Unstitched: My Journey to Understand Opioid Addiction and How People and Communities Can Heal
© 2021 Brett Ann Stanciu
Brett Stanciu had a problem. Someone kept breaking into her small library, pilfering money, and smoking cigarettes. She knew who the someone was – Baker, a local drug addict and vagrant who was known to the community as trouble. She even had photographic evidence of him in the library, sitting at her desk, but the police and courts didn’t regard him as enough of a serious threat to address. Even after he was arrested, he was immediately released. Then, one night, confronted by a library trustee, Baker ran out into the night and shot himself. For most of the town, this was fuel for a quick run of gossip, a bit of amusement, and nothing else – -but for Stanciu, it was a tragic end to a frustrating period in her life, and created more questions than relief. Who was Baker? How had a drug habit led to him dying by himself, his blood pooling next to a woodpile? This was the beginning of a journey, taking place over a year, for her search for answers – sitting down with recovering addicts, substance abuse counselors, law enforcement, prosecutors, and devastated parents, delving into the whys and wherefores of substance abuse. Although definitely more of a citizen’s search for answers than a definitive Answer in itself, it’s a moving story that should provide good context for beginning to understand addiction, particularly opioid addiction, for the lay reader.
Although this is a work of nonfiction, it’s not a conventional ‘just the facts, ma’am’ book. Stanciu presents it as a memoir; it’s more a story that follows her over the course of a year, as she attends conferences and meets people who will sit and interview with her. The reader is invited into her life, her memories during this time, with the physical and social background being drawn for us: Stanciu meditate on the changing weather, the landscape around her; she shares the little conversations she had with her daughters, coworkers, and fellow citizens that kept her thinking about this subject stirred. This was not what I was expecting, but I was quickly won over by it, especially after she mentioned drinking maple-cream coffee and I discovered a recipe for it. The account is especially personal because Stanciu reveals to the reader that she’s in recovery herself, albeit from alcohol rather than opioids. As the year progresses, Stanciu shifts to understanding addiction, not just opioid addiction, as a physical disease: although it begins as an act of will and can be resisted, addiction is a physical disordering of the brain: depending on how it progresses in a person (men and women have different experiences with addiction), it can so rewire their brain that they’re not the same person they were before. There are also other contexts, like family background and abuse: it’s harder for poorer people to recover from addiction, for instance, because even one mishap can destroy them financially. One promising path to recovery that Stanciu discovers is Medication-Assisted Therapy, which uses both drugs to wean users off of opioids, while helping them to figure out what put them on the track to substance abuse to begin with, and re-structure their life to get back on track.
Unstitched is a powerful story, often sad but never hopeless. As a librarian who encounters people whose minds and lives have been destroyed by substance abuse every day, this attempt by a fellow librarian to find answers resonated with me enormously.