Alternate Ending

We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.

–Orson Welles

I hate days like today. I woke up thinking about my cousin. Today is her birthday. Or rather, today would be her birthday if she hadn’t overdosed on heroin nearly 4 years ago. I was supposed to save her that night. Her sister had called me and asked me to look for her. She was worried that she was out of control. I’d only been clean for a short time and her sister knew I’d know where to look. So I looked for her and, of course, I found her. But instead of saving her from herself that night, I loaded up with her. I woke up the next morning. She didn’t. No part of that makes sense to me. It should have been my heart that stopped that night, not hers. She was young and beautiful and smart. She had so much to offer, so much life ahead of her.

Anyway. I hate days like today. I’ve been in a dark place since I woke up from a very restless sleep.

I’ve been back on the East Coast for a couple of months now. The past 7 months or so are still kind of a blur to me. One minute I was in a safe place, thousands of miles from my life, tucked away in a friend’s little yellow spare room, feeling as close to loved as I have in a long time. Then a few things happened and suddenly I was on a plane, loaded on Xanax, headed back to the belly of the beast, unsure of exactly what was going to happen next. I got off the plane around 6 AM on a Friday and grabbed a cab to a hotel about an hour away. The last 24 hours had cost me nearly three grand between air fare and the cab ride alone. I threw my bag in the closet and fell into a deep sleep on top of the covers of the bed.

I awoke a few hours later and shook off the cobwebs and lethargy. I still felt numb from the realization that I was back and I wasn’t sure what to do next. So I went where I always go when I feel myself tumbling aimlessly through space and time: I went to visit my grandparents. My grandmother died 9 years ago; my grandfather followed 6 years later. They now rest side by side in a family plot at a cemetery just outside the city. I sat with my back against their headstone telling them about what had gone on over the last few weeks. After an hour or so, I got up and headed for the bus station for the long ride north.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 2 months at my grandparent’s cabin in Maine. It’s a remote place. There’s no electricity or running water and it’s pretty run down. Early in my stay, I was climbing the stairs in back and put my foot right through some rotted wood. I ended up tearing a tendon in my ankle, so that’s made things  a bit more difficult. Still, it’s a peaceful place for me, full of memories of when I used to go there as a kid with my grandparents. So I embrace it for a while and then I get tired of living like Laura Ingalls and I hightail it into town for some 21st century amenities.

There’s not much to do at the cabin. It’s heartbreakingly quiet at times. I spend a lot of time down by the lake, fishing or just staring out at the water. I don’t go in the water, or not too far in anyway. I’m not much of a swimmer. I used to be, but apparently it’s a skill that can be forgotten and I seem to have lost the ability to not sink, or at least to not panic as I try to avoid sinking. Drowning is not how I want to go out, thank you very much.

Getting back into town from the cabin can be a bit of a challenge. Usually I walk as far as I can until I get at least spotty cell service and then I call a cab or hitch a ride. Being all gimpy with my injured ankle, it’s easier if I take the rowboat across the lake instead of trying to walk around. That old rowboat and I have a tenuous relationship at best. But so far it has managed to deliver me safely to the other side with no major incidents.

Tonight I’m in town. Sitting at the desk in a hotel room I’ve taken for the night. A small lamp illuminates the otherwise darkened room. I closed the curtains and turned on the air conditioner as soon as I walked in several hours ago. I have a vanilla candle on my left and an American Spirit burning down to the filter in a makeshift ashtray to my right. That’s not really allowed but what’s the worst that can happen? I get kicked out? I’ve been tossed out of better places. Whatever. I’m not here for long. I wanted to escape the humidity, get a meal that didn’t include something I’ve kept chilled by sinking it to the bottom of the lake, and indulge in a hot shower. Simple pleasures.

I had to get away from the silence for a while. I’ve been alone since I landed back in Boston. Alone, I’ve tried to process what’s happened the last couple of months. Alone is the only way I know to endure the grief, hurt, and anger I’ve been feeling. Solitude isn’t always easy, but I’ve come to believe it’s necessary. True intimacy has always been difficult for me. Even when, like with my friends D and R, I know they’d be there for me, I have a difficult time reaching out. And so I sit in hotel rooms and write it out, hoping for some relief. Being able to trust has never come naturally. And the times that I have, it hasn’t turned out so well. It’s become far too troublesome to bother to be honest.

D and R spent months breaking down my defenses, trying to get me to embrace life and believe in a future they insisted I had. And to be honest, I felt human when I was around them. I felt safe. “We got you.” But alone in this room tonight, they don’t have me. I’m in this one alone. Terrified and alone. D wants an ending. He wanted a different one than I can give him. I’ve been holding my breath since the day I landed back in Boston, trying to pretend like things haven’t changed, like the experience I had being held in the arms of people who said they loved me, despite my utter inhumanity, didn’t open some door of possibility for me.

In an interview about a movie he was writing, Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop your story.” I’ve been thinking about where I want to stop my story. I may have stopped mine last Thanksgiving at the cottage on the Cape. I felt safe and protected and loved there with my friends. They took me quite literally right off the street and were willing to be there for whatever happened. There in that house, lying on the couch with D and R on either side of me, no drugs in my system, I would have just slipped away. I know that’s probably not the ending they would have wanted for me. Which I guess is why I ended up in California with them a few months later.

My first stay out there. I may have extended my story and ended it there. Though thinking back on it now, that stay offered a glimmer of hope that I made the mistake of trusting. I started to see a way back to life during those couple of months. I was sober, my health was improving, I met people who live fully and who welcomed me warmly. I don’t think I could have ended it there, because I was too full of hope and promise. I wanted what they had, but the terror I felt at how to get there proved too strong, and so here I am. No matter where my story ends now, it’s not going to be the rainbows and unicorns ending that D wants. It’s time to write an alternate ending.

The demons that haunt the darkest places of me are painful and scary and I’ve no earthly idea how to face them sober. I don’t have the tools to do that. I’ve always just numbed myself to the worst of it. For so long I’ve felt like I was too broken for this world. It terrifies me at every turn and that fear has exhausted me to the point of no return. It’s broken me down, and the few times that I dared to hope that I could find my way out, I was pulled back in the cruelest of ways.

It’s peaceful at the cabin. But sometimes even the peace of that place is shattered by the roar of the broken junkie voices inside my head shouting for relief. I feel caught square in the middle between life and death; a swinging pendulum stopped short in the middle of its journey to either side. I feel like I’ve been dying like this forever. This inexorable march toward my own end–physical, emotional, spiritual–not all at once, but rather one by one. Time has stopped here.

I’m not sure what I’m waiting for now. Am I waiting to see if, like it always has in the past, the Monster will rear its head and drag me down once and for all? Am I waiting to start living my life again? Or am I merely waiting to die?

I know I can make all this pain disappear tonight. I mean, I know the quickest and easiest–and weakest–way to stop the hurt. The needle could take all this away. I could be enveloped in dope’s warmth tonight. Dope. My only friend this night. My veins ache for it. The silent scream I feel forming in the pit of my stomach, making its way up my throat, waiting for me to open my mouth and release it all to my savior. I don’t want to be alone tonight. The urges are pulling all the darkness to the surface and I am losing myself to the desperate desire I feel for the beautiful silence of the nod. I can taste the flavor, the bitterness in the back of my throat as the junk hits my bloodstream. I just need a fix.

What choice do I have then? I’m too destroyed to continue to live with dope and I’m too terrified to really believe in the idea of living without it. Will this last shot bring me from zero to forever?

God, I fucking hate days like today.

I’m so tired. I’ve been fighting a fever for weeks. I still have a few hours until the sun comes up. I just have to get through this night. I’m going back to the cabin tomorrow. Back to the peace and solitude of the cabin. I just have to get through this night.

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Lost

I’m perfectly torn between fleeing from the chimeras I have created and embracing them. It’s the very reason that I’m forever balancing so precariously on this precipice, an abyss on either side, both of which threaten to consume me, no matter which I plunge into.

The whole fabric of my character is laid bare in these Words I set forth, willingly or not. My tremendous hunger for experience and life, my insatiable curiosity, desires, courage, and tenacity, my self-flagellation, self-loathing, my drunkenness, my sobriety, my fears and obsessions, my morbidity and mortality, my desperate loneliness and fear of judgment, my unfathomable boredom, my sense of loss and mourning, and my most desperate desire: that I were able to just Be.

I’m at war with myself. This violent and burning battle that I am at once embroiled in and merely witness to from afar. There appears no egress, no liberation from it all. At least no way that isn’t likely to kill me sooner rather than later.

And it all comes back to the Words.

Relapse Redux

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel;
I focus on the pain,
The only thing that’s real.
The needle tears a hole,
The old familiar sting;
Try to kill it all away,
But I remember everything.

–Johnny Cash, “Hurt”

I made a year sober last month. To celebrate, I picked up, overdosed, my heart stopped, and I spent the next several days unconscious, a machine breathing for me. Go big or go home, right?

Relapse. Redux.

My name is M. I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict, and I’m a complete fucking fraud. I sit at this keyboard and I type out these posts and publish them on my blog, cleverly entitled “Sober Like Me,” but the truth is I’m not fucking sober. Yes, I technically had a year of not drinking or using, but in every other way…well, let’s just say the junk was never far from my mind. To truly be sober I would have had to work some kind of program. I would have had to change my thinking. I would have had to adjust how I do things. Instead, while I didn’t pick up, it continued to rule me, body, mind, and soul.

As I was recovering from the stroke from my last overdose 15 months ago, I worked hard physically to regain my strength, my mobility, my speech. I worked the program of physical recovery and it paid off. Eventually I was able to walk without the cane. Later I was able to walk short distances without the leg brace. I mostly regained the use of my hand. My speech improved to the point where it was no longer agonizing to utter the shortest of sentences…for me, or the person trying to decipher what the fuck I was trying to say.

What I didn’t do during this time was deal with my addictions, other than to not use, which I suppose is certainly a step in the right direction. But I can’t remember too many times when I didn’t have it in the back of my mind. Jesus. This pain, the physical and emotional, would be a whole lot easier to tolerate if I could just have a drink. A couple of Xanax maybe? Taking a bump wouldn’t be the end of the world, right? 

The mental battle raged on in my mind. The thing I knew was that if I did have that sip of vodka, that single Xanax, that line of coke…it would lead to a world of hurt that I didn’t even want to fathom. As bad as I thought I was suffering then? That was nothing compared to what would happen if I let it get ahead of me again. And it would kill me. It. Would. Kill. Me.

So guess what happened? It got ahead of me again. I don’t know when it all started to spiral out of control. A couple weeks before? A month? As my 1-year mark edged closer, I could feel myself struggling. I was anxious and depressed. I was in a bad head space. I was consumed with guilt as I thought about the past year of my being sober and what led to it. See, the day before my 1-year anniversary was the 1-year anniversary of my cousin’s death. The cousin who was a heroin addict, the one I set out to find the night before she ended up succumbing to this goddamned disease. The one I found. The one I used with in the hours before her body lost the battle. The one who died in front of me. Of the two of us, the one who should have lived. The one who deserved to live.

I don’t know. I could sit here all day and try to pinpoint the exact moment and reason for this most recent descent into madness and despair. There were some things going on in the days and weeks leading up that probably all played a part in what happened next. I don’t know what the final trigger was. All I know is that on the day I made a year, I picked up. I woke up several days later in the hospital and stayed there until I signed myself out, much to the dismay of my doctor, who I’m pretty sure thinks I’m a lost cause at this point.

So I signed myself out, but instead of going home I stayed in the city, got a room in a hotel, and have been on a steady descent into hell since. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d once again be on the hunt for that which could ease my pain. And it wasn’t.

Over the next, I don’t know, 10 days? 14? I’m not even sure what day it is. Anyway, I managed to numb myself against it all. Minutes have melted into hours. Hours into days. I’ve spent some of that time in this hotel. I’ve spent some of it at the apartment of someone I don’t know, brought there by my old dealer and left to fend for myself until he came back to pick me up. There were a lot of people there. I was surrounded by people. Yet I was utterly alone.  I spent one cold night on the street completely unaware of where the fuck I was. Welcome to addiction.

I’m back at the hotel now. I haven’t used since Sunday. Withdrawals are a whole other level of hell. But this run needs to end. I’m tired. I’m sick. I think I’m ready to leave the city and go home. I miss my dogs. Having them to curl up with while I feel this shitty will help, I think. I hope.

An interesting thing happened today. It requires some back story and I feel like writing it out, so I’ll do my best to make it more coherent and less free association.

I started studying martial arts when I was a kid. I was 11, ironically (or is it coincidentally?…I always fuck those two up). The sexual abuse had basically stopped by then, and that, of course, is when I learned to defend myself. Perfect fucking timing. Anyway, my father was a black belt, and when I was 11 he dragged me to a cookie cutter karate school. I hated it. I really hated it. I took enough beatings in real life; I sure as hell didn’t want to add to it in a dojo three times a week. I wasn’t given a choice, so I sucked it up and did it. Over the next few years I went to a few different schools and learned a couple of different styles. The funny thing was I actually had a natural affinity for it. I was flexible, I could take a hit, and I had pretty good focus. None of this meant anything though until the day I walked into the Martial Arts Academy of Boston* (MAAB) 3 days after my 26th birthday. By this time I had really become interested in the philosophy behind it all, but most of the instructors I’d had never really touched on that.

Chris Walters* was the owner of MAAB. I talked with him for a few minutes before I sat to observe a class. He explained that he taught an eclectic mix of arts, but the main style was an Okinawan karate. I’d never heard of it, but as I sat to watch the class I fell in love with the balance between the fluidity and the rigidity. It was a perfect mix of yin and yang. I signed up that day. For the next dozen or so years I was at the dojo as often as I could be. I rose quickly through the ranks and attained my black belt after 4 years of training. I loved everything about it. I loved being more confident in my ability to at least attempt to protect myself against an attack, but it was more than that. I loved being in the gi (karate uniform). I loved being in bare feet (I’d never wear shoes if I could get away with it). I loved controlling my breathing and my movements. I loved kata, which were so graceful and fluid, but perfectly functional. And I loved sparring. Chris Walters was a hard ass. He never let me (or anyone else) get away with anything. He inspired a confidence in his students that defied explanation. If there was anything we claimed we couldn’t do, he’d kick our ass until we did it 50 times in a row.

One of the first things you learn is a stance that is the core of the training.  It’s the first thing you learn and it’s the stance that takes forever to perfect. If done correctly, your energy is centered downward and an opponent should not, cannot move you from the position, no matter how hard he hits or pushes. At the end of each class we’d have to endure Chris putting us through a test of this stance. We’d line up and he’d give the order for us to get into the stance. Then, one by one, he’d come around and try to make us move. He’d achieve this by pushing on us, hitting or kicking us as hard as he could in the gut, legs, and shoulders, and grabbing then smashing our outstretched fingers in an attempt to throw us off balance. If you blinked, flinched, or moved, you’d be doing push-ups in the corner until you got it right. It’s a physical exercise, of course, but also a mental one. If you lose focus, you’re going to fail. Part of not losing focus meant being able to take a pretty hard hit. We practiced this by partnering with other students and standing on guard while the other student kicked us full force in the gut. We learned to breathe out and tighten up at the point of impact, and amazingly it worked. There was very little pain. Chris used to pull me from class sometimes to demonstrate this move to prospective students. He used me for two reasons: first, I was a girl, so they got to see that even a chick could take a hard hit; second, I was a girl with a killer roundhouse kick and I gave it all I got when it came time to kick him in the stomach. I dreaded this exercise with him only because the guy had a cast iron stomach and I would ultimately come away limping after I unleashed my hardest kick on him.

Anyway. None of this really matters. It’s just to tell you a little about my history as a student of martial arts as a precursor to the following story, which is about my very last day in class. I haven’t been able to practice in quite a while. I miss it. And I often dream about how strong I felt back then, physically and otherwise.

My last night in class was a Friday night, hot and muggy in the training hall and there we were: just another workout, any typical sparring situation. It was my first time back to class in weeks. I had stopped going initially because I had been feeling vaguely unwell. The frequency of the seizures I was having had increased and the severity of the pain in my stomach had intensified. The idea of being in class for several hours had simply not appealed to me. This night, however, I felt ready to come back.

We were all lined up according to belt order and the way it worked out, I had a little time to warm up. I could stretch, bounce around somewhat – these weren’t very close matches. I didn’t have any problem keeping clear of those lower belts’ feints and kicks. It felt good. There was a clean sort of breathlessness in enjoying the give and take of it, the searching, the easy routine of the blocking and the counter-attacks. I was pleasantly fatigued and confident by the time when, in the rotation, I found myself paired with Tommy.

Tommy had been my regular sparring partner for about 4 years. He and I worked well together and never cut one another slack. We had tested together and always challenged each other to bring our best to the table. It was never an easy workout with him, but it was always an honest one. I felt safe on the floor with him, confident that while we go full contact, he is skilled enough not to hurt me. He had that same confidence in me. A year after I started sparring with Tommy, I had a sparring accident with my instructor that left me with a fracture over my left eye, a partial loss of vision, and a broken collar bone. It was a freak accident, and completely my fault for panicking in the middle of a routine move. If not for Tommy, I may never have sparred again. I came back to class 2 days after it happened because I didn’t want to psyche myself out of something I loved so much, but I had a much harder time putting the sparring gloves back on. Tommy’s patience and his gentle insistence helped me over that particular hurdle.

We squared off and bowed to each other, touching gloves to signal our readiness to begin.

My being the lower degree black belt dictates the roles we play. I’m supposed to lead the attack against the higher rank. So I moved in, back straight, reaching out with exploratory little feints, hoping to draw him out to exposing himself to a real attack. I guess we were both feeling good that day. We moved faster and faster together, our arms flashing and smacking agreeably into each other in the air, our legs pistoning out into kicks we guided away from ourselves, torquing our torsos deeply, looking for a way to slip inside each other’s guards.

It’s a hell of a lot of fun, you know. Despite this – and I don’t care who you are – if you go long enough it really does tear into your endurance. Your movements become more deliberate as your wind erodes, and you have to put everything into your decisions. It’s the envelope again, it’s raising your limbs when you really don’t think you can anymore. It’s finding a reason to go on.

I don’t remember how it happened, but we finally ended up in a situation where I’d just finished trying something, some combination or other, and I was looking at him to see what he would do. Tommy came at me then, sliding in low and smooth and utterly fast, faster than I knew how to handle, too fast for me to do anything other than watch him come at me with that side kick of his that slips out to the side and hooks in at the last moment. It did its thing, unwinding like a crafty tight curve ball and I watched it disappear beneath my guard into my side and I just bent over involuntarily, folding up like a piece of heavy machinery done with its job. I stood outside of myself and observed my body falling, and there was nothing I could do about it. I simply watched as the wind left my lungs with a surprised Unnnngggghhh and felt the floor slam into my knees as I hit the ground.

I have to say, it was interesting. The pain didn’t seep in until just after. And it never went away. It was a sharp pain, complaining in my ribs when I breathed or tried to rise from a reclining position.

I’m telling this story because there are things that slip in and surprise you, and later, you think about whether you really should have been taken by surprise. And sometimes you can even watch these things as they happen. Is it useful to remember them? Is it useful to recall the failure and the loss? Is there any point in turning those memories over in your mind? Is there something useful in reliving how you’ve been hurt, even (or especially) those times you did it to yourself?

The easy answers are either “yes” or “no.” But if I refer back to my personal philosophy of thesis and antithesis yielding a more realistic synthesis, I can see that the answer lies somewhere in between. It depends.

I’ll try to pull this thing together with a timeline: The reason I’m telling this story the way I am is because I fell asleep this afternoon and woke up in that way one sometimes will – completely and totally disoriented in looking down to see you’re not where you thought you were. I’d dreamed I was dying and I couldn’t take a breath. I woke with a start and immediately had a seizure. What the hell is happening, I thought.

Oh, I remember thinking when I finally came out of it.

That’s right.

I began to laugh, and I couldn’t stop laughing. God, I had almost, in that peaceful slumber just before reality set in again, I had almost forgotten. The laughter soon turned to heaving sobs.

The memory was sharp in my chest, rising, and when I thought about it there was no surprise in the thing at all.

So, there we are. Today I dreamed I was back in the dojo, performing kata, feeling strong and confident and healthy. It was a good dream.

But now I’m awake and I’m back in my nightmare.

I just want to get through this kick, clear my head, and figure out what the hell I’m going to do next. I have to try to find a way out of this darkness.

I’m sorry I let you down.

I Was There; Now I’m Here…

1972 – I’m born.

1972-1980 – I live mostly with my grandparents, who shower me with affection and make me feel absolutely safe and loved. My guardian angels.

1980 – I’m delivered back to the hands of my parents, who, one would have hoped, had grown up enough to take responsibility for their child.

1980 (2 weeks after being put back with my parents) – I am raped for the first time by “J.” The abuse goes on for years.

1980-1983 – I live every day in fear and self-loathing. The abuse continues.

1983 – I take my first drink.

1986 – I start high school. I already have a dealer. I have used pot, pills, booze.

1988 – Cocaine. I start cutting. Physical pain lessens the emotional pain. I can deal better with the physical pain. I’m almost immune to it now. A suicide attempt. A feeble attempt at best. The proverbial cry for help. None comes.

1990 – I graduate high school. Take 6 months off to figure out what I want to do with my life. I think they call it “finding yourself.”

1990 – I start college. Despite my continued and increasing drug and alcohol use, I am wildly successful in college. I write for the literary magazine and school paper. I write my first play, which the college produces my junior year.

1993 – I write my first screenplay, at the behest of one my favorite and most inspired English professors. It’s awful. Really, truly, embarrassingly awful.

1995 – I have a degree, ambition, and a raging drug and alcohol problem.

1995 – I collapse, I assume from exhaustion, in front of a restaurant and am brought to the hospital. I am diagnosed during that stay with HIV. I choose not to process the information. I am released from the hospital and the liquor store is my first stop. Then my dealer’s place. I am pretty well constantly loaded for the next month or so.

1995-1999 – I get my foot in the publishing industry, working first as an associate editor and then a development editor for a large publishing company in Boston. For the last year of my employment there, I bring vodka in my thermos every day for lunch. I have extra bottles in my car in case I work late and run out. When I go out for client lunches, I often make detours to meet my dealer.

1999 – Jaded by the publishing world, I look for something else to do that will pay my bills and be somewhat fulfilling.  I land a job as a journalist at a company that will be my home for the next 11 years. For 2 of those years, I work in-house at the company in NY. When I decide to return to Boston, I continue to work as a freelancer for the next 9 years for the same company. This same year I start an editorial company, working with many talented authors. My own writing takes a dark turn and becomes my albatross.

2000 – I have a nearly completed a manuscript and send out 10 queries to agents in Boston and New York, hoping to get a bite from at least one. Seven respond. I sign with one in NY and he starts shopping my manuscript. Later that year I fuck that up by blowing every deadline I’m ever given. I’m starting to self destruct.

2001 – 9/11. I lose a friend in the attacks on our country. My anger at the world is exponentially increased. So, too, is my self-hatred.

2002 – I have little recollection of this year, actually. There was an arrest for DUI at some point. My health starts to deteriorate toward the end of the year. I am angry all the time.

2003 – I overdose twice. Brought back once by friends and once at the hospital. Fearing I’m going to die, my friends, led by my former pastor, stage an intervention. I surrender.  I get clean. Sobriety sticks.  I start what will turn out to be a 7-year run of sobriety. I work hard at it every single day. I work the program. I am grateful. I am embracing life. My health improves. I enjoy wonderful success, editing for others, selling my own writing. I have phenomenal friends. I buy my first house. Then my second. I get a dog. Then a second. Life is good. I meet a guy. We get married. Two months into the marriage he hits me for the first time.

2004-2005 – The abuse intensifies. A broken collar bone one time. Two broken ribs another. Bruises, cuts. I stay clean. Work is what sustains me now. The old demons start to stretch and claw their way back in.

2006 – My beloved grandmother succumbs to breast cancer. I am devastated. My heart is broken.  But I do not resort to my old habits. Yet. I do, however, garner the strength to kick my abusive prick of a husband to the curb once and for all. I file a restraining order when he tells me he’s bought a gun and that I better watch my back. Don’t have to tell me twice.

2007-2010 – I work non-stop. I continue with the editing work, because I love it, but most of my income for several years now has come from my own writing. I’ve written several plays that have been produced in and around Boston. I start my third screenplay.

January 2010 – My health starts to deteriorate again. I am frustrated, angry, scared. Meanwhile, the sleeping monster within me stirs, letting me know he’s still there. And he is hungry.

April 2010 – I make a call. The call that will change everything. The monster awakens.

December 2010 – My best friend dies.

2010-2011 – There are several large chunks of time I just can’t recall.

August  2011 – After almost 90 days clean, I use. Hard. Shortly thereafter I suffer a stroke and spend a couple of weeks in the hospital.

October 2011 – My cousin dies in front of me from an overdose.

October 2011 – I am hospitalized with pneumonia and put on a ventilator for several days.

October 23, 2011 – Day 1 sober.

February 2011 – My grandfather dies. I am lying in his hospital bed with him when he passes. It is both beautiful and devastating.

2012 – I turn 40. Jesus.

2012 – My health continues to deteriorate, thanks in part to my refusing to go back on meds. It’s a decision I struggle with on a daily basis. Mostly I ignore it and focus on writing, trying to finish this last project.

May 2012 – I have some decisions to make.

May 20, 2012 – 211 days sober. Stay tuned…

All in the Family…

Well, it’s official. Addiction has finally decimated my entire family. I spent the day with my grandfather. My grandfather, who wants nothing more than to make it to his 90th birthday in December, but whose cancer is spreading wildly throughout his body, making that goal less and less likely to be achieved. It’s gone from his lungs to his bones and his brain. Just like it did with my grandmother. The difference is he’s in a lot of pain. She, thank God, never was. I sat with him today, as I did with her at the end, holding hands and just being in the moment. I put the morphine under his tongue when I sensed he needed it, though his pride prevented him from actually asking for it. He’s out of it enough that he failed to notice my own physical limitations. My slurred, halted speech and impaired mobility. He fell in and out of sleep. While he slept I did what I could to pick up around the house. I did his laundry and put fresh sheets on his hospital bed. I emptied the two urinals that sat by the chair where he slept. I tossed old food from the fridge, food that’s gone to waste because he’s no longer able to eat it. And I cleared the kitchen and dining room of all the empty alcohol bottles. I’m sure some of the older ones were his. Most were my uncle’s or my cousin’s. It was just my grandfather and me today. I had been afraid I’d run into someone else but I couldn’t put off seeing him any longer. His time is running out.
I wanted to take a long sweet sip from the full bottles that remained. I wanted to feel the burn as it slid down my throat. I didn’t want to stop until I was numb to all that surrounded me. I didn’t. But I wanted to. The nurse came around 7:00. It was time for me to go. I hugged him tightly. I could hear the rattle in his lungs. His lips had a blue hue to them, though he’s on continuous oxygen. He struggles for each breath. Still, he was warm. And I settled into the familiar embrace for longer than I expected. Both our cheeks were damp with tears as I lifted myself up. I swallowed a sob, told him I loved him, and said I’d be back. I don’t think either of us is entirely sure we’ll see each other again. I felt the familiar heartache.
I left and immediately had to switch my mind from heartache to determination. I took the long cab ride to the hotel in the city that will serve as my home until I accomplish what I came here to do. As I write this I’m waiting for a cab to take me to a place I shouldn’t be going. I wouldn’t be going, but for the fact that I have to go find my cousin who I quite literally just found out today has a raging drug problem and has been stealing and borrowing money from everyone she knows, including me. Ten thousand dollars in 5 months. Ten grand. Five months. My cousin. What the fuck. I sure as hell can’t judge. However, she’s been stealing our dying grandfather’s pain meds. Time to get involved. She was the last best hope for this fucking family. The one I thought escaped. She was in nursing school. She’s not any more apparently. Her sister, who hasn’t spoken to me since our grandmother died, texted me and asked me to go look for her. Guess she figured I’d know the seediest placed to look. She’s not wrong. There’s a warrant out for my cousin’s arrest. I should probably just let them do this. But I can’t. I just hope we don’t both fall tonight.

At Play in the Fields of the Bored…

I’m not entirely unproductive when I’m using. I’m probably far more open and honest than at any other time, less guarded. This is the perennial excuse of writers, isn’t it? I can’t write, can’t fully express myself or be creative without being high. I do realize that this is just so much bullshit. I’ve written plenty while I was sober. It’s how I make my living and if I needed to get loaded before I ever took pen to paper, well, I probably wouldn’t have much of a career. Plus, writing for me is the breath in my lungs. I can’t not write. It’s just not an option. I write whether I use or not; I just give more of myself when I’m using. I lay bare my soul and bleed with each word I offer, and to hell with the consequences.

Being free of the fear of being judged or abandoned or hated or hurt does lend itself to a deeper exploration of one’s soul, and allows me to tap into the thoughts too deep for tears that I can’t bring myself to express without the mind-numbing effects of this substance or that. That, of course, is not a good reason to go where I went and to be where I’m at right now. I’ve struggled with my sobriety this past year. After 7 years of being sober, I’ve been hanging on by a thread since last spring.  

I relapsed recently. And I’m currently in the middle of a bit of a bender. After several days of using pretty heavily, this is the first time I’m clear-headed enough to express what’s going on. As evening approaches, it’s time for me to choose my path, to figure it out. An unexpected ally made himself known to me last night, and as we spoke on the phone at 2:00 in the morning, I felt safer than I have in a while. Soon after our conversation ended, I suddenly needed to write some things out. It’s how I make sense of things.

This is what I wrote last time I was in this head space. Truer words were never written than those expressed in the throes of such fear and despair. Enjoy:

It’s all a big bloody nightmare, isn’t it really? An endless fucking nightmare. Apparently from which there’s no escape. I’ve tried. It’s like those nightmares from which you wake with such terror that you’re not really sure you ARE awake. You THINK you are, but then He starts chasing you again, or worse, catches you, and you realize, Fuck, I’m not awake. Wake UP! And you struggle and fight and beg and scream as loud as you can only it’s all in your head because you’re not actually conscious and you’re fighting against something that’s not real, which makes it impossible to win against really but still. you. try. And you plead and you bargain and you try anything to wake up, anything; you slap yourself and gouge at your eyes but you can’t wake up and you’re choking on your fear, gasping, retching. And then. BOOM. Your eyes fly open and you’re surrounded by silence and all that is familiar and you stare and listen intently, waiting, holding your breath just a beat longer than is comfortable. Then you swallow hard. You pinch yourself just to make sure. And then you curse your life. And you thank God for it. The only thing that’s real in that moment, than nano-second of realization between your death and your life is the salty taste of the warm tears flowing down your cheeks and over your lips and onto the sheets. The tears, they’re real. But no matter what, you sure as HELL don’t want to close your eyes again anytime soon, and so that’s how you float through the rest of your day, in a fog, a haze, the breath of fear still hot on your neck. You can’t shake it. And the whole day you’re dreading the approaching darkness, because you know in your heart that your quiet thoughts will once again be haunted this night.

Well then. There you have it.  I just had to take a breath ’cause I said that all out loud as I wrote it. More I think about it, maybe we went down with Oceanic 815 and this is our own private “Lost” episode. That’s it. We’re on an island with smoke monsters and sideways time travel and pools of Light that threaten to go out and end us at any time in the most violent of manners. Our lives are the great unwritten script lingering, festering in the minds of JJ Abrams, Carlton Cuse, and Damon Lindelof. Heh. Sure. Why not. Makes about as much sense as this reality. I really hope any Readers out there watched that show. Otherwise, that last part will be Lost on you. Ha.

Oh boy. This is just one long free association. I’m sorry. I can’t connect anything right now. I feel like the synapses in my brain are just firing at will, wildly, madly, with no regard for sense or logic. The more I write, the more manic I’m becoming. Not sure if that’s good or bad. It’s waking me up, which will save me from the Terror for a while but it’s also making me dizzy and nauseous and fidgety and restless and anxious and stupid, apparently. How many grammatical errors can I make in one sentence? Let me count the ways. As much as I fear sleep right now, I crave it because I don’t have to deal with the thoughts and decisions and reality. And the pain. I need to put the emotional pain to rest. I could to without the physical pain right now as well. It hurts to breathe. And blink. And swallow.

 I’m going to take a nap while the sun is still up.