Monday, December 12, 2016

The Semantics of Happiness

This is a work in progress.

You are drug free- you are supposed to be happy- right?!” The man seems to get more angry the more he talks. He is a well dressed man in his mid-forties. I can tell right away that if he gave me a hug, I would pull away with the slight scent of some hair care product or perhaps some kind of fancy deodorant, anything to signify an upgrade from his prior circumstances. His well manicured fade and crisp flannel drew my eyes to him right away. Underneath his collar, I see the poorly chosen tattoos peeking out from a strategic location on his neck. He is a mixture of post addiction swagger and relatable social acceptability. It isn’t how he looks though that catches my attention. It is what he says, vocalizing all my doubts outloud.  His words are like a chorus of angels singing in my ears. Finally, someone is saying all the things I have been thinking all this time.
“Well I am not fucking happy…” he takes a pause to take a sip of his coffee. I can tell he is getting heated with the release of all this pent up negative energy. “I am not happy at all. I have all these  clean months and I am not fucking happy. Sometimes, I feel like I was lied to.” I can feel people shift in their seats with the uncomfortable realization that what he is saying might be true. There is a common sort of brainwashing in these rooms. We all trade our doubts for the suspension of disbelief. It is as if the group leader is some sort of magician here to infuse us with hope against the daily evidence that all is not perfect in this protective bubble. This man is penetrating into my deepest thoughts. He is confirming my belief that maybe this has all been a sham.
He continues “but I am grateful now- grateful not to be living that life anymore”. He lost me right there. Everyone claps as dictated by a combination of group think and common courtesy. Negative “shares” get their obligatory meeting of the hands in slightly less enthusiastic manner. Gratitude is rewarded. Discontent is generally frowned up. Or at least this is how I feel in the moment.
“My name is Tracey and I am a recovering person”, I say to the jury of my peers. “This is the first meeting I have been to this year (November)...” I pause “I have been traveling a lot because of my work with advocacy.” The rest is just meaningless filler. I can’t really tell what is going on with me here. I can’t tell them about how I fix my feelings with pita chips. I can’t tell them how I lay out my traps my social media on a daily basis, hoping I can reel in some attention from admiring strangers. I can’t tell them how I am dealing with cellulite, varicose veins, and the subtle droop of my face that comes when you managed to make it past 30, a feat I never desired until I reached 29 years old. I spent way too many years listening to the Velvet Underground talking about “I am tired. I am weary.” They didn’t know what tired is- tired is chasing three kids. Tired is going to work every god damned day. Tired is learning how to pay bills on time, to wash dishes, and learn to communicate my emotions in terms that don’t start with “fuck this”. A user just FEELS tired. I am tired.
I can already feel the crush of judgement. I have broken from the standard protocol of “addict” or “alcoholic”. The chorus of disapproval will come later. I have seen this in meetings before. One person with a negative experience with recovery brings forward the white knights that feel compelled to defend it. It isn’t long before a stern looking man in an oversized sweatshirt and crisp tan pants decides to go on a tirade about how he needs to go to a meeting every single week with great emphasis since he relapsed six years ago after surgery. There is supposed to be no cross talk in the meeting yet I know he is speaking directly to me. As if a person with eighteen years clean knows nothing, I tell myself. In addition, as a woman, I feel an additional sting. Why is it he feels the need to mansplain recovery to me? I have taken pain medicine four different times. One time was a miscarriage and three times I had c-sections where I was prescribed opioids. Yet, I did not relapse. The casual dismissal of the experience of others make me shift in my seat. Instead of welcoming the prodigal child who returned to the rooms of recovery after wandering aimlessly in a desert of self loathing, I am chastised for not being a perfect member. Fuck that. Now I understand why people drink coffee in the meetings- to choke down their bitterness.
I suddenly laugh to myself. Why have I allowed this person to get so deep underneath my skin? I shake my head in silent recognition while I struggle to keep from looking at my phone. I feel the magnetic pull of the smartphone forcing me to glance. Look at me, it calls. Like the sirens singing, it attempts to pull me towards the rocks. Being a woman over forty makes me essentially invisible to everyone with the exception of feral cats, of which I have rescued two in the past year. My fuckable years long gone, my posts fall into a few categories. They are 1. Food I will never make 2. Can you believe what an asshole this person is by doing ____ 3. Look at how much weight I have lost despite the fact it is the same ten pounds every six months or so 4. Political outrage 5. Me holding a cat or a book or anything that will make you notice me. Maybe not me, the person I really am, but the well curated me I want you to see.
What if I did a social media site of just pictures of the reality of my daily life. Here I am cleaning up the mess the dog made at 12:37 am when she shit on the floor on the rug because I was two minutes too late ie trying to find glasses. Check this pic out. This is me dealing with the natural type crisp rice cereal that is stuck to the side of the sink like glue. Here I am again trying to select a few types of undershirts that adequately cover my muffin top ie the roll of fat left over from carrying these semi ungrateful children. Here I am again. Don’t I look cute bending over to wipe the butt of a five year old who still hasn’t mastered the difference between a fart of having to poop. I must look sex-y with my legs that haven’t been shaven in a month. There is a reason I have leggings on 27 days of the month. The other days I am dealing with a rash. I could also capture my one eyebrow that is over plucked, my nails that are splintering. Maybe I can even give my followers a glimpse into my life of semi lactose intolerance. Here I am regretting that fat free greek yogurt I had for lunch! See me doubled over with abdominal cramps!
I have zoned out for far too long. The meeting is almost over. The goal here was to, perhaps, meet my future BFF. Instead, another social opportunity goes down in flames. The years I spent trying to raise children from the screaming “wiggly worm with no neck stage” to just beyond “I’m a toddler so I will throw myself on the ground” has left me high and dry in the support squad area. My first wave of friends died while I was in active addiction. Some died of overdoses. Some died of AIDS or other medical conditions directly tied to injection drug use. A few of my friends were murdered. A few more committed suicide. I stayed clean long enjoy to see people start to die of natural causes. I have seen them get clean, find the perfect partner, have kids, and move far far away. A few have been reduced to slightly batshit messages and reposts about the illuminati. I guess that was bound to happen in any social circle that involved large amounts of chemicals that are known to kill brain cells. I need to find a way to find new friends.
Friends? What are those? Ok, it isn’t as if I have NO friends at all. I just have no accessible ones. Having a permanent resting bitch face doesn’t help my cause, either. There have been many times where I was quite sure I was moderately friendly only to be asked later “um, such and such thinks that you hate them. Is that true?” Hate them, I barely even talked to them! I think to myself. Oh wait, maybe that is the problem. I want the instant gratification friends. I want them just to magically appear. I want them to be available when I need them with minimal effort on my part. In fact, I want to acquire them without leaving the house if humanly possible. I quickly learned it isn’t.
Over the years, my meeting attendance has dwindled to a trickle. Not because I believe 12 step has no merit. I believe it does. Mostly I haven’t attended because of a combination of luxury problems mixed with general dissatisfaction with the way some new people seeking recovery are treated. Instead of changing this system, I have simply withdrawn from it over time. You are a member when you say you are, it says in the readings. I am still a member in my mind. Yet, I have left the hen house with some random foxes. I have left the fold, pocketed my all my knowledge, took what I needed, it the escape button. Maybe I am a recovery thief. Maybe I have preserved my precious reserves by exiting this system. Yet, it is calling me back.
In some ways, those chairs are the first place I was welcome after years spent out in active addiction. I attended my first 12 step meeting when I was 17 years old. A friend of mine had recently been released from a 28 day rehab program for young people. She asked another friend and I would “support” her ie attend the meeting with her. I remember being intrigued by the subject matter yet I in no way identified with the people in the room. I was, in fact, just getting started. There were warm beers in the trunk of her car waiting for me when the meeting was over. When we were done holding hands, I was truly ready to go.
The next meeting I attended was mandated by the court. I had recently been released from jail. My probation officer decided I should attend a weekly meeting called “Facts on Crack” at a local church run program. The idea of attending was ridiculous to me. I was NOT a crack user, I was a heroin and speed user. These are totally different things. What could these people possible say that could help me, I asked myself as I wrapped the tourniquet around my arm. I mean, I certainly wasn’t going to go to this group without a little shot, right?! It would make all these crackheads a little more tolerable.
As I finished up my dime, I forgot all about the fact that this six months in jail had essentially saved me from myself. When I was arrested, I was sent straight to the hospital. I had not one, not, two, not three, but FOUR abscesses. I liked my fuck ups to be epic. These certainly met that criteria. When I could stick my finger in between the bone section on my leg, it still was not enough to motivate me into getting any type of medical attention. I simply didn’t have the time. Living on the street made me incapable of seeing anything beyond that next bag. The only thing I need, I told myself, was a constant supply of dope. Then, I would be entirely fine. As I started climbing the hill to the mandated group, I had that same exact feeling. No one could tell me shit, as they say. I was still young and encumbered by the blindness of my youth. As I walked towards the doorway, a steady sense of nausea creeped up into my throat. The dope was still working for me since I was so newly returned to the game. It wouldn’t take long before that feeling was gone, replaced by “getting well” as the standard.
The room was situated with chairs in a circle. The vast majority of the seats were filled with older black men, many of which clearly had seen some better days. I locked eyes with one of the only women in the room as if to let her know we were in this boys club together. The man sitting next to her was a wiry white dude with some faded devil horns peeking out underneath his newly grown hair. He had that unmistakable look of someone who had just spent the last decade or so in the joint before his parole agent suggested he come here as a last ditch effort to keep him on the outside. I hated being lumped in with crazy but I suppose he and I stand out as the lightest people in the room.
As everyone starts to sip on their watered down coffee with ten sugars at minimum, a pattern emerges among the participants. There is a one upmanship here, a way of telling a story where one person wants to be better than the last. It seems as if everyone “used to be” something. A loving mother is now separated from her children. A former baseball player full of promise is now collecting cans to get his next hit. The bus driver has been reduced to three months off on disability as he grasps at one last opportunity to get his life back. And here I am the junkie, formerly of West Chester Ohio. I was born and bred to “be something”. I was told I was a special snowflake until one day that snow got grimey. Here I was 26 years old, attempting to listen intently while I continuously nod off the end of your chair.
“What brings you here young lady”, the man asks me. He is an African American man in his mid forties. Well dressed but not overly showy with one simple gold chain, a sports jersey, and freshly pressed jeans. He has that New York casual look. He is slightly wall eyed, with his eye slowly drifting to the side. I would learn later that was from someone nearly knocking it out.
I push myself up in my seat “probation” I say. “Probation sent me here”.
He smiled with the kind of smile a person gives you when they see completely through you. “Hmm,” he said, slightly turning towards me to provide some back up to his words “And you don’t see ANY relationship between what they are saying and why you are dipping in that chair?”
This was a rhetorical question. He didn’t expect me to answer. He expected me to listen. To find out why I needed to come here. But truthfully- they couldn’t tell me anything I did not already know. I knew I was strung out. My body made this perfectly clear every six hours or so. It made it clear when I couldn’t poop when I needed to, have anything close to an orgasm unless I was in withdrawal, when I couldn’t cry unless the dope man didn’t answer my calls. I was hooked alright. I just wasn’t ready to do anything about it. Not him, not the group, not any fucking story was going to change my mind in that moment. Catch me the next time I run out. For now, the only thing on my mind was a chocolate milk and my next hustle. It’s MY life. I’m supposed to be happy, right?


  1. Tracey, may I be so bold as to state unequivocally that your "fuckable years" are VERY far from being gone!

    1. Thanks. By society standards in general, I'm fairly ancient. You only have to look at the movies

  2. Great to read. Thank you for putting that out there. I've had SO many of those same thoughts. Both at meetings and as a 51 y/o woman

  3. This is a brilliant post, Tracey. Really compelling writing. I was nodding along the whole way through.

    1. Me too, nodding along, not from drugs, but from agreeing with so many thoughts here - invisibility as a woman over 50 especially.

  4. I do not 12 step. I have very little interest in being judged but I understand exactly how u feel. I'm always looking for SOMETHING, A PLACE, A PERSON etc... that will make me "whole" the way drugs did. As instantly as the drugs did. Guess what I'm pretty sure it DOESN'T exist.

  5. It seems like you read my mind here. I'm 6 months in drug treatment and I'm seeing a lot of the folks you described in 12 step groups. Your message is so powerful. I recently shared your history with my drug counselor (former heroin user). I've read your blog for 2 years now, and I want to thank you. Keep writing, please.

  6. Back in the 70's I was wacked out on amyl nitrate butt-slaming transvestites on speakers at Zena's

  7. Resting bitch face - glad there is a name for it now. I am constantly asked, "What's wrong?" "What's the matter?" "Are you pissed?", etc.
    I love your blog, Tracey, and really appreciate that you take the time to share.
    Hope you write another book

  8. Love this. Wow. You really tell it. Though I still like meetings. I think because the honesty reassures me.

    1. I still go to meetings. I think you can attend and still see the flaws.

  9. I mostly identified with the lack of friends thing. I admit I'm lonely. I spend a huge amount of time online with the only trustworthy friends I have. Most are Like me now,recovering, productive members of society,a few are me 15 or so years ago, and some it depends on the day but I long for real human contact and it's hard. When I got clean I left EVERYONE behind. I had to. There was no way I could stay and not be dead by 30. So I isolated. Yes I made new friends but over the years, career, babies, moves etc... we drifted apart and now it seems at 42 to meet new people. My kids are grown so that's left a huge hole in my time and life, I have a progressive, debilitating (a lot of days) disease so I no longer work 80 hour weeks, my husband and I have been together over 20 years and I feel us slowly drifting apart also. I just want to feel like I'm headed toward something or somewhere instead sitting day after day waiting to die. I didn't get clean to live for nonexistent