Incrementally, almost imperceptibly, the child is diverted from security and safety. Later, the confused teenager unravels into a conflicted young adult who clings to a sole dependable ally: the substance that never breaks its promises. Small and unremarkable steps, spread across many years. All so natural, so easy, a salmon swimming downstream. Then one morning you awaken with blood on your cheek, a mournful aching in your bones. The sheets are fetid, your mouth tastes of bile, you look out the window and you don’t know if it’s morning or evening. The room is cold, and you cannot warm yourself. Outside, water drips steadily from the corner of the roof. If the ungovernable forces of change grant you a moment of clarity, you will move toward the breeze from the open window and your heart will crack open. Some smothering force will lift and allow you to fall into your lethargy, your sadness, your bewilderment. You will stagger beneath the weight of your regret. You might take that weight and fashion it into the ballast of a new sea change.

Or you may sniff the aroma of the street – gasoline, cooking oil, wet pavement warmed in the sun – and head out again. Because your back aches, your legs are shuddery and jangling, your scalp feels tight. After a fitful sleep you’ve already begun to sweat with the slow slither of withdrawal. Your teeth hurt, and in your gut a tightening knot of anxiety begins to writhe.

But more than these, more pressing than the appeals of your body drawn across your sinews like tearing parchment: that primal, implacable urge. It rises within you, feckless and seductive and irresistible. It wipes you clean of imperfection, smooths you into linen pressed and warm. You recognize that nothing else matters, that you have surrendered completely.

You follow the chimes of the ever-ringing temple. Bells clamor and clang inside you. The promise of that sweet music, its covenant to enter and possess you with its peaceful simplicity, earns your devout and lasting allegiance. You hold fast and are swept away.

The daily choice of addicted people – use, or not use – is not unique to their exiled clans and cultures. We are all offered such choices: to die slowly, by means of countless small abrasions to the spirit; or to fight for a single, unvarnished moment of truthfulness.

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