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.