What causes someone to become a heroin addict — to give up their life, year after year, to something that bankrupts them, drives their loved ones away, causes them untold emotional and physical suffering?
Chris Arnade, the photographer behind the "Portraits of Addiction" series, says of all the addicts he’s befriended in the Bronx, “90 percent” have experienced sexual abuse.
"Pretty much everybody out there who is a life-long addict has been abused as a child."
That included Michael, or Michelle, a transsexual prostitute and heroin addict whom I met in her kitchen. Michael baked cookies for me, Chris and Chris’s partner Cassie Rodenberg. She’d stolen the dough off the back of a truck.
She was clearly generous, but childhood sexual abuse and a family that didn’t accept her sexuality had caused her to run away. She’s now 40 and has been working the streets for 25 years, becoming a victim of rape and beatings and robberies. And using coke and dope on a daily basis.
"I use more because I’m lonely, I’m depressed, I’m out here by myself and I don’t want to think about fucking reality and fuckin normality and having to deal with regular everyday living and how to get myself back to it and the struggle it’s gonna take and the… It’s just the pain… of having to put myself back on track and doing the right thing and going through appointments and dealing with so much, it’s just a really big burden that what I have to do, and I know I have to do it, but I don’t want to.
"I don’t want to have to go through all that. So I continue to use just to forget and not have an excuse. Basically I have an excuse now why I’m not doing it. Because I’m on drugs. Because I’m on drugs I don’t have to do what’s expected of me.”
—photo of Michael by Chris Arnade
Listen to Michael and the Micropolis story here.