Of course getting clean is never as easy as kicking dope for three days, and getting on an airplane to escape the situation…and never look back. I can say, that when I got on that plane, I never looked back into that old world with rose colored glasses again. Most addicts tend to romanticize their addiction, always looking at it form a longing and dreamy state of mind. I did that for years, and it kept me entrenched in that cycle of addiction. My experiences in New Orleans, both during and after Katrina, shattered those rose colored glasses to reveal a world that looked much more dark and gray than I had previously acknowledged.
The world of addiction is ugly. It is a sick and twisted world where everything revolves around a substance that has already taken your life, rendering you powerless, hopeless, and clueless in its wake of destruction. In the midst of addiction, we still wear those rose colored glasses, clinging to lies as truth and blinding ourselves to all the damage we leave in our path.
In this world of addiction, the addict bangs his head against the wall, over and over until his skull is damaged and bruised and his face is covered in blood. And even then, we often do not realize how bad it hurts. This world of addiction is a repetitive existence, as the meaning in life is wiped away with the need and endless procurement of the fix. The game each day is the same, and the cycle each month is the same. Things change, and things roll forward in the real world, but the addict remains stagnant and unchanging running circles in the mire of addiction.
I used to think that every story of heroin addiction followed the same pattern…the character gets high, gets addicted, gets clean for some reason, then he gets addicted again…and the rest of the story is about that bouncing life between clean and dirty. I hope I have not bored the reader with the repetitive nature of addiction, pounding the mind as the drugs and the need once pounded through mine. I hope I have not simply told the same old story of addiction and relapse, going around and around in the same old loop until we all feel like we are beating our head on the wall.
When I finished this novel, I thought back on my earlier sentiments about all junky stories. I realized that the story of my life followed the same relentless pattern for a number of years; a life riddled with relapse and sickness. I realized my life was banging my head against the same brick wall, without getting anywhere expect more bruised and bloody. And I never even realized it.
The recovery process is a long and arduous road that is sprinkled with various ups and downs and ins and outs. There are no guarantees in recovery, and the process is different for each and every one of us. I will say, that very few addicts get it right the first time around.
When I got on that plane and left New Orleans, I had attempted getting clean so many times before. I was never very serious about any of it, and nothing ever managed to work out. I kept my nose clean for a while, but then it eventually all came creeping back up on me once more.
I once thought that I could learn to use heroin just sometimes. I knew the way it worked, and I always thought I could beat it. I loved her so much; I just did not want to give it up. She had become such a part of my life, and I just was not ready to live without her. I tried to dabble here and there, but it always ended the same. Addicted again.
Before Katrina, I had all the theories worked out. If I could just use every third day, twice as much time on as off…and I would not develop a habit. But, there was always another excuse to use. Back in those days, there was always a reason to put it off just a little bit longer. It seemed to me then, that my life was almost as infinite as my habit.
Katrina changed everything. It took months for all the reality to sink in. It took months for me to realize the implications of it all. It took me months to finally put all the flashing images together in a coherent movie reel, and when I did the message was overwhelming. Life is precious, and it can all be drowned in storm waters in just an instant.
I had to stop living my life for the what-ifs and tomorrows…instead I had to live my life for today. I had to stop wasting my time, and start getting my life back together. After all, my life was spared for a reason.
This process of recovery though is one of the hardest things I have ever done. This is a process of self-discovery and rediscovery. I had to learn about myself, and I had to face the fire, looking for all the things I once lost. I had to learn my boundaries, and then I had to learn not to cross them. It is a learning process, and like any learning process…it can sometimes be very difficult.
In those early months of recovery, I was still naïve to this game. I thought that heroin was my problem, and the fix was simple…quit heroin. I thought that all other parts of my life could remain the same. Just remove heroin from the situation, and all your problems will disappear.
Wrong again. I thought that my addiction to heroin did not restrict me from going to bars. I thought I could still drink, and even use drugs sometimes. I knew from trial and error, heroin use always ended the same horrific way. But using cocaine did not always end like that. And drinking never ended like that.
Getting high was such a part of my life. It had been all of my existence for at least seven years. Bars, drinking, and bartending were all I had known for so long. The thought of abandoning it all was just incomprehensible to me. It was unfathomable. And it was impossible.
I did not know what to do without the dope chase everyday. I felt like an outsider in my real skin, and I longed for the comfort of substance. I needed it socially. And I needed it mentally. Once I beat that physical addiction, the psychological demon still laid waiting. Addiction is a complicated illness, characterized by many layers of symptoms and deceptions. Addiction becomes such a way of life, with all its horrid traits ingrained in our veins…in the very core of our being.
I still went out drinking in those early days of getting clean. I still went to bars, and I still drank at home. I still got plastered, and I was still running from so many things. I thought my life would get better overnight…after all; I was kicking the dope for good. But, my life just continued on that downward spiral. Only this time the pace was a little slower, and the symptoms were a little less obvious.
Eventually, I was getting sloshed at bars and taking a couple bumps of coke here and there. Eventually, I was always hung over with a splitting headache. Eventually, I did coke on the weekends, and stayed out drinking almost every night. And eventually, I got in trouble for it all. Eventually, it caught up with me…it always does.
I was drunk, passed out on my own lawn one night when a cop rode by. My neighbors had called, and I guess they were sick of my nightly drunken shenanigans to disturb the peace. The cops shook me awake, and I responded by kicking one of them square in the balls. I do not even remember that.
All I remember was standing with my hands on the police car, while they rifled through my pockets. I remember seeing a tiny bottle full of weed sitting on the hood of the car. I remember the handcuffs clamping down on me, cold and hard…and I do not remember much else.
I woke up the next day, reeking of Irish Whiskey, with bleeding wrists and no shoes. I woke up behind a locked metal door, with a tiny glass window. My face was dry and stiff, caked with tears. My head was pounding, and I threw up in the metal toilet. I was not allowed out of the cell. Apparently, I was in here without my shoes for a reason. I was still not even sure what happened.
Later, I learned that I kicked a cop in the balls. I was charged with a felony…assault on an officer. I also learned that after I got down to the jail, I tried to escape out of the handcuffs several times. After one successful attempt, the cuffs were tightened, but I still kept fighting. My wrists were bruised and covered in dried blood. The bones in my wrists ached from my struggles. I also learned that I screamed and yelled the whole time, crying hysterically and suggesting suicide. I learned I was locked in the cell for my safety, as well as to cut down on my hysterical ranting noise.
No one would bail me out. Everyone was tired of years and years of this bullshit. I sat in jail, still wondering what would happen to me now. In those first few hours, I was able to convince myself that nothing was wrong. I was able to convince myself that this was all just temporary, and I would soon be free. When my court appointed lawyer finally showed up, I found out this charge would carry a mandatory minimum of six months in jail. I also learned it would be very hard to fight the charges, because it was my word against the police officer…and I was so drunk, I do not even remember what happened.
I spent eighteen days in jail. Those dark days were plagued with fear, not knowing, and a lot of regret. I sobered up a lot in those eighteen days, both from lack of substance and seriousness of circumstance. Much of the time, I thought I would be there for the next six months. My mind was reeling, and my heart was broken. Liam finally bailed me out after eighteen days, just before he left me to live with a new girlfriend.
I started outpatient rehab when I got out of jail. I went on my own, and I realized my life was still a wreck. I knew I did not want to die, and I did not want to spend any more time in jail. I was eventually sentenced to weekends in jail for the next two months, and I was also required to do community service and court ordered outpatient substance abuse treatment.
I spent the next two years in an outpatient treatment program. I worked with counselors, talking through many of the horrors of Katrina that still plagued my mind. I also worked with group therapy, learning the tools I needed to stay clean. I learned a lot about myself, as well as the nature of addiction and the disease that follows. During that time, I went back to work in a restaurant, cooking. I stayed clean, and I graduated from the program. I was finally released from probation.
A month later, I found out I was pregnant. I guess the timing of it all was perfect. I was in a good place when I got pregnant, and I decided to keep the baby. I decided to move home to my parents, and I went back to school.
I lived in a little house in the ghetto, nursing a baby as he grew bigger and bigger. That little house in the ghetto taught me a lot, mostly that I had to be independent, and I began to gain my strength back. That was the little house I lived in when I started writing again, squirrelling it away for fear it would be read and I would be misunderstood. But, the baby got bigger and the words got more and more verbose…until the writing began to flow profusely once more.
Just like everything else so far, I did not realize what was happening until those wheels were already in motion. Only this time, the momentum was good. Only this time, the results were finally becoming good. And I sat, so often, all alone in that little shitty apartment, with a sleeping baby next to me, as I began to write my way out of this one.
It dawns on me tonight, as the image of the bathroom came cascading back over me, that I really have come full circle. And that circle is bigger than I imagined. It seems that the end results are always surprising…and often delightful these days.
Many years ago, I heard the expression “write my way out of this one.” I am not even sure where I heard it, but I began to use that as a mantra in my head. Whenever things got really bad, lying naked on the floor, dripping wet in a kick, my mind would say to itself, “I can write my way out of this one.” But, I never could. Mostly because I never tried.
That was one thing the drugs took over. Yes, I carried tattered notebooks and I scribbled rambling incoherent thoughts down in them all the time. I lost most of those notebooks, bleeding all over them, and nothing ever came of any of that except a bunch of chicken scratch. Those notebooks and tattered writings were lost way before Hurricane Katrina, somewhere near the same spot my soul disappeared for a while.
Maybe because my soul and my writing are linked so closely. So in that little shitty house in the ghetto, while the old gas heater cranked loud and warm in only two rooms, I finally began to write my way out of this one. And the stories began to pour out like random journals and diary entries, as unpolished and trained as any novice. But I found my voice, and it began to emerge singing. More importantly, telling my story has been cathartic, and it has been healing.
For the first time in nearly 17 years, I began to come into my own. Writing has become healing for me, and now I write, and write, and write. If I have a problem, I sit down at my computer, and start to write, just letting it spill out of my soul. Seems like I always find a revelation somewhere in their, like this voice from very deep inside is guiding me to make the right decisions. When I am happy, I sit down and write, and stories come spilling out of me, dancing onto the paper, sometimes characters and scenes I had forgotten come tumbling back down into my memories, until it dances on the page. When I want to tell someone that I love them, I write them a letter and the words on the page are clear and concise and often very beautiful. Writing has become therapeutic for me, enabling me to take a glimpse into something deeper, and draw from the Higher Power there. Writing has become a career for me as well, and I feel like I am very blessed to be able to do something I love for a living.
And my family has become my salvation. I finally realize that my fairy tale can come true. Happiness is possible, and very probable once we out the work into ourselves. We cannot love anyone else until we begin to love ourselves, and it seems like when we finally find that love, it seems to radiate to the entire world around.