February 25, 2020

Strung Out

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Any book about addiction is actually a book about feelings and the lengths that people who are suffering will go to not to feel them. Erin Khar’s memoir, Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me, is a compassionate account of her illness and will surely be the gold standard for women writing about heroin addiction.

Khar grew up with an economically privileged life of Kardashian-style excess in the Los Angeles ’burbs: horses, new cars and houses, shopping sprees. Emotionally, however, she was impoverished. She was repeatedly traumatized by sexual violence as a child and teen and verbally abused by her mom’s boyfriend: neither parent defended her or was present in any meaningful way. At 8 years old, the author experimented with self-obliteration, taking her grandma’s expired painkillers. By 13, she had tried heroin. When she eventually became addicted in her teen years during the ’90s (incidentally, at the height of “heroin chic” in fashion), her life shaped itself around scoring her next fix. “I wanted more than asleep,” she writes, describing her reason for shooting up. “I wanted to be comatose. I wanted my brain to stop, to completely stop.”

In lesser hands, Strung Out could read like a “poor little rich girl” tale. To be sure, there are moments in the book that are frustrating due to how out of line Khar's experience is with most Americans’ reality (she attends rehab with celebrities, and moves to Paris on a whim). But Khar possesses the necessary self-reflection to identify the points in her life—breakups, deaths, an abortion—where her shame and loneliness deepened and her addiction metastasized. She is also cognizant of and candid about how her parents’ wealth and passing as white (she is half Persian) contributed to her successful recovery.   

While heroin is considered a line that shouldn’t be crossed by many recreational drug users, Khar’s story of choosing to numb-out pain, and the coffin-like trap of shame, is relatable to everyone. Anyone who reads Strung Out will come away with a better understanding of opioid addiction, if not necessarily more empathy for it.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Erin Khar and seven other new and emerging memoirists.

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