In Saugerties, a small town in upstate New York, Irene is raising two sons and working as a janitor at a local school. Her marriage is stale, and she finds it increasingly difficult to manage her cocaine habit. She meets Bob a recovering heroin addict who is trying to wean himself off methadone and hold onto his job as a nurse. While bob attempts to guide Irene into recovery, they develop an incendiary attraction.
As Irene learns the 12 steps involved in recovery, she and Bob stumble onto the thirteenth step—desire itself; desire for a range of sensations and experiences not available to them in their marriages. For Bob, the relationship triggers a full relapse. Soon, he and Irene are sneaking down to New York City to cop drugs. Irene succumbs to the rush of these furtive missions until they get arrested for heroin possession. Their affair and their mutual relapse are exposed.
In the aftermath of this crisis, Irene moves into a small apartment with her sons, finds work cleaning houses, and attends a drug treatment program. When bob reappears, she tries to discover if they can build something meaningful together without the use of drugs. Initially bob is charming and helpful, but they are on different courses. Irene wants to stay sober, while he is faking his way through rehabilitation. She finds that being with Bob is still inextricably linked to using. With a dirty urine test, she violates her probation. Facing financial crises, legal jeopardy, broken hearts and betrayal, Irene resolves to start over by herself.
DOWN TO THE BONE grew out of Debra's short film, SNAKE FEED, which introduced Irene in her daily struggle to rebuild her life. A year later, Debra went back to interview the life models who inspired the characters of Irene and Bob. Drawing from video documents and transcripts, she has retold part of their story in DOWN TO THE BONE.