Opiate addiction and depression. It may not be clear which one comes first, but at some point in the process they become intertwined and feed off one another. So, it was with Austen.
He writes that he first took opiates when he was 15 years old, probably sometime in 2007 before or during his junior year of high school, derived most likely from the medicine cabinets of his friends’ parents. Prescription drugs prescribed for pain. He took the drugs when his brain was still forming, when he was a sensitive, impressionable teenager, when he had only begun to experience the vast space of this world and his life within it. Opiates relieved his sadness and loneliness, gave him a euphoric, but temporary, happiness, and forever preyed upon his soul. (Red flowers photo taken by Austen at the lakefront in Evanston, IL, May 26, 2012.)
Austen considered himself ‘an addict.’ That label was reinforced for him during his rehabilitations and treatments and in the college courses he took as a psychology major. He spent at least six years fighting his addiction and depression, with cycles of ups and downs, valiantly dealing with the constant warring factions of demons and gladiators. He used his intellect to research and understand what was happening to him. He sought help, he used his words and raps to describe his experience, he appealed to a higher order, he fought to be optimistic that he could turn things around, and he felt he was on the verge of doing so. In July 2012, he wrote, “I like the pieces I have, even if my vices and demons overpower them at times. I can win, I will succeed.”
I have paired some photos Austen took in late May 2012 with excerpts he wrote in the summer of 2012 about his ‘self’, a self that was synonymous with being ‘confident’ and ‘colorful.’ He was on a visit home from Indiana University before the start of the summer semester. I had loaned him my older Nikon D50, and he and I took an afternoon walk with our cameras. I discovered the photos on the D50 after Austen died.
These photos were taken by Austen in a colorful alley we visited behind the Prairie Moon Restaurant in Evanston, Illinois on May 26, 2012:
“My self must be celebrated and not shunned. My belief [is] that there is a force that lives within all of us and within the universe, a force of love and acceptance and great strength, that will help me conquer that which seems insurmountable. I will be confident and I will be colorful because above all else I will BE MYSELF.” ABB, July 4, 2012.
“I am about to be 21 years old, I can believe in positivity and hope; I can find the missing pieces of my puzzle. I have a good sense of humor and I need to use it, you can’t be scared while you’re laughing and life should be fun and joyful as much as [is] humanely possible.” ABB, August 26, 2012.
“I have to find myself. Austen. Nice person, thoughtful, funny, sensitive in certain ways, generous, non-judgmental, open-minded, a writer, athlete, cool and unique, a dreamer, intelligent, self-aware, down-to-earth, loving, questioning, and deep. The sea of my soul is indeed many miles, with many intricacies and detours, but I never have lost sight of it, never started believing my own bullshit, never deceiving myself, because I knew what kind of person I am deep down. In a sea of shallow minds, I refuse to be drawn in even when at times I am an ardent consumer of mass media.” ABB, August 29, 2012.