Being involved in harm reduction for 19 years, I have had a long ride of highs and lows. I have seen individuals get their children back, only to relapse and leave them at daycare. I have seen the mostly hopeless of drug user get their life together. I have seen someone hit in their neck and die of a brain aneurysm. I have seen multiple people emerge from prison to later obtain nursing degrees. I have seen two friends die on dialysis at 34 years old. They both used to shoot in their ports. I have seen people leave the streets to find love and happiness. I could go on and on with pairs of the agony and the joys of working with active users. It is the kind of stuff that nourishes the soul. Alternatively, I have spent many sleepless nights worrying about thing cannot change.
Death doesn't come this close to me very often. Both my parents have passed on. The vast majority of people I used with have passed on. There just isn't much of an inner circle left. My friend of 25 years was a father, a counselor, and also very caught up in the relief that substances brought him. The body can only take so much abuse. By the time he was able to pull together some self care, the damage was far too severe. My mind is struggling to reconcile the person in the hospital bed with the strong man I knew for all my adult life.
At the same time as this has been going on, the roller coaster turned upward.
I received this message:
"I wanted to tell you that following your example, I've begun personally funding a pseudo "needle exchange" by ordering hundreds at a time and making sure that the people who I can't convince to reduce their usage are at least equipped properly with alcohol pads and tourniquets and clean rigs.... I'm able to acquire Narcan discretely and for those who know what I do, I'm often used as a knowledge resource for them for harm reduction.
Last night I saved a couple who OD'd in junkie Romeo and Juliette style. Those people are alive in great part because you pushed me to be a better and more care minded user myself..."
Despite the horrors of this world, there is still great beauty. We, drug users, are fundamentally good people who want make a difference in the world. We just don't know how. We are frequently excluded, told that our talents and abilities are secondary to our self medication.
This post is not about death. It is about the resilience of our community. We push forward. We push past loss. We push past stigma. We push past our own inclination towards self destruction. We want to do better, to be better, we don't always have the tools.
I love you. Always.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
The junkie girl, "sleeping" in the sun
Stretching out her legs
Blocking the sidewalk (ever so slightly)
Choking on the sympathy of strangers.
Her hair is a bit knotted
Her skin is a little bit gray
You will never speak to her
There is nothing you can say.
She is the discarded flower
With her beauty quickly fading
No longer the object of desire
Out in the rain- waiting.
Burnt out- like ash from a cigarette
Used up- like a cotton.
Out of sight.
Out of mind.
Out of money.
Out of time.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
But this isn't me. Isn't me anymore- right? I'm not laying on the bed with my headphones on, dreaming about the drugs. Skating the line between life and death ended long ago. Now, I worry about spreadsheets, Easter baskets, and wonder if they have the full size lipstick at Sephora since I have a coupon. As I put on my eyeliner, I wonder if it will run down my face tonight. The chances are awfully good. My foundation covers my ever present wrinkles, not my track marks.
When you get a craving, does it make your whole body shake? Like an endless loop of want. I am trying to watch this movie on netflix when I feel that pull, like a rip current, sucking me back to all the places I just left. How much for________ wait, I haven't even gotten to the second season! I thought we were binge watching this bitch. Tell me how it ends. I know this plot line very well. Can I learn to be the heroine in my own story?
I think this movie is almost over. "I love drugs" he tells me as he rests with half pinned eyes. the trash can is close by in case he throws up again. It is hot in here from on old floor heater, the type that won't allow you to adjust the temperature. There is a ring of sweat all around the top of his t-shirt. I had never really seen him high. I wasn't sure what to expect. Certainly not this. "You want some orange juice? It has ice..."
"No thanks," I reply with a polite smile.
No, I don't want any fucking orange juice. I want some of what you had. I want to be able to lean back, close my eyes, and completely ignore that this uncomfortable feeling makes me completely at ease. I want to be in that haze that tells me those open sores did not leave a bloodstain on your sheets. I want to ease into a place where everything and nothing mix for six more hours as my legs twitch in recognition that I've gone to that place that only opioids take you. I want to scratch myself until I bleed. I want to not fucking care.
Do you realize how much I love you I think to myself as I hug my friend goodbye. The words may come out of my mouth. When I see a reflection of how I used to be, it shocks me to my core. This is me. I am them. This is who we are. The savage junkie is just beneath the surface of a "normal" life. If we are realized back into the wild, the feral animal within us takes shape. We are not so far removed.
As I step out into the open air, I take a deep breath of reality. It feels good, the night air. Like that breath you take after you have overdosed. Life is rushing back into me. I feel my limbs again. Have you ever been out to dinner where you are struggling to pretend that you aren't high. They are looking directly into your eyes. You are projecting, with ever fiber of self will, I AM NOT HIGH despite the fact that you know they can see it. But they don't. They don't want to see. Another opportunity lost. Another memory made. It isn't that they did not notice. That person just loves you so god damned much they just want to have a few precious words. Am I talking about myself or you? You don't have to hide who you are from me. I completely understand.
There are seconds, there are moments, when the all the things I thought were real, reveal themselves as a fantasy. Are the drugs the illusion or it is the life we struggle to avoid? It is time for me to go home now. I am returning vaguely satisfied yet sober.
Staying off drugs is critical to who I am today but I don't forget where I came from. It is not that I judge users in any way. I absolutely do not. I just know for me drugs stopped working. Heroin saved me from committing suicide. That is the flip side of opioids. In the early days, they will suck that depression away and it turn it until the most magnificent crystallization of I DON"T GIVE A FUCK about my problems for a few hours a day. It really is ingenious the way those chemicals invade the body, take over, and sit in the drivers seat. Eventually, I realized the car was being driven off into a brick wall every single time. "Partying" turned into "more" turned into "maybe possibly hooked" turned into "so what I'm a dope fiend". I didn't need to justify my use to anyone if there was no one around. Just me, my dealers, and the occasional using buddy in my life.
I struggle with depression. I struggle with self image. I struggle with connection. I never struggle knowing I am better off today than I was when I had to stick a needle in my arm (leg, foot, neck) 6-8 times a day. I miss heroin sometimes. It is 100% okay to miss it. I don't dwell on it though. Instead of focusing on the past, I focus on the thing right in front on me. This life I have built that makes me content if I can't always be happy.
Saturday, May 6, 2017
“I don’t really want to talk about what is going on with me…”
I reach for a glass of water. I need a prop to keep going. Something to hold on to that is going to keep me grounded. My mind loves to find the chaos in the silver lining. I like to find the one frayed string on a beautiful dress. I pull on it until the fabric falls apart. Then, I blame myself for trying.
Why do I even care what is going on outside of my nuclear family? I would not dare say this outloud. This would be far too healthy of a declaration. That is the kind of thing I need to keep to myself. I mean we all should care about the world around us but I can’t let go of “the things I cannot change”. Many days I feel like a little child at the foot of my father’s lazy boy recliner wondering what I can do to get this man to stop drinking. A child feeling responsible for the actions of a grown man! Isn’t that a fucking sad statement.
“Are you done here?” the waitress is trying to clear our table. “Yes,” he tells them “you want this to go?” I take it but I know I will never eat it. I just don’t want to let anyone know how I really feel.
Foooooooooooood glorious food. When I arrive home, the munching begins. A handful of pita chips, a few yogurts. Maybe a couple pieces of dark chocolate to reward myself. “But you just ate” those words never cross my mind. Those are words foreign to my language of dysfunction. Yes I just ate at the restaurant but I am home now. That is an entirely different slate of eating. Plus, everything is relatively healthy. I mean, not all of it at one time, but if I was just snacking on one thing, it is all perfectly fine.
The kids are done eating? Let me finish that last few bites. I don’t want that food to go to waste. Here I am again, my face in the pantry. It is almost time for bed. Popcorn? Sure why not. No butter so it should be fine. I did accidentally make enough for 3-4 adults but it wasn’t even cooked in oil. It won’t hurt anything.
The first place I feel my emotions is always in my stomach. That tight feeling tells me that something is wrong long before my brain tells me. I can hear my parents arguing down the hall. The same thing over and over. Will he put his check in the bank? I will come to know this later as financial abuse. Why is my mother crying in the hallway? Why is she so worried “Go be nice to your father” she tells me. I don’t want to. I am afraid of him. But his mood, I’m told. He will be in a better mood. My life revolves around his moods. As I approach him, he smiles. He is so different from the person I saw just a moment ago. The ever turbulent world of living with a Daddy.
Heroin is a poison that has slowly killed my brain. Alcohol is just a means to the mysterious end. Once I put the dope in my receptive body, it left me in the grips of endless insanity. It cured my depression as it infected my life with a greater affliction- the hedonistic pursuit of numb. I was raised to be a user, conditioned to believe my feelings don't really matter. I was told by the adults in my life that children are to be seen and not heard. Can you hear me screaming on the inside? Can you see I can never settle? I bounce from one thing to the next like the tight coil inside a ball, waiting to unravel.
This isn't even about me. It is about YOU. I was thinking about you.. I don't know where you are but I know why you did it. Like a dog that found a special patch, you will scratch this itch until I find you bleeding again.