I have been an addict all my life. It sort of comes with the territory of obsessive-compulsive disorder. So addiction for me didn’t extend to a substance based issue until much later. For now, I would like to focus on the pinnacle of my addiction and the collapse, rather than psychoanalyze as to why I became addicted in the first place.
Remember from my previous post that “Rhubarb” is used as a safe word for when I feel that something may be upsetting to read, particularly if you know me personally.
I had my shirt cut off me by a team of nurses and doctors that were surrounding me so that they could attach the EKG electrodes on different parts of my body. I was crying, pleading for them to help me, and apologizing. In hindsight, I find the last part particularly interesting…I was apologizing. Well, in this moment, I thought I was dying. So I was apologizing to a lot of different people. To my family, who had no idea that I was still using. To my friends, who had seen me at my worst and yet still saw something worth saving. And I apologized to myself because I was deeply saddened that I wasn’t going to be able to see my own future.
I had overdosed on cocaine and amphetamines. At the time, I was studying abroad in the Czech Republic and while everyone in my program had left for the weekend on a school trip to Krakow, I had stayed behind because I had a mountain of drugs that I needed to attend to. I was the worst kind of addict. Not the fun, party addict, who goes to clubs and bars and gives out free bumps and lines. I was completely reclusive with drugs. I truly felt like Gollum in lord of the rings, denying anyone the splendor of the ring while it destroyed him.
So there I was, in a Czech hospital thinking, I was going to die completely alone. The thought that kept repeating in my head was an extraordinary irony: that I finally didn’t want to kill myself, and yet I was destined to become a statistic of a drug overdose.
Nobody gives a shit about a drug addict. That’s what I found out from this experience. The ambulance drivers, the doctors, the nurses, all of them attended to me because they had to. All of them so void of empathy, so full of scorn and judgment, like they couldn’t give a shit if I lived or died because I had brought this upon myself. Like I was the scum on the shoes of the scum.
After they determined that I wasn’t going to go into cardiac arrest right then, I was shuffled away to an unused bed in what looked like an abandoned lab in the hospital. There I was, now completely alone, relegated to a vacant section of the hospital to be forgotten. I spent the next eternity, vomiting, shaking uncontrollably, having intense anxiety paired with auditory, tactile, and slight visual hallucinations, openly yet quietly weeping, and fearing that my heart was going to give out at any minute. Turns out that eternity was only about 12 hours. After that amount of time, my heart rate was no longer at a dangerous level and I was allowed to leave, or more accurately: told to get in a wheelchair and dumped on the sidewalk.
I sat on that sidewalk for a long time in quite a stupor. What now? Where do I go from here? My closest friends were 6000 miles away in California, and the friends that I did have in my program were across the border in Poland. I remember wandering for a while, sitting when I felt I was going to get ill, with a wretched thought dancing on my temples giving me the mother of all headaches.
I need more cocaine…
Are you fucking kidding me? I was lucky to be alive, and yet I didn’t care, none of it felt real. It was this thought that scared me more than death: the fact that I was more afraid of living than I was of dying. It’s not that I actually wanted to die or harm myself. It’s that I was scared shitless of coping without a coping mechanism.
It was this realization that led me down the hardest time of my life, the path to ultimate and final sobriety. I wanted it, though. I needed it. Because I knew that if I continued along the path I was choosing, I wouldn’t see my 23rd birthday. That is not an exaggeration. I was terrified of myself.
Why am I telling you this? Well, on one hand, I’m airing my own neurosis for self-affirmation. But more importantly, I hope I can reframe for you the way that you look at addicts. In 1971, good old Dick Nixon declared war on drugs. Proclaiming, “…public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.” Wrong. Addicts aren’t criminals. Addiction is a health crisis, not a criminal offense. While I was fortunate enough to not get into legal trouble while I was using, there were several instances that should have “scared me straight”. And yet, the only things that helped me get completely sober were: deep & meaningful social connection, a group with similar addictive experience, and therapy.
If you or someone close to you is struggling with substance abuse, I implore you to reach out to them. Reach out to them with open arms and without accusation. They need to know that they are cared for and loved without exception. They may kick, they may yell, they may tell you that they don’t have a problem. And that’s okay. That’s a completely understandable reaction to have for someone with an addiction. Don’t fight back. Retaliation will only breed more isolation and abuse for the user. Just be there for them, constantly, relentlessly. They will come around, and then thank you for the rest of their life.
Much love & many adventures,
Thank you to: Isaac, Tawny, Chase, Alex, Anya, Lauren, Mom, Dad, Matt, Duke, Aaron, Max, Evon, Leah, Erica, Sam, Ron, Ryan, Vanessa, Alex, Cody, Grant, Laurence, Shelly, Curtis and to everyone at NA and AA. I sincerely could not have done it without you.
With your help, on February 11, 2017 I’ll be celebrating my third year of sobriety from alcohol, and my second year of sobriety from all substance.