Addiction is big — both in the sense that heroin addiction kills thousands of people in the U.S. every year, and that it's an issue that can seem utterly insurmountable. But in the project Closer To Heaven
, photojournalist Sara Naomi Lewkowicz
brings the battle to a personal level by tracing the journey of one woman struggling with heroin addiction.
Lewkowicz photographed her subject, Alex, for five years, and is still in close contact with her. Starting when Alex was just 20, Lewkowicz would simply call her, ask if she could come over, and hang out — with her camera. From there, she would go with Alex to her job at a strip club and see her drug use up close. Now 25, Alex has been in recovery for two years, and works in a deli that specifically aims to hire those in recovery.
Covering topics like drug use and sex work
, Lewkowicz knew it would be all too easy to reduce Alex to a simple stereotype. However, she says the project actually helped her understand the complexities of those issues and the lives of those who deal with them every day
"The main thing I learned from talking to [Alex] was that the drugs are less the problem than they are a really shitty coping mechanism," says Lewkowicz. "The drugs become
a problem, but really the source of the issue is whatever’s going on underneath."
Heroin is a problem that's increasingly affecting women. According to the CDC
, the rate of heroin use among women has more than doubled in the last decade. But Lewkowicz wanted to move beyond the statistics and stereotypes. "Their humanity is not erased by the drugs or sex work that they do," she says. Click through to see a few photos from Alex's story, along with Lewkowicz's original captions.