Saturday, December 30, 2017

New Year? Yes New Me? Not So Much

2017 is about to be over. The American life expectancy is down for yet another year as a direct result in the rise in opioid deaths. Rates of Hep C are up. In terms of Harm Reduction, it's not too far off from what I was dealing with as a new IV drug user in 1990. Lack of clean syringes, deaths, and the government sitting on their fucking hands instead of acting.

Last year, under the Obama Administration, I got uninvited to a White House committee because there were some concerns that some of my views were controversial. A year later, under a new Administration, Harm Reduction is vilified as enabling. They are seriously considering bring back JUST SAY NO. This makes me nauseous. There is scientific evidence of interventions that work in opioid use and abuse. We have a mountain of evidence on the efficacy of syringe exchange. Yet, we have science deniers pushing the idea that abstinence is next to Godliness. I can't even listen to this rhetoric anymore. It's wrong. It's tired. It's killing people.

In 2018, I'm going to be even MORE radical. I am making a commitment to call these people out ever chance I get. I hope to help seed some underground programs. I believe radical harm reduction and civil disobedience is our only hope in some locations.

If you are reading this and you have no access to syringes, I strongly suggest you get a prepaid credit card and purchase a box online. If you need the money, sell a few to friends or a ten pack to your dealer for a few buck to help fund the next box. New syringes, using alcohol to clean your skin, and sterile water are so important. Also, don't share your stuff be it dollar bills or straws or cookers.

On a personal level, my 2017 had lots of twists and turns. I have lost a lot of weight by not fixing my feelings with food but this has turned me into an emotional basket case. I had a close friend relapse then we had to work to get him back on track. This dragged up a ton of unresolved feelings from all the friends I could not help that later died in active addiction. I went back to 12 step meetings after being pretty fucking angry at them for 4-5 years. I went back to therapy. I haven't been writing as much as my words are kind of tied up in my emotional lethargy. The paperback of "The Big Fix" came out. I started a free podcast here. I started doing some elements of graffiti again. I also started a project trying to bring Harm Reduction to graffiti writers. I spent a lot of time petting cats. I sent out a lot of naloxone. I got back into my love of movies again.

I hope this year treated you right. If it didn't life is a marathon. Keep on moving. Don't worry if you stumble. I love you readers.

Here is a pic of my new look. I lost 44 pounds.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Fuck the Holidays 2017 Edition

I've sold my holiday gifts for dope.
I got arrested for prostitution of Christmas Eve.
I've spent New Year's Eve in Jail kicking dope.
(all true)

For those of us with substance use and depression issues, the darkest days of winter are not always filled with Holiday cheer. It is important to remember our fellows struggling just to make it through the day. I cannot even describe to another human how tough it was for me to make it though many winter months. The cold combined with both a dope habit and my living conditions made me contemplate suicide many days. Plus, there are just logistical issues- not being able to find veins in the cold, drug dealers who want to be with their families on holidays, and separation from family on my never ending bag chase.

In 2017, fortunately enough, my mental health has been in a fairly decent place. I'm not spending the weekend in bed curled in a fetal position. I consider myself pretty lucky because I actually have been in that place more times than I can count. No amount of binging movies, or masturbation, or retail therapy, or needles in the neck can cure that place within yourself when you just feel like fucking garbage. Now, at the same time, we are encouraged to don holiday apparel and go forth and be jolly. Da fuk? Anyway, my kids really force me out of the death spiral but I assure you I know what it is like to be there sober or not sober. I've experienced both.

I just want to make a few points:

1. You are fucking awesome. This is the most important thing. The greatest gift you can give anyone this holiday season is to tend to yourself and your health. People love you. You may not always FEEL that way. Feelings are not facts. There are people out there who love you and want the best for you.

2. Caffeine is not a food group. Eat something besides sugar. Whether overeating or under eating is your stress go to, at least make an attempt to get some water and real food in your system.

3. Showering and Getting out of the house may be the only thing you can accomplish. You know what, that a big fucking deal. That is a good thing. That is like winning the Olympics of depression events. Do what you have to do.

4. Call a hotline, find a support group, get on reddit, talk it out.

5. This dark period is just a short period in the long journey known as your life. Find some shit that makes you happy. Grab some cereal, pour it in a big bowl and watch the Grinch if that makes you feel better. Let the dog sleep in the bed tonight. Pick the cat up and get extra snuggles. Draw a picture. Pick up some crayons. Write something. Use some glitter. Drink hot chocolate WITH marshmallows. Do your own special memory. Using, sober, or in between. This is YOUR LIFE. Find a thing that brings you a little bit of comfort. You deserve to be happy.

Be safe. Love XOXO

Monday, December 18, 2017

I am personally grateful for harm reduction

My best friend relapsed on heroin this year. It wasn't something I ever could have planned for, it was wasn't something I was expecting, it wasn't a thing I wanted in my life. I haven't told the full story. I am not sure I want to at this point. I do want to make a few comments.

I chose to stay with this person through the process. That was MY choice. They decided they wanted to get help. That was THEIR choice. I provided love and encouragement while I cried myself to sleep a few different nights.  It was a turbulent few months, mostly because I truly was expecting the unanswered text messages and RIP on his social media that let me know he was gone. I'm new to the friend circle so no one would have gone out of their way to notify me. He and I met on instagram. The old friends probably didn't know I existed.

It was in an insulated world for many months. I didn't want to tell anyone close to me. I didn't want to hear judgment. I didn't want to answer questions. Most of all, I didn't want to be talked to about cutting him off. I wasn't providing him with resources outside of a sympathetic ear and the occasional lunch. There was nothing to cut off. I got a small taste of how my mother must have felt- the isolation was palpable. I knew it wasn't me that had relapsed. However, it hurt to see a person I cared about in that condition. I felt tired and I felt angry at the whole situation.

What did I learn from this? I had to practice everything I've been preaching to everyone else for so many years. I had to love him while practicing my own self care. I had to discuss harm reduction. I had to pull, not push. I had to support not punish. I say this to say this post isn't really about me. It is to say that a person will never find recovery if they are dead. He did find recovery. I am grateful for harm reduction.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Water's Edge

There is a moment in every day when we chose to either 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 the wounds left over from ten years of active addiction.
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 brown eyes. They are different from my own but seem to be the kind that easily gives away the presence of opioids with the distinctive pinned pupils. He describes them as “brown like tar”, the kind that nearly killed us both.  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 extol 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 pushing into the realm of the middle 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 the MILF status I desperate cling to in the presence of obvious markers 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 sink 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. I’ve used it to protect myself from pain. My body might be here. My mind escapes to an entirely new location. I was told it was part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I just know it as part of who I am.  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 would never part with become visualized 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.
Who am I to tell these people what will work? I try to be present. I try not to lose myself in their experiences. A son lost, a girlfriend strung out, missing pills, losing hope, a last trip to rehab, a lost cause, a hundred thousand dollars spent, a trip to jail, and twenty seven days sober might be what I hear in the course of one day. I need you.
“Mommy, I need you…” I hear someone calling me from the kitchen.
I step away from my phone and into the kitchen.
Kelan reaches up his arms “Mommy,” he says “pick me up!”
As I pull him closer so he can grab this or that in the pantry, I realize that my life is a gift. Sharing my life is also a gift. I grab a fruit snack and never want to put him down. I want to be here. In this moment, in this place in time, I feel a comfort in knowing that whether I am helping my kids or helping a family, my life has meaning. Where once the only thing I had to contribute “what’s between my legs”, I know I am worth so much more. That gives me peace.

Here is a pic of me and one of my friends doing rad shit.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Things I would Like You to Know

Twenty years ago, I was sitting alone in my dingy hotel room wondering what the fuck I was going to do with my life. This was captured in "Black Tar Heroin:The Dark End of the Street". I was using cocaine, speed, and heroin on a daily basis with booze and benzos sprinkled in there for effect. I was using money my mom sent my to pay my rent ($30 a day or $150 a week) while I sold drugs on the street for low level Mexican cartel guys to support my habit. It was dangerous. I was withering away as pretty much all my free time was spent digging for veins in my feet, hands, or stomach. Up to an hour per hit 4-6 times a day. My boyfriend had left me in search of greener (browner?) pastures. I was fucked up and alone. My last chance at quitting was methadone, which I had messed up by shooting dope on top of my dose instead of giving it a chance. I quit the clinic at 50-60mg (not sure the exact dosage as I was on a blind dose). That was Dec 1997.

I quit all drugs when I was 27, almost 28 years old. I am not sure how old you are but I suspect most of the people reading this are around that age give or take. I went to jail where I kicked cold turkey. Then I did the in custody program stuff for 2 and a half months. The main thing I found beneficial from that was the 12 step meetings that came into the facility. Then, I went to a parolee rehab for 3 1/2 months. Once the system wouldn't pay for me anymore, I had to get the fuck out. Period. I had lined up a place at the Salvation Army Sober Living facility. I had a job working at a market research place. I was volunteering at an outpatient women's clinic for people who had been sexually exploited. I also attending one weekly group there.

I don't think any of this is new ground if you follow me. I am running through the details to let y'all know there is nothing particularly remarkable about my story. I had a LOT of help. I was very determined. And honestly, I was just DONE. When I made up my mind that I wanted to stop, I did the damn thing. You may be questioning yourself and your choices at this very moment. Just like I did in the months leading up to my last hit. It's a tough place to be in. My "bottom" was lower than most but the pain is all too familiar.

Maybe you aren't ready to stop. You know what? I totally get that too.That was also me. I 100% refused rehab when I was 26. I knew it was a waste of time so I didn't bother to drain resources. My family was pissed. The judge was pissed. I just was not in a place to stop. So I didn't. I respect you. I respect your choices. I just want you to be safe. Fentanyl has changed the game completely. No one who partakes in what they call "hard" drugs is immune from the potential risks of fentanyl in the national drug supply. When fentanyl showed up in the crack here in the bay area, I felt immeasurably sad because it seemed like our harm reduction efforts were too little too late. I digress.

The point of this really is to say I believe in you. You are smart. You are inherently a good person. Drug use doesn't define who you are inside. If you decide you want to quit, you CAN and WILL. If you continue to use, be safe. Preserve your health as much as possible. Trust me- you will need that body of yours one day. You want it in good running order.

Maybe I am a sentimental old lady writing these posts. I really want you to live and have a shot at the things I never thought I would see in life. Graduating college (twice), having kids, having friends, finding love, writing a book, waking up every day satisfied that I did not die. There was a time that all I wished for was to never wake up.

Anyway, this is the time of year when I think of you. The person in the picture, ready for change.