Many times in my addiction, I did things that were markedly insane. I think back to the writing on the wall. We all know that only crazy people write on the walls.
I am not talking graffiti, or tagging up the bathroom stall with some kind of crazy notion written with a sharpie. I am also not talking about covering the entire wall or even an entire room with insane writing, but for a while when I would get really depressed, hopeless, and dope sick, I took to writing on the doors of my bathroom cabinets.
Most of the time when I began writing on the walls or cabinets, I was drunk. I was drunk, and out of my mind with all the emotions that bubble over when living in the throes of addiction. The next day, I often woke with a raging headache and the smell of cheap whiskey so strong on my breath that it filled the room with its pungent odor and acrid aftertaste. When I read the words, in my own handwriting, scrawled on a drunken slant with a black eyeliner pencil, pieces popped out as incredibly profound. Other times the writing on the wall was much more incoherent, both in idea and form. The profound and insane words of an alcoholic and a junkie spilled out of me, splashing my bathroom walls with my wrangled wisdom.
I know that, generally, only crazy people write all over their walls. I would like to argue that writers write wherever they can, and they try to post their story wherever it will be read. Looking back at the writing on the wall, as insane as it was, I was writing wherever I could, and I knew the other occupant in my house would at least read my words.
Writing is often a therapy for me, and back then I did not write as often as I needed to. Compared to my writing today, I hardly wrote at all in active addiction. I always carried a tattered notebook around with me, but a lot of times it sat much more empty than full, as I sat, also much more empty than full in the some bar in New Orleans.
Now I look back with six years clean, and once again, I see the writing on the wall. I see how the words sometimes burst forth from me, flowing like a wound where I am unable to stop the bleeding. And I also see how my wounds sometimes become dry and scabbed over. In the thick of my addiction, the words only burst forth with symptoms of the insane.
Driving me crazy to keep it in. Driving me crazy to be so saturated with the sickness so obsessed with the chase, with lifestyle. Driving me crazy as this distance grew and grew from everything that I knew. And the words that save me sometimes came bursting forth, insanely scribbled with black pencil eyeliner, while I used my bathroom cabinets for my paper. Yes, I know…writing on walls is something a crazy person does. But, I did act like a crazy person many times during my addiction.
I think back to the all the dangerous situations I put myself in. Sometimes, my heart begins to race as I recollect certain details, seeing as clear as day from my current vantage point, that I was in serious danger. Sometimes, it sends chills up my spine as I get bits and pieces of recollection, so fuzzy with detail that I am not even sure if it is real or made up.
That is crazy. One sign of mental illness is not knowing what is real or not. With certain memories, and I remember so many details. I remember the smell and the touch and everything in the room. I remember it like it was really there.
Many of those memories may seem jagged, and I am still not even sure if I was really in some of the places I remember. I have one memory from a very traumatic time in my life of living in a small storage shed. I remember every detail of the place, but yet I know the memory is simply made up. Maybe it was a dream. A dream so vivid it has stuck in my mind as memory for so long.
I was consumed with madness in the weeks following withdrawal. I was a ticking time bomb, often walking through all my old haunts in the Quarter, drinking until I could no longer drink another drop. That is how we handled things in New Orleans. That was how I handled things in my life in those days. I worked in a bar, for God’s Sakes; of course I was going to drink.
I sat on edge for weeks after a kick, listening to the constant berating of thoughts about heroin. I thought by drowning them out with as much Jameson as I could drink, the thoughts of heroin would eventually fade.
Even more ludicrous, I believed I could get through those first few uncomfortable weeks after a kick, spending my time in bars on Lower Decatur. And so, there I would sit, invaded with the thoughts of heroin, as I tried to drown it out with alcohol. This venture took place numerous times, before I realized this solution to escape heroin would never work. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
But for so long I believed I could quit heroin, while still clinging to the idea of this life I loved. I clung to this life I knew. And I clung to the only income I knew, which was making money working in a bar.
I often had plans of getting clean, and staying clean, but none of those plans seemed to pan out. I had no plans to leave New Orleans, and I had no plans to leave this lifestyle I had grown accustomed to. Hurricane Katrina changed all that for me, and after my eventual evacuation from the city thirteen days after the storm, I ended up I the downward tailspin of mental illness.
I did not leave the New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina slammed into her because I was a heroin addict. It was really that plain and simple. I lived day to day, with a huge habit. I did not have the money or the dope to stray too far from home without painful withdrawal. I did not even seriously discuss evacuating.
The addiction raged those dark days both before and after evacuation, as I maintained on prescription pills and alcohol. One day I found myself throwing up in a line for food stamps in Middleton, Rhode Island, sometime in the middle of September. I got on methadone in the next few days, and I was baffled when the anxiety began to set in the following week.
First it began in my teeth, much like LSD and a twitching uncomfortable feeling beneath my skin crawled throughout my body. My legs swished back and forth whenever I sat down, invaded with the inability to be still.
It became hard to sit down. Everything inside of me just seemed to be sped up, and my heart constantly raced, as I felt so uncomfortable in my skin. I stood up. I sat down. I walked from one room to the next, and back again. I sat down again. And I got up a minute later. The pacing became more and more frequent.
The anxiety grew worse, a feeling from deep within my soul, and the jitters all throughout my skin. The pacing became constant; as I paced a worn path into the apartment we had been given. I drank a lot of alcohol, hoping to quell the constant anxiety. Hoping to be able to sit down. Hoping to be able to see the world swim and swell, as I laughed and eventually went to sleep.
The pacing got so bad, that I could not even sit for an entire meal. I would sit for a minute or two, but something deep inside me felt so uncomfortable. Like all my cells were tingling, and all the muscles underneath were tense and vibrating. I had to walk around, to get up, to move around, to shake it all off. I paced around the table taking a bite each time I passed by my plate. It was all I could do.
This behavior grew worse and worse and more erratic, until I finally stopped sleeping. After more than ten days without no more than a momentary doze here and there before I was driven awake again by this inevitable and inexplicable inner force, the world became a completely different place.
Shadows that are not really there appeared around the dimmed corners in the darkness of night, and a soft and unfocused haze covered my entire vision. My mind spun non-stop but the thoughts had become incoherent and bordering hallucinogenic. My entire body ached from being so tired. I knew I had to go to sleep, or else I would go would surely go entirely insane. I was most of the way there already.
At the time, the PTSD and my addiction were so entwined that they were inseparable to even several doctors early on. I was eventually medicated, as I paced and raved with lunacy, hospitalized in a drug treatment center. I was transferred to the psychiatric ward, where I spent several days while they stabilized my anxiety and sleep patterns. Afterwards, I was released. I was not allowed to go back to treatment.
I stayed medicated for several months, and struggled with my addictions for quite a bit longer. I have been clean for six years, and I have never had another episode of metal illness since the episode with PTSD after Katrina. I do not suffer from anxiety, or depression, both which I frequently experienced and frequently exhibited signs of during my active addiction. Today, I do not take any medication. I do not take antidepressants, or anti-psychotics, and I do not even have a prescription that helps me sleep. I try to live a good life, being healthy of mind, body, and soul.
I still struggle with falling asleep, and sometimes it seems I cannot shut my brain off. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep. Some days, the thoughts of my addiction ride right below the surface, and I know that I need to just write. Today, I have found my release in my writing, and I am constantly searching for the balance in my life. I think I do a pretty decent job at it, and today my addiction remains at bay, and the symptoms of mental illness have long since passed. I was unsure if I would ever be in this position at one time in my life, and I feel so lucky to have found that my mental illnesses were merely brought on by addiction. For so long, the two were indecipherable, and today I am thankful that most of my issues dissipated as I grew as a person in my recovery. I am, unfortunately, a more rare case.