even love. Chronic depression and suicide
also fit neatly into the subject, for it is hard, if not unwise, to separate them from the
conversation, given that as often as not they most certainly feed into the same tributary.
Writers On The Edge challenges the traditional boundaries of the term addiction to
include the two most basic elements that define it: the obsession and the compulsion to self-
destruct. And what distinguishes this book from others on the subject is that it’s written by well-
published writers and poets who have been there, on the edge, who know the hellish terrain of
addiction, obsession and mental illness, and through their art take us to those dark places. Some
discover light at the end of the tunnel. Others do not.
The message is simple. There are those who by whatever necessary means will turn their
lives around and survive as a result of their addictions, while others will allow their obsessions to
consume them. Those selected to be included in this anthology skillfully articulate their
personal struggles, triumphs and failures, presenting poignant perspectives for reflection,
concern and acknowledgement of addiction and its associated issues.
In Scott Russell Sander’s classic essay, “Under the Influence,” we witness the slow,
painful disintegration of Sander’s alcoholic father. It is a story of a father and son, and their
unrealized love, stunted if not destroyed by alcoholism.
For Chase Twitchell’s “Toys in the Attic,” the journey takes us deep into the psyche of the
chronically depressed, having lived for fifteen years “with psychoactive drugs in my brain,
among them Ambien, Celexa, Desyrel, Effexor, Elavil, Pamelor, Paxil, Serzone, Traivil, Valium,
Wellbutrin, and Xanax.” The goal is to stabilize mood rather than heighten or distort it as one
does with alcohol and narcotics. But how do these psychotropic drugs affect consciousness?
And how, in turn, does a consciousness altered by these drugs influence Twitchell’s poetry,
which she describes as “the ultimate art of self-annihilation”?
Add to the mix “Pretty Red Stripes” by Linda Gray Sexton (daughter of the late poet Ann
Sexton, who committed suicide), and you have a stunningly, graphic account of the obsessive,
destructive practice known as “cutting.” Like a drug, drawing a razor through ones skin brings
to some a sense of relief, pleasure and release. “It’s a way of letting the poison out,” Sexton
writes. “…To bleed is a way of knowing you’re alive.”
That same need for “knowing you’re alive” segues smoothly into Sue William
Silverman’s essay, “Last Day out,” on sex addiction. The need, the compulsion, the obsession
for a heightened sense of pleasure once again crosses the line between what society considers
normal versus abnormal behavior. Here is a woman who feels marriage a mundane institution in
which she can never be content, and thus feels compelled to regularly engage in one night stands
with strange men for what she refers to as a need to be “loved.”
In “The Doppler Effect,” renowned poet B.H. Fairchild masterfully captures the essence
of the unspoken sadness and the self-alienation drinkers feel simply sitting in a darkened bar,
wondering why they are here, and if not realizing, at least coming to suppose that belonging of
any sort is at best perhaps an illusion.
The other fine writers and poets who comprise this collection include: , John Amen,
Frederick and Steven Barthelme Kera Bolonik, Maud Casey, Anna David, Ruth Fowler, David
Huddle, Margaret Bullit-Jonas, Caroline Kettlewell, Perie Longo, Gregory Orr, Victoria
Patterson, Molly Peacock, Stephen Jay Schwartz, and Rachel Yoder, These writers all follow in
the great, though unfortunate tradition of their literary predecessors. Edgar Allen Poe. Jack
London. Ernest Hemingway. F. Scott Fitzgerald. William Styron. Dorothy Parker. Virginia
Wolff. Raymond Carver. Tennessee Williams. Eugene O’Neil. Jean Rhys. Truman Capote.
The list of alcoholic, drug addicted, suicidal, chronically depressed and mentally ill writers goes
on and on. But don’t be misled. Though some might consider these afflictions simply an
occupational hazard of being an artist, for each name here there’s a dozen others that have lived
healthy, clean and sober lives and produced great works.
It is hoped that this anthology will be helpful to all artistic personalities who wish to gain
a stronger sense of how their colleagues navigate their way through addiction, mental illness,
suicide, and other obsessive, self-destructive behaviors. Just as importantly, we hope those with
loved ones and family members battling with these issues might all benefit from reading this
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