What David Carr Taught Us About Addiction

David Carr’s charisma was instant. He was vivacious, critical, gut-wrenchingly honest.

A seasoned columnist for the New York Times, media critic and natural-born journalist, David Carr passed away on 12th of February from lung cancer and heart disease while working in his office. He was 58 years old and wrote the column The Media Equation, in which he was always linking media and arts to their wider social and political context.

David Carr loved his profession and would tell students and young writers that being a journalist was more of a “caper”, and less a “nine-to-five” kind of job. He wrote numerous articles and reports, but probably the best subject he ever covered was himself.

He wrote about his addiction to drugs in his memoir “The Night of the Gun”. Here are some of the lessons from his life.

You can lose yourself and find yourself all over again

Carr became addicted to crack cocaine while working as a reporter in Minneapolis in the mid-1980s. He soon went from drug user to drug dealer and moved in with his girlfriend, a notorious dealer herself with connections to Colombian drug cartels. He became entangled in a life of substance abuse and crime.

Carr provides great insight into how the telling of lies functions in the realm of addiction. Lying becomes not only a means to cheat others and obtain a fix, it also helps you justify your actions and convince yourself you are in control of the situation. He said being addicted is like being a “cognitive acrobat”.

“You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs – you need actually – to keep them at a remove.”

When he returned to Minneapolis to research his own past, he was confronted with a different version of himself, events he didn’t recall and a lot of people he’d hurt.

“Some people I interviewed wanted me to say I was sorry – I am and I did. Some people wanted me to say that I remembered – I did and I did not. And some people wanted me to say it was all a mistake – it was and it was not. It felt a lot less like journalism than archaeology”

You need to find something you really care about

Carr mentions throughout his book how his twin daughters were the one thing that pulled him out of addiction. When he went back to Minneapolis to retrace his steps, a friend reminded him that it was eight months after his children were born that he really went into rehab. He had been drifting in and out of substance abuse until he entered a therapeutic community called Eden House.

And it was also his daughters that kept him in rehab. He recalls wanting to quit, but when he was about to announce his departure his counsellor told him something that stuck with him for the rest of his life: “Well why don’t you get those two girls high too”.

Carr stayed on for the entire six months of the programme.

He eventually won custody of his two daughters and raised them as a single parent. In the book he talks about how the experience transformed him: “As we spent more time together, they began to know me and they began to adore me.” 

There’s life after addiction

In the video promo for his memoir, Carr recites a line from the book which shows better than anything how he turned his life around after kicking his addiction.

“If I said I was a fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke, would you like my story?

What if instead I wrote I was a recovered addict who obtained sole custody of my two girls, got us off welfare and raised them by myself, although I had a little touch of cancer?”

Both statements belong to Carr, but the first one refers to the world he left behind.

Carr had been sober for just over 25 years. He remarried and in 2002 became a columnist for the New York Times. What he had been through made him a better journalist, a caring father and somebody people could look up to and depend on.

The greatest lesson David Carr taught us is that there is life after addiction.

Photo: detail from the cover of David Carr’s memoir “The Night of the Gun”

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