by Danielle Service


This past week the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, flew into Manchester, NH, less than three miles from my apartment. He blamed Lawrence, Massachusetts for my state’s opioid epidemic and called for the death penalty for traffickers and he did not speak of recovery but I could have told him about hope had he driven to my 650-square foot apartment. Maybe he would have cared. Probably not. Last night on my way home I drove down Pettingill Avenue where the planes come in near the airport, and one flew in literally dozens of feet over the top of my car, scaring the crap out of me. For a moment I imagined it was Donald Trump in the plane and that my car really was a Batmobile (I call it that) and that I ejected the driver’s seat from the roof and clung to the plane and defeated his evil empire but obviously nothing happened.

Hope is essential for recovery: I know this, because I’ve been in recovery from addiction myself for almost ten years. I try new things in this realm – in my spiritual program of action – all the time. Case in point: a recent visit to an acupuncture clinic with my friend Liz.

 “What the fuck, Liz,” I mouthed, glaring at my seated friend who’d brought me to the community establishment. A man ushered me past her and through a dark room. Filled with pastel, blanket-covered chairs, a weird hum enveloped the area. Open-mouthed, closed-eyed people lolled their heads toward the ceiling. Needles stuck out of their arms, collarbones, and heads.

It is worth noting I watch too many horror movies. This place looked exactly like one.

It is worth noting I watch too many horror movies because I find it an excellent way to escape fear in real life. I figure if I can channel my fear – cultivate it like a well-nourished vegetable in a garden, contained in fertile soil for two solid hours – then I will never have to experience it in actuality. Life managed via art.

But here in the clinic where Liz had brought me it was too real. I was paralyzed by fear. I hate needles. It’s so common it’s a cliché – I hate needles – but I’ve never understood them.

Four of the people I love and trust with my life are recovered heroin addicts. They tout their love of the needle as one of the hardest things to shake.

Andy, the man who’d been leading me through the acupuncture treatment room, sat me in a chair next to Liz (who already had needles poking in her body and seemed more than content) and talked to me as I trembled. Andy looked at my intake sheet: “You say your anxiety is nine on a scale of ten? We can fix that.” He touched my arm. I closed my eyes. Prick. Prick. Prick. Prick. I flinched each time in terror. Finally he put a soft hand on my shoulder and told me to rest for at least twenty minutes.

Fifteen minutes in: a soft balloon of love floats from my chest and drifts toward the seahorse mobile at the center of the room. I turned my head to Liz, slumbering peacefully. Prick. The anxiety in my chest deflated from nine to three and the voices in my head, the ones that like to jabber-jabber-jabber, muted to a soft murmur. I could see and feel the universe again.

My former heroin addict friends have told me how they used to shoot water when they couldn’t get smack solely for the needle’s relief. I have always appreciated the seeming honesty of heroin addiction: addiction is so dark and awful that an outward needle jammed into skin appears more honest than my own former, sneaky addictive behavior. For the first time in the acupuncture chair I understood what my junkie friends were talking about. When I left I was on Cloud Nine for the rest of the day, anxiety abated, fear dead.

That was March 1. I have been back to acupuncture eleven more times since then, and March is not yet over. Every time I feel a needle prick my skin, knowing the relief I’ll feel later, I want to scream more more more at my acupuncturist. I know it is just a balancing of energy within and not a destructive habit but it does make me feel closer to my four friends, who have all recovered and have been sober for many years at this point. People who go far down often come back up high.

Trump is back in D.C. today. There are plenty of people still addicted to heroin; in recovery circles, we meet lots of them. A lot of them die. But a lot of them recover. Me, today, I might see The Strangers sequel. Go to acupuncture, feel the needle enter; balance my energy. Close my eyes. Imagine hands joining, unscarred, without fear.

Danielle Service is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She currently teaches seventh grade Language Arts and yoga in New Hampshire.