DDN October2021 October 2021 | Page 21



Kate Daniels ’ Three Syllables Describing Addiction is testament to the power of Al-Anon , says Mark Reid

Kate Daniels had a brother who died from alcoholism . She follows her feelings about this into America ’ s opioid crisis and imagines how addicts uproot the lives of so many . Her poems see this devastation through the meetings of Al-Anon and the intense pain which takes people there . Whereas Alcoholics Anonymous allows recovering drinkers to celebrate change as they climb from a ditch of their own digging , in Al-Anon relatives and friends of those still drinking cope with irresponsibilities not their own .

The three syllables of the book ’ s title are a spot-on encapsulation of addiction : ‘ time breaks down ’. For active addicts time stops , as does their development . It doesn ’ t matter if it ’ s Monday morning or Saturday night : the sole concern is how do I get my next drink or drugs ? As Daniels puts it , ‘ addicts live out of sequence with everyone else ’.
The principal narrator in this slim volume of 16 poems , is the mother of a heroin addict . Her focus is not psychosocial analysis , trying to account for why people use . Addicts destroy themselves , she asserts . ‘ The aftermath is what ’ s at stake – the human flotsam captured in addiction ’ s filthy wake ’. She points out that many people relapse and die when they leave treatment centres but , as they span the demographic spectrum , no conclusions can be drawn about why ‘ they just went back
to using ’. Some of the words used are dismissive of drug users , like ‘ junkie ’ and ‘ shooting up ’. This is in contrast to the ‘ stoical ’ ordinary citizens whose families are entangled . When the mother drives around looking for her son , she sees some addicts on a street corner and is appalled . They were ‘ roaming packs of starving dogs . I shooed them away when they begged for money ’. There is denial that her son is , as she sees it , in with the lowest of the low .
Conversion from the ‘ ragefilled narrative I lived inside ’ to a recovery mentality is erratic . Detach with love , she hears at meetings , but to begin with she settles for ‘ detachment minus hatred ’. There is initial bafflement over the 12 steps themselves – to
‘ The three syllables of the book ’ s title are a spot-on encapsulation of addiction : “ time breaks down ”. For active addicts time stops , as does their development .’
be traumatised already and then to have to admit you have no power .
There is a convincing valuation of recovery meetings , even when there is early pessimism about them : ‘ It ’ s worse to stay at home , sitting in the fear like a solitary hen hatching poisoned eggs ’. For only by going can the narrator be inspired by the strength and reinvigoration of others – they ‘ walk around shining ’ and transmit resilience . ‘ How would anyone ever come back from that ?’ she wonders , on hearing their stories .
This whole world of drug use and recovery is completely new to her . Previously she had no mechanism at all for dealing with it . The way out is provided for her and at one level it is simple – ‘ all I have to do is sit and listen ’. Slowly a degree of forgiveness emerges and she grants her son some benefit of the doubt . Maybe it ’ s not all his fault ; he was born that way and ‘ indicted by genetics ’. Over time meeting mantras soften unkempt emotions .
These poems attest to the huge role of Al-Anon . It rebuilds the self-esteem of affected others , left lonely , frustrated and confused . The acute distress to be heard in Al-Anon lifts , and a key concept is that no-one is responsible for another person ’ s actions . Instead , independent lives are established . What a balm this is to help the narrator manage the worry she has over her son – ‘ a stiff rod of fear and dread she felt impaled upon ’.
The reader is left to decide on the depth or permanence of
Three Syllables Describing Addiction , by Kate Daniels . Published by Bull City Press , Durham , North Carolina . ISBN : 9781949344059
the narrator ’ s own recovery . The poems indicate progress from hostility to acceptance , from ignorance to insight . Peace of mind comes when she ’ s able to see that her addict son is not irreparably damaged or lost forever . Only then does his mother find solace from the thorns of her own resentments . Meetings nudge and direct her thinking . It becomes less of a struggle . She adjusts and comes to believe that ‘ the things you love are still beautiful in the new dark they live in now ’.