Amid headlines of overdoses and galloping addiction rates, an outspoken and darkly comic dispatch from the new Age of Opium.
North Americans are the world's most compulsive and prolific users of legal opioids. Carlyn Zwarenstein,
diagnosed with an inflammatory spine disease as a young mother, eventually turned to them to manage her pain.
In this lyrical update of Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, she recounts her search for relief and release — with its euphoric ups, hallucinatory lows and desperate pharmacy visits. Along the way she traces the long tradition of opium’s influence on culture and imagination, from De Quincey to Frida Kahlo.
Part love letter to Romanticism, part critique of modern medicine, Zwarenstein’s memoir offers a distinctly different riff on pain, creativity and mind-altering drugs.
“Then there is the actual taking of the drug. If you don’t get a high from whatever medicine you take, I suppose it is just a medicine. Nobody craves Tylenol or ibuprofen or Lipitor. If, however, the drug you are taking is really, in your own mind, a drug, all the preparation involved is part of a lovely ritual of anticipation. It has a sort of a pleasant glow of association. Do this, feel that…
The flame that licks the spoon. The tightening of the rubber strap and the clinical flicking of a tube with the nails of index finger and thumb. The way you hold the cigarette, even, stretching out your fingers, touching your lips as you inhale. It’s all a very private romance.”
About the Author:
Carlyn Zwarenstein writes about medicine, literature, travel, social justice, and landscapes of the mind--with special stops in the mental health department. She has been a freelance journalist since 2001, contributing to Canadian Geographic, NOW weekly, This Magazine, the Guardian.co.uk, the Globe & Mail and many others. She has mentored newcomer and youth writers, and also does plain language writing and medical writing and editing for a range of clients. She lives in Toronto with her family.