I don’t do resolutions. I have never been able to keep promises I made to myself, so I quit trying. However, I can’t say no to Aunt Becky, so I’ve been trying to figure out what “I will…” do this year.
I was coming up blank until my conversation with my mom this afternoon, and it hit me.
I will be OKAY.
That doesn’t sound like much, and yet it’s huge. There was a time when being okay seemed an impossibility. I recall it vividly.
It was April 2, 2005. I was two days out of treatment for addiction, and I was annihilated. That night, I reached the point of perfect misery. I didn’t want to live and could not die. I finally knew that I could not live that way anymore, and I took the first step. I surrendered, and the next day, I began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings like my life depended on it.
When I first got clean, I didn’t think I’d still be clean 14 years later. I certainly didn’t think I’d ever be okay. But I kept coming back. I got a sponsor. I started working steps.
The idea that I might someday be okay never really occurred to me. There were other N.A. members who I thought would be okay. Some of them are. Some of them relapsed. Of those who relapsed, some made it back. Some didn’t. I never really thought about which category I’d fall into; I couldn’t think that far ahead. Getting through each day, each moment, was too much of a struggle.
Even when I found that each day wasn’t a struggle, I didn’t really think about whether or not I’d be okay.
Until today, when I was laughing with my mom about something that happened today. The event is irrelevant. The awareness it brought me today is what’s relevant. I realized that I just might be okay.
I don’t mean I am cured. I just finally understand that if I keep doing what I’ve been doing to recover from the
disease of addiction, well, I just might be OK.
For somebody who didn’t think she was worth saving when she reached out for help, that shit is huge.
So for 2019, I think that “I will…” be okay.
April is child abuse awareness month and we at The Band intend to highlight the stories of those who’ve suffered from this form of abuse. There damage child abuse leaves in its wake can last a lifetime:
This is her story:
Her first memory became her second memory once they started coming back, a piece at a time.
The old first memory, in her words:
“My stepfather has brought me into the back part of the house that we used as a living room. I am maybe four years old, maybe younger. I am very happy, as the Monster is being nice to me. I have a dress on, black patent-leather shoes with buckles and white ankle socks with ruffles. The couch is plaid – brown, yellow, green. His hand is on my knee and he is rubbing my leg, smiling at me. I don’t remember him taking off my panties, but they are gone. I am not concerned, I am just happy he is not hitting me, he is not yelling at me, he is smiling at me and I feel safe for the first time in a long time. His hand is under my dress and he is rubbing me and I have this strange feeling in my belly.
Out of nowhere, the most tremendous blinding pain I have ever felt. I try to scream, I try to move. He has his hand over my mouth and is holding down. The pain is unbearable. He is smiling. I can’t breathe. The pain is excruciating. Am I dying? Is he finally killing me? What is he doing? Why is he hurting me like this? As suddenly as it started, it is over. He gets up and leaves the room and I curl up in a ball sobbing. He returns with a washrag and rolls me over on my back spreading my legs again. The rag is moist and cold, he wipes me. I lay there terrified the pain will start again. When I see the rag, it is covered in blood and still he is smiling.”
She ran away then, into the fields of purple flowers. She ran and ran, finally falling down into the tall grass. The sun went down, it got dark, and though she was afraid of the dark, she was more afraid of him. Later she hears voices calling her name. Her mother, her aunt, her brother. Her mother crying for her, she stands up and hollers “Mama!” Her mother runs to her, crying, saying “My baby is OK! My baby is OK!”
Back at the house, her mother asks her why she ran away. She tells her.
“She slapped me so hard across the face that I was knocked several feet backwards and fell to the floor. She screamed at me, that I was a liar and sent me to my room. I sobbed, hurting from the pain in my bottom and the pain in my heart, knowing that I was going to die. He was going to kill me. There was no one to stop him. So I did what all good Christian girls did: I prayed to God that I would die in my sleep before morning.
That was the longest night of my life. Somewhere in the night I fell asleep. When I woke up, the Monster was smiling down at me once more. My heart was racing and I knew I was about to die and he just kept smiling. He puts one hand on either side of my head holding me down by my long brown hair, and smiling the whole time, he said, ‘She didn’t believe you, she never will and if you ever try to tell again I will kill you.’ Then, like nothing ever happened, he walks to the door, opens it, and calmly says, ‘Breakfast is ready when you are.’”
She later remembered a time in the car, when she was much smaller. Three, maybe, almost four. Her mother was asleep in the back. She was on his lap, “driving”, a policeman is yelling at her Daddy. “Where are your shoes? Why are your pants unzipped? What is going on here?” She had a little dress on. He hadn’t hurt her yet.
How did her mother sleep through the policeman, through the yelling? Or was she asleep at all?
“After the first night when I was raped by my stepfather and ran away, two things happened. Because I had run away, a lock was placed on the outside of my door. Every night when I went to bed I was locked into my room. From then on, when mother passed out at night from her ‘nerve pills’ and alcohol, Monster was guaranteed easy access to me.”
The abuse came from her mother as well. She wasn’t “Vicki” anymore, she was “bitch, slut, liar, whore.” Any infraction of any kind was met with blunt force, blows to the head, back, ribs, whatever was closest. Her fingers were held over an open flame until the skin bubbled and blistered.
In a few years, it was not just Vicki who was being sexually tortured, it was her two brothers. And then the brother and sister that her mother had with the Monster.
When did it end?
You want to know how long it went on?
Vicki was fourteen years old when her stepfather finally went to prison for his crimes. A caring neighbor finally heard her, believed her, and confronted her mother. Her mother had the option to help provide evidence against him or be charged as an accomplice.
Perhaps worst of all, her mother did not leave the Monster. When the Monster got out of prison? He left HER.
Vicki is my sister.
Vicki is my hero.
Vicki has spent most of her life overcoming the most horrific kind of abuse imaginable and despite it, despite every bit of it – the foster care, the beatings, the years of alcohol and drug abuse to blur and erase the memories – she has not only survived, she has overcome. She has raised a son who is now in college. She was married to the love of her life until she lost him to a sudden heart attack. She is the strongest, most self sufficient woman I have ever had the privilege to meet in my life.
I thank God for many things, but most often I thank Him for two things:
That Vicki is my sister. And that I? Was relinquished by her mother at birth to adoption.
My sister thanks God that I was given up for adoption. Which makes me weep.
My sister is a survivor.
The first time I was molested, I was 6 years old. My step-dad was a controlling, abusive asshole and had been grooming me over the few years he’d been married to my mom. It started as tickling, then moved to a touch here, me touching him there, and everything you can imagine in between.
At 6, I had no idea this wasn’t normal interaction. He was the only dad I knew.
At 8, I knew how to give a blow job, at 10 he was attempting penetration (poorly), at 12 when I got my period, I got worried. A substitute teacher covered a chapter on sexual abuse in health class and I realized that this wasn’t normal at all. I told my mom that afternoon, he moved out that night, I got lots and lots of counseling.
At 14, I was raped by a 21 year old that was my “boyfriend.” We met through a mutual friend, he got me drunk on Everclear and told me if I didn’t let him put it in one hole he was gonna put it in the other, whether I liked it or not.
I thought it was a compelling argument.
I remember he had big speakers under his mattress and he put on something with a shit ton of bass and it made me so nauseous that I spent 20 minutes puking on his back porch. I didn’t tell anyone. In fact, I continued to date him for an additional 6 months.
During that time he fantasized about moving to Alabama (where 14 is the age of consent) getting married and having babies with me. At the end of those 6 months he nearly got arrested for threatening a secretary with bodily harm for not allowing him to bring me flowers to my class… in middle school.
My mom found out and then I spent 4 weeks as an inpatient at a juvenile psychiatric facility. I started my long journey of anti-depressants and self-medicating.
At 15, I walked over to a boy’s house that I had a crush on to “hang out.” We were making out and he got my pants off. I let him know I wasn’t interested in having sex so he decided that putting his belt inside me was a better option? I was known as “belt girl” (probably still am, honestly) for a number of years after that, to our group of mutual friends.
At 31, I got locked into a hotel room with a smooth talker (stalker) who had me convinced we were in love. The next 8 hours were filled with things I never want to remember and that my brain won’t recall. I left sore and mentally broken, but I never told a soul (until now).
These are of course only the major offenses. I’m not including the literal hundreds of unsolicited dick pics, “accidental” gropings, catcalling, and unwanted sexual advances that occur from randoms quite often.
Why didn’t I report it at the time?
Well it depends on the occurrence. The first time I didn’t know any better, the second time I was in love, the third I was embarrassed and ashamed, the fourth I was terrified of ever seeing him again. I definitely didn’t want a court case. I never filed charges on any of them. Even the long-term ones.
I remember vividly talking to a counselor who warned me of the long court process to press charges against my dad, how it was my decision (AT 12), and whether they should file charges with the DA. Seems like something an adult should’ve decided, no? That stayed with me through all of my assaults. I felt powerless and guilty. I blamed myself for my poor decisions. Surely, I mean, it was my fault, right?
So now PTSD is a real thing I live with every day as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. The triggers are never expected or convenient. Depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand with that. Once, a psychologist mentioned her surprise that I didn’t have a personality disorder, so there’s that, I suppose?
This is why the #MeToo movement is so vitally important.
The shame, the bureaucracy, the headaches, the guilt, it’s not worth reporting. This is what I’ve been told time and again as a victim. Maybe not in those words, but certainly with that intent. Someone didn’t want the paperwork and i didn’t want the trauma of retelling my story time and time again.
I don’t say “I’m from Detroit” unless:
- someone tries to bullshit me on what repairs my car needs
- I’ve just been told “go to Hell” (the implication being, been there done that)
- people are having a grand time trying to place my accent — for some reason, no-one has ever guessed right, so I just give up after a while and tell them this is 30 years of living in and around Detroit talking. Thank you for guessing that I’m maybe Irish, but the truth is gonna make you make an “Ugh” face.
Saying “Detroit” makes everybody make the “Ugh” face. If you live there, it’s your resting face: Either you’re constantly consciously aware of how much of a deliberately-constructed torture-machine of poverty and racism and environmental awfulness it is, or you’re unconsciously aware of it and your Ugh face is hiding a half-inch behind a desperate Midwestern smile.
It took two years after I moved away for my face to reconfigure away from the constant pained expression of a person trying to live a life among a seething ruin after rubbing shoulders every day with people on the absolute edge of desperation. And no, I don’t mean the homeless and the addicts. There are far more, and equally desperate, people in southeast Michigan who are still, for now, managing to live indoors. You won’t notice them unless you live there, and they outnumber the ones wandering the street by a wide margin.
Since I was a tiny child, I’ve been trying to say, “Oh my gods y’all — This is where the whole country is headed if we don’t wake up…this right here is industrial capitalism’s next phase! Let’s stop and change while we, while anybody, still can!”
But after you grow up a while, you realize that telling people doesn’t matter: they either know it full well, and think it’s worth it – probably because they’re wealthy, or privileged enough that they think they will be one day – or don’t simply don’t care (because, I’m guessing, it feels inevitable…or maybe I should say “they’ve bought the lie that it’s inevitable”).
I’ve now lived in Boston almost a decade, and while my inner Cassandra will still come out in heated discussions, I’ve mostly given up on sounding the warning-siren of Detroit.
It’s tiring and depressing, and if I’ve ever opened anyone’s eyes to what Detroit’s absurd segregation, its grotesque violation of one of the most gorgeous natural environments in the world, or aggressively anti-human city-planning means to the rest of us, I’m not aware of it.
If you’re not from Detroit, you don’t think it could happen to you, and/or you’re buying the perennial line about how “making a nice expensive spot in the middle of downtown will fix it. And if you are, you’ve probably given up – or will soon.
I’m an expat / refugee of Detroit, and I gave up SO MUCH to get out.
After 30 years I finally realized that if I ever wanted to be mentally “okay” (never-mind healthy, just…okay), I had to get away from the constant background scream of hopelessly-flailing-against-awfulness that is the D.
The biggest thing I gave up was being near my family — my only family in this world; we’re a small handful and we’ve always been very close. I had high hopes that I could “get them out” too, once I was established here, but my older parents and mentally-disabled brother (who, I stressed, could have reasonable health care here — hell, if they were homeless in Boston, their options would be better than in Michigan) just weren’t up for that kind of life-change, and they’ve decided to stay.
I talk to at least one of them every day on the phone. I travel back to D-town four or five times a year (my spending every holiday in Detroit is a fun “you’re so hardcore” joke for my friends here), and every summer they take a vacation (their only one) to come visit me and Boston. The pain of that separation is a little easier now, for the most part, but not really.
I have survivor’s guilt. I miss them like crazy, and I hate that if something bad happened I’d need to make an 800-mile journey to reach them. I struggle with the moral implications pretty much daily: Is it okay for me to have done this, to have found myself a home that makes me incredibly happier and miles healthier, and to have left my loved ones behind in Hell, USA?
I’m not going to talk, here, about the details of growing up in Detroit; about what the background of intense violence, racism and poverty does to a person – though maybe I will later. This one is about getting out, and where that leaves you…partially because I’m sick to death of the sensationalism around it, and can’t quite handle yelling about the realities of it yet.
I hate Detroit, still, the way you hate an ex-lover; instead of Ugh-face I now have Rage-face, but at least it’s not a constant thing.
It’s SO difficult to have your hometown, the place you grew up and will forever know best, be the embodiment of modern evil; to feel like you’re walking into Mordor every time you go back; to have a wonderful family Christmas and then gasp with relief when it’s over and you can leave, even though your chest burns because you won’t see your family again for months.
I left my daughter there too, Band. My only child. I’ve always shared joint custody of her with her (thankfully awesome) dad, and when I left I had to decide if seeing her every holiday and having her live with me here in the summer would be enough for both of us…and that, I think, is probably the worst and hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.
But eight years on, I still feel like I made the best decision I could. Her situation is pretty well-protected from the worst of it: She lives in a rural area safely far outside the city, in a nice house, and goes to a great school with her three half-brothers, and again, we talk almost daily (she’s a teenager now, and getting too busy for daily :P) — and we have a great relationship. She loves Boston, and I’m SO glad she gets to have more and broader experiences than I did…my hope is that she won’t feel trapped in Michigan, and won’t have to make a decision to either stay in shit-town forever, or rip her life in half to get out and have a chance at happiness. Also, she isn’t stuck there with one of her parents being a miserable, grotesquely depressed mess, like she would have been if I’d stayed. That was definitely my experience — my Mom hated Detroit too, with every breath, but she never could stomach the hard change of leaving, so we never did. And now she seems resigned to dying there and just…hating it the whole way.
I guess we all do whatever we can to do better, to provide better for ourselves and our kids, any way we can. Sometimes that means cutting your own roots, and giving yourself a chance, however much a long-shot it is, to grow in better soil, to be nourished instead of constantly poisoned by where you live.
It’s important to say this, before I wrap up this topic (which I’ve needed to get off my chest for so long now; THANK YOU BAND I’M SOOO GLAD YOU’RE BACK) — and that’s that I carry a dark fear with me always, a terrified certainty that at some point, I will likely have to give up my better life here and go back to D-town.
Everyone in that place is precarious, and like I said, my parents are aging and my brother needs pretty constant care and support; and we’re all we’ve got, really. I’ll be in a better place to help them thanks to the good career and vastly better health (physical and mental) I’ve been able to cultivate here in Boston — but I very well might need to give up all my progress here in order to give them that help, and I know that if they really need me to, I will.
So every time I walk back into Detroit, I know that I might get trapped there again someday. If I think about it too long, I’ll start shaking and crying, so I try not to. But that’s another angle that may be helpful to remember for all survivors of nasty situations: A lot of the time, you don’t just get to leave your Hell.
People who got stuck there for a while can get out and never look back, but those of us who were born and raised in Hell can sometimes never get free.
Detroit is a place I’ll live with, even if I don’t live in it, for the rest of my days.
And it’s so hard to write that, because the rage, the ungodly anger at everyone who caused it and is keeping it going and is punishing all of its people with it every day, has never let me go. It’s even somehow scarier, now that I’ve gotten some reprieve from having that rage as my resting-face, to contemplate being immersed in it again…but it’s not a dragon I can slay; it’s too big. It’s my hometown. It’s in my blood and my voice and my life, no matter how hard I work to cut it out of them.
Fuck you, hometown.
There is a picture of me, somewhere out there, probably still on my dad’s phone unless they’ve turned into Christmas Card people, in which case, the picture is most definitely out there in the world for all to see.
I hope it is not.
I didn’t see the picture until I was 5 months sober, staying in the unfinished basement at my parents house, grateful that I was no longer homeless, while I hunted for a job. Before this, I’d been staying there after a stint at a ramshackle, rundown motel, the kind of place you probably could dismantle a dead body, leave the head on the pillow, and no one would think anything of it. But it was my room, and despite the lice they gifted me, I loved it. Until money dried up and suddenly I was, once again, homeless. I’d moved in there after I was discharged from the inpatient psych ward, in which I was able to successfully detox after a suicide attempt. Got some free ECT to boot.
Despite what you see on the After School Special’s of our childhood, I didn’t take a single Vicodin, fall into a stupor, and become insta-addict – just add narcotics! No, my entry into addiction was a slow and steady downward spiral of which I am deeply ashamed. It’s left my brain full of wreckage and ruin, fragmented bits of my life that don’t follow a single pattern. Between the opiates, the Ketamine, and the ECT, I cannot even be certain that what I am telling you is the truth; what I’ve gathered are bits and pieces of the addict I so desperately hate from other people who are around, fuzzy recollections, and my own social media posts.
About a year and a half before I moved from my yellow house to the apartments by the river, Dave and I had separated; he’d told me that while he cared for me, he no longer loved me. While we lived in the same house, we’d had completely separate lives for years, so he moved to the basement while I stayed upstairs. I’d been miserable before his confession and after? I was nearly broken. Using the Vicodin, then Norco, I was able to numb my pain and get out of my head, which, while remarkably stupid, was effective. For awhile.
Let me stop you, Dear Reader, and ask you to keep what I am about to say in mind as you read through this massive tome. I’m simply trying to make certain that you understand several key things about my addiction and subsequent recovery. I alone was the one who chose to take the drugs. No one forced me to abuse opiates, and even later, (SPOILER ALERT) Ketamine. This isn’t a post about blaming others for my misdoings, rejecting any accountability, nor making any excuses for the stupid, awful things I’ve done. I alone fucked up. My addiction was my own fault. However, in the same vein, no one “saved” me but myself. There was no cheeky interventionist. No room full of people who loved me weeping stoically, telling me how my addiction hurt them. No letters. Nothing. It was just me. I was alone, and I chose to get – and remain – sober.
The delusions started when I moved out, sitting in my empty apartment alone, paralyzed by the thought of getting off the couch to go to the bathroom. Always a night-owl, I’d wake at some ungodly hour of the morning, shaking. It wasn’t withdrawal, no, it was pure unfettered anxiety.
It was the aftermath of using so many pills, all the fun you think you’re having comes back to bite you with crippling anxiety and depression.
Which is why I’d do more.
Yes, opiates are powerful, and yes, I abused them, but things really didn’t become dire until I added Ketamine to my life.
Ketamine, if you’re unaware, is a club drug, a horse tranquilizer, and a date rape drug. You use too much? You may wake up at some hipster coffee bar, trying to sing “You’re Having My Baby” to the dude in the front row who may or may not actually exist. In other words, it’s the best way to forget how fucked you are.
The delusions worsen as time passed. I could see into the future. I could read your mind. I was going to be famous. I was super fucking rich. In this fucked-up world, I could even forget about me, and the life that I’d so carelessly shattered. I remember sitting in Divorce Class at the courthouse, something required of all divorces in Kane County, weeping at all that I’d thrown away – using a total of three boxes of the low-quality, government tissues. I left with a shiny pink face and completely chapped nose and eyes that appeared to be making a break from their sockets. I went home, took some pills, took some Ketamine, and passed out.
I retreated ever-inward. I didn’t talk to many people. I didn’t share my struggles. I was alone, and it was my fault.
The hallucinations started soon after Divorce Class ended and my ex and I split up. He’d left my house in a rage after a fight and went to live with his sister. I got scared. His temper, magnified by the drugs, the hallucinations, and the delusions, grew increasingly frightening. Once he’d moved out, the attacks began. I’d wake up naked in my bedroom, my body sore and bruised, and my brain put the two unrelated events together as one – he was attacking me. It happened every few days, these “attacks,” until I found myself at the police station, reporting them. I was dangerously sick and I had no idea.
My friends on the Internet (those whom I had left), sent me money for surveillance cameras. I bought them, installed them – trying to capture the culprit – and when I saw what I saw, I immediately called the police and told them the culprit.
The videos in my bedroom captured an incredibly stoned, dead-eyed, version of myself, violently attacking myself, brutally tearing at my flesh. In particular, THAT me liked to beat my face with one of my prized possessions – a candlestick set from our wedding, take another pill or hit up some Ketamine, then violating myself with the candlestick. It lasted hours. I’d wake up with no memory of events, sore and tired and unsure of how I’d gotten there.
I’d never engaged in self-injury before – not once – so the very idea that I’d hurt myself was unbelievable, but right there, on my grainy old laptop, was proof of how unhinged I’d become. Charged with filing a false report, I plead guilty.
In early September of 2015, I decided to get fixed, and made arrangements with work to take a few weeks off to do an inpatient detox, and, for the first time in a long time, I woke up happily, rather than cursing the gods that I was still alive.
It was to be short-lived.
Several days later, sober, I was idly chatting with my neighbor about her upcoming vacation (funny the things your brain remembers and what it does not), standing by my screen door, when karma came calling. It sounded like the shucking noise of an ear of corn, or maybe the sound that a huge thing of broccoli makes when you rip it apart – hard. It felt like a bullet to the femur. I crumpled on top of my neighbor and began screaming wildly about calling an ambulance, yelling over and over like some perverse, yet truthful, Chicken Little: “my leg is broken, my LEG is broken!”
I don’t remember much after that. I woke up in (physical rehab) and learned that my femur (hereafter to be called my “Blasfemur,”) had broken, fairly high up on the bone, where the biggest, strongest bone in your body is at its peak of strength. Whaaaa?
The doctors and nurses shrugged it off my questions, with a flippant “It just happens” and sent me home, armed with a Norco prescription, in November, to heal. I added the Ketamine, just to make sure.
A couple of weeks later at the end of November, I was putting up the Christmas tree with the kids and my mother. It was all merry and fucking bright until I sat down on the couch and felt that familiar crunch. Screams came out of me I didn’t know were possible, but I’d lost my actual words. My mother stood over me yelling “what’s wrong? what’s wrong?” and I couldn’t find the words. I overheard her telling my babies that I was “probably just faking it” as she walked out the door, my screams fading into an ice cold silence. They left me alone in that apartment where I screamed and cried and screamed. Finally, I managed to call 911 and when they asked me questions, all I could scream was my address.
I woke up in January in a nursing home. When I woke up, I found myself sitting at a table in a vast dining room, full of old people. For weeks to come, I thought that I’d died and gone…wherever it is that you go.
This time, I learned, my (blas)femur and it’s associated hardware had become infected after the first surgery, which weakened the bone, causing it to snap like a tree. They put me all back together like the bionic woman, but the surgery had introduced the wee colony of Strep D in the bone into my bloodstream, creating an infection on meth. I’d been in a coma for weeks. Once again, I learned to walk, and once again, I was sent home in late January with another Norco prescription. The nursing home really wanted me to have someone stay with me to help out, but I insisted that I was fine alone. In truth, I had nobody to help me out, but was far too ashamed to tell them.
The picture I referenced above was taken some time in May, as far as my fuzzy memory allows me to remember, after my third femur fracture in March. This time, I’d been so high that I fell asleep on the toilet and rolled off. Glamorous, no? Just like Fat Elvis. Luckily, my eldest son was there and he called 911 and my parents to whisk him away. I remember my father on the phone, telling Ben that I was a liar and I was faking it. I was swept away in the ambulance for even more hardware, and finally? A diagnosis:
It’s an autoimmune disease that leaches calcium from the bones, resulting in brittle bones. It is managed, not treated. There is no cure.
But, I had the answer. Finally.
After my third fracture, I once again was sent to the nursing home, and quickly discharged with even higher doses of Norco, when my insurance balked, I’d used up all my rehab days for the year. By this time, I’d lost my apartment, my stuff was in storage (except the things that we’re thrown away, which my father gloated about while I was flat on my back) and my parents let me stay with them, which was about the only option I had. They couldn’t really kick me out if my leg was only freshly attached. I feel deeper into a depression, self-loathing, and drug abuse as I realized what a mess I’d made with my life. How many bad choices I’d made. How many people I’d hurt. How much I’d hurt myself. How much I loathed myself. How I once had a life that in no way resembled sleeping in my parents dining room. How I’d been a home owner. How I’d been married. How lucky I’d been. How I threw it all away. My life turned into a series of “once did” and “used to.”
The only one who hated me more was my father.
While we were once close confidants, in the years after my marriage to Dave, his disdain had become palpable. My uncle had to intervene one Christmas, after my father mocked me incessantly for taking a temp job filling out gift cards while I was pregnant with Alex. It may seem normal to some of you, this behavior, but in THEIR house, NO ONE was EVER SAD and NOTHING was EVER WRONG. WASPs to the core, my family is.
When I moved back in, broken, dejected, and high, our fights became epic. For the first time in my life, I stood UP to one of my parents. Then, I was promptly kicked out.
Guess I’m not so WASPy after all.
I want to say that the picture was taken around May of 2016, but my estimate may be thoroughly skewed, so if you’re counting on dates being correct and cohesive, you’ve got the wrong girl.
This is a picture of me, though you probably wouldn’t recognize me. I am wearing the blue scrubs that you associate with a hospital: not exactly sky blue, not teal, not navy, just generic blue hospital scrubs. These are, I remember, the only clothes I have to my name. I was given them in both the hospital and the nursing home, a gift, I suppose, of being a frequent flier, tinged with a bit of pity – this girl has no clothes, we can help. Whomever gave them to me, know that you gave me a bit of dignity, which I will never forget. Thank you.
I am wearing scrubs, the light of the refrigerator is slowly bleaching out half of my now-enormous body, as opposed to the darkness outside. There is a tube of fat around my neck, nearly destroying any evidence of my face, but if you look closely, you can make out my glasses, my nostrils, my hair cascading down. My neck is stretched back at nearly a 90 degree angle from my body, my head listlessly resting on the back of my wheelchair. My mouth gaped wide, which, should I been engaging in fly catching, would have netted far more than the average Venus flytrap. I am clearly, unmistakably, and without a single shred of doubt, passed the fuck out.
It is both me and not me.
High as i was, I don’t remember a thing about the photo being taken. But there I was, in all my pixelated glory.
By the time I saw the photo, I was once again in my “will do” and “can do” space. I’d kicked drugs in September 2016 and had found a job that I enjoyed. I stayed with my parents while I began to sort out my medical debt and save toward a new car and an apartment of my own. My spirits were high, my depression finally abated to the background, and I was tentatively happy. I’d apologized until my throat was sore, but my fragmented memory saved me from the worst of it, but I was not forgiven. I don’t think I ever expected to be. And now, I never will.
It’s okay. I can’t expect this. I know I fucked up.
My father, who’d actually grown increasingly disdainful of me, the more sober and well I became, confronted me when I came home one day after work, preparing to do my AFTER work, work.
My mother shuffled along behind him, Ben, the caboose. All three of them were in hysterics, tears rolling down their cheeks as I sat down in my normal spot on the couch. After showing them a video of two turtles humping a couple of days before, I eagerly waited to see what they were showing me.
What it was was that picture. Of the not me, me.
They could hardly contain their laughter, my father happier than ever, braying, “Isn’t this the best picture of you?” and “You PASSED OUT, (heave, heave) IN FRONT OF THE FRIDGE!” punctuated, with “I’m going to frame this picture!” The tears welled in my eyes while my teeth clenched, they laughed even harder at my reaction.
Like I said, if they’ve become Christmas Card sending people, this will be the picture of me they show, expecting others to laugh uproariously. Before I moved out, in fact, my father made certain to show the picture to anyone who came over. “Wanna see something hilarious?” he’d ask. Expecting memes or a funny cat playing the piano, they’d agree. I could see it when they saw it, my dad chortling with laughter, nearly choking on his giggles, the looks on their faces: a mixture of confusion and pity. Even in my drug-hazed “glory,” I’d never felt so low.
Maybe that picture is splashed all over the internet, in the dark recesses I don’t explore, and maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s hung on their wall, replacing all of the other pictures. Maybe it’s not.
Maybe we’ll meet again.
Mary sat there with her eyes rolling back into her head; her mouth foaming a bit. Her newborn baby was sleeping in her arms while she jostled him each time she would nod out and try to keep focused.
She looks up at me and says, “you just want to take my baby away from me. All of you Social Workers are the same.”
I stare blankly. I am new at this, but I can’t let Mary know that. I am just 25 years old, and she is well into her 40′s. She is not new at this, not by along shot.
Little does she know it isn’t her newborn I am after, it is her disease.
“Do you have any other kids Mary?” I ask, as I fill out her assessment.
“Yeah. 4. They all were taken away from me because people like you don’t think I care about my kids. People like you think I have no heart, and all I care about is drugs.”
I clarify for her that people like me what to see her clean, healthy, and safe.
After an hour long assessment I learned Mary has been using for more than ten years. She doesn’t even remember how old she was when she started, but she does remember the first time she sold her body for a hit of heroin. She tried rehab too many times to count, and currently she is high on the doctor-prescribed methadone mixed with a hit of heroin.
The air is thick with concerns, and I am forced to send her back out on the street with her newborn wondering if she has a warm place to stay tonight. I asked her and she laughed at me and said, “yes where else would I bring this baby?”
She still thinks I want her baby. She doesn’t know I want her disease.
I want Mary to claim war on it. I want her to fight with me. I want her to have the ability to see herself as more then just a drug addict. I want her to see herself not as a prostituting drug whore, but as a loving Mom.
It is clear she is an addict, but it is also clear to me she is a loving Mom as well (the baby is swaddled in a blanket, fed, and she is cooing at him. She bathes him in kisses, and opens her diaper bag for a pacifier). That baby deserves his Mother to fight the war. That baby deserves a better life then getting passed around the drug world, because if he stays he will never get out.
I really don’t want to take her baby.
After a few more meetings and evaluations, Mary refuses my advice to go into family residential treatment. It is the only way for her to keep her newborn son, and for them both to be safe. She isn’t ready for the fight. Her disease is telling her that it is more important then her kids. Her disease is running Mary.
Mary isn’t fighting because she hasn’t “hit bottom” or reclaimed the right to her body, her life, her choices.
By now I am sure you know the outcome, Mary lost her baby to the state. Her 5th child to the system. I was just another Social Worker that had to report it. I was, what she said I was, a baby snatcher. I wish I could explain why, but nothing I said comforted her. She refused treatment, and I, ethically, could not let her continue to take care of her 1 month old on the streets she sells herself and buys drugs on.
You may be reading this and thinking “I’ll never get this low,” “This isn’t me” “my story is different” or “it hasn’t consumed me” “I have control of it”.
Don’t fool yourself, Mary thought all of these things as well.
Addiction is all the same disease.
It will consume you if you don’t choose to consume it. It will make you give it everything. It can push you to do things you never imagined you be willing to do. It will cost you not only years of your life, but your loved ones. It will take all of who you are, and what makes you “YOU”, and give it a slow and painful death.
It is violent, and abusive, and it needs to stop.
As a professional in the field of Addiction I can tell you this: You can not do it alone. You shouldn’t have to do it alone. If you needed surgery to remove tumor, do you take the scalpel and do it yourself? No. It is the same thing my friend, the VERY same thing.
A disease is a disease is a disease.
We (professionals) aren’t here to take your babies. We aren’t here to pass judgment and tell you how bad you are. We didn’t get a degree in this to make fun of you, or to watch you pee in a cup.
We did it to help you fight. We are here to reclaim you.
I am no longer 25 years old, and I may not be in the business of rehab anymore (instead I am a stay at home, blogging Mom). However, Mary, and all the other people I sat with in various rooms at various locations will always be in my heart.
I will always feel like I am a warrior against Addiction.
I will always want to win the war, support addicts and their families. And I am here to tell you….
you are not alone with that monster.
Don’t let the Addiction win.
Reclaim yourself, your life, and what you rightly deserve.
Seek help, and fight the war.