It’s funny that this journal prompt should be so difficult, because I feel like I’m always telling this story. Everything I write or speak or do, the undercurrent runs “I’m an addict. I’m an addict. I’m an addict.” I don’t ever remember a time when that wasn’t true.

I see it looking back at my life, when my hands were too small to hold a bottle but plenty big for a book. I see it when, older, I discovered the relief of a razor blade, or a kitchen knife, or safety pin or fingernail or house key. I see it in the journal entries detailing rules for how many cuts and where and how long I had to go between them. Rules I don’t remember ever keeping.

I was afraid of alcohol because I grew up under the twin threats of familial alcoholism and—even worse—familial recovery. The grimness of twelve step meetings under fluorescent lights and hugging in church parking lots while dead leaves swirled around your ankles. I was even more afraid because I had read (always reading) about the tongue-loosening effects of booze. Drunk lips speak sober truths, I heard, and I lied too much to risk that.

But the pills my mom took when she became afraid of the trucks on the highway were small and hard to count, and she didn’t notice them leaving. The pills left behind after surgeries or broken bones. The pills with other peoples’ names on them at other peoples’ houses.

The story went the way this story does, pills to powder to needles to rehab. Yawn. It’s been told and it wasn’t pretty enough to revisit—while I thought of myself as poetically broken, artistically lost, I was actually dirty and common and barren and bitter. It’s a bad look at sixteen and becomes worse with the passing years.

After rehab came the booze. Afraid no longer (after heroin, why would I be frightened of Bud?), I accepted first a bottle of champagne, then liquors. Cold beers and warm beers and mugs of spiced rum. Wine. Wine by the gallon and the box and the glass and the fortified single-serve juicy-spit flavored bottle. It didn’t agree with me.

Along with the booze, anything that looked different enough from opiates to feel safe. Amphetamines, which I thought of as the opposite of dope. Weed, obviously not even a real drug. Lots of acid, lots of mushrooms, lots of molly and chemicals purchased on the internet that didn’t even have a real name.

It’s been 3 years, 7 months, and 17 days since I last picked up anything intoxicating, and it still permeates every part of my life. I was an addict long before I first got high, and will be an addict long past when my sobriety out-measures my active addiction. For all that, I struggle to explain it. I don’t know how to describe the way my brain races and loops back in on itself, or the overwhelming, constant desire to hide.

I used to tell almost everyone I met that I was an addict. Now I’m not so open. I have a lot more shame about it, and feel my understanding has lessened with everything I learn. Addiction is the water that I swim in, it is all around me and in me and at all times inescapable. How do you describe that?