Alicia Cook is a writer and award-winning activist residing in Newark, New Jersey - who's efforts to highlight the effects of addiction and drug abuse on individuals and their loved ones has been widely documented by publications such as Teen Vogue, CNN, HuffPost, USA Today, and more.
"The Other Side of Addiction", a book written in honour of her cousin Jessica depicts the rife issue of drug abuse, and her bestselling poetry book, 'Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately' was a finalist in the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards (Poetry).
We sat down with Alicia to learn more about her work, her views and what she will be doing next.
1. How did you get started in the field of writing/poetry?
It is just something I have always done. My earliest memory of writing was at 8 years old. I used to write fictional, long form stories when I was 11 and 12. It was always a beautiful escape for me – and I felt my best when I was writing things down. Still do.
2. Your work is highly based around drug addiction and mental illness, which many people and families are affected by - What advice would you give a wife, husband, partner or family member on supporting their loved one who is experiencing addiction?
First and foremost, most people addicted to a substance are battling something else, usually a mental health issue – and they use whatever drug to escape. On the opposite side of that same coin, loved ones who witness a person they care about struggle with addiction develop mental health issues such as anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. Self-care is key - in both the user and the loved one - but equally as hard to maintain.
My advice to any loved one going through this with someone close to them is to educate yourself on the disease of addiction, don’t judge, shame, or stigmatize. Attend Nar-Anon or Al-Anon meetings (which are meetings for the loved ones affected by narcotics or alcohol), and go to therapy. Nar-Anon is where you meet people who are in the same boat as you, almost as though they are your kindred spirits who understand exactly what you go through every single day. You also learn coping mechanisms and boundaries in those meetings and in therapy. You learn the difference between enabling and loving. Etc. You need to take care of your mind and body. And it’s almost impossible to do so when you are in the throes of addiction, even when it is not your own affliction.
3. People are frowning on mental illness less and the world is seeing an awakening where people are opening up about their struggles -What is the best piece of advice you can give to aid those experiencing anxiety or depression?
That they are not alone in their struggles. Everyone has their shit. Mind you, everyone experiences things at different levels and to different degrees. Something that always stuck with me is a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer when the heroine says, “The hardest thing to do in this world, is to live in it.” I don’t see darkness in that statement. I see the beauty. Life is hard, stressful, unpredictable, harsh, you name it. But life is also precious and fleeting. I love living. But I understand why some people hit a point where they don’t see the beauty anymore – and I just want them to know that they are not alone. The world needs them here. The world would be a colder place without them. But the scary thing about something like depression is that it become almost like an evil voice in your head and you start to believe what it is saying to you (Ex: no one loves you. No one would care if you weren’t here. No one will understand if you tell them how you feel).
The biggest thing I wish I could tell every person hurting right now is that when someone asks them how they are doing, I hope they answer “not great.” Or go into as much detail as they want. Instead of saying, “Fine.” Opening that line of communication can be lifesaving and life changing. When I started being open with the people around me, it felt like taking a deep, needed, breath.
4. Drug addiction is very rarely talked about in the media - what are you hoping to achieve with your work?
I disagree, actually. Addiction is being more and more talking about in the media and news because so many people are affected at this point. I agree that 10+ years ago when I started advocating there was very little coverage. But now, it is everywhere. Now, should scripted tv shows and movies drop the stereotypical “drug addict” characters and develop full-dimensional characters who may be addicted to a substance, yes. The stereotype is tired.
I hope to achieve small victories with my work. I am not looking for awards and insane exposure. I hope what I create finds its way to the people who need it most, at the time they need it most. I am fortunate that I have an outlet to help myself and others.
5. Social Media is becoming a great space for creatives to share their work - how has this impacted your work and creativity?
7 years ago social media provided me a platform to share my voice, story, and work. I will be forever indebted to those first hundred people who didn’t know me who started to follow me and take an interest in what I had to say.
6. You were named by Teen Vogue as one of the 10 social media poets to know, highly due to your best selling poetry book 'Stuff I've been feeling lately' Where did the idea of your stem from?
I had been journaling a lot and around this time, strangers on the internet had begun asking if I had plans to release a poetry collection. The concept of turning a poetry book into a mixtape was always in the back of my head because of my deep connection to music. Everyone has a soundtrack to their life and poetry and music are so closely connected. They make people feel.
So, I compiled my work and drew the cover myself, and the rest is history. Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately is the best thing to ever happen to me.
7. In 2018 you received the Women with Voices award from the Women with Voices Foundation - what does the epitome of real womanhood mean to you?
I was so honored the night I received that award because I was in a room in Brooklyn filled with the most beautiful, kind hearted, diverse group of women I had ever seen. As a culture, for so long, we were almost raised to see other women as competition, as the “enemy.” If our partner cheated, it was the female’s fault. If our friend started befriending another girl, she was a bitch. It goes on and on. And it’s ludicrous.
Womanhood, to me, is being your true self. Living your best life, for you. Not pigeonholing yourself to certain roles just because you were always told you couldn’t succeed at anything else. I am fortunate that I was raised by parents who never said I couldn’t do something I wanted to do just because I was a girl. I always carried that confidence with me.
The best thing we can do is stick together. Support one another. Realize we are all climbing the same mountains, but that doesn’t mean we have to race each other. We can encourage each other to keep scaling even when it gets treacherous.
8. Do you have any tips to kickstart a positive morning?
I am not a morning person, haha. At all. But on mornings I know I have to wake up a certain time, I slit my blinds so the sunlight gradually creeps in. It helps me wake up more slowly, and less abruptly.
9. Who has been your biggest supporter?
I would definitely say my parents. Like I said before, they never told me I couldn’t achieve my dreams. I was ten and asked for a typewriter, and instead of telling me to ask for something more practical, they made it happen for me. They would sit there and read my ridiculous short stories as a kid. They would sit on the couch and watch my cousins act out a play I had scripted and I am sure it was terrible, haha. The number of video cameras I broke filming my friends and siblings doing sketch shows probably infuriated my father, but he never told me to stop creating. And now, it means the world to me that I can bring them along to my film shows, book signings, award moments, and speaking engagements. They put a lot of work into me, whether they realize it or not. And I am glad I am able to show them that it all worked out.
10. What's next on the radar for Alicia Cook?
Good question. I have a few ideas brewing I am going to keep to myself for now. But I will say I am featured in an upcoming poetry and short story anthology called: [Dis]Connected II. I have three poems and a short story in there. Mine are all mental health related. It comes out in OCTOBER.