The metaphors that Zanosa uses are somewhat common and can be understood by most readers. Three metaphors in the second paragraph (“soul,” “…shakes me to my very soul,…” and “…private hell…”) are very weak in imagery. It is somewhat difficult to imagine a visual representation of “soul shaking” and “private hell.” However, just about all readers of “Back from the Brink” will understand why Zanosa uses the latter two exaggerated metaphors.
The soul could also be taken to be synonymous with “mind.” It is a philosophical concept typically understood to be core of the self, and which makes something alive and conscious. “Soul” is a metaphor itself when taken from a purely philosophical point of view, where it can represent the mind or one’s deepest beliefs. However, it may not be intended as a metaphor if the speaker holds a religious conviction in the existence of the soul. The word “soul” is strongly associated with religious beliefs. One common meaning of “soul” is that it is what contains the essence of a person, and that the body is merely a shell that contains the soul.
The concept of a shaking soul is also a metaphor. The occurrence of “soul shaking” is also a metaphor, where “shaking” means being distraught. Thus, saying that something “shakes me to my very soul” can be taken to mean that the issue collides with something that one deeply believes in. By this metaphor, Zanosa means that he finds the idea of heroin’s “chicness” extremely undesirable and wrong.
The third metaphor, “private hell,” has connotations similar the metaphor of soul shaking. Hell, again, is a religious concept found in many religions, of which one of the most notable is Christianity. In Christian belief, hell is a place of eternal suffering. However, “hell” is often used figuratively to describe something that is extremely undesirable—it can be used in many ways, such as: “staying at my mother-in-law’s place was hell” or “waiting for the blood test results was hell.” From what we know (from the media, mostly) of the effects of heroin on people, we can understand that when Zanosa writes of his “private hell,” he means that his days of heroin use was an extremely problematic time.