In Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is about recognizing that alcohol is ruining your life. That may seem a little obvious, but in practice it’s actually one of the biggest challenges an addict will ever face. In the first chapter of Dopefiend, I wanted to echo a similar awareness, with a similar struggle to find the big picture. The chapter opens with the DOPEFIEND adamantly refusing to recognize the role that heroin plays in his life. I remember going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Pennsylvania high on heroin and playing it off like I was sober. I fooled no one. But the trick with denial is that, for it to work, you really only need to deceive one person. Fortunately for me, I found myself in a New York City homeless shelter. This drastic change of circumstance, more than anything else, helped me to assess my life situation more clearly.
Reading group questions for Chapter 1: Honesty:
1. Is there any difference between denial and dishonesty?
2. Early in the chapter, one of the attendees at an Narcotics Anonymous meeting points out that the DOPEFIEND is going to die. To which, he responds: “We’re all going to die.” Is this an honest answer? Why? Why not?
3. In a “bid for leniency” from the judge, the DOPEFIEND applies for drug treatment. Does this seem like an honest way to enter drug treatment? Why? Why not?
4. At the intake appointment, Roberto discovers that the DOPEFIEND got high earlier that morning. Although this is told to Roberto as a joke, to lighten the mood, this is arguably the only honest thing the DOPEFIEND says to anyone in all of Chapter 1. What role does this tiny bit of honesty play in irrevocably setting the DOPEFIEND on a course to break through his denial?
5. What role—if any—does the tousle headed deli clerk’s kindness play in breaking through the DOPEFIEND’s denial? What about this same clerk’s firm response to the attempted theft of the ice cream from his store? Which response—firmness or kindness—plays a bigger role in breaking though the DOPEFIEND’s denial?