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.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Dandelion Boy

Before I knew what it meant to be happy, I knew what it was like to have a feeling of dread.

There might have been a “happy” in the time before my current memories. I could be lurking in the shadows underneath the scars created by a metric ton of heroin and an ocean of booze. That “happy” was not verbal, it was not a thing that could be summarized in words. That happy was an innocent notion of life, a belief that all things were possible. That happy involved sandboxes. That happy involved walking barefoot. That happy was lovingly handing over a flower. Happy was before consciousness. my father informed me that a dandelion was a weed. Up until that point, I had believed. I had believed I was holding the ability to make my dreams come true right in the palm of my hand simply by scattering parts of the “flower” in the cooling breeze of fall.

There are a thousand poems to describe what beauty means. None of them adequately describe you. I reach out to hold your hand. You interlock our fingers, provide a supportive squeeze. The way you turn the coffee around when you hand it to me so the opening faces my direction. If I have a hair out of place, you are there to push it in the correct direction. You find a way to brush off a stray eyelash before it painful greets my eyes, fully open to soak in the vision that is you.

I had a crush on a porcelain young man. He was tall with translucent blonde hair that crawled down his neck like a vine, sticking to the edge of the collar of his shirt. His broad shoulders were the perfect place to rest my tired mind. His hands were big and soft. He had fingernails that were meticulously manicured by a biting action that was occasionally used on necks. His stomach was taunt. His legs were covered with sores. I will get to this later.

I had a crush on him, yes I can admit it. I pursued him in my own awkward way. Not to seduce him. I had no skills in that area, unless money was involved. He had none. I just wanted to know what it would be like to be next to him, in his presence. It wasn’t hard but it was impossible to achieve. He was mostly gay. I was mostly straight. We would sit on his futon, commiserating on lovers that scorned us both.

“I have AIDS,” he told me. Everyone called it THE AIDS in my sphere of influence. It wasn’t HIV or even the virus. That was much later when the AZT became part of our vernacular. Right now, it was the AIDS.  But he actually had the thing, a thing a girl from Ohio could not really understand. What does that even mean, my eyes must have said to him. “It means I am a lost cause…” He handed me my syringe.

I am the patron saint of lost causes. I am a lost cause myself. In this place, in the moment, can’t we just be here. NO no no. I am not sure what you are thinking but no. “I am dying…” and he is almost dead. The room smelled like a combination of litter box and death. It was no larger than 6 feet by 8 feet. Not much larger than a jail cell. A divider was used to separate the futon from the mattress on the floor. This provided some illusion of different spaces. Computers were stacked on top of each other. Each a project that was/would never be finished. Take things apart, put them back together (correctly) was the idea. To sell them, he told me. I nodded without completely understanding him. How much time was left, I wondered to myself. I selfishly wanted some of that time. He came around his divider in a silky bathrobe. I saw his legs that day. I wanted to touch them. He told me I needed gloves. “To touch you?” Really, that’s what we believed. I cannot touch your legs without gloves. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I left.

I am sitting on my bed shooting heroin now. I am sitting on my bed sticking myself, cross eyed from lack of sleep. The vein on the back of my arm keeps rolling. I tie a shoelace around it to hold it still. Someone is pounding on my door or is that the blood behind my eyes. I can’t see a thing until my swollen eyes slowly part. I am on the floor. I didn’t die this time or the last time or the time before that time.

If I give you anything you ask for does that mean “I love you too”? “ Friendship is an undefined thing, two bodies trying to sleep while our legs twitch. Maybe you should see a doctor. “I already have…” is always the answer. “There is nothing they can do for me” is never an answer I can accept. One day I’m not so beautiful. I’ll be stuffed with tubes and covered with wires sitting in a diaper. Maybe I would rather die like this Tracey. I’ll try to understand.

Things I don’t want hear go in one ear and out the other. I shake the pillow, knocking off the truth.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Junkbox and the Holiday Season: A survival Guide

Whether you are sober, actively using, or in between this can be a tough time of year for us. So many expectations and forced interactions are upon us. Here are some basics:

1. If you are actively using, plan ahead. Yes, I know that sounds impossible but actually plan ahead. As a person who been ripped off AND dope sick on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, you don't want this to be you. Get a few sub strips as a backup. Dopeboys take holidays too (dirty mfers). I strongly suggest not trying out new dope on these actual days. Nothing spoils the season like ODing in the family bathroom. Get naloxone as a present to yourself.

2. If you are feeling suicidal, tell someone. Call a hotline. Find some online meditations on youtube. Listen to podcasts. Go to a support group for the social element. Even if you feel they are judgy and full of shit, getting out can be a good thing. Set up a tune appt with your provider if the season generally does you in. Keep a journal.

3. If you are on MAT, find out what days the clinic is closed. What is the takehome schedule? What will your insurance do in terms of refills? Don't assume the clinic is closed/open because of the holidays. Do not assume your insurance will fill your meds a day early. I have seen folks plan elaborate trips without pre arranging medication requests only to end up going empty handed and quickly very very sick when their meds ran out. (This goes for psych meds, any kind of meds).

4. Do Not Feel obligated to buy things you cannot afford.

5. Do Not feel obligated to hang out with people who treat you like garbage. Who knows, maybe you can even pick up some extra shifts at a seasonal job. A great excuse not to come around AND moneys.

6. Always have an escape plan. How can I get out of here and back to safety? If everyone is drunk, can I get home. If I am too sick to deal, how am I aborting this mission? Do your homework.

7. Is there something good about this time of year you can focus on? Make a favorite dish, go to a favorite spot, watch ELF in your flannel pajamas. Make the cat wear a funny hat and take pictures. Put a jingle bell around the dog. Drink hot chocolate with marshmallows. It's your life, grab it and enjoy it while you can.

8. BE SAFE. Despite how you may be feeling, someone loves you. Feelings are not fact. Feelings will pass. If you have to use anonymous forums, crisis lines, and a copious amount of pumpkin pie to make it to the next day, we love you. We understand.

Add your ideas below...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A lesson in gratitude for this writer

Last night was the holiday party for the clients from my job. One of the programs is designed for Trans Women of Color, many of whom are HIV positive. On Friday nights, the group assembles in the conference room of agency located on a strip where I spent much of my time as an actively using addict. We had a special holiday dinner for the ladies- turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, rolls, and peach cobbler.The ladies really enjoyed themselves, we had gifts and leftovers available. It was a brief respite from whatever goes on in the outside world. 

 On my break, my coworker and I decided to get some air. Out front of the building, we heard some noise coming from the corner. In true former street people style, we decided to investigate. There was a cluster of people getting high half way down the block in the alley. While that wasn't my alley, the alley where I lived, this whole area was fairly familiar territory. The coworker and I decided we would deliver whatever excess food was available out to the alley so they could make plates. I had been on the receiving end of many meals like this. If I had to chose between money for food or money for dope, food lost out every single time. If it was for little debbie, I am not sure I would have survived my early twenties. That and home run fruit pies.

When we rolled our cart out, it was very clear we had interrupted folks doing what they do. I could see a woman poking with her uncapped syringe in light of the street light. Another two people had the flame of the pipe going. One of pretty much laid the fuck out. A decent mix of what the drug life has to offer.  I was stepping out of my current reality, back into a land that time forgot. I think we were feeling good about being able to feed a few people. That moment was pretty brief.  A few minutes after we walked away, the same folks  are now fighting over their share of the food. I didn't expect that, mostly because I have been living indoors for too too long to understand the realities of that life.

I do remember arguing for twenty minutes over two dollars. I walked up on a person trying to cook up their dope outside when they had owed me two dollars. "The cops are going to come- you are fronting me off" MOTHERFUCKER I DON'T CARE. You owe me two dollars. You need to give me two dollars RIGHT NOW or that hefty cotton. "Okay Okay" (mumble fucking bitch mumble).

What kind of existence is this when human beings are fighting over food? Drugs, poverty, violence, humiliation are the daily staples there. Do I cry, get angry, pull the covers over my head when I get home. I think I remember what the life was like. When I see it completely in my face, I realize I have forgotten so much of it.  While I made it out, that same bear trap is currently holding , or for the escaped, ripping legs off victims over single day.

As I was walking back to the train station, my friend thought it would be cute to sneak up behind me, touching my hand. In a past life, I might have tried to stab him. Last night, I was just happy to have someone walk me towards home.

My son and I were eating out on the sidewalk last weekend cause streets are for the people.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Day I tried to Kill Myself

The day I tried to kill myself was like any other day. I didn't wake up thinking this is the day I want to die. I didn't put my affairs in order. I didn't have a special meal. I said no special goodbyes. The day I tried to kill myself was like any other ordinary day in the 365 days of that year.

There is a certain finality about knowing you are dependent on a substance. Be it heroin or coke or alcohol or speed or benzos. Or in my case, all of the above. When it finally sinks in that you will never escape the grip of addiction, it is a sad fucking day. My brain truly betrayed me. It lied to me saying this would never COULD never happen to me. Yet it did. When I looked at the decaying state of what used to be my young body, I did not feel a thing. I could not feel a thing. I just knew I would never escape.

The day I tried to kill myself, I did not cry. I did not falter in any way. I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do. I did not want to feel that psychic pain any longer. If the right eye offends thee, pluck it out. I could not pull myself out of the stew of sorrow, my mind would drift off hoping I would never come back to this place. There was no one to help me, no one to stop me. I tried to kill myself. I survived. I clawed my way back from death. In dying, I realized I wanted to live.

The holiday season is a complete nightmare for current and former drug users. There are doing to be many moments in the coming weeks where you are going to think to yourself "fuck this". You know what- that is 100%. Your feelings are valid. Pace yourself. The shame train is a long ride from now until new years day. You are not alone.

I have to tell you this- as bad as this feels and it is going to SUCK- it will pass. For most you, active drug addiction is going to pass. You are going to move to something different. Please realize that there are folks out there that care for you. It might not be your family. There is some one. Be gentle with yourself. I spent a few different holiday seasons sleeping on top of a cardboard box in the rain. Yet here I am clicking away on my keyboard next to my snoring dog. I just want you to know that I see you. I am thinking of you. Don't die- I need the company.

xoxo Tracey