September 11th, Addiction and Me
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September 11th, Addiction and Me


It has, unbelievably, been 13 years since 9/11/2001. 13 years! Still, it wasn’t till this past May that the 9/11 museum and memorial finally opened. They officially dedicated the memorial the day after the 10th anniversary, but it was mostly symbolic and was only opened to the public this past May. The Freedom Tower (or 1 World Trade Center) still isn’t ready for occupancy. It’s scheduled to open later this year. It’s taken all this time for the site to return to a normal functioning part of the city. All this time to put on a resolute face for the public, a face that says, “This is what happened.” It’s a key, if symbolic, part of being able to move past the trauma and begin writing the future…again.

It’s also a testament to the city’s character. Not too many places could bounce back from a blow like 9/11. Not in 13 years. Not ever. And while the city hasn’t grown in precisely the ways I would have wished for, it’s still the best America has to offer.

In short, it takes a long time to recover from a devastating blow. Even for a great city like New York. Never mind a human.

I too, suffered a massive, mortal trauma, one that took place in New York City. Please know I am not comparing the kind or type of trauma I suffered to the attacks on the WTC on 9/11. Just that I suffered a cataclysm by my own hand and that I too have recovered. In the years since, I may not have grown in precisely the ways my adolescent self—the uncompromising, judgmental self of my youth—would have wanted, but I am, or at least try to be, the best me I can be.

I’m sure I’m not alone in that New York City was always the setting for my idealized future. Growing up in Boston, I planned to move to the big city as soon as I possibly could. Boston has a chip on its shoulder; it thinks it’s in competition with New York—but that’s news to New York. New York is too busy being New York to consider the fact it has competition (which it doesn’t). And, let’s get real—Boston? As a native, I can safely say the place is a provincial backwater by comparison. New York defines the word “city.” It’s Gotham and Metropolis, for Christ’s sake.

I imagined a bohemian, punk rock literary career for myself set amongst the shadows of New York’s mean streets. My days would be filled with noir-adventures, coffee, cigarettes and needle drugs. Nights would be spent scuttling between the Soho lofts and Upper East Side penthouses of my beautiful ingénues. I’d travel in empty subway cars and forlorn yellow taxis driven by homicidal misanthropes as I spent evenings hopscotching across Manhattan, attending exclusive literary salons, underground music performances, dive bars and door-manned nightclubs (where I also happened to be permanently on the list). I’d start a new art Factory—like Andy Warhol’s except the regulars would be the Beastie Boys, a Tribe Called Quest and Helmet instead of the Velvet Underground and Twiggy.

Before I arrived there, New York was a symbol: the epitome of unvarnished reality and truth, alive with an undercurrent of artistic daring. I was ready to jump in.

I moved to the East Village in 1990; I missed punk rock by more than a decade. Still, the city was gritty and I managed to have a great time—until I became strung out on drugs. Even that was fun and part of the experience. At first, anyway. Then the wheels came off the bus.

I realized that maybe life wasn’t going to be as easy or romantic as I imagined. New York is a tough town in which to be broke and drug addled. By 1995, I had been chewed up and spit out by the city I loved. I wound up in a hospital bed at Saint Vincent’s, in a coma for a month after an intentional overdose. My ideas on how to live life turned out to be pretty flimsy and I didn’t have a back-up plan. I was forced to retreat and regroup. First back home to Boston and then to the West Coast to reimagine a future where I didn’t have all the answers.

Despite that brush with mortality, I wasn’t ready to give up substances or the idea of rebellion or exclusion, the idea that some people were “cool” and some people weren’t. I wasn’t yet ready to admit I was a fallible human being, that we all are, and that I needed to cut people a break, including myself. The episode did, however, start me on my path toward recovery. It was the last time I used heroin. It was the great trauma that would come to dominate the years ahead and will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I managed to claw my way back toward outward respectability. I got a series of jobs and presented myself as a viable human, but I was far from healthy. By 2001, I was working in advertising. I returned to Manhattan on September 10th for some meetings and a solid week of good old-fashioned East Coast drinking. The prospect of my return was exciting. I had left the city with my tail between my legs and now I was back, standing on relatively solid ground, ready to present myself to my city anew. LA was great and all, but they didn’t know how to do things correctly—particularly the drugs and the drinking.

A friend of mine who happened to be out of town let me crash at his place in Brooklyn Heights. The apartment was less than a mile from Ground Zero. I got up the morning of the 11th and stepped out on the fire escape to smoke a cigarette. The air smelled of fire and there was ash drifting through the air like a snow flurry. I thought it odd that there was nobody out and about on the small residential Brooklyn street. The two people I did see had scarves over their faces. Goodness, there must be a fire in the neighborhood, somewhere quite close, I thought. I finished the cigarette and turned to go back through the window when I finally saw the burning North Tower framed in the small slice of skyline visible from where I stood. I couldn’t quite comprehend it. It didn’t make sense. I later learned that the South Tower had collapsed before I awoke. The North Tower collapsed while I was threading my way up the ladder to the roof of the apartment building. And just like that, the skyline had been cleared of its most prominent feature.

What a truly, unbelievably horrible experience 9/11 was and all the horror was right there for us on the TV screen. Nobody, not even those of us on our rooftops or standing agog in the middle of one of the ash-covered streets with a view of downtown, had a better seat than the unblinking eye of the TV. I won’t be able to relate that horror more effectively than it already has been. The images we’ve all been overexposed to do the event unsatisfying justice in their portrayal of horror and ruin.

I had unique and life-altering experiences in the days that followed. I felt a sense of belonging as well as a sense of gratitude for being with a loved one—the city—while they are experiencing a trauma. I wanted to divine some reason from the fact I had chosen to fly in on the 10th. Was I supposed to move back? Was I meant to stay in the city again for its inevitable period of grief and possibly its recuperation? Was I supposed to get back on drugs?

In the end I chose none of those things. I experienced the city’s heartache the week-and-a-half I was scheduled to be there, and then I left to keep building my life on the West Coast.

And here we are 13 years later. From that ruin, we are just now getting on with things. This is the anniversary where the WTC is truly moving forward again. Now that there’s a museum, there is an official place on the site to look backward. If you want to look back, to remember, you can do it there. But by opening up the Freedom Tower to tenants, we are living again. New things, ideas, people and organizations will sprout from where before there was only ash. Recovering from tragedy is slow work.

For my own recovery there was no one day—although the 20th anniversary of my overdose is coming up—where I could say, “Okay, I’m done recovering. It’s onward and upward from here.” I do get to live my life, so in a way, every day is onward and upward. When I’m in the right mindset, I get to choose on a daily basis to do some of the things that I’ve learned help me recognize and work in concert with my true self; things like cultivating gratitude, not holding myself to impossible standards and steering clear of drugs and alcohol.

There is also a part of me relegated to remembering, because I do remember that confused kid and what he wanted. He makes up the core of who I am, but he is also not all that I am.

Just as New York is a city that, while far from perfect, has enough integrity and guile to stand up to humanity’s worst tendencies and come out the other side changed—battered and scarred—with its head held high, I have confronted my own worst self and managed, and not entirely on my own mind you, to move past it. But it took time. Lots of time. Thirteen years seems quick by comparison. Well done, New York.

Photo courtesy of Robert J. Fisch [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Jared Mazzaschi is a writer and producer living in LA. He blogs at