Our vendors: Karin Pacozzi (Surprise, Zurich, Switzerland)

Interview by Georg Gindely, Surprise

At 18, the best time of my life began. I went to grammar school in Zurich, had good friends and fell in love. My parents, who lived by Lake Zurich, were far away; I only went home to sleep. At 19, I became pregnant. My boyfriend and I were very happy. We rented our own apartment and had a wonderful daughter. Shortly after that, I graduated and started studying German and History. Everything seemed perfect. But, when I was 22, I had a breakdown and had to go into a clinic.

My childhood was marred by my father’s alcohol addiction and abuse. I had completely repressed that. Suddenly the past broke out with all its power and all my strength, my idyllic existence—my whole life—collapsed. At that time nobody believed me except my husband. My parents, my sister and even my psychiatrist were against me. Once, my psychiatrist convened a session where everyone came together to speak out. I sat on one side; all the others were facing me. After that I was completely exhausted. I got in the car, drove to the Platzspitz [a park in Zurich] and bought heroin and cocaine for 100 francs each. I was 23.

I had already had my first experiences with drugs during my time at grammar school. At that time, we just tried a little something and stopped afterwards. Suddenly it was different. I took the drugs to forget. Unfortunately, that worked too well. Then my husband inherited a lot of money. I had given up my studies by then, but I did an apprenticeship as a florist. Thanks to the inheritance, I was able to open my own flower shop. Soon it became too much for me: a year later I gave the business up. I weighed only around 100 pounds. The doctors told me they would soon have to force-feed me.

Surprise vendor Karin Pacozzi. [Credit: Bodara]

After ten years, the whole inheritance was gone. My husband and I spent it all on heroin and cocaine. At about the same time our daughter had a big crisis at school. She didn’t want to go anymore, and I didn’t think I could drag her there. A little later, I had the principal, the psychologist and some officials standing at the door. My daughter had to go to school.

I then moved with my daughter to Venice; to my husband’s holiday flat. We were fine. My daughter went to school again and learned the language quickly. You could smell the sea [from our flat] and I rarely took drugs. When her time at school ended, we moved back to Zurich—and back to the drugs.

Those were hard times. In 2004 I had a serious accident; in 2005 my husband died of an overdose. I crashed completely and went into a clinic. Now, however, I’m back on my feet, live in my own apartment and have my addiction under control. I recently started selling Surprise. The contact with people is good for me and I get very nice feedback. Although I receive a disability pension, it is a great feeling to earn money through my own work.

For a long time, I did not have any self-confidence at all. In recent years I have learned to see my good sides: I am intelligent, friendly, punctual and can live alone. I also have plans: I want to learn languages, travel, stay away from the drugs and continue selling Surprise. Of course, my daughter is very important to me. It wasn’t easy for her. Today she lives her own life and is in the middle of her studies. I’m very proud of her.

Translated via Translators Without Borders