Recovery Road

My morning routine begins with an apple and a dose of humanity.

Since I was thirteen years old, I hadn’t touched an apple due to an allergy. It took me over ten years to figure out the problem was in the skin.

Now, I walk to the kitchen every morning bleary eyed and take a peeler from the drawer. The next ten minutes are spent pacing my apartment crunching on apples and peanut butter as I take in the pictures on the wall, the sofa beneath the window, and even the throw rug on the floor. I’m appreciating it all in a preemptive exercise, because I’m about to be reminded point blank of how lucky I am.

Between Dorchester where I live, and the South End where I work, there’s a mile and a half of urbanity and industrial space nicknamed ‘Methadone Mile’. Right on the corner of the biggest intersection is the Boston Medical Center and BU Medical School. As duck into my car and start the engine, I already know what I’ll see when I reach that crossroads.

At first my commute appears empty as I follow the streetlights. But when I round the corner, someone stumbles into the four lane parkway.

I have a green light, but the woman doesn’t notice. She appears disheveled and carries two backpacks and an extra-large iced coffee. The Chevy next to me screeches to a halt and honks, but the woman waves her drink and passes in front us scowling.

She’s not alone – a crowd of some hundred haggard looking folk are streaming through the streets. The methadone clinics and homeless shelters are letting out for the morning.

There are more people than I can count. Every day there’s fights, domestic disputes, and drug deals done in broad daylight. It’s a sight hard to capture in words, but the impact on your psyche is unforgettable – an aching pain in your heart accompanied by an ongoing moral argument.

This is a tragedy. These people are addicted. Is it their fault, or is it the system we live in?

The opioid epidemic took hold of this New England city just in time for me to move here and witness its effect. Needles riddle the grass along this roadway so much so that the sheriff’s department erected a wall of fencing around a five-foot section of median. For a long time, I thought I was experiencing the height of a national crisis, until I learned it wasn’t all what it seemed.

As it turns out, heroin and opioid use are in the news not only because of its scale, but because of how hard it’s hit middle, white, and affluent communities. Many of ‘Methedone Mile’s occupants were already here due to alcoholism and homelessness, which are nearly twice as common. Addiction was and is a disease, but from a media perspective alcoholism is boring. Opioids are the newest and flashiest manifestation of addiction.

As I dodge another two men in oversized jackets, the dilemma in me dies down. I recall the green apple I plucked from the basket that morning. How lucky am I that my biggest bodily affliction is an inability to eat a piece of fruit? What’s more, I have a comfortable apartment and can afford to think about a peeler. What would I do if my entire body was rigged to crave a substance that destroyed my life?

This post has no resolution – no big revelation or ethical epiphany – just a brief reminder of how lucky I am to come from a safe community and host of loved ones. Pulling up to my workplace and turning the engine off, I open the door to my office and go inside, feeling suddenly very human, and reassured that I’m at least working to alleviate a form of pain. Even if that pain is as trivial as the lack of money.

I’ve been encouraged by those close to me to start changing the paradigm around addiction. The least I can do is start with my own vernacular. Hence, I decided that my morning routine should start with a simple apple, and trip down ‘Recovery Road.’

Thanks.

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