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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

On Mondays we bring you our series THIS I BELIEVE. Today our essay comes from Quique Aviles, a poet, actor and community activist in Washington, D.C.

In recent years, his performances have mostly been based on other people's stories, rather than his own. But he realized he had another story to tell - about himself.

Here's our series curator, Independent Producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Belief is tied to identity, to the moments we must declare who we are and what we stand for. Quique Aviles' identity straddles two worlds - one public, one private, one dark and one light.

Through his belief, he hopes to leave the dark one behind. Here is Quique Aviles with his essay for THIS I BELIEVE.

Mr. QUIQUE AVILES (Actor, Poet, Activist): I believe that addiction can kill me, but that writing and performing will save me.

I am a poet and an actor. I'm also a crack addict and an alcoholic. And that's how a lot of people see me. A pipe head, a drunk, a problem, an epidemic, a disaster area.

I came to Washington, D.C. from El Salvador in 1980, at the age of 15. When I told my mom I wanted to be an actor, she said, you mean a clown? But I make a living, although meager, through my poetry and performances.

In the early '80s, crack came to D.C. I saw my city change and me with it. Crack is a killer. Crack turns a ladybug in your house into a hungry rat. Crack transports you into paranoid obsession. You don't sleep. You don't eat. Your high lasts 10 to 15 seconds, so you need to keep pumping your brain with this poison over and over again.

Mine has been a life of duality. I can function on drug street corners, and at wine sipping theater receptions. In 1995, I was part of a show at the Kennedy Center, but I was sneaking beers into my dressing room before the show and getting high after. I often feel a sense of pride when I put my book and loose poems in my bag before going to do a reading, and yet I'm also the sort of person, this shadow, this vampire.

I've just turned 41. I've finally realized that crack will kill me if I keep shoving it up my brain. The alternative is death, and I don't want it. I want to get old.

About a year ago, I completed my third rehab. I decided that I will use writing and performing as a catapult for rebound. I decided to stand on stage and share stories from my notebooks that have borne witness to my nightmare.

1992. I want to keep playing with verbs, write letters to old friends, and ask them to keep on writing. I want to hold on to the likes of consonants and vowels.

In a world of zero tolerance, talking like this about my addiction, even saying it out loud on the radio, may mean artistic suicide. But by telling my story here and onstage, I will take my voice back. People will bear witness to my life.

I believe that crack can kill me, but in the end, communication and direct human contact will save me.

ALLISON: Quique Aviles with his essay for THIS I BELIEVE.

Aviles says that since performing his new work, called Rehab, he has the feeling he's being watched to see what choices he will make from here on out, but that in a way he likes that feeling.

We are inviting all comers to write for our series. You can find out more at npr.org, or by calling 888-577-9977.

For THIS I BELIEVE, I'm Jay Allison.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Next Monday, on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, a THIS I BELIEVE essay from listener Betsy Chalmers(ph) of Virginia, whose belief in faithfulness has been tested during the 28 years her husband has been in prison.

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