The first time I used, I was 9. I stole some of my mom’s appetite suppressants. For the first time in my short little life, I felt like I could do anything. I forgot that I felt like I didn’t belong. Don’t ask me why I felt that way. I am an adopted child raised by a good family, so I should have felt fine. I truly believe that addiction is genetic. With dope, at long last, I belonged. I wasn’t afraid.
Life went downhill from there. I gradually branched out to other drugs. At 14, I was stealing my parents’ cigarettes and booze and smoking pot. At 18, I got introduced to what would become the great love of my life-meth. I really could do anything on that stuff-no job was too big, and my mind worked like a pinball machine with an electrical short-thoughts careened around so fast I never held one long enough to examine it, so I never really thought about feelings of inadequacy or fear.
At 19, I was tired of trying to make it on my own, so I found myself married to an abusive bastard; anybody who’s ever been through that can understand what I mean when I say that it destroyed any shreds of self-worth I had a chance of having. By then, I knew how to fix that-I used more dope. It didn’t matter what kind as long as it helped me shove those feelings of worthlessness into some dark, forgotten corner of my soul.
I went through a string of failed relationships for a couple of years, until I met “the one.” He actually started to redeem the male of he species for me. For a year and a half, I somehow managed to limit my drinking and drugging. Life was pretty good. I was living the suburban American dream.
In the end, untreated addiction always wins. I got involved in some unsavory business, running drugs up and down the interstate. For each time I got arrested, I made it through at least a few more times. I guess sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good, or I’d still be in prison.
In prison, in a state far from home, I didn’t have drugs but I still had that fight in me, and the ability to stuff my emotions into some dark corner of myself and forget them. It allowed me to survive in a cold and lonely place. When I got out, I did what I always did. I got high. How else was I supposed to deal with my situation? I was 4 states from all I knew, being held against my will by a parole officer who wouldn’t let me move home.
Fast forward to 2005.
I’m on probation for yet another drug offense, headed for an inpatient drug treatment center at the judge’s (and probation officer’s) suggestion. I had reached that point where I used dope to become that static-y snow on a TV with no reception. I didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to deal with the mess my life had become and I damn sure didn’t want to deal with the mess that I had become.
I muddled along for a while until I had a using experience so horrific I will never forget it. I had finally used so much dope, trying to kill my feelings, that I had used myself into a corner and it was that dark corner of my soul that I had been avoiding for 27 years.
The dope had led me right into the hell I had been denying from the time I first discovered dope at the tender age of 9.
I got clean, finally. It hurt. Detox can kill, and I guess I considered myself lucky to be alive, considering the way I had used my body for a toxic waste dump.
And I grieved the loss of the drugs. I grieved the loss of the numbness. I was FEELING shit again and it was ookie and I didn’t like it.
The human psyche is an amazing thing, with a remarkable talent for self-preservation. I managed to avoid the real problem: here I was drugless, and the big shitty mess inside was still there. Denial became my best friend. I felt no emotions (or so I told myself.) I damn sure didn’t show them.
For the first two years I was clean, I was involved with another abusive bastard. Got a busted eardrum out of it. During that two years, I did a good job of not allowing myself to feel much of anything, partly out of determination to deprive that bastard of the satisfaction of knowing he had affected me, and mostly because I didn’t want to look at that big shitty fucking mess in my mind and soul.
I did all this while calling myself a member of a twelve step fellowship.
Two years into my abstinence, the pain of my living situation became too much. Denial, toughness, bad attitude-none of it was working anymore. Without the dope to numb my soul, the big shitty mess in the darkest corner of my heart began to fester. So I got honest. Well, a little bit, anyway. Six months later, I was out of the abusive relationship. I was healing.
At least that’s what I told the world.
Until the physical after effects of the corrective surgery on my eardrum became unbearable. They also became a physical representation of all that was wrong with my psyche.
I could no longer use those old defense mechanisms. I could no longer be the hardass, the tough girl who didn’t give a fuck. I gave a fuck and I was tired of being broken.
Aunt Becky, I cried. Like I don’t think I have ever cried before.
I cried for all I wasted. I cried over all the wasted potential, the wasted years, the wasted lives I destroyed with my sick spirit.
I cried for a little girl who never felt like she belonged. I cried for my mother who couldn’t fix her child. I cried for what was left of myself and for the parts of me that were lost forever. I screamed. I cried until my throat hurt, my rib cage hurt, my head hurt. I cried until my entire head was so congested I couldn’t breathe. I cried over all the sadness I had never cried over, I cried over all the pain I never cried over, I cried over all the fear I never cried over. I have no idea how long I cried. It seemed like forever.
And then I slept. I slept the sleep of the damned. Because as I cried, screaming about how I was tired of being broken, I realized that nothing could fix me. I was doomed to this existence of knowing I was broken and the only thing that ever made me feel whole was dope and I couldn’t have it anymore. It had been killing me while it killed my feelings, except it wasn’t killing the feelings anymore. I couldn’t stop using once I started, and once I used I became this horrible beast who got arrested and burned bridges with the people in her life. So dope was out.
I was, finally, alone with the truth. I was rotten inside and nothing could fix me.
At 40 years of age, I’m glad I can say that a lot has happened in the 3 years since I cried that night and screamed my frustration at being broken. I started working the 12 steps of recovery from addiction. I have a sponsor. I have 5 years clean. I have a reasonably good relationship with my mother these days. I am now in a very serious and mostly healthy relationship with the man who held me the night I cried-he is truly a good man. I am in my first senior year of college. I have been well trained in the work I do and have been working the same part-time jobs for 5 years now. I’m good at my job. I have a few friends-true friends.
Aunt Becky, I wish I could give you a happy ending. I wish I could say that I have finally progressed through the 5 stages of grief. I think it’s safe to say I have passed through denial.
Yet I still can’t let go of those old defense mechanisms. It is so fucking hard to express emotions. It’s just as hard to live through them. So I shop. I eat chocolate. I find things to distract me. Often, I stick my feelings in that dark corner of my soul. Even the good ones. I still miss the ability to deny their existence. I don’t know what to do with them, so it’s easier to deny them.
I guess it’s progress, being able to admit I have emotions.
Some days, I get so angry. Why the fuck can’t I be normal? Why oh why do I always seem to feel inadequate, less than, afraid? At least the rage can be empowering, motivating me to get up and try one more day to find a way to heal my sick spirit. If nothing else, rage feels good. It’s so primal.
Some days, I’m depressed. The possibility of spending the rest of my life knowing I am irretrievably broken saddens me beyond belief. This is where I am grateful for my adoptive mother-she’s my REAL mother. Nothing ever stopped her, and rarely did anything slow her down. She always kept going. What an amazing example; I believe it’s the only reason I keep going on my depressed days.
Bargaining. Yes. I do that. I make bargains with whatever’s out there-if you would just fix me, God, I would try to touch another life so some other woman doesn’t ever have to live with the pain I lived with for so long. Just please fucking fix me so I am not afraid, ashamed, and insecure. Make me not hurt and I will try to share it with someone who needs to know it is possible to not hurt.
Acceptance. Not so much. Today, I refuse to accept that I am irretrievably broken. Maybe that is where the twelve steps are beginning to work in my life.
And maybe that’s the happy ending after all.