By Kelly (Fiore) Stultz
I’ve been waiting a long time to tell this story– a really long time.
If I’m being precise, it’s probably been about five years in the making. I started writing THICKER THAN WATER in 2011, just as my brother was beginning his long journey into sobriety. I tinkered and fiddled with it for about two years. I left teaching. I switched agents. When THICKER THAN WATER finally sold to Harper in July of 2013, I couldn’t have imagined how different my life would become in the 2 ½ years it would take to make it to print.
I have always followed the principle rule of “write what you know.” Nothing has been truer or more difficult about that than the development of this book. In essence, this story is the story of my brother’s addiction – but, more than that, it’s the story of my failings and missteps during my brother’s addiction. The sentiments, including Cecelia’s most ignorant choices, are mostly mine in one form or another.
When my brother first became addicted to Oxy Contin, I didn’t understand the fundamental truth about opiates – that, after a while, it is no longer about getting “high.” It’s about staying “well.” My brother medicated, then over-medicated, to chase any semblance of a high. But it didn’t take long until that high wasn’t the goal – the goal became avoiding the debilitating dope-sickness that over-shadowed and threatened his very consciousness.
Addiction is hard because we perceive it, culturally, as weakness, not as biology. Even lifelong smokers who get cigarette-induced lung cancer aren’t treated with the same contempt as addicts are. The closest thing I can find, I think, are the veterans of Vietnam or other wars that flood our homeless populations in our biggest cities. Like addicts, they are looked at as failed versions of humanity. As though their wrongness or badness was only bound to spill out and over. It just took the drug to prove it.
So, I’m going to tell you something. Something I’ve never written down ever, anywhere, or said publicly to anyone.
I could write THICKER THAN WATER with the insight I did because my brother struggled with a dependency on pain killers – and, almost ten years ago, so did I.
In 2008, when my son was born, he had a traumatic birth. Without making this far more detailed than it needs to be, I had to have major surgery. I was prescribed pain pills to deal with the recovery period – but, in reality, I ended up relying on the numbing effects of the drug on my fragile psyche.
However, you can be dependent on something and still function. I worked every day. I raised my son. I balanced my checkbook. I grocery shopped. I went to parties and concerts and dinners. I socialized with friends and colleagues. I laughed. I cooked. I lived.
And, for nearly a year, I took Vicodin or Percocet to do it.
This isn’t something I’m proud of. Honestly, until now, I never really thought I’d say it to anyone. It wasn’t an essential part of the THICKER THAN WATER story. My dependency was fairly short lived; individual therapy and my family helped me through it and I haven’t really thought about it for years. So much so that it was never even mentioned in the writing, sale or promotion of this book – until now, I guess.
But, essentially, what it comes down to is this: when you read THICKER THAN WATER (assuming you read it – that would be pretty bad ass) and you think, “Wow, I don’t know anyone who ever had a problem with prescription drugs…”
Well, you do now. You know me.
And if you do know someone – if you’re already wrecked by this addiction yourself, or someone you love is, let them know me, too. I’d love to hear from people about their experiences. My dream when I wrote this book was that it could potentially reach and help people – if it actually does that, the juice is worth the squeeze.
I owe Mindy for letting me do this here. (Thank you, Mindy. You are the shit.) And I owe all of you, readers, for indulging me. I encourage you to acknowledge your truths. Say them. Think them.
And, if you can, write them.
You can reach me (just me, not an assistant or any other nonsense) at ThickerThanWaterBook@gmail.com.