Addiction Empathy: A Visceral Approach to Understanding Disability Classification

The Mask of Addiction Wears Me


My name is addiction.

I am in Ethan Freedman and

I look forward to meeting you too.

My face wears many masks -

Try me on. I look like

Cheese, Like fingers burning

from guitar strings turning.

Like muscles on the body or

Smoke in the lungs -

Leaving the mouth.

A needle in the arm.

The bodies I love so solidly

Solemnly redeem autonomy.

I love all of me. All forms I take

Are beautiful – to me.

Yet, you leave the bodies I mask

With the faces I once had  – to rot

Simply because they cannot clock

In the work for the wage.

Bruised arms are worse than

Cracked lips than

The muscliest man than

Music with my cheese.

Because as I am seen,

Your society becomes mean

Hidden is easy while seen -

Leave me on the sidewalk to sleep.

Justice to me, the bodies I sleep in

Deserve a means. I am good at

Whatever your mind imagines.

So when you see me on the floor

Pick me up, hug me more.

Black to white, these bodies I love

You leave poor, but I

Deserve more.

The Super Addict

The gateway drug is love.

It fires many neurons into and on

The body and mind.

A cigarette a day keeps the apples away,

While weed keeps the mind and body clean.

For some this is a truth,

Enter the kissing booth

With a butt in hand

on a journey to the promised land.

For others, its butter,

Mixed with bread that

will go to the head

And then to the thighs.

A cheeseburger too if you choose.

For some this is a truth,

Enter the kissing booth

With some fries in your tooth

On a journey to the promised land.

For others its weight on the back

So that muscles in the mirror

Crack at the clench of teeth

And ache for the sake

Of appearances.

For some this is the truth,

enter the kissing both

With biceps of truth

On a journey to the promised land

For others I am bleach,

I get the tough stains out,

Even fries in teeth can be flossed,

While cigarettes tossed.

This version of me is the super addict.

Adopted Naming: Addiction Style

Handicapped: smells of whiskey and urine. Body wrapped in cloth, a styrofoam cup in hand. Straining head looking into your eyes. Penny for your fucking thoughts

Disabled: The legs that cannot walk after a lift, the arm that cannot function to lift. The body that sleeps with the sheep and nods with the peeps on the subway til they drop to their feet for infinite sleep.

Crip: The depression is put into submission and is soothed by the method you choose. Your jokes hurt the most devoted of addicts while your words never lift them up. Hate the gaze, hate the praise, give me all never ever half.

Differently Abled, Physically Challenged: Non addicted people wanting to cushion us from cruelty of language. Little do you know, your addictions look different.

Differently Addicted: Acknowledges the thrifting, eating, weeding, sleeping, sex, cutting, loving, nodding, walking, running, humming. Differently addicted helps us to see our bodies sleep in different positions.

Addict: Only half the story

Queer Addict: I am more than just my addiction. My addiction is more than just cynicism. I fight too and work in the cubical. Queer and Addict are cousins of internalized hatred, medicalization, opinion placement.

The Working Non Working

Ability looks like

The rock on ice

Effortlessly sliding

To thinner ice .

Cracks below force the snow

To labor through

Like goo under your toes.

It’s consensual throes.

Plants are going to exploit you

For photons and employment,

Tend to the soil til backs toil.

The thought of more is always in stock.

For the wanton, the farm -

The one they do not own,

Is never ready to weather.

Even the worms yearn.

The addict resists the cracks in the ice.

They never stepped foot -

Just riding the edge of life

A nod is a fyfe -

But goddamn it's a better life.

To some, the river sold down

Meets the bee’s knees

To others,

It’s not the way they sell.

Society lets them live close to hell,

But they are in the blue,

Because capitalism works for you.

Viscerality bites the bullet when we let it, and fights it with rains of fire when we choose to acknowledge that there is more to this world than intellect. For me - a visceral human lost in all the confusion I have that this world ceases to explain before it even begins – poetry is like a window into soil that is normally bolted shut deep down in a bunker in the earth. Behind the thick metal doors lies academia in all its beauty, inaccessible to me. I love to get lost in the sauce, the meat and potatoes of all the throes. Of Dub, of Haiku, of spoken word, and unspoken too. Poetry is what you make of it – it addresses the best and the worst with regret and hurt and love and empathy. Poetry can be lengthy or one word and there is no reason to fight the feelings it brings. This is all my poetry.

Lately I have been grappling with the understanding of disability. All that comes and all that goes with it – bodies. I have gotten lost in the world of medical and social models. Lost in the effects of capitalism, ever present and seemingly unbeatable. I have gotten lost in the frameworks of how bodies are illuminated. They are tattooed with deficiency, deviance, abnormality by the capable, exceptional, and the old abnormal. Lost in how there is no ability without race, gender, sexuality, and indigeneity to contrast. The implications of this nation - and of course nations - where disabled bodies are incapable of bodily autonomy, security, healthcare, education, pleasure, love, and endlessly more because the oppression of disabled bodies does not cease no matter the fight. This has brought resistance and the understanding that to address disability by focusing on how bodies are -ssed, sexualized, fetishized, desexualized, criminalized – killed is not even half the work one must do. Disability must be treated with empathy at the bare minimum.

In this brief collection of poems, I address addiction in all of its forms using a critical and feminist disability studies framework that I have adopted from my from my Feminist Disability Studies course at Colgate University. In this class, taught and mentored by Prof. Laura Jaffee, we come face-to-face with the encompassing epistemologies and methodologies that an FDS framework calls on. I chose to write about addiction through poetry because of the accessibility it provides to me – and others of course. Like I began, my visceral approach to this world causes me to get lost in academia and poetry closes the gap, cleans the window, bridges two worlds of understanding. Here, addiction is addressed as a disability, visibly invisible to the world as many addictions go unnoticed due to the lack of harm they bodily and mentally cause. In being so, addiction is glorified, romanticized, and painted to have one way of being a good addict – the super addict or addict in recovery. In closing, I address how addiction is shaped by, like many things, capitalism. Within a capitalist society, addiction is painted as unacceptable and atrocious due to the unproductivity that is associated with it. When we embrace empathy towards addicts, we understand that there is no good or bad way to be an addict, but loving and empathic ways to be there for them. Addicts are valid, valuable, and well deserving of a life worth living.

My first poem, “Addiction is a Mask Wearing Me,” represents the beginning of my journey in feminist disability studies where I read Sin Invalid’s piece “What is Disability Justice.” I learned of justice, despite the beauty the singular word holds, can often be overused (Invalid 2019) Disability centers bodies that are at wits end but white, wealthier than the rest, have status, have power, and have support systems (Invalid, 2019). The poem addresses this idea in a metaphorical way as the addict in love with cheese is the addict abled by society. Cheese, while it does bring the consequences of dairy for some, is nothing compared to the straining veins of a heroin nod on the subway. We as a society look down on the body infiltrated by drugs because of the uselessness they appear to be. However, Invalid highlights that a disability justice framework understands that all bodies 1: “are unique and essential,” 2: “have strengths and needs that must be met,” 3: “are powerful not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them,” and 4: “confined by ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation state, religion, and more, and we cannot separate them” (Invald, 2019). I attempted to write about addiction in such a way where, despite society not recognizing all these aspects of disability justice, addiction in itself recognizes it. It's not just the cheese lovers and musical addicts that should be noticed for their contributions to the soil. While I lack the understanding of the cigarette smoker or the strained arm choker, Invalid has taught me that these folks have a story deserving to be heard, empathized with, and loved. If addiction pays no attention to that which the agent is infatuated with, we too must do the same – or find a way to get there.

I set out on my own journey of finding a way to get there through “The Super Addict.” I wanted to show the world, you, and myself, that there is a trope of addiction similar to other disabilities where the disabled must be treated. Here – the addict is treated, but one must understand that treatment is societally pushed. Kim Q. Hall’s piece, “Reimagining Disability and Gender Through feminist Studies” helps to unpack that dominant conceptions of what disability looks like and how it takes away from the fact that certain folks are disabled or define themselves as such. (Hall, 2011). Under this same trope, dominant conceptions of what addiction is leaves out the bodies who are addicted to differently harmful things. As a high schooler, I can tell you I was addicted to working out. 3.5 hours every day. Kid you not - seven days a week was spent on and in front of a rowing machine. I would sit, burn one thousand calories, eat two hundred in a protein bar, and proceed to burn another fifteen hundred calories in a second workout. My days, weeks, months, years, revolved around the 25 hours I spent destroying my muscles. Everything suffered for me to get my fix and the worst part is, I started to manage. My grades were fantastic, my friendships intact, my life put together, and my body was exquisite. However, one day off of working out made my mirror assault me. One day without a workout made my mind crinkle with time. The Super Addict looks like me. One invisibly unhealthy because everything is put together. Hall understands this as the athlete creates the super abled when they overcome disability (Hall, 2011). This extends to the analogy of the addict in recovery. A good addict is working on themselves, acknowledging their disease, and overcoming it. While Hall is talking about gender and its connection to disability, my good addict story is infiltrated by gender too. The man I am, once was, and will be, defines my addictions. Hall brings in Simone de Beavoir’s lines regarding how “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman” (Hall, 2011). My addiction enabled my manhood through protruding muscles and when they would disappear after a day, my written masculinity would as well. But I was not an addict to the world because I was healthy. One is not born an addict, but becomes one with attempts to hold on to tropes that society deems ideal. In the end of my poem, I address how the super addict, just like disability, imagines a life worth living as something needing to be treated or overcome. A lens of feminist disability studies removes the blur that the notion of a life worth living goes beyond treating, but embracing (Hall, 2011)

“Adopted Naming: Addiction Style” took direct inspiration from Eli Clare’s “Freaks and Queers” work where they begin to define names used to refer to disabled folks. In doing so, Clare is highlighting how, specifically for disabled people and the establishment of freakshows, nature did not make them into freaks, but freakshows did” (Clare, 1999). Similar to Hall (2011), Clare is arguing that nobody was born under the vernacular used to describe them, but discourse created the image of disability. In this realization, I yearned to paint a picture of addiction using some of the same words that Clare uses in an attempt to help one understand how addiction is a disability society places on the body and mind. The handicapped in my poem takes on the alcohol addict while the disabled helps to address how one is hindered no matter their preference. The differently abled, physically challenged is the agent who thinks their addiction is nothing more than a wonderful habit leaving room for the differently addicted. Here, the agent is practicing the first step: acknowledgment. However, they go beyond the individual self and think outwardly about others. When their addiction is inhaled by others, it takes root in the heart in a different form. Cigarettes for one are food for the other. So I end with the queer addict. Branching off of clares definition, queer has a “defiant external edge, its comfortable internal truth” (Clare, 1999). It is a word for the disabled, differently abled, handicapped – and I wished to show how the circular building block that is addiction fits into the square hole of queer. This is done by, once again, highlighting that one's addiction is not even the beginning of what makes them a person. Both queer and addiction face the world and are often trampled under foot by all the construction zones without signs of warning.

With construction zones in mind, the only one that encompassess the globe and always lacks a warning sign til it is too late is capitalism. From Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s piece, “A Modest Proposal for a Fair Trade Emotional Labor Economy” one can begin to understand how capitalism takes a toll on the disabled body and bodies overall. Starting generally, Piepzna-Samarsinha states that “people are going to ask you to do stuff for them” and there is no bigger culprit than the working world (Piepzna-Samarasinha, 2019). In conjunction with “Capitalism and Disability,” by Marta Russell and Ravi Malhotra,  Piepzna-Samarasinha pushes understanding of the narrative that “disability is regarded as something that must be overcome” as it is “imposed on top of our impairments by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society” (Russel & Malhotra, 2002). My fourth and final poem, “The Working Non Working” addresses addiction as a disability within a capitalist society. Addicts just like disabled folks, “are people who could work if they had the accommodations to do so” as oppression legitimately comes out of exclusion of these bodies from exploitation as wage laborers (Russel & Malhotra, 2002). Russel and Malhotra demonstrate that disabled people, and addicts in this case, could participate in owning land, but capitalism made it so that “land was no longer the focus” leading to their exclusion from society when wage work became the focus. Addicts also face the same exclusion, especially when their addiction is disabling and not under the trope of the super disabled. Therefore, the addict nodding on the subway or the lung cancer in the chainsmoker is not feared because of death. They are feared because capitalism has created the image that these bodies are unable to contribute to society as productivism is the bare minimum normality in the world. For the addict, productivity could simply look different and my poem attempts to grasp this difference as well as the exclusion one faces.

In closing, I wish to end with where I lightly started. Just like disability, addiction faces models and constructs, or construction zones, that shape how it is viewed and treated. Under the medical model addiction is viewed as an individual and personal lacking. It is a problem that must be addressed no matter how tragic and disordering and in general – it is taken for granted. Addicts must seek doctors and therapists as a form of treatment with an attempt to rid or mitigate. It vilinizes the disabled when they choose to embrace their ability and locks them in a system where their only way out is to play victim. But this is isolating and further disabling.

That is why, with addiction and disability as a whole, my poetry attempts to understand the social model of disability. Here, society makes one's individual and personal differences disabling and the desire, need, and thoughts of changing or fixing stem out of altering society – not the individual’s body, mind, and heart. In my attempt to address a feminist disability framework with addiction, the social model highlights – and I hope my poetry does too – that empathy is a must when talking about addiction. These bodies seemingly do it to themselves, but closer looks remove them entirely from being the reason they are hindered, excluded, and oftentimes dead.

I would like to slip in one more thing before my fingers exhaust themselves as my mind has not been the one writing, but the visceral has been doing the work. This epilogue has sought after the work of feminist post-structuralism, an epistemology I am gaining more and more insight into every day. Within post-structuralism, there is a belief that even the words we have are construction zones in themselves. In being such, the language we have to explain, comprehend, and create discourse around further oppresses us. I wish to define how I speak about addiction here in these next sentences: addiction takes many forms and is perpetuated and pervasive. It hinders and enables and good, and bad addictions do not exist without the other constructs this world has forced down our minds esophagus til our brains choke. I have been choking for years and feminist disability studies is a heimlich manuever on my heart. If you have read this piece with disdain and disgust – read again. Pay attention to the words and language that makes you think such a thing and remember to stop thinking and start feeling. Empathize – the visceral is attached to the heart, not the mind.


Hall, Kim Q. (2011). Reimagining Disability and Gender through Feminist Disability Studies. In Feminist Disability Studies. Indiana University Press. pp. 1--10.

Invalid, Sins. (2019). What is Disability Justice? Sins Invalid pp. 10--27

Russell, M., & Rosenthal, K. (2019). Capitalism & disability.

A modest proposal for a fair trade emotional labor economy. (n.d.). Bitch Media. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from