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.
Today is my dad’s 64th birthday and it’s a miracle he’s here to celebrate it. He’s a Type I Diabetic and has been since he was four years old.
Growing up, I thought diabetes was no big deal, my dad seemed like a regular guy. He water skied, ate chocolate cake and drank Coors Light. If he ate or drank too much, he just had a little extra insulin. It seemed simple and without consequence. The only “drama” was that he almost went blind when I was a baby, but several rounds of laser treatments fixed that. I thought my dad was invincible, which was perfect, because he was my world.
Fast-forward to my senior year in college. I was on a bike ride with my fiance in Southern California, when I got the call that my dad had suffered a heart attack and was in a hospital in Northern California. I pause here to wipe away the tears because even eleven years later, the panic of that memory still grips me. What? A heart attack? My dad is invincible. I peddled hard and fast to get my ass home, packed a bag and drove like a bat out of hell to get to my dad. (Pausing for more tears.)
As I raced across the parking lot, I heard my dad’s voice yelling my name. I looked up to see him hanging his head out the window, waving at me. Okay, he’s still invincible.
My stepmother had driven him to a Kaiser hospital (where we are not members) rather than have an ambulance take him to his hospital. I spent the next several days getting him transferred.
Once in his hospital, he had to have a simple angiogram.
After the procedure, the doctor explained that being a Type I Diabetic had shot his vascular system (a statement I would come to hear many times) and that from here on out things would get dicey. The irony is I didn’t believe him, he didn’t know MY dad, he didn’t believe that my dad was a superhero.
What happened next should have opened my eyes. There was some complication from the angiogram and something went wrong, very wrong. He didn’t look right, he was acting funny. I asked my grandmother to take my younger brothers down the hall to get a soda. I screamed for a nurse. They ran in and assessed him, I stared at the Code Blue button on the wall, I knew it was going to be hit.
The next thing I knew, the room filled with people and a crash cart as we -the family -were ushered out. I stood in the hallway praying, shaking, crying. My brothers, thankfully, had no idea, my husband (fiance at the time) heard the Code Blue call and didn’t imagine that it could be MY dad. hey stabilized him, put in a stint and he was sent home. Then the deterioration began.
Fast forward four years of minor emergencies, medication and doctor’s appointments. I got another one of those calls that makes your blood run cold. Dad had another heart attack and it was major. He needed triple bypass and fast – “the Type I Diabetes had thoroughly shot his vascular system.”
They were transferring him by ambulance to the hospital to perform surgery the next morning. This time, we were three hours away from him My aunt and I took off, driving through the night to make sure we were there to see him before they put him under for surgery. I wanted to donate blood but there simply wasn’t time. I wanted something, anything besides wait. I was a wreck.
He made it through surgery and we were allowed to see him when it was over. He unconscious and still on life-support. I have never seen so many tubes and machines. The equipment that surrounded him, dwarfed my larger-than-life dad.
The next five weeks were tough. When I ran out of sick time at work, I drove up every weekend, sleeping on his bedroom floor, giving my step-mother a break, listening to make sure he was breathing. (I don’t think it was medically necessary, but it was emotionally necessary for me).
On one of these visits, I was upstairs when I heard my stepmother screaming. I ran down the stairs, my dad looked catatonic, she had a phone in her hand that she handed to me as 911 picked up. (Pausing for more tears.)
I explained to the emergency operator that we needed an ambulance, it looked like a seizure, but I wasn’t sure. Of course I wasn’t fucking sure, I was just a terrified girl who didn’t want to lose her father. It was the middle of the night, I said no sirens, I didn’t want my little brothers (who were 6 and 11) woken up to more scary sights.
By the time the paramedics and firemen arrived, my dad had come back. They determined it was a vasovagel reaction from the pain. But they wanted to take him back in, just to be sure. I rode in the front seat of the ambulance because I am protective like that. He recovered from the surgery, but he dropped out of cardiac rehab because apparently, he still thought he was invincible.
As years passed, he did deteriorate as predicted. He has suffered multiple TIA’s. He has no long-term and very little short-term memory. He is bound to a walker. He can never remember the names of my kids or my husband. He can’t be left alone for long periods of time.
Diabetes has caught up but it hasn’t won… yet, sort of.
My dad is still alive today to celebrate his 64th birthday, but the man I knew is gone. Every visit with him is hard for me. I used to talk to him multiple times per day. Now I have to remind myself to call him every couple of weeks. It should be more frequent.
I still panic if the phone rings too early or too late, but in some ways, I don’t have much left to lose. I talk to him to make him happy, but it pains me to see him confined to his wrecked body. I struggle with guilt every day because I should call more, visit more, do more. But I feel empty and I know that is not right.
Sure, there are extenuating circumstances – my stepmother and I have always had a strained relationship. She wanted me there to help with my dad’s recovery, but she doesn’t want me there for family vacations and birthday parties.
They would put me in charge at hospitals and then berate me when it was over for trying to control things. I could go on and on. I could explain that I have a family that needs me with them now. But in the end, they are just excuses why I don’t go more, do more and watch more as my superhero continue to fade away.
It’s 1:30 in the morning, and we’re having the worst week since my daughter’s diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes. Insane blood glucose numbers, ever-increasing insulin needs, ketone testing…and the endless blood sugar testing. My daughter is a pin cushion, and I hate myself each time I jam another needle into her skin, when she winces, but doesn’t say anything, when it hurts badly enough that she says “Ow, that one hurt,” it feels like razors cutting my heart to ribbons.
170 days since the diagnosis. 170 days since I leaned against the wall in the hallway outside the emergency room and allowed myself the luxury of five minutes of tears. 170 days since I called the ex-girlfriend and the midget’s father in the middle of the night and told them to get to the hospital NOW! 170 days since I watched them strap my daughter to a gurney and load her into an ambulance. 170 days since I heard the term “PICU” and realized that’s where my daughter was going. 170 days of trying to readjust to normal, and realize that nothing was ever going to be normal again.
170 means at least 700 finger pricks and 700 injections. And that’s assuming that every day we only test four times and give four injections. Which never, ever happens. When she runs high, I give insulin corrections, then check again to see if she’s come down. When she runs low, I give sugar, then recheck to make sure she’s gone back up. Not even six months in and she’s had 1500 holes poked into her body.
I’m sitting here at 1:30 in the morning waiting for it to be 2AM so that I can test her again, and then lay down and try to sleep, but I know that I will instead spend the rest of the night waking up every thirty minutes to make sure she hasn’t gone low in her sleep. If she does, she doesn’t wake up, which could mean…I can’t even bring myself to type the word, can’t bring myself to use it in conjunction with my beautiful, precious daughter…but it would be very bad.
On the other hand…when she runs high all night like she has all this week, I think about all that sugar in her blood, and the damage it’s doing to her body, knowing that it’s coating the blood vessels in her heart and her eyes and her kidneys, another layer of damage, bringing her that much closer irreparable harm. It sickens me, makes me physically ill, makes me want to scream and cry.
170 days of wishing that I could take her place for each finger stick and injection.
170 days of wishing I could take away her type I diabetes.