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On Drugs, Northeast Philly, Christopher Moltisanti: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept My Addictions

In February 2023, during my second semester at college, I was cast as a drug addict in an on-campus senior project. The first thing I did was tell my friends (jokingly) that years of being surrounded by familial substance and alcohol abuse had prepared me for this moment. When my parents came to see the show in April, I doubt the irony was lost on them, but they had more to say about the one dick joke I had in the entire show than the whole drug addict thing. I’m not surprised we’ve never talked about it. Seeing your daughter play a character who is clearly on heroin for half of the runtime while also knowing our family’s history with the substance must’ve been freaky, to put it bluntly. It was bizarre for me, playing a character knowing that I could’ve easily gone down that road myself but hadn’t (I have my own addictions, more on that later).

I don’t remember the first time I encountered drugs. When I was a kid, I had family members who always carried candy. I have this memory of looking down at a pack of gummy worms and feeling that their presence was menacing, but I couldn’t figure out why. I put two and two together eventually. I thankfully haven’t seen anyone use in front of me, but I know I’ve been around inebriated people, even though I didn’t know that at the time. I can’t say that figuring that out makes me angry; I’m mostly indifferent to it. For one thing, when it came time to tackle drugs in health class, my teachers would let the kids who’ve experienced it take it easy that day. For some reason, every time I wrote a note to my teacher explaining my situation, I felt everyone’s eyes on me. It just felt like everyone knew this thing that I’d be rattled with. That’s the thing no one tells you about having an addictive gene; you’re always haunted by the knowledge that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

So, obviously, I don’t drink, and I don’t use recreationally. This is a decision I made early in life. In my home of Northeast Philadelphia, most people start drinking in middle school. An army of thirteen to fifteen-year-olds meets in Philly’s own no man’s land (the middle of the Pennypack Woods) and down as many beers as a preteen can handle. Often, these outings are themed. Pictures of freezing tweens decked out in Nike socks, matching tee shirts, color-coordinated face paint, and Jansport backpacks flooded my VSCO back in the day. They always, and I mean always, sported a Twisted Tea in their hand. The kids I knew always claimed that it tasted better than most beers; I wouldn’t know the difference. All of this felt weird to me as a kid but also commonplace enough that I didn’t think about it too hard. Maybe I’m justifying it by telling myself this is just an American thing. When my sister went to college, she told her roommate about Philly’s natural drinking age, and she was appalled. At any rate, I was both horrified and jealous of these, as Lorde has put it, white teeth teens. I wanted to be included so, so badly. But at the same time, I wanted just for once to go to one of these things and say “I don’t think this is normal and I think that there has to be a better way to spend time than getting drunk in the woods at 10:30 at night!”. I look back on that depressed, lonely middle schooler with a lot of empathy.

To be fair, I didn’t know these kids all that well, and part of my anger was probably projection. I was so shocked that you could hold something in your hands and not fear that it might kill you. I still get like that, even in college. I marvel at how people can relax and let go when inebriated; it’s simply fun for them to do so. I’ve never associated substances with that. I go to parties and I always have to awkwardly decline a drink or a smoke. I assume people think that I’m an addict myself, when in reality, I’m avoiding that path by not tempting it in the first place. You’re probably thinking that total sobriety without being an addict in the first place seems extreme. I don’t. I see it the way I see my refusal to have children. I know myself. I know my faults and my culpabilities. I know in my heart that a high or the weight of a child would be, to put it bluntly, a fucking disaster. Some people want to prove their mental illness wrong and do all the things that society tells them not to do, and I am not one of those people. I am not above my illnesses, and I don’t see that as sad. I see my acknowledgment of that fact as brave. I’m doing the world a favor by being sober, and truthfully, I don’t have any interest in recreational use. However, I still have my own addictions. 

My experience with eating disorders has much more in common with drug abuse than anything else. I never had the whole Cassie from Skins “I didn’t eat for three days so I could be lovely” go around. When it started, it started in secret. It was this fun new thing I was doing that no one else knew about. I struggled with it on and off for a few years until last year it became the worst it had ever been. I was addicted to it. The high I got from denying myself basic sustenance was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I was totally and completely out of my mind, but doing it made me feel euphoric. All the bullshit that racked around my brain twenty-four hours a day had slowly faded away, and I was left with a pleasant haze. Everything in the world felt right and peaceful like this is what I was meant to do. Anything could’ve happened to me, and I wouldn’t have cared, as long as I got to keep my secret alive. Like any addict, I didn’t think I had a problem. I didn’t even think I had a full-blown disorder. At worst, it was disordered eating and nothing more than that. I never sought treatment for that exact reason. Was it because I spent so much time on that side of Twitter that whatever I was doing seemed significantly less than whatever user @waifcoquette was up to? Probably. As I mentioned previously, so much of the media centered around eating disorders being all sugar and spice didn’t help things either. My methodology felt punk rock, not dainty. It honestly took me watching Christopher’s intervention on The Sopranos for me even to realize that something might’ve been wrong. His insistence that he didn’t have a problem despite the compounding evidence that proved otherwise felt a bit like a callout to me. Not much later, I found myself hovered over the kitchen counter pounding a chicken caesar salad and dark chocolate because I’d started seeing stars that I thought, yeah. I should probably do something about this. I entered recovery soon after. It’s been almost a year since then, and I’m happy to say I’m getting there. I don’t know if I’ll ever be normal about food. I just don’t like eating. It has never felt natural to me. Being empty is the best feeling in the world to me; sucks that'd kill me. On the bright side though, art has become my most valued outlet. So, so much of what I make is about eating disorders. This piece is meant to be about drug abuse, and I’ve managed to sneak it in there. All this is to say that I may not be abusing substances, but I have my maladaptive coping techniques. I think that’s what having an addictive personality is like. If it weren’t an eating disorder, it would probably be a pill addiction. I do think there’s like with any self-destructive tendency, despite what it says on the tin, there’s life after addiction. If I wasn’t proof, my family members who’ve dealt with substance abuse and lived to tell the tale are as well. I don’t want to give empty platitudes and all that, but I do think that we’re all stronger than we think. I can eat a crispy chicken sandwich and almost not completely die inside. That resembles something like hope, I think. 

If you’ve somehow made it this far, I’d like to personally thank you for letting me muse on a series of topics that I don’t normally get to out of fear of being a bummer to be around. I’ve experienced and learned a lot since first playing a drug addict in my freshman year of college. I try not to hold my disdain for drugs and alcohol so close to my chest. People are allowed to partake in that sort of thing even though you aren’t. Do I wish I was normal? Well, duh. But I think that at the very least I’m more perceptive because of what I’ve been through. That’s probably me idealizing things to give this a proper ending, but it feels right to say at this moment, so that’s what I’ll say. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or substance abuse issues, check out the links below. Take care of yourself. The world is so much better with you in it. 

Written by Grace Bradley

Creative Director: Veronica Anaya

Photographer: Sophia Keefe

Production Manager: Sophia Querrazzi

Production Assistant: Ashley Murphy

Models: Ashley Murphy, Maddie McGuffey, and Tianna Polk

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