Cover Photo: five orange-brown pots with green leafy plants growing out of them, on the stems are multicolored pills instead of blooms
Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult

Me, My Father, and Our Pills

It no longer seemed as important to control the sequence of steps inside a round-bottomed flask as it was to look at my life and build a future worth living.

This is Better Living Through Chemistry, a column by Ariana Remmel on how atoms and molecules can help us explore our lives.

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The respite was short.

A few months later, my mother called in the middle of my workday. She was driving Dad to a rehab facility, she said, sounding angry and exhausted. He would be treated for the opioid addiction he had been struggling with, unknown to us, for well over a year.

Instead, I was surrounded by the broken fragments of my life.

Pills had only ever helped me. It seemed unfathomable that a prescription could have stolen my father from me. 

Searching for relief from my burdens, I took weekend trips to go scuba diving along the canyons of the Pacific coast. Yet even buoyed by the caress of marine saltwater, I imagined myself sinking down to the inky darkness of the deep sea. I worried that my dependence on medications to keep me from doing the unthinkable meant that perhaps my life was not worth living after all.

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Ariana Remmel is a science writer and journalist based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Their work has appeared on the radio with stations KQED and KSQD, and in print with Nature and Chemical & Engineering News.