Bel Air author explores addiction, recovery

Novel relates men's struggle with drug abuse

December 28, 2003|By Amanda Angel | Amanda Angel,SUN STAFF

Dale Smith said he has seen thousands of addiction cases from about 25 years of work at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Perry Point.

"These people have virtually destroyed everything in their lives," Smith said of some of the patients he has seen.

Recently, he finished writing a book that he self-published with 1stBooks. The First Word chronicles the addiction and recovery stories of three fictitious Vietnam veterans. Its title recalls the first word in the Alcoholics Anonymous' Twelve Steps program.

"The first word is one of my tricks when I'm trying to confront addicts in denial," Smith said. He asks them to state the first word of the Twelve Steps declaration. He said most of his patients think it is the word "I."

"The first word of the first step is the word `we.' You can't go through recovery alone," he said.

Smith, who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, wanted to show factors that contribute to a substance addiction.

The three characters, Colin, Bob and Duane, endure conflict-filled - and often gruesome - childhoods that cascade into strife-ridden adulthoods.

These three men, like the people Smith has treated over the years, end up in a Veterans Affairs inpatient addictions treatment program after they exhaust their means and sever relationships.

The book took Smith several years to finish. When he first sat down to write about his experiences at Perry Point, he didn't intend to make it into a book.

But the Bel Air resident eventually had 366 pages of text. He said he found that publishing houses would not look at manuscripts that weren't send by agents, and that no agent would represent an author trying to publish his first book.

On the cover of the book appear a Baltimore rowhouse, a marijuana leaf, a syringe and a beer bottle. Smith said the bottle was initially left off the cover design, but he made sure it was there.

He is a state-licensed clinical counselor but counsels less frequently than he used to. He now directs the Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans program at Perry Point. Smith said that counseling patients - whose pasts often included childhood abuse, war trauma and addiction - became too draining.

"I could only do that so long," he said.

Smith said writing the book, which he said is a realistic treatment of the subject matter, and includes graphic language and even more graphic violence, was a cathartic experience.

He said his reason for writing the book was out of his professional observation that there were few novels that explain addiction and addiction treatment out of the context of Hollywood.

"Everybody knows what addiction is. This book shows the intimate cycle of recovery and how it all works. I'm going to show you how people get well," Smith said.

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