Two Roads to Take – One Truly Up, One Tragically Down – Poetry for Recovery

Tools of Drug Addiction

The Addiction Room

The room is dark. There are four walls
a top and a bottom. I am trapped. I can’t get out
and sometimes in that darkness I don’t want out,
sometimes I love feeling trapped, like the room
has somehow stayed safe. I cannot get out
and more importantly, no one can get in.

Somewhere along the way I’ve become the darkness,
become one with the room, surrounded by the chaos,
white noise and demonic screams. My fear fades
with the kiss of that pin-point touch, warmth flows
throughout my body and in that moment I am
untouchable but no one told me what tomorrow would bring.
The warmth that pretended to be safety was gone,
I was trapped and no longer wanted to be.
The six sides of this room mirrored the cold prison
I was living and dying in on the inside. Death was
lingering ever so closely and not that that I had
become completely unaware of it, I had stopped
fearing it. I almost wanted it and invited it. I am trapped
and all hope is gone or lost in this four-sided, top
and bottomed room.

S. with permission

I have the privilege of being midwife to the birth of fragile, restive, resilient, stand-out poems written by men and women in recovery. Given safe space and the support of other supportive published poetic voices these poems appear on the page in under fifteen minutes. Some go back to the darkest days of addiction, some celebrate the new light coming through in recovery. Others span any topic you might imagine. But what they all share is what Canadian poet Susan Musgrave says: a poem knows more than I do and is wiser than I am. And that is where the healing can happen. The writer’s own voice as counselor and confidant.

Today I write this blog with a sadness infused in between my words. S (not the initial of her first name) who wrote these searing words above during the past few years died in mid-2018 of an overdose. A courageous woman, another casualty of our on-going opioid crisis. S was happy to give me permission to use her poems in my work. And her mother has welcomed my use of them. I thank them both. But I so wish S was alive to read these poems and write some more.

I had been working with S for a few weeks when she came early to our group poetry therapy session to show me her poem The Addiction Room, she had written in between sessions. What an isness poem of addiction. What a heart-breaking poem about the hold her addiction had on her. Her courage to state it so clearly. No bromides. No easy hope thrown in for good measure. The simple horror of her four-sided, top and bottomed room. Or should I say, prison. And even though she knew the warmth of the pin-point touch was a false warmth it had the last say in her life here. Damn and double damn!

Was this a healing poem? I think yes, in the way it brings into the open, into the breathable air, the nature of her struggle. The way it faces it in this unflinching way! But, and this is the tragedy, this awareness was not enough. The death that the poem says she no longer feared came to claim her. And we lost a wonderful human soul.

I watched for weeks as S’s poems came to her aid. In our group poetry therapy sessions her poems were so different from The Addiction Room. They outlined her struggle and developed her awareness of where she was most at risk, where she was most vulnerable to her addiction. These poems gave me such hope that she would make it. It’s why The Addiction Room so slams me. That its voice won, not the other voices shouting to be heard in her other poems. Here is a good example of one of her more hopeful poems triggered by this line by Irish poet Derek Mahon: Everything is going to be all right.


Beautiful pieces of my broken heart are falling
back together as the sun rays pierce
through the undeniable lawless mosaic. I am
free from the chains of the darkness that
once owned me. The vortex of new hope
and light I am no longer resisting. In spite of
life’s thrown daggers I can still hold peace
and comfort in this moment knowing true love
and acceptance toward my divine self.
Wherever there is dark, sadness and pain
there always will be beauty, courage
and love. Trust again, trust again
in the mathematical balance of the world
but be watchful to avoid the brick pathway
to the upside down and instead take the stairs
toward light and joy and knowing
everything will be all right.

S with permission

Oh S! That voice. That road to recovery. The hope, the reach out to a healing higher power. The repudiation of the chains that once owned you. Her poem’s strong reminder to be watchful, avoid the brick path/ to the upside down but instead to take the stairs toward light and a knowing everything will be all right. I so wish this poem and her other hopeful ones had the last word. That everything had turned out all right.

One Comment

  1. Heidi Garnett
    Posted May 28, 2019 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Deeply moving.

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