Natalie, your memoir, The Third Sunrise, is being published in March 2012, can you give us an idea of how you came to write it? When you had the idea, when you began writing, etc.
I remember with absolute clarity when I started writing The Third Sunrise. I had exactly thirty-two days of sobriety under my belt and I was spending a weekend with my parents in their condominium in Washington. This was a rare occurrence: when I was an active
addict I never spoke to them, but in trying to recover, I could not be alone. If I were aloneI would use. It is the science of addiction.
I recall locking the door of the small den. The lighting was low; almost black and Ipositioned the lap-top on my knees. I had no idea what I was doing—I just started writing. Thirty minutes later I had ten pages complete. I read it and it was as if I was reading about someone else. And I wished it were about someone other than me. Anyone.
I wrote what became a chapter called “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.” An interesting title, perhaps, but a terrifying experience. The chapter documents my overdose from cocaine: I had a grand mal seizure and found myself in the emergency room. The chapter ends with
me buying more cocaine. It was a dire situation and, perhaps, an odd thing to first write.After that first chapter, I never stopped writing. That is how The Third Sunrise came to fruition. Despite this, the following week I would relapse and would not recover for two years.
There is reference throughout the book to journals you had kept- have you always kept a journal?
I have been writing, quite literally, since I could hold a pen. I have a box of journals spanning from the age of eleven to twenty-one. I have pages of poetry and the first articles I wrote and published in college. Twentysix years old now, my journaling is found primarily on my website or the leather journals I write poetry in. The work I do as a mental health advocate, writing the The Third Sunrise, is similar to the journals I kept in that it is confessional. Moreover, I have horrible handwriting! Typing makes my thoughts much more legible and so it is a practical approach to writing.
What is the meaning behind the title, The Third Sunrise?
This is easy to answer because I recall it as I do yesterday. I had been up for days, I had not eaten, I had not left my home for days save for meeting my drug dealer downstairs. I was sitting on my apartment patio, it was September, early morning. I remember thinking that this was the third time I had seen the sun rise and fall. It disturbed me. I closed the patio door, shut the blinds, and used more drugs until I passed out.
Your book is extremely candid – was it a conscious decision to be so honest? And how did your family and others feel about appearing in print?
When I was twelve years old and in the psychiatric hospital, I decided that if I did not get better within six months I would end my life. I mentally planned my own funeral. Wrote notes to my family and decided
who would keep my possessions. The next day, I was in the shower, crying on the floor, and decided that I needed to stay alive so I could
write a book about what had happened to me. I decided the book would be entirely truthful. I would hold nothing back. And in writing it I have not. I could not even if I tried. My style of writing is confessional
and to hold back would not, in my opinion, be honest.
As for my family, suffice it to say they are nervous. They have been a great support to me and I have worked to protect them in my book. I am certainly more nervous about them reading the book then they are.
They really have no idea what happened to me when I was an addict. I imagine myself a mother; a mother with a child like me. A child who almost died many times. I am not sure I would want to read what
happened. It will hurt them. There is no way around this.
You mention in the book that you ―live and breathe Wurtzel's tales of suffering – she is my contemporary literary idol,‖ referring of course to Elizabeth Wurtzel who wrote Prozac Nation. Was her book an inspiration for yours? Who are your other literary idols – contemporary or otherwise?
I quoted many of my favourite authors within the book as well as poetry and lyrics that have helped me throughout life. I would not say that Prozac Nation was an inspiration but I would say that it is a book I have
read many times—there are only a few of these. But her story is her own as is mine. I tend to like writing that is edgy, humorous, and frightening while being enlightening. It is a curious, though effective, juxtaposition— if it is done correctly. The authors I adore do this exceptionally well. As for the word ―Idol‖ let’s take that out of this question and instead I can tell you authors I immensely and
consistently appreciate (to list all of their publications would be more like reading an essay).
Kay Redfield Jamieson
David Sheff. Father of Nik. Chronicles addiction from a family perspective.
As for poetry, I adore Robert Frost. I could write a massive list, refer to my bookshelf, but that might be rather boring to read. Having said this, I appreciate memoirs that challenge societal norms. I avoid right-wing
Do you remember having an ultimate low point?
Hitting rock bottom was a lifestyle for me. Each time I had a seizure or found myself waking up attached to machines at the hospital, unable to move, having overdosed I was angry. Really angry. I wanted to die. I was
furious that I had come so close so many times but was still breathing.
Aside from seizures and overdose, sexual assault and abuse, I suffered physical injuries under the influence. I broke my ankle. I felt ten feet down a cliff and could have been paralyzed. I could not move from bed forweeks. But that was not enough to make me stop.I waited for death. I welcomed it. I wondered why it had not stolen me away. Addiction is a slow form ofsuicide and I almost shook its hands more than once.
Was there a ―Hollywood‖-type moment that made you believe that you could turn your life around – or if not can you give us an idea of how you managed to recover from what was such a desperate situation for such along time?
There has never been a Hollywood moment. Being able to write these words is the closest I can get. And that’s okay. That is perfect on my end. Recovery. Christ, that is a tough thing to explain because I cannot
define it.I recall the last time I did cocaine. It was New Years. I was sick of the drugs and of the alcohol but I felt compelled to use. Over and over. Until, I thought, I would finally die. It was a dark time. That night was strange, I detail it in my book, because it changed my life in a quiet way—a way I cannot pin-point, even now. I bought cocaine. A lot of it—but with a drug like that there is never enough. I cut it up as I always had; swirling the powder around, making it look pretty. I rolled up the business cards with my name on them and did what I had been doing for years. I felt nothing. So I did more. And more. And more. For days. My
tolerance had become so high that I would overdose before I even felt any desired effects. For some reason, I knew that I would never do cocaine again. I cannot explain it in few words but have written extensively on the process in the book. Many people with bipolar often refer to ―missing their manic episodes and feeling blunted or dulled by the medication, is this something you have experienced?
I was diagnosed at the age of twelve. This was very rare at the time. I have taken medication over half my life. My experiences of hypo-mania (I had this much more than mania as I have bipolar disorder type II)
involved mixed episodes which are terrifying. The person afflicted is both manic and depressed. Sometimes,psychotic.The mood stabilizers tamed this: at the age of eighteen, I was in college, working part-time, doing everything I should. Then came drugs and alcohol. Stimulant drugs, which I preferred, emulate a manic state. So, perhaps, I was chasing that feeling with the chemicals I abused.I am certain that without my medication I would be very ill. I would not be creative. As it stands, I write for a living, play guitar, sketch and paint. In summary, the medications allow me to be myself.
Do you make plans for the future?
I do not think I would be human if I did not. We all have dreams, even if we cannot understand them or imagine them ever happening. I spent so much of my life waiting: waiting for medication to work, waiting
for alcohol, waiting for drugs, waiting to die. These days, I live in the moment. I wake up each morning and feel blessed I write for a living. I constantly remind myself that I need to stay clean. If I use I will die. No longer do I want to die. Instead, I want to live. Iwant to help people and connect with others. In short: I have plans for the future, of course I do, but rightnow, in this moment, I am content.