Saturday, July 20, 2019

Last Night’s Makeup

Last night’s makeup is caked around my eyes, there's a mascara ring of fire as I brush away my remorse. I exhale to the universe, my breath reeks late night chore boy and foil. Greeting the new day, I slam my hand against the alarm clock. My roommates are long gone. I’m the fuck up who gives everyone pause. Surprisingly, I got my pants off before the Xanax hit me. My "friend" at the bar knew I had been on a teensy crack binge (among other things).If I let him rub my thigh and pretend I'm interested, he's a generous person. His breath smells like Newports and rotten garbage. He leaned in for a kiss as I turned sideways. Such is life.

It’s 7:45 am. I have to be at my  job at 9 to open. My plan is to sleep with my head on the desk in between customers, like nap time in kindergarten. “I just want to rest my eyes for a minute” is what I’ll tell the fresh faced teenager whom I will need to cover for me today. I also have a few buy one get one free coupons I will use without the customers knowledge to skim money from the register. This is a great hustle to drum up $20 without getting caught. And it's not really stealing or this is what I tell myself. This job is saving me. I can eat here. I get money here. And it is keeping me from going without tonight. I can’t go without. Not for a day. Not until noon. Eric is dropping off my “lunch” and I’m going to be very very hungry. I didn’t save anything for the morning. I never save anything.

Two Vicodin washed down with a lukewarm Nestle Quik makes breakfast. I search for change in the couch for the bus. Four more days until payday, I whisper to myself.  I’m already broke. I'm actually quite in debt. Eric gives me credit. He will come collect from me on payday. He gets some broken down old lady to drive me to the check cashing place. My bank account is closed- long overdrawn.

 I tell the guy I let sleep on my floor to get dressed. I think I would’ve let him fuck me if he would’ve asked. I doubt he's the type to offer without some form of compensation. Truthfully, I’m not sure that he’s had a functional dick since he left rehab last spring. Despite the fact he has outward source of income, he manages to keep his pupils small and his frame even smaller. Not sure what the stripper he "dates" sees in him. Maybe his head game is exemplary. Who knows. For some unknown reason, he split his last two bags with me after we stumbled home from the bar. He’s going to be sick soon too. I have nothing to offer but the push from my pipe.
“You got somewhere to be...?!”
He tries to light up a cigarette.
“No no. You can’t smoke in my room.”
He scratches his head as I point to the door.
He’s going to beg his mom to let him back in the house today or that's what he told me last night.
"You look like a fucking raccoon", he casually holds up the mirror we did lines on.
Last Night's Makeup. Today is full of regrets.

                                            Me and my friend out living the trash life 2019

Friday, July 5, 2019

Watch you Smoke

The first time I injected anything into my veins, I was 20 years old.

In the summertime, I’d get a rash because my thighs would rub together. I’d smother myself in baby oil, hoping to get a tan line around my mint shorts. Or my weathered swimsuit. I’d lay on the lawn chair in the backyard until the cicadas started chirping and the neighbor would fire up the weed whacker over the sound of the evening news. West Chester was the type of place where you could ride your bike to the end of the dead end street to poke a stick at a dead raccoon. It’s face slowly decomposing with the passing of the last humid days of summer. I’d pull up my comforter to sleep curled up on top of the air conditioning vent, remaining completely oblivious to the fact that in a few years I will no longer have a place to call home.

In the long nights, kids who “know better” pass joints of weed they got from a wooden box hidden in their dad’s underwear drawer. A wedding will be the first place you will get a sip of whiskey. My face turns red when a drunk neighbor comments on my growing boobs. “Get me a drink” he says. Coasters are made of cork. Thunderstorms fill the gutters with so much water, we wade up to our ankles and prey we don’t get sucked down.

“I’m going to have you look away” he says as he pushes the very dull syringe into my arm. It leaves a mark like the 4th of July. My arm is red, white and blue now. Like a mosquito had put a thing in me, instead of taking liquid out. I cried that night, that first time I didn’t get high. Not because lines were crossed but because I declared after five vodka cranberries that he didn’t really love me. This was true. I cried a river of tears to a stranger in the bathroom who helped fix my eyeliner. And I still have to give him a ride home, I tell her. She nods her disapproval.

It wasn’t the morphine sulphate, it was the feelings I had for you that gave me pins and needles. I wanted to wake up in your dirty sheets to watch you smoke the first cigarette of the day.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

When I was young

When I was young, I knew there was something different about me. It wasn’t just the fact that I was shunned by most of adolescent society because I was significantly overweight. I just felt this overwhelming sense that I didn’t belong to the pastel world of suburban Ohio. The corn fields and the chain stores and the sameness. No one wanted to stick out. There was conformity in the water there. A belief in following behind the latest whatever. I tried to fall in line.

 Until one night while eating popcorn and laying next to the air conditioning on a summer night, I saw a thing that changed my life. It was punk rock on my tv. I don’t remember the exact film clip but I remember seeing kids wearing dresses made out of trash bags, boys wearing eyeliner, ripped jeans with safety pins. And I wanted in. I had no access to these things, but I wanted them.

I also knew at this age that I was attracted to boys AND girls, a thing that was 100% not allowed when we were seeing images of humans suffering from AIDS on tv. Terms like “God’s retribution” were thrown around in casual conversation in the ‘burbs. I certainly couldn’t be one of them. As a teenager, not only did I not know anyone who was “out”, I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone. But when I traveled to downtown, I saw magnificent queens in gender bending clothing reserved traditionally for women at the punk rock shows. I had lied to my parents, saying I was staying at a friends house. Instead, I stayed up all night in a 24/7 diner until I could catch the bus back to my dead end life.

Drugs, yes. The drugs started at 17. Was it part of the whole experience? Yes. Did it have to be? I don’t know. I always felt like there was another person trapped inside my skin. The suicidal thoughts were becoming more persuasive. No one will care if you are gone. But the weed then the booze and then the pills dulled that a little. So why not. Heroin was a myth then. It wasn’t until later that heroin became part of the progression into where I *thought* I wanted to be. I wanted freedom from the thoughts that told me I wasn’t worth your time. Perhaps self esteem is cheaper than a tenth of a gram but one is easier to find.

Heroin was just an extension of Vicodin. Or percs. Or whatever was being passed around. I never reasoned out that THIS MIGHT RUIN MY LIFE. Because I didn’t think past today. The drinking was  making my depression worse. It enhanced the worst part of my personality. Heroin was the evolutionary end result of my efforts to survive mental illness. There it was- the solution. And there it wasn’t.

I don’t regret things anymore because it’s been so long, I have nothing staring me in the face. Perhaps you are regretting things you can’t change. We do what we do to survive. We make poor choices. We learn from them. I don’t know why drugs slowly crept into every aspect in my life. I suppose because I loved them. I loved them more than life itself. That probably isn’t your experience but you might understand that drugs feel good. So we try them. We succumb to their seduction. We seek out whatever they offer. We find them hard to leave behind. You are a good person despite what you make think of some of your choices. Those choices are natural extensions of the world we live in. We just adapt to our surroundings which slowly trend downward as we invest our hopes in a substance.

Thank you for reading. Xoxo T aka Four gold fronts

Monday, June 10, 2019

Back from Burnout

2019 has been a year of transitions for me. I’ve spent the past twenty one years working as an advocate for those folks who have been widely written off by society. Sex workers, those who’ve been incarcerated, people who use drugs, and those experiencing mental health issues. I never anticipated I would be in the position to advocate for anything. I fully believed I would die with a syringe hanging out of my arm.

Fast forward to the present. I’m working to figure out what the next chapter holds for me. Is it as a writer? Is it as a speaker? Is it raising kids? I’m doing all these things. I’m also dealing with pretty serve severe flair ups of anxiety. Working in this field can take an emotional toll on a person. We are years deep into an overdose crisis with only glimmers of hope.

Anyway readers, I haven’t quit being your advocate. I’ve just been recharging a bit. I’ve been taking the necessary steps to keep my mental health in order. I have a bunch of new stories I’ve been sketching out. Lots of new ideas.

I’m still sending Narcan. Still sending syringes. Still working on a book. Still being a mom.
I love you all.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Waiting for anything

There was an old man that used to drive by when I was sitting on the fire hydrant. On the warm fall afternoon, I would feel the nod slowly creeping up on me. I would sit with my eyes closed like a cat in the windowsill. He would beep to get my attention. I would wave him on.
“Never- not on my worst day would I go with you...” I would choke on those words a few weeks later.

I was young then. I had long black hair, blue eyes. My lashes were as long as the track mark that snaked from the pit of my elbow to my wrist. I was skinny then. I was thin for the first and only time in my life. Six months of daily heroin use had whittled away my appetite to nothing but an occasional home run fruit pie or little Debbie snack cake. My leggings covered the bruises- I took too many klonopins and tumbled down the stairs last night. I woke up sick this morning, overslept my medication.

I flip my hair for effect as the cars go by. Waiting for anything and nothing to happen.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Emerging from the Cocoon of Sadness- death hangover

This is part of a work in progress 

    When I left the emergency room, I felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment as if I had failed a test life had provided for me. As a woman and a mother, I am supposed to be able to handle anything and everything life throws at me. Wash the bowls for the morning cereal, make sure there are available clean socks, sign that permission slip, pack one lunch from home, one likes pasta with red sauce, one pasta with butter. Make sure the bus pass has enough money, dial in the conference call at exactly 11 am, clean the catbox before the senior cat shits on the floor, give the dog his medicine, and OH! Deal with the deaths of those around me without missing a beat. The rubber band that has held my life tightly together for years was beginning to snap back.
    A text breezes past my screen.
      “Tracey- are you dialing in this call?’ - Abe.
    “I am actually at the hospital right now…” why do I need an excuse to say I can’t take on anymore. I feel a smug justification- look- I am finally seen. I have to be creating my high drama to get the rest I need. It’s only going to cost me six hours in a paper nightgown, a bunch of explanations, and an undisclosed co pay. Fuck.
    I slip my sunglasses  back over my eyes. Things have got to change. There are no more tears. Tears have turned into nightmares where I wake up in a cold sweat. Tears only fall when animals are rescued from precarious situations. Except now I am in need of a lifeline. There are days when I walk from my office to the store I have to remind myself with every step that breathing is automatic. I won’t pass out. I won’t pass out.
Today I reached in the sink. I pulled out the slimy food that had been lingering there for a week. No one clapped for me, AA style. No one said “you are doing a great job”. No one explained to me that when you give up heroin eventually you are going to have to clean out the disgusting food that accumulated at the bottom of the sink even if you are exhausted by the accumulated pain of twenty one years of being present in your life.You are just going to have to dial this one in and function in battery saver mode. Save your energy for the bigger trials to come.
It didn’t take long for the bottle to finally get uncorked. On a routine day, at a routine moment, I was walking my best friend to a hair appointment. I don’t remember exactly what he said, I just remember how I felt. When I turned the corner for the next block, an overwheleming wave of sadness overtook me in a way I had not felt since the death of my mother. I started crying in public, in transit, on a sunny spring afternoon, and I simply could not stop. I started walking up a hill to meet my sponsor at the appointed location when the tears started dripping on my casual friday jeans. I had to make a space for myself in one of those faux marble planters landscape artists use for trees as I sat down on a tiny piece of earth in between house on a busy road. This couldn’t go any farther. I couldn’t go another step.
I began to panic. I am not one for losing control. My whole life is curated around control. Control of my emotions. Control of my children's activities. Control of what I say as to not mix my harm reduction message with any personal characteristics when I am in the public eye. Control of my eating. Control of my time. Control of my narrative. Yet, I had completely lost control. For the first time since I put down drugs and alcohol, I had not idea what was coming next.
It had been a matter of time before it would all start pouring out. There had been many open wounds. The death of my parents. A miscarriage. Watching my buddy, the first friend I made when I came to SF, slowly die from liver failure. Another died of alcoholism. The overdoses. The grief stacked up and stacked up until it finally leaked all over my sweater.
“I don’t know why I can’t stop crying” I said. My friend handed me a dry napkin to dry my rain storm of snot and tears.
She patted me gently on the shoulder.
There are moments when words are not necessary. Words are out of place. There are no words. There is only being present to witness the pain of another human and providing a mirror in which they can see that mirror of sadness, I could witness my grief was pulling my well mended life apart at the seams.
The dream I had about you was so vivid.
 Daniel was lying next to me in our cheap rent by the night hotel. His face was scruffy. For whatever reason, he would try to grow facial hair that grew in patchy. His cheeks were red. When he was warm, comfortable, or happy his cheeks would get slightly red around the edges. The top of hair hair was hanging down in his face the way that I like it. I liked him with longer bangs. It made him seem less hardened by the world. I didn’t know a ton about him when we hooked up. I just knew I didn’t want to be attached to anyone. My last boyfriend and the boyfriend before that one and the boyfriend before that one had been abusive. They were all disposable really. An interchanging series of tattoos and angry stares. This person was different. More like a best friend than a lover. But I did love him.
We were curled up in a pile. I had on my longjohns with intermittent blood drip  stains on the legs. He was wearing a pair of my jeans he had cut off into shorts. I could hear his breathing against his chest. I felt safe. I had spent most of my adult life with an abusive man, on drugs, or both at the same time. Daniel was a gentle person who loved me in this state of inertia.
Here I was, no longer alone with a person who seemed to understand me. I had wanted to get off drugs when I was with Daniel. He seemed to want the same. There was always a thing holding him back. I couldn’t never understand what it must be like to have both of your parents be on heroin. I shot dope with him and his father once. Like a scene out of the Jack Black book- two hobos and a woman on the side of the road in a dusty San Francisco alleyway. Did I have a blanket for his father to use for the night? Your dad doesn’t even have his own blanket. What world is this where the son is called on to take care of his addicted father. Of course. I’ll cling to you a little tighter while we share this cardboard for one.
When Daniel had a raging case of Hepatitis, I had to give him enough dope to get him to go to the hospital. “I can’t be sick in that place, Tracey”. People like us know the hospital won’t give you more than 30mg of methadone. I’ve seen more than one person walking around the Tenderloin with their IV lines attached, trying to get the sick off. I went to see Daniel at his bedside. I never went to the public hospital. That’s where people like us went to die. But I went to see him. I pulled myself into his hospital bed, hoping to get some rest with him before the nurses kicked me out. He pushed my hair back and said he would see me soon. I loved him. I really did.
I wanted to get sober. Daniel did not. Or he could not. I’m not sure which it was. This was a wedge in our relationship. I couldn’t keep shooting up between my toes, spending two hours looking for a vein. He said it was killing us. I tried methadone but he encouraged me not to go. Why bother. I was throwing up at the train station after missing my dose. He moved me so I missed puking on my shoes. what killed us was the fact I couldn’t go on one more step. There were no more moves for me. Another woman with drugs came along. It could have been anyone really. I had checked out from life.
We had always said one day we would get clean and get back together. I waited. I watched. Three times over the course of 18 months you said this was the time. The first time I ran into on the street. I was doing outreach for my agency. When you leaned in to hug and kiss me, I could smell the alcohol on your breath. I knew and you knew what would be next. That’s just how we are. No calls for six more months.
I was alone then but I wasn’t lonely. I wasn’t waiting at the window to see if you walked by. My sober living was right in the heart of the neighborhood where I had spent so much of my time using. For the first year, people would ask me where you were or if I had seen you. I was alone. No man to be following behind. No sandwich to share. No bags of dope to split (mostly) down the middle. I was alone for the first time in my adult life. No relationship of convenience directing my daily activities. I missed you though. I waited until eventually I didn’t. I hoped until I gave up. I never stopped hoping you would change your life. I just stopped hoping that the person you would change your life for would be me.
A few more calls from jail. “I am trying to get in a program”. Okay, I believe you. I have no choice.I also have to move on with my life. I saw the stars over my head one night in between the clouds. I wished you were looking at them with me. You have another girlfriend now- she’s a not me. I know. I saw you watching a chess game on market street. We talked for an hour. You were “sober” nearly five months. The two of us were chubby and healthy.
When I hugged him goodbye, l felt good about this parting. There had been a connection but I hadn’t fully let down my guard. I had been through this before. I had started moving on with my life. He had a lady friend. Maybe this would work for him. But I had nagging doubts.
When he relapsed, he took a string of people with him. That could have been me. One nearly died, I heard about them landing in the hospital. I don’t know why I didn’t walk away with him that day on the street. By the fourth time, I just wanted to see if it stuck.
There was the night I saw him on Polk street. The police stopped us, just like old times. They thought *I* was using. They asked if they could search me. I was on my way to a 12 step convention. Do you want to go. They wrapped him in a sheet with well wishes that said “keep coming back”. You started picking at yourself so bad in the bathroom, I ended up leaving you there. When we prayed for the person to come in the rooms, it was always you.
There would be many more years of cryptic messages from Daniel. He was hospitalized with a brain infection. He was in a rehab facility. “How are you Trace…” I get a call at my desk at work. “How can I get into rehab?” Can I do this thing for girlfriend number five. How am I. Will this ever stop.
In 2011, I sent him this message:
“Daniel, I am sorry that you are so sick. Using sucks and it tears a person apart. I hope that you can feel better soon. I had some weird dreams about you a few months back. i was hoping you were going to come by and see my at my work. Maybe when I go back in late May. I am caught up with the family life. I have a great situation going but I don't forget where I came from. I just had 13 years clean in feb. I definitely will always care for you and wish you recovery”
My family was complete now. My life was complete now. Yet, there is always this little piece that felt like it was missing. The living loss of a person I cared about so much eats away at me.
“Tracey- are you on this call?” It’s a social worker from a hospital asking if I know a facility that can take Daniel. I don’t know of a place- isn’t that your job? I am angry. I am angry at the whole fucking thing. I am angry that I am the only stable person that he knows. I am angry that I don’t know of a place- he has been to pretty much every treatment facility in this city multiple times with no real success. Mostly, I am sad that I cannot do anything. I am sad that I have nothing I am able to cotribute. I feel guilty that my life has turned out so differently. He’s in a wheelchair now. Or a cane. I am confused as I try to pump breastmilk at my desk for my son.
Daniel curled up in a ball, dying on the streets.
Like Daniel was wrapped in the sheet that cold night, I’ve been wrapped in a cocoon of sadness. There has been no time for me to grieve. When am I allowed to have a breakdown? In the twenty minutes before the kids get home from school and after I got home from work? In the ten minutes between meetings at work? In the thirty minutes I spend scrolling my phone on the train, hoping I don’t see a person that will engage me in a conversation. When is it I can schedule my breakdown? There is no convenient time to grieve. There is no set time I can block off to process all the things that have passed. And the pain just festers like the abscesses that used to cover my legs. I can cover the scars but the dull ache is just below the surface.
How deep can you bury a hurt? How long can you defer sadness.You can battle this one privately or I can let it go.  I can let the dishes pile up, I can step over the dirty laundry. I can wear the same dirty shorts with crusted yogurt stains to bed for two weeks. Or I can live. At this point, all I can do is live.
Katie brings home her report card.
    “Look mommy…” she hands me the honor roll award.
    I squeeze my baby tight. They were all somebody’s babies.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Scissors by my face

I've been working on material for a new book. Would love your thoughts.- Love Tracey

That morning started like any other morning. It ended in the emergency room.
Copious amounts of caffeine washing down the remnants of last night’s lack of sleep. My blanket is covered in sweat. As I rolled over, I can hear my son let out a little sigh. He gets sweaty, too. A different kind of sweaty from a 200 pound woman. Small children look like cherub angels from Renaissance paintings or ceramic Precious Moments figurines. I look like an out of shape exerciser in too tight clothes on a hot summer day. I pull my yoga shorts up. I will have to tip toe past him to get out the door.
      I’m 48 years old resting on a tiny mattress on a bunk bed. The bunk is about as comfortable as it sounds but it is what I am working with at the moment. The springs sticking in my back are a minor irritation I consider worth the physical discomfort. I just need to get access to the fan on a nightly basis. Using my well honed powers  of manipulation, I’ve convinced my middle son to switch places with me. He gets the “opportunity” to sleep next to the roaring freight train of snores that is my husband. I get to sleep next to the fan. The fan in combination with cool drafts from the single pane window makes nighttime bearable. The white noise helps shut of the voices that spin around in my active mind. I have also started “borrowing” one of his stuffed animal. Regressing much? Frankly, I don’t have the emotional energy to question my current survival strategies. I am using what works for a decent night of sleep.
    There is a certain amount of irony in this. The bunk, of course, reminds me of jail. I used to fight hard to stay on the bottom. I want to be close to the toilet in case I was dopesick. There is a freedom at first when you are completely  addicted to drugs like heroin. You can lose yourself in the daily rituals as you become more and more detached. The things that used to matter slowly slip away- the opinions of others, the need to eat, the chains of modern society. There is no need for contouring or getting “the latest” anything. Materialism is replaced by an individual need to convert goods into nods. Then that comes crashing to an end one day.  Sigh. Jail sucks. (Rehab sucks too). Then comes the crushing responsibilities of a life out in the free world. There is one small benefit. Institutions have little in the way of practical life skills to offer but they do teach you to how to get up in the morning. Five am to be exact.
My square life routines these days are fairly simple. I’ll start at the end of the day. At 9:15 PM, I put the “do not disturb on my phone”.This is critical to my sanity. Years and years of frantic social media messages have taught me this hard won lesson. Nothing ruins a decent night’s sleep like “can you talk to me-I’m going to kill myself”messages from a person I’ll never meet.
My youngest son sleeps next to me, in his converted day bed he outgrew two years ago. I don’t try to make him my baby- he just IS my baby. The last of my hatched eggs, conceived on my 40th birthday. We play a few rounds of a game called questions. It started as a way for him to ask me questions about my past.
His tiny voice- “Mommy- what is it like to sleep outside?”
Me: “like camping with heroin!”
We both laugh.
Ok, maybe I didn’t say that- out loud.
Honestly, We’ve run out of painful material. I ask him questions like “would you rather be hot or cold” and “if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
This cuteness is a buffer for my daily work. Death is a frequent visitor. How many people have I lost to overdose? I lost count before this “epidemic” even started. Between clients, friends, acquaintances, and lovers I’m now easily into the 300 plus range. I remember the fact that my son likes to “touch hands” before we go to sleep. He’s very sweet when he isn’t stabbing his siblings with a pretzel.
At 5:46am, I roll out of the bunk like a fleecy cowboy every morning in search of my next roundup. Thank you millennials for the avocado toast. Generation X traded this toast for our burgeoning anxiety. Like a blanket marinated in small pox.
I check my Instagram. Two more RIPs in the comments section under pictures of people I barely know. Misfortune has taken many of my close friends, the ones who are irreplaceable‍. My circle has been whittled down to a select few.
I finish my coffee and feed the cats on my way into the bathroom. They can’t wake me up in the fan room. That makes them meow more intensely. Like meow motherfucker, rather than a soft mew. The scissors on the counter catch my eye. Bang trim? Why yes.
Fuck fuck double Fuck. As I held the scissors against my skin, I caught a glimpse of myself. Wild eyed, certainly, detached from the world outside of this bathroom. The towels hang limply against the shower than should have been scrubbed six months ago. Black hair dye drips roll down the tiles like rain drops.
I’m distracted by disordered thoughts. The woman looking back at me has a familiar look of shock. My protective covering is  being peeled away to the rawness underneath. I’m anticipating a change- a release. “It’s only self harm if I’m capable of feeling pain…”What the hell am I doing.
  In these moments that I can only describe as the action cycle of my mental illness, anything can happen. It has been a staple in my life for over 40 years. There is the wallowing phase. This involves binge eating, depression napping, scratch off lottery tickets, or possibly online shopping. Then there is the action phase. This involves risky texts, showing up at a place I should not be, being progressively later and later for work, and altering my appearance radically with scissors, dyes, or depression garments.
Sharp objects and mental health issues go together like a two piece and a biscuit. Except the biscuit is dry. It gets stuck in your throat, taking away my ability to properly formulate words. As the scissors pass next to my forehead, I feel a stinging in my eyes. Stray hairs made their way under my eyelids. I strain to rub them out. I have already over plucked my eyebrows in a fit of anxious energy. Now there goes the bangs. I see the pieces fall like snowflakes into the sink.
Here I am trimming my bangs with fabric scissors before 6am. The grey cat is scratching at the door. MEOW! He wants wet food now but I’m not finished. This is very important business.  Better than cutting my wrists, I suppose. I feel myself slightly out of my body. After twenty minutes, the alarm on my phone goes off. Me time is over. Time to get up kids.

      I lost myself in the mirror. I disappeared behind the maniacal whish whish whish of the scissor. For a moment, my problems disappear. For a moment, I don’t see myself. All I can see is the task at hand. Whish whish whish.
Stress starts to slowly creep up my body. I feel it tingling. Like my brain is cutting off oxygen from my appendages and focusing its efforts on keeping the executive functions of the body working. It’s six am and a long day of being me awaits. I have to remain inside this body while carrying my essence around in this flesh suit known as Tracey Helton (Mitchell). Who am I anyway? This question can’t be answered now. I need to get out of this mirror. I brush the trimmings off my shirt. I snap back to “normal”.
Normally, I need at least thirty minutes to collect myself before the kids get up. I wasn’t born into motherhood. It wasn’t something that came naturally to me. I never had the desire to take care of dolls. The closest I came was taking care of emotionally unavailable lovers. Motherhood to me was the abstract idea that one day a little friend would be in my life. There was no thought to stretch marks or was I going to eat the placenta or what would the first day of kindergarten be like. I had no frame of reference.
I did not know what to expect from a child. I did not realize that carrying a life around in what I would describe to her as “My stomach” would make me cradle the same space for years after I was done having children. There is a certainly other worldly feeling of laying in bed alone knowing there is a person swirling around in there. I got pregnant on purpose yet I was naive to what happens when there is this physical change, that primal feeling that signaled I was no longer alone.
Now here I am. Tending to humans. Food. Dressed. Lunches. Three kisses later, the kids are gone in the blink of a sleepy eye. My makeup is starting to run as I pull on my shoes. At 48, I’ve started wearing fishnets, skinny jeans, and bright red lipstick. Two yogurts, a kombucha, and an apple I’ll probably forget go in my backpack. The gate is locked. I am on my way.
Food for the feral cats.
My money for the train.
I step off in a cloud of smoke. People smoking fentanyl on foil at the train station. Chasing it with what’s left of our city’s plastic straw. They will have to find an environmentally friendly solution to this drug crisis. The barefoot woman puts her head into her hands.
This is the places I see five days a week. There’s some blood on the stairs from whatever happened last night. The escalator is broken again. It was on the news people use the bathroom in it and jam the works. I touch my bangs thinking what the actual fuck did I do.
I pass by the man with one leg missing. He used to be a client. He had an infection that never healed.  “Hi”, I wave meekly. Why won’t I give him a dollar. Is it enabling at this point or just facing the reality that this may never stop.
Work is work. Listening to people talk for three hours. Attentively engaging in the back and forth that pays the bills. I decide to walk to a twelve step meeting at lunch time. The format is a meditation. Wash that down with more coffee. I feel the blood pulsing into my face. I don’t think this is normal. I’m having chest pains.
“I think I need to go to the hospital”

My play “son” rode with me in ride share. Families are more than just blood. A family can exists wherever you find love and acceptance. He nervously scrolls his phone. I was too concerned about the cost to pay for an ambulance ride. I felt ridiculous yet unwell at the same time. I hated dragging a person along that was forced to worry along with me.
I had on my black Nike tennis shoes on the gurney. Like An outtake from a mass suicide. I only had to strip off the top layer, laying in the cold hallway waiting to see why my heart is breaking. I put my clean bra on this morning. “always stay ready then you don’t have to get ready”.  I hate being caught unprepared (by life).
After my EKG, The tattooed army vet that came to take my blood was into metal. He instantly commented on my Slayer socks. He looks at me calmly as I explain I used to shoot drugs into any vein I could reach. He tells me about his four children and I tell him about mine.
“I hope my heart is okay” I add cheerfully.
He stabs me. Ouch. Right through the scar tissues. In twenty years, nothing has come in or out of that space. They need to do two blood draws, he explains. It’s going to be five long hours with a dead cell phone laying on a cold gurney in the hallway. Can I have an extra blanket?
“Sure,” he pats my leg, never to be seen again.
I am forced to reflect on my situation. My phone has run out of batteries. I sent my friend home. It’s just me and my thoughts for the next four hours. Fuck. I try to cover my eyes.
I never imagined I would live this long. In fact, I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to guarantee I did not survive past 30 years old. Live fast, die pretty. Yet, that didn’t happen. The week long stimulant binges. The cocaine fueled nights. The heroin, ah the heroin. I am so old I am heroin BEFORE fentanyl old. When I talk about using heroin it’s like a teacher reviewing ancient drug history. There was cocaine in the soda, the housewives drank laudium, and there used to be heroin with no fentanyl. Nostalgia for times long gone.
My diagnosis? STRESS. Apparently stress can send you to the hospital. It doesn’t help that I’m actively trying to get new life insurance. Apparently, no one wants to insure a person with my history. Caffeine and stress can spike your heart rate. Have a nice day Ms Helton.
As I get in the van on my way home, the kids ask me what’s wrong. I don’t know if I can tell them. I don’t know if I can explain that my heart has been continually broken. I don’t know how to articulate that it isn’t today, it’s a collection of events weighing heavily on my mind.
My daughter asks me why my eyes are closed. I’m just so tired.
“Maybe you need to rest mommy”
That’s right baby. Maybe I need to rest.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Would you...?

This is my question readers- If you knew everything you know now about opioids- would you try them again? What role did they play in your life?

I ask this based on a conversation I had with a friend the other day. We were in a coffee shop that is semi well known for having steady traffic of both recovery people using the tables for step work and folks who are actively using that need the key to the bathroom to do their thing.

"I used to shoot so much dope in that bathroom..." he said. This spiraled into a whole conversation about mental health and substance use. I've said this before, I'll say it again. Opioids, specifically heroin, probably saved me from killing myself. This is simply because I had no access to mental health care. In fact, I wasn't even fully in touch with what was wrong with me. I would just wake up with an impending sense of dread. Yes, I chose opioids but in my young mind, there was nothing "addictive" about them. I 100% believed that feeling was "all in your head". No one truly understands the gravity of being underwater until you are drowning. That was me.

Now today, in 2019, I have progressed beyond many of the conditions that existed then. I have had many years of adequate mental health treatment. I have skills and a vocation I adore. I have positive people in my life. My drug and alcohol use may have been a "phase" or simply maladaptive coping mechanisms. I'm not sure. Either way, I can't change the past. I have to move forward with the decisions I've made. The important thing is I can't continue to ruminate on GUILT. These things are done. Today, I may still have cravings or negative periods. I have no control over my thoughts. I do have control over my actions. I have to continue to CHOOSE to do positive things for myself today. And trust me, it can be a struggle.

Anyway, I'd like to hear from you. What role do drugs, alcohol, and anxiety play in your life?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Hi friends- I’m working on material related to grief. I’d love to hear from you- how you are coping with loss in the middle of the overdose crisis.

In the meantime, here’s an interview I did today Here