Friday, August 18, 2017

Possessed by something outside of myself

Guest Post by Ickymack

Look in the mirror and here I am again 
Abandon sense to bandages to sample where the tragic is
Self knowledge isn't self control,  I sit with sticky swollen skin and candles lit 
Like 
I can't fathom how I got back here 
Rather save face than save ass 
In a soft chair 
Sinking slowly,  remote control me
Rewind and maybe,  just maybe we could've stopped there. 
I try to tell myself that it's not fair 
But deep down this beat up bruised and confused spirit believes its exactly what the fuck I deserve, 
Suffer the world
Stutter for words 
Covered in cuts in a puddle of isopropyl night terrors 
Shudder and curse. 
Because I said I was never going back there 
Said I was never coming back here 
But here I am again,  Broken and beat 
Licking dots of warm blood from my elbow crease 
A Marlboro pleads me to seek its relief 
I concede, no reason to stop there. 
But what happens when it stops working? 
I'm no surgeon 
This is a game of hand grenades and plans I've made have long since pulled curtains 
Bolted doors
Boarded up windows
Grown weeds and graffiti 
And I get the feeling the demolition crew is closing in soon 
(Probably gonna be some more fuckin condos) 
But what the fuck do I know? 
Little to none
Sick of the shit 
Sick of the sun
Sick of the switch gettin flipped quick and makin a run 
Sick of taking every bit of will I got to not fuck up,  to not go out, to stop myself 
I could break out of a straight jacket, leg shackles, chastity belt,  bolt from class without a hall pass,  the man in the iron mask gonna get a breath of fresh air I swear to god! 
But god doesn't live here 
Not in this addiction 
This is prison 
A silhouette sits in the window wishing for redemption 
But I hurt a lot of people 
Made a lot of justifications 
Once an occasion 
Turns to a habit
Turns to a matchstick 
Burning to blackness
The curse if an addict
Hurt with black magic
Possessed by something outside of myself? 
Or maybe it's been in me since the beginning 
Maybe I was meant to numb this broken brain like Novocaine I know it's crazy 
But maybe I never had a chance at winning. 

Look in the mirror and here I am again
And for the first time I realize I'm not alone,  and I never have been 
Whatever happened happened 
And I'm glad it happened 
Self knowledge isn't self control but at least it's half the battle 





Saturday, August 12, 2017

The City I Love

Chicken and a 40 from the corner store
Glass pipes with a rose in it for my gal
Graffiti on the sidewalk from a Pentel
The smell of rotten food on a hot summer day

Homeboy playing Parliament in his 49ers gear
The pigeons all gather for a piece of my tortilla
The ocean so cold, the train is so warm
The dealers ask me "que pasa mammi"

Fog rolls over the hills
I'm nodding in my friends(?) car
Cotton fever givin me chills
Antibiotics and a Nestle quik chaser

I tried to call home but you didn't answer
I tried to fall in love but I have nothing to offer
I have this room and you have a clean outfit
Tap on my shoulder while I pick at my skin

I read a book by William S Burroughs.
I'm the authority on vices and sins.
Let's go record shopping while it's still ironic.
I'll be RIGHT back with your money. 3,2,1,...

A pack of Newports and a dream please
A Mountain Dew to swallow my lies
My blue eyes pinned to the wall behind me
An alcohol wipe to scrub you out of my life

The City I Love


RIP TO THE ONE AND ONLY STAK. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cassie

my wife loved blackberries.
i had never noticed how they grow everywhere here.
on the side of the road, under bridges, in the cracks in the sidewalk.
you can’t avoid them and i try not to.
they say it gets better. 
that the passage of time erases the loss.
i pray that that is not true. 
i can no longer remember her laugh, or the sound of it.
i can no longer remember the sound her chest made when she inhaled.
wrinkles around her eyes that grinned in unison when she was surprised
the feeling of cold sweat on her nervous palms when we hadn’t seen each other in a few days
her feet shuffling to the hallway in the morning and it’s perfect cadence are all also gone.
they say that everyday it hurts less but this pain in my chest
the feeling that i still can’t completely catch my breath
my terror that this may all be true and the horror that it is indeed
my empty rib cage where she fit so perfectly even on the most sleepless of nights 
are all but the very last reminders that she was real
here with me
not a school boys dream crush dreamt and shaped to perfection on the backs of eyelids
not the beautiful lead character in a story made up to impress my childhood friends
not the product of an overactive underfed tender little love starved ache that lived in my soul until the day that we met
she was real.
beautiful and kind.
slightly flawed in all the best ways.
she had never shot drugs when i met her and i was her first.
i didn’t fight it and she didn’t fight.
it seemed to make sense that she would be with me in that way.
like some weird ritualistic bloodletting wedding ceremony
the blood is the life
her parents say, still say that i killed her
and i agree.
i did kill Cassie.
i killed someones child,
i killed someones love,
i killed my future and i killed my happiness
they say it gets better
and i pray that that isn’t true.
   The writer's father 


This is a guest piece by my bff K Sabatini, seen here. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

No Shelter From the Coming Storm

I can hear breath go in and out or is that the sound of a lost cause? I feel my lungs expand with the ever present doubt that they will fill to the brim with the oxygen I need to survive. I can hear the blood rushing through my ears. Pulsing like an electric shock through to my teeth. My heart beats inside my head like the faint tapping of the police at the door. Yes I can hear all that banging. I barely see the people walking by, gazing down at me. They provide me with a passing glance as they pour a handful of soil into my grave. Walking by, judging my position in life- six feet under, five bags deep.

I feel them slip the oxygen into my nose. Into? Out? I'm confused now. I feel the cold stainless steel against my air as the push me into the back of the ambulance. I see the scrubbed white walls as the wheel me down the hall. I try to reach up but I am shackled to the gurney. "We are taking you into surgery now. Count backwards from 10, 9, 8..."I feel the prick in my arm. I wake up to blood soaked bandages. I feel a tightness in my arm. "Can I call my mother?" I start to tremble from the anesthesia. 

I was laying on the ground, dreaming of him/her/them. Not the ground, like looking at the cloud on your grandmother's porch in the summertime. I was laying on the concrete, dreaming of the afternoon you pushed my hair gently behind my ear. You promised me everything was going to be okay as you squeezed my shoulders. I was sick that morning/day/night/decade. I didn't have the motion to go another step. You gestured that you would come back for me. Did you ever? I didn't leave that spot for hours upon hours, thinking I didn't want to miss you. Believing you would come back with my dope or my money. I believe you never did.

I was trying to find a vein. Here a poke, there a poke, everywhere a poke. Is it worse to have money and no way to get drugs or drugs and no way to find a vein? Blood trickles into my new socks. When I stand up, I see the future. No rest for the weary, no shelter from the coming storm. 

     I took my depression jammies off just for you. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Encounter


The blonde hooker with the black eye reaches for her bear claw while the man in the piss stained clothes shuffles by, headed for the sugar. It's that period of the twenty four hours that make up a day when the brutal realities of life are hidden away from the pedestrians known by normal folk. The darkness veils the stark truth of life on the fringes of the city. The florescent lights of the donut shop are a magnifying glass, revealing what the naked eye generally avoids. As the man fills the coffee cup he pulled off one of the tables with what seems like an endless supply of sugar, I focus on my apple turnover.

"Dude," my friend yells as she tries to fan the smell away from his nose "how can a person live like that?" He takes a sip of his coffee, a watered down hazelnut blend. It is hot, steaming up his broken glasses. The arm no longer exists on the right side. His ego has given way to a utilitarian desire to see.

I point to the clock "that dude is waiting until the liquor store opens at six am. He probably passed out before he could hit the store before they stopped selling..." I try not to look at the man and his predicament. It can't avert my eyes from the wet stain on the back of his pants.

He continues "that dude...that dude is fucked..."

I chuckle to myself. THAT dude is fucked. We are sitting in this donut shop because neither one of us have a place to stay tonight. We are pooling our money to split a gram from the only connect who will come out this late. This mfer has an abscess so ripe, I can smell it across the table. I haven't had a period or a phone call to my family in over six months. Both of us are so sick, we can't finish a pastry, which would be the only thing we ate today if we could actually eat. I touched a dick for my money, he stole from a mom and pop store while they followed him out into the street screaming. Yeah. THAT dude is fucked. Not us.

As the old drunk walks past me to hit the door, we briefly lock eyes. How did he get to this place? How did I get to this place? "You got a cigarette?" he asks me. I honestly don't smoke. As he shuffles out, killing time, I push my food into another circle waiting for my own sweet relief to arrive.



    I am kind of a crazy cat lady. I have a dog too. She is great, just 13 1/2 so she sleeps all day. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

I wasn't born a junkie.

The dog licks the salt of my skin as I feel myself frying in the heat of the midday sun. I would move except I am inside and this isn't really happening. It is just a memory of a day when I stuck to the mattress with my hair matted against the back of my neck with the sweat that only come from a speedball stuffed between two little debbie pies and a flat beer I found from last night. The traveling kid told me his dog was friendly, friendly enough to steal my last piece of fried chicken before I could get the words out to not chew on the bones. I thought I said something but the xanax was talking for me. A lil something about "dkjtyfkuyflui;i" in between wondering if I had lost my ID so I could get my western union in the morning. I had to pee behind two cars. I almost missed my sock this time but I was a bit wobbly. I would change them if it wasn't for the fact that I am four bags deep. The only goal I can reach is scratching my skin to the exposed core of my loneliness.

OH HOW I WISH YOU WERE HERE. There was a time when we promised each other that our love would last- forever? Forever wasn't really that long ago baby, was it? As soon as I pulled that needle out of my skin, all the hellos in the world could not feel as good as this. You kissed me on my dry lips. I swore that I would never do it again (again and again and again). I am better off without you, I tell myself as I think about you walking away with someone else.

I wasn't born a junkie. What made me this way? Was it the vampire that made me- another lost soul that didn't want to experience death alone. They turned me out into the cold cruel reality of love in thirty units. It manifested into fifty now, eighty on a good day. Add the water, draw up the universe and pray this gets me. We are all interconnected through the brotherhood of the traveling spoon, of the constipation, the tiny pupils, the friendly discourse that comes as we wait on the same dealer. Of the artists without a canvas, the musicians with their equipment in pawn, and the frail kid in long sleeves serving cocktails so he can get a fix with his hard earned tips.

I wasn't born a junkie.
I don't need to die as one, either.
As long as the breath goes in and out, I have the capacity to change.

I am sitting here drinking a soy latte next to my cat in the house that I own, on the computer I just bought, and I'm sober. Things can change.



Below is me getting my mic for a feature on CNN on naloxone care packages. 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Long Night of 1971

 it crawled out of her mouth and into mine. it was 1:43 according to the clock. i hadn’t slept in weeks and couldn’t be sure i had seen it correctly until i felt it over my teeth. in my throat. my stomach. through my ruined bowels. past my rotting guts. looking for my heart and settling for what it found. i thought of her and him and the long nights of no sleep and the pain of heart and the abyss that is life and being born dying and waiting for some breath stealing act of clemency by a god that doesn’t favor the kind and it knew. it knew i was soft inside. “you can’t hide from us” it cackled to my ribs. the worm tumors fed on the seeds of doubt in the pits of my tummy and grew large enough to caress my cancerous soul softly singing  seductively in my ear. my fathers voice telling my mother he loved her. and my atrophied love snickered “we’ve seen you and we reject what you are”. i looked at you sleeping so peacefully next to me and heard you whisper “it’s hopeless” and i knew it was true



This is a piece about sharing space with another junkie by my bff K. Sabatini a San Francisco native as well as a person who has struggled with mental health and substance abuse issues for fifteen years. I have written about him in several of my stories. (yes he has read them).

He has currently logged seven weeks clean. 

FOREVER GLOOM

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Two heroin addicts went out for lobster rolls and a movie

Yesterday two heroin addicts went out for lobster rolls and to a movie. No one dies in this story.

There was a point in my life when every cent went to dope. Every fucking cent. I would sit on the sidewalk when my hustle was weak. I would beg for change (fuck some food) to scrape up enough money for a bag that I knew would do nothing but barely get the sick off. Then I would have to do it all over again. Work was completely out of the question when your habit is THIS BIG. It also would take me 1-2 hour on occasion to find a usable vein. Using was an all encompassing endeavor. This isn't every one's story. This is just my story.

Enter into my life a friend. Now, dear readers, we all know how isolated your average opioid user is, even if they are sober. I am not sure what it is about our taste for the opioids but we are an intelligent bunch that tends to run on the sensitive loner side. How many of us like to read books more than go out or watch a good movie over deal with people. We struggle with the outside world. For many of us, opioids are the initial lubricant for socialization that spirals into never leaving our rooms. At many years "clean" or whatever the term you want to use it, I did not think I would meet a new friend. My friends have died/left/moved relapsed. I thought that game was over. I was wrong.

I made a friend ( a few in fact) at 46 years old when I took the plunge, left my insulated over scheduled world last year. I went on book events for "The Big Fix". I spoke about harm reduction. I got out of my shell. It was scary as fuck but I did it. I got to meet some of y'all around the country. It was lovely. It was inspiring. It changed me. I did not want to be caught in the social isolation bubble again.

Fast forward to yesterday. I went with my best friend to get lobster rolls and see a movie. Seems simple but to be in a place in my life where I can not only do whatever the fuck I want (within reason) because I am not using and have the money AND be able to do that with another human is pretty monumental. For him as well. It was kind of magical really. What was more magical was walking through the city we both love without having to cop anything beside a slurpee.



Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Trip to The City

Yesterday, I decided to take my son to an art gallery opening in the city. I am interested in the aesthetics of graffiti handstyles. I thought this would be a fun thing for the two of us to enjoy together. My son is eight. He is very sensitive in the ways that I was sensitive when I was his age. He looks just like me. He likes many of the same things. The big difference is that by the time I was his age, eight years old, I had already tried drugs. I never want my son to go through the things I went through in my first thirty years on this planet. I let my kids know about my drug history. I also keep them sheltered. I can count on one hand the amount of nights my son has spent away from me- three of those involve the birth of his younger brother. I have sacrificed nights out, vacations, friendships, and job opportunities to be with my kids. My primary concern in life has been keeping them safe.

When I realized the gallery opening was in the city, I didn't even think about the fact that my son and I would be walking through the Tenderloin. Maybe I am immune to it. My son certainly was not. A confusing jumble of homeless folk, people asking for change, and individuals selling drugs on the corners. "I am glad we don't live here mommy". I had to explain to my sweet sweet son that I did live here. All the corners had ghosts. All the places reminded me of my past. The overwhelming smell of piss on a warm day was something he could not understand.

 As we tried to get to the "better" blocks to walk on, we passed by a young man shooting up on the stairs to a doorway. He quickly turned to hide himself a bit. I quickly placed my hands over my son's eyes. "Don't look," I asked him. My son kept asking curiously what was going on. At that moment, I was completely disgusted. Not at the person shooting up necessary. I was disgusted with myself. I was disgusted that I was the person who used to shoot up absolutely any fucking where. I don't remember turning to hide myself if anyone (except the police) came by. I did not give a single fuck. I was selfish in that way. All I cared about (in life) was what that syringe could do for me in that moment. I would pull my pants down to get a hit. Puff my neck up in a car mirror. I just could not care. I did not even try. Here I am, at 7:30 on a warm San Francisco night confronting my past with an eight year old in tow. What have I done? 

The show was a blur. The walk was a blur. We got some ice cream and talked and walked back to the train station. We went through some different blocks. I would point to different things to get his attention. He was fascinated by all the playgrounds in the areas where I used to sleep outside. I don't know what I could do differently. I just know that I can't change the past. I live with it, like the scars I carry around on my body. I had a good night with my son. But we both got a look at too many painful things for one trip to the city. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Promise me

I bit my nails to the beds,
Thinking about the last time I saw your face.
I start a text. It says "I love you".
I quickly fumble for the backspace.
I can see you when I close my eyes.
I can feel you deliberately brush my arm.
"Try it" you said. "Trust me" you said.
You're so beautiful to me. What's the harm.
I smell you in my t-shirt when I'm sick,
I taste the salt from your cheek on my lips.
I breathe you in as all my "reasons" slip away,
Here's my last crumpled twenty spot,
Get us another shot,
Promise me you'll stay.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Burning Away

I smelled the alcohol on your breath before I felt the whiskers that brushed my check as you said goodbye. I wanted to wave to you. These occasions don't require me to do anything but stare straight ahead and pretend my heart isn't breaking. Are you stopping at the next station, getting off to buy some (more) dope? Will you make it home tonight, using vodka and grape juice to stave off the last bit of sick left from five days of twitching and turning on sheets soaked with sweat. A week ago, when I unconsciously smelled your neck, it smelled like vinegar must taste when it runs through your veins and out through your pores. I loved you that day, the day you chose drugs over me. Not with any subtle motion, just the daily actions of a junkie propelled forward by the depleted emotional battery searching for a charge of life in the form of a hit. I still love you- with the slight hesitation of being attached to a shinning star that is quickly burning away.

As I head in the opposite direction, my heart briefly sinks into my Sambas wondering if I can find the strength to hold back the tears that claw at the back of my eyes. I slide down the wall until I smell the piss before I see it. A pool underneath the railing telling me this is no place for me to wait for prince charming to appear. There are no princes. There are no heroes in this life. There are only moments when I know I am doing what I need to do and emotions that boil in my insides telling me to get out. There is a breeze in the tunnel telling me that I can get away from this place. You were already gone before you even got here- a shadow of the person I once knew.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Kicking

I'm lying on my bed under three different types of blankets. The window is slightly open so the sea breeze can creep across my exposed ankles. I feel nothing. I feel everything. At the same time. I am not sure why my life feels so empty when you arent around. There is a whole, as large as my imagination, picturing you here with me. There is a burning in my brain. It stings with the memory of what it would feel like to have you inside of me. You aren't a lover. You are my drug. I love you despite your abuse. I can't quit you. 


I can't go on with you. 

I can't go on without you. 

Taste the blood. 

I bite my tongue in desperation. 

Switching from side to side to side. 

I cry inside my pillow.

Kicking you one more time. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Responsible Junkie and Other Minor Irritations

Shooting heroin sucks. Not shooting heroin sucks.
There is this huge myth that getting off drugs is the solution to all of your problems. HAHA. Not even fucking close. Getting off drugs is a solution to a subset of your problems. When you quit opioids, it might fix your orgasm issues. You might be able to poop daily. You might not go to jail, get abscesses, overdose, a heart infection, or spend all over your money on little powders and pills. Getting off drugs does not make that girl/boy love you. It will not make people forgive you. It will not fix the fact that people are still peopley and somewhat scary. It won't fix your social anxiety. Don't hate me for telling the truth. It takes some work on your end.

You know what else is work? Sucking dick while you are dopesick. Working a nine to five while supporting a habit. Remembering all the lies you have told. Missing family functions while you wait for the dealer who is eight hours late. Stealing from stores. Middlemanning for people who truly hate you. Going to the pawn shop. Breaking all your "nevers". Being sick for twelve hours, then buying baking soda bunk dope, then having to hustle all over again. THAT IS A TON OF FUCKING WORK.

My children had their own version of fight club this morning. While I was getting dressed for work, they started beating the living crap out of each other. While I packed the lunches, this started up again. "BUT HEY KIDS- I'M NOT SHOOTING DOPE". They do not give two fucks about this (well they do but not in this case). They needed me to get in there, break them up, figure out what the issue was, and get them on their way. Just like you do. You need to stop beating yourself up, sort a few things out, and get on your way.

I love all you friends. I understand the struggle. I understand your fears. I honestly, truly want you to be happy. I want you to have the whole picture. My life is not perfect but it is pretty fucking okay. Be safe.


    I was hiding in the kids' room earlier. They found me.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

It isn't a party until...

Is Kelan crying? It's not a kids' event 'til somebody cries. 
No. Not this time. That isn't one of my children. The cries of my children are generally followed up with a second set of cries indicating one child has decided to violently charge the other to avenge whatever caused the first set of tears.

My friend and I have dragged our lawn chairs closer to the field. We are pretending to watch the nine year old compete in this game of chance known as youth athletics. Mostly, we are happy to spend some time together. With jobs(mine) and relationships (his), we don't get to see each other that often. There is a certain comfort in having a friend that understands what it is like to shoot dope then try to transition into a "normal" life. His recent relapse has reminded me how fragile the line between sobriety and insanity is on a daily basis. The last time I saw him, he was high as fuck. I had to admit I was more than a little jealous at the time. It had been a long long time since I had been so close to that eyes rolling back in your head feeling. Now, newly detoxed, we are trying to spend a few hours to catch up on the months that were squeezed into a couple weeks of using.

"Have you ever been sick enough to shit your pants?" I asked in between watching pitches.

He looks at me as if I asked him if he has ever killed a pet. "NOOOOOOOOOO" he blurts out, grabbing his neck in a semi pearl clutching gesture. He rolls his eyes "Have you?"

"No," I tell him as I wave to my daughter " but I have thrown my shit out the window".
He starts waving his hands with the c'mon with the story motion. I look around to make sure none of the other parents are close by. Okay, I'm game let's go.

One day in particular, I was sick so a friend convinced me to do some coke. I hated coke- but do you have some? You know how we are. Anyway-  I was selling the Chivah, the shitty stuff all up with coffee etc that the low level Mexican cartel guys would front me. ANYWAY- I was all nestled in my room so I took the balloons out of my mouth. If all sold all the dope, the would throw me free coke. I thought hey, what a gift. I realize now it was so I would sell dope all day and all night for them. I invited some fuckwit up to my room 'cause I did want to do my shit alone. But there was a problem, when  I did my uptown, I was so sure I was going to fucking die but I was paranoid, too"
"DUDE", my friend injects.
Exactly, dude is right.

"Dude you have to leave!" I said as I practically pushed him out the door 
"What the fuck?!" He looked at me. Suddenly I was dripping sweat. I was having a heart attack. I knew it! This motherfucker is trying to kill me! He is trying to kill me and get my dope. "Get out!" I scream. PARANOID AS A MOTHERFUCKER. I throw a free bag at him "get the fuck out!" 
I stick my head out the window and gasp for air. Ugh get out. I hear the door click.

My friend nods at me. "I like where this story is headed", he tells me. We giggle like two school girls with lots of tattoos. 

Then the feeling comes over me. The turtle head begins to forces it's way out of my even weakening sphincter. I feel my ass being ripped apart. After a week (maybe two?) of not taking a crap, I am geezed. but I am too fucking paranoid to open the door. 

Stop me if this story is too gross for you look. Silence. I continue

I get my narrow junkie ass on top of that sink. I do what we do. Except that mfing thing is the entire length of the colon. I have now delivered a five pound chinga babe. A dry grey stool without a single drop of moisture. I felt liberated from the cement oppressor that had been weighing me down. I shit in the sink and threw it out the window. Then I wiped my hands with alcohol pads cause yeah that is sterile. And fuckity fuck, that's my story. I'm sticking to it."

There is an awkward pause then we both laugh hysterically. We are laughing at us, who we are, the life we lead, the things we do. I pass him my Gatorade as we both shake our heads in recognition. My son asks to sit on my lap. I happily oblige him. As I sit at the game with my kids, my past, and my best friend in the world, my life feels complete again. I am content in the recognition that I am not in that place today. The only hits I have today came from my daughter in the third inning. 







Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Few Thoughts on the American Opioid Crisis

Normally, I use this space to post my stirring tales of addiction and recovery. Today's post is slightly different readers. I have been contacted by two different federal agencies in the past month about my opinions on what needs to be done to address the opioid crisis. This SHOULD be a good thing. But there is a catch. These clandestine contacts with me are indicative of a much larger problem. Policies and programs are currently being crafted at the national level with little to no input from former or current consumers of opioids. This is completely unacceptable. If leaders in the field want to know what we need, we should be leading some of these conversations. Instead, advocates/former users like myself are essentially the side piece of policy leaders. You want me around in private. You just don't want to take the risk of being in public with us.

When I make these posts on reddit or my personal blog, decision makers are reading them. They want to know what we are thinking. They just don't ask us directly. If you have ideas, please feel free to post them. I will continue to pass them on.

We need our voices to be heard, not just just read.

I love you. Be safe.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A lifeline

This is some long form material I am working on for a new book in a very raw form...
Also thank you for all the birthday wishes!

There is a moment in every day when we chose to succumb to the incredible mystery that is life without drugs or inflict self injury in the form resistance against our truths. I don’t know if I was born with the desire to use drugs. I don’t know if I evolved into an individual that needed solace in the chemical expression of happiness. I just know that once I began ingesting them, my life changed forever. I can never put the cork back in the bottle. I can never unsee the horrors unveiled in the life of drug user living on the streets of any major city. I can only strive to find a way to balance the past, the present, and plan for a future I want to live in.
“Why didn’t you meet me for lunch that day?” I asked.  I push my food around on the plate. There is always an awkward moment when I first meet people when I am not sure who they think I am. Am I an addict to them? A mom? An aging woman stuck with many of the same interests as a twenty year old. Despite many years of recovery, I still find a slow emergence of the true nature of who I am. It is as if I was born with a mask on. When one face is revealed to me, I peel it away only to find another. I am never settled, always a restless individual in search of the next thing that can heal my broken spirit.
He takes a drink of his soda. “I was too embarrassed then.” He starts pushing his food around, too. We are both feeling anxious for different reasons. He is casually dressed in a crisp t-shirt and jeans with just a tiny bit of sag in them. The tattoo across his throat is colorful and well done. There are no noticeable scars on his arms, thanks to the good sense to quit before he got too far behind in the game. His hat hides overgrown brown locks. The first thing I noticed about him was his crystal clear blue eyes. They reminded me of my own. The type that easily gives away the presence of opioids with the distinctive pinned pupils. I can tell he is not really hungry. He is dying for a cigarette as I force myself to finish my food. That routine smoke is a powerful draw to the space just outside the restaurant. He adjusts his watch in a nervous tic to signal he is paying attention.
“I was working a few blocks from you at the time,” he explains “I was using up to $300 dollars worth of pills some days. I had a great job that I fucked up. I switched to heroin because it was so much cheaper. Not sure what else there is to say…”
He has lots more to say. He is just feeling me out, unsure if he can trust me. It isn’t every day you meet someone off the internet that you stood up two years ago. The big difference is that he quit that drug after overdosing on the city bus. The driver was forced to call for an ambulance to revive him. I could tell within a few sentences we would become friends. There is just that Ohioan way of telling a story that I appreciated. We grow up restrained. We neither beg nor extole our accomplishments. We have a polite way of telling someone we think they are stupid. We like our chili sweet. We like our nights filled with fireflies. We like solitude instead of explaining our feelings. We also like to downplay a crisis.
“How does it feel to not use drugs for so long?” he drops an innocent enough question that sticks with me for the rest of the afternoon. How does it feel? Feelings are not reality. Feelings are just an expression of my current mental state. Today, I feel angry at myself. Despite a multitude of things I should be doing to improve my situation, I have spent the past eight months muddled in the stagnation that comes when a person completely disconnects from their support system. It wasn’t a drastic change. It happened incrementally over a period of years. “I am just too busy to…” and “I don’t really like” put bricks into the walls that surround me. There are problems with these walks. While they may keep me safe, I am also terribly alone. Socialization becomes a burden. I hate it. I miss it. I am confused by my own choices in the matter.
Where does one find a new friend? The idea is laughable. I am not a toddler on the playground. I am a woman of a certain age. I will do a google search on my break to find a solution. In between strange rashes and unusual animal friends, there should be some insightful dialogue on the friend making process. Yet I have read information on selecting a ripe cantaloupe with no success. A friend seems much more serious of a process. The unfortunate truth is that in the long stretch of what I call my recovery, my friends have either moved away from the costly area in which I live, died of both natural and unnatural causes, or relapsed never to be seen again. This is part of the reason why I don’t find the rooms of 12 step to be a reliable source of new friends. There is an  increased likelihood that I will just be bringing that next person into my life that will eventually leave me. Despite working the steps, seven years of therapy, and the ability to at least construct a halfway decent relationship foundation, I fear a person leaving more than I fear being alone.
I turn the bathwater to the only setting I enjoy- scalding hot. If the water doesn’t leave me looking like a lobster on a hot stove, I am not having it. I would throw in a few bath bombs however the risk of a urinary tract infection overrules the happiness caused by fizzy pink bubbles. I can never forget that weekend I was laid up with some 100% cranberry juice with no sugar added and a pillow between my knees after a long soak. I am cool off that, I tell myself as I sink just far enough in the water not to get my hair wet. I started using henna based dye when I noticed my hair might actually be thinning after age forty. In addition, those greys are slowly creeping into the unmanageable phase. It won’t be long now before I have to make the decision. Do I continue to rage against the dyeing of the light or let this mane go into salt and pepper. Maintaining to MILF status I desperate cling to in the presence of obvious marker of aging.
I remain relieved to be in the generation where sending nudes involved postage stamps and discreet photo options. I cringe at the thought that I will soon be advising my daughter and sons on the finer points of both sexuality and impulse control. Being naked of requires a level of trust for me now. Long gone are the days when I could rip my clothes off at any time under the right set of circumstances. I have accumulated enough life experience to understand that “privacy” is a luxury most of us will never experience. Nothing in our world is truly private. Yet the mystery of the mystery of the human body holds a few lasting secrets. Underneath whatever garments I use to sign my individual preferences, lies the precious vessel I have endlessly abused.  
There is a certain vulnerability when taking your clothes off as an adult. A vulnerability that I am hyper aware of because my clothes were once an imaginary barrier between the flesh and violence. When I would get a place to clean up, it was generally a “bird bath”, when the head is stuck under the sick and body parts get brief seconds to touch the water. I did not want to leave any part exposed for more than a few seconds. A bath was only taken when I was entrenched in a safe location.

I close my eyes to drown out the sounds from the next room, I feel myself slipping back into another time. Dissociation is what my therapist called it. A symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A subtle reminder can shift me into another place, another time. I hear each individual drop of as it slowly joins the pool that I hope will swallow me up. My freshly painted toes peak out at the end of the bathtub. The veins are popping out from the heat of the water. I feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into a cloud of my own making. If I only had the courage to slip underneath the smooth to hide my screams.

How long have I been in this place? An hour? A day? Time has completely escaped me. He said he had a clawfoot tub. He promised me I could seclude myself in here. A wounded little girl now has adult problems. As I slid the deadbolt, I felt a slight sigh get caught in my throat. Maybe I can rest. I gently strip off the top layer of clothing, the layer that I want the world to see. The next layer reveals my secret. The fabric of my shirt is crusted against the weeping sore that scabbed in unison with the undergarment that doubles as a bra. When I bend over to pull of my socks, I notice the shoulder that once supported my ample chest is giving way at the lack of womanly assets. I have nothing in the space that surrounds my heart with the exception of the memory hurried kisses once given by young men who called me baby.

I sit down on the toilet in an effort to balance myself. I feel myself spinning with regrets. It isn’t often I get to inventory the physical damage I have caused to myself. As I pull off my other crusty sock, I wonder when will this finally end. I place my ear against the door. I want to know FOR SURE that he isn’t going to be coming in. I can hear the rattling noise of a sleeping tiger, waiting on the futon for me to return. He couldn’t stay awake long enough to collect on his end of the bargain. That’s okay. I slipped him a xanax so he should be out for awhile. I look up at the florescent lights on the ceiling as I have the pleasure of releasing my belt in peace. My jeans are as tight as the shoelace I had wrapped around my arm. I wiggle out of them in the hope that I can feel human again. I move the condensation aside on the mirror hanging on the back of the door to reveal what remains of me. The body of a tired of woman and eyes that have seen far too many things. I dislodge my panties as I prepare myself for the baptism that can wash away my frequent sins.  

I feel everything and nothing at the same time. I'm too tired for the five different kinds of body wash he left for me. It was almost human. A gesture of manufactured affection. Really, he just wanted to  make sure I was “clean”. As I lie back, contemplating my next hit, I think about home. I think about a time when I was wanted for something besides the feeble body resting below my neck. I think about Saturday morning cartoons in footed pajamas, flannel sheets, and my special towel. No one made me a junkie. Yet, here I am. I am going to fall asleep here, pretend for a second that my life is normal. Until it is time to put back on my dirty shell and start all over again.
There is no such place as this concept of rock bottom. There is always much, much lower. I can assure you of this because I have visited this place many times. Waking up in a pool of self loathing. Curling up in a ball of fear. This is the spiritual death that comes when we turn our life over to the desperation that is the life of active drug use. That slow walk to the pawn shop as that thing we “never” would part with become visualize in terms of a half grams. The deep breath we take as we fumble with the crisp bills inside our mother’s wallet. The slight nod we give ourself as we step off the curb in the direction of that trick waiting on the corner. The slow realization that the “NEVER” has now become the reality of the every day.

There is a new kind of never that comes when survival is based around the world of those we always called normal. These creatures are fucked up too.

“Hey, I was wondering if you had a minute…” a woman’s voice trails off as she gently taps my arm. I can clearly see she has been crying. The moisture still clings to her eyelashes. The redness in her face is unmistakable.
Without her even finishing her statement, I already know what she is going to tell me. I have heard it a hundred times before. Women and men in their 40’s or 50’s meekly pulling me aside to discuss the addiction issues of their adult children. The parents are always extremely apologetic. They don’t want to “bother me”. They just want five minutes with someone they think could understand them. They want someone to feel their frustration, to look into their eyes. They want someone to tell them that there is still hope. They want to believe that the son or daughter that has stolen from them won’t die somewhere with a needle hanging out of their arm. That the child they sent to rehab four times will miraculously get it on the fifth trip. That the three month chip their son showed them will mean sleep will be easier now, that things will “get better”. I can’t promise these things. I can only listen. I can only dull my own struggles by helping others. Throwing them a lifeline saves me from the water's edge.





Saturday, May 27, 2017

To be better

Being involved in harm reduction for 19 years, I have had a long ride of highs and lows. I have seen individuals get their children back, only to relapse and leave them at daycare. I have seen the mostly hopeless of drug user get their life together. I have seen someone hit in their neck and die of a brain aneurysm. I have seen multiple people emerge from prison to later obtain nursing degrees. I have seen two friends die on dialysis at 34 years old. They both used to shoot in their ports. I have seen people leave the streets to find love and happiness. I could go on and on with pairs of the agony and the joys of working with active users. It is the kind of stuff that nourishes the soul. Alternatively, I have spent many sleepless nights worrying about thing cannot change.

Death doesn't come this close to me very often. Both my parents have passed on. The vast majority of people I used with have passed on. There just isn't much of an inner circle left. My friend of 25 years was a father, a counselor, and also very caught up in the relief that substances brought him. The body can only take so much abuse. By the time he was able to pull together some self care, the damage was far too severe. My mind is struggling to reconcile the person in the hospital bed with the strong man I knew for all my adult life.

At the same time as this has been going on, the roller coaster turned upward.
 I received this message:

"I wanted to tell you that following your example, I've begun personally funding a pseudo "needle exchange" by ordering hundreds at a time and making sure that the people who I can't convince to reduce their usage are at least equipped properly with alcohol pads and tourniquets and clean rigs.... I'm able to acquire Narcan discretely and for those who know what I do, I'm often used as a knowledge resource for them for harm reduction.

Last night I saved a couple who OD'd in junkie Romeo and Juliette style. Those people are alive in great part because you pushed me to be a better and more care minded user myself..."

Despite the horrors of this world, there is still great beauty. We, drug users, are fundamentally good people who want make a difference in the world. We just don't know how. We are frequently excluded, told that our talents and abilities are secondary to our self medication. 

This post is not about death. It is about the resilience of our community. We push forward. We push past loss. We push past stigma. We push past our own inclination towards self destruction. We want to do better, to be better, we don't always have the tools. 

I love you. Always. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Discarded Flower

The junkie girl, "sleeping" in the sun
Stretching out her legs
Blocking the sidewalk (ever so slightly)
Choking on the sympathy of strangers.
Her hair is a bit knotted
Her skin is a little bit gray
You will never speak to her
There is nothing you can say.
She is the discarded flower
With her beauty quickly fading
No longer the object of desire
Out in the rain- waiting.
Burnt out- like ash from a cigarette
Used up- like a cotton.
Out of sight.
Out of mind.
Out of money.
Out of time.
Addicted.