Archive for addiction

Take Heart

Posted in Junk 15: Winter 2015, Mari Casey with tags , , , , on February 14, 2015 by Tim Elhajj

by Mari Casey

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The most difficult part of my recovery today, the most terrifying prospect in my life is not related to an urge to use or a potential relapse. It’s about dating. I’m twenty-six and single—a fun idea, right?—except I have four years clean, and just the thought of going on a date turns me catatonic. They recommend a year without sex when you first get clean. I didn’t do it then, but I might get it now, and not for lack of desire.

In my life, there are two major categories of potential suitors: people “in the rooms”— recovering addicts at the meetings—or “normies”—those strange creatures who can drink just one beer, maybe even hit one joint every now and again, normal people. I’ve dated in the rooms before. Pros: mutual understanding, shared experience, easy to meet. Cons: dating someone as sick as you are, and the whole “shitting where you eat” problem—when you break up you still have to run into the person on random weeknights in church basements and community centers. In short, since I’ve been clean, I’ve dated a friend I’ve known since childhood and two other recovering addicts. For a lot of reasons, including the whole “repeating the same mistakes” idiom, I’m ruling out dating in the rooms for now.

That leads to the problem. I’m petrified of dating with someone new. It’s a fear of explaining myself. It’s not really a fear of being judged outright. That’s easy. I know how to handle that. I say fuck off and walk off feeling self-righteous. The scenario that most terrifies me goes something like this:

I meet a man I like. We go on a first date. It’s awkward, but most first dates are. But it’s more awkward because I know there’s a huge part of me that I’m not telling yet. Of course, nobody can or should tell everything on the first date. But my recovery is a really big part of my life, and I’m consciously withholding that information for strategic reasons: in terms of the proverbial “baggage,” the story that winds up with me in rehab by the time I’m 21 is a U-Haul load. So we talk about a movie we both have seen. The date ends fine.

We go on another date. At some point during the second date I tell him I’m in recovery. It is probably blurted. It’s blurted because I’m nervous about it, and naturally, that’s how information comes out in an anxious setting: without much grace. It might happen when he picks up the wine list and asks if I’d like to try a merlot. Instead of saying, “No, thanks,” which is all I need to say, I say, “I can’t. I’m in recovery.”

This is the bad part. He is a nice person. He has sympathetic eyebrows and says in a voice raised half an octave, “Oh. That’s awesome. I’m really proud of you.” Which is what nice people say. Which is fucked up. And it happens all the time. Oh, we’ve had two conversations and now we have the type of relationship in which you get to be proud of me? Fucking great. And say it in the high-soft voice with which you’d congratulate a toddler for using the big-girl potty for the first time. Because now that you know, vaguely, that I used to do drugs—that stereotypically dark, gritty, felonious lifestyle—speak to me as if I’m a good little girl. Ok. I’m overreacting. I don’t blame this well-meaning man. How could he know what to say or how to say it? This normie is trying to be nice, acknowledging the positive side of things, so I let it slide. I appreciate his effort, forced and condescending as it might seem, he meant it to be nice. I smile and order a seltzer. We talk of other things for the rest of the night. I find out the names and ages of his siblings. He hears out about my career or my dog.

Three to seven conversations later, he asks as gracefully as he can, “About your recovery… What, exactly, did you do?” Same sweet voice.

And I answer, “I did a lot of drugs. I realized I couldn’t go on. I got help. I got clean. I work a program now.” I explain my program: do unto others, good Samaritan, trying to rejoin the human race, etc. It’s an honest if not original answer.

And he says, “Oh. That’s really great. When you were using drugs, though, what did you do?”

“You mean like pot, pills, heroin, cocaine?”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Yeah. I did those. Other stuff, too.” And I know this answer is a little aggressive. It’s standoffish, but I want to stand off. I feel interrogated. Is he my date or the probation officer I never had? I’m intimidated. And immediately I realize my own answer was pretty fucking intimidating. I see that this person doesn’t understand, but he’s asking because he wants to understand. That’s alright. That’s admirable.

And we don’t talk about it again that night. We don’t have sex that night, either. We’re both a little put off. The next time we see each other, we don’t talk about it, and we’re both more relaxed. We like the same music. We like the same food. We like each other. We make each other laugh. And we have sex. It’s good sex. And we keep having sex. And we like each other’s bodies. And one time after sex, when we’re feeling really close, he asks –maybe he’s prompted by my remembering aloud that I need to leave soon to catch a meeting—he asks me, “Why did you use drugs?” And he looks at me with concerned, caring eyes.

And I know what he doesn’t want to hear. He doesn’t want to hear that I liked getting really, really high. That I loved the debauchery. Drugs made me feel free and wild and cool. Drugs made me feel numb and relaxed. I loved the chaos. I loved the nothing. I loved the way it felt to steal from the liquor store and smash the empty bottle in the alley minutes later. I loved the winding up. I loved the shutting down. And sure, there was the whole vicious cycle aspect, the deep-seated bitter self-hatred which I medicated with behavior that augmented the self-hatred and the need to medicate it, the textbook disease aspect. That was absolutely part of it, but so was the fact that I enjoyed the party, the darkness, the violence and the emptiness of it all. For a chunk of time, it was fun. Then it sucked, and I couldn’t stop. It was addiction.

But of course he doesn’t want to hear that truth. I can see it in his eyes. He wants to hear something that makes me forgivable—a sob story with neglect, abuse, foster homes, some chronic disease or horrible injury that required a prescription that got me “hooked,” any story with some mitigating factor. It wasn’t like that. He wants some part of my story to explain how I couldn’t have been as bad as he thinks I was, as bad as reality was. He wants an excuse because he needs me to be better than a drug addict to fall for me, and he wants to fall for me. He likes me. He thinks I’m funny. He thinks I’m kind, bless his heart. But I’m not a special type of drug addict, not some innocent who accidentally fell arm-first into a needle. I’m not a bad person, either, just an addict. And I’m looking into his eyes which are searching for excuses I don’t have. I’m not a heroic survivor of tragic circumstances. I don’t know what to say.

Why did I use drugs? For a moment, I pretend that I don’t understand the question. I pretend I don’t see it in his eyes. I break eye contact, and I think that I’m going to cry, so I close my eyes and kiss him and we fuck so that I don’t have to answer the question.

How does it end? I probably break it off within a couple weeks of that. It’s not like we couldn’t have worked past it. I could have invited him to a meeting so he could listen and learn as he was so willing to do. I could have told him the truth. I could have been honest with him about my fears, which probably would have made it easier for him to understand. But I didn’t because that’s so much work, so much trust, too much weight to lift so soon. We were just getting to know each other. I don’t know if it’s worth it yet. And these questions are things he’d ask within the first month. It took me years to talk about some of these things with my sponsor—and she’s an addict who asked to hear about it. But for a guy who’s kind of funny and likes that Syrian restaurant? Forget it.

That. That story is the hypothetical scenario that would crush me, the scenario that terrifies me. That I will see myself inadequate in the eyes of someone who wants to see me as good, who’s trying to see me as good. I know I won’t be that guy’s version of good. Don’t mistake this for self-pity. I think I can be plenty good, because I believe there are good addicts—that that’s not an oxymoron, that a good addict doesn’t require an excuse for her addiction, that it doesn’t have to be a big deal. It doesn’t have to be a big deal for me anymore because I have a few years’ practice accepting it.

This is the most terrifying thing about being an addict for me today (lucky me). No fear of contagious disease or incarceration. No visions of imminent relapse in a gutter. I’m scared I’ll let my world become very small in this very promising time—my twenties, about to finish grad school, as young and pretty as I’ll ever be, clean—because I hate how hard it is to get started. So I’ll never have sex again because it’s kind of hard to talk to nice people? Christ, I am one sick fucker.

I need a double-dose of courage. One for me to go out there and get what I want. I’ve braved meaner streets than the dating scene to get what I want before. The other is for the man who asks me on a date: oh you, sweet normie, be brave.

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Stalemate at Turk and Taylor

Posted in Junk 4: Summer 2011, Tom Pitts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2011 by Editors

by Tom Pitts

The problem was finding a place to shoot up. I’d tried everything. Public buses, public bathrooms, people’s front stoops, in the parks, in parking lots where needles were hidden safely under the bumper of an immobilized car, it was a constant problem that needed constant solving.

One of the safest, most private places I could think of was the video arcade porno booths. The kind of joint that a guy went into with a roll of quarters in one hand and a hard-on in the other.

I’d done it before. There was a XXX porno shop beside the methadone clinic with the pay by the minute video booths hidden in back. I’d gone in and cooked up, and hit up by the light of thirty-six channels of endless sex.

It was maybe my third visit to the video arcade. I went into the booth, and started to set up shop. This included grabbing some newspaper from my bag and stuffing the glory hole to ensure complete privacy.

This time the paper popped back out. I stuffed it right back in. Again, it popped back out.

“Oh.”

There was someone on the other side pushing it out. I was so focused on finally having solitude that it didn’t even occur tome that that was what the fucking glory hole was there for in the first place. I had a needle in one hand, a spoon in the other. It was worse than being caught masturbating.

“No thanks!”  I said, replacing the paper. Loudly, I thought, but I guess not loudly enough, because the newspaper popped right back out. Goddamn it. I was pissed, I didn’t have all day. They made you buy a minimum three dollars in tokens and each of the tokens lasted only seconds it seemed. I had only so much light to unpack this shit, cook it up, and trickiest of all: find a vein.

At any moment I feared a big hard cock being shoved though the hole. Or a terrified voice shouting, “Hey what are you doing in there? That’s not beating off!”

I leaned over and shouted at the hole.

“Try another fuckin’ booth.” I shoved the paper back at the hole, and added, “Not interested.” An unnecessary appeasement in case I’d hurt the pervert’s feelings. I think he had figured out I’d be doing something other than what he was doing.

I went about my business quick.  My tiny bottle of water, the little rat-shit sized piece of black tar heroin, a shed of filter from my cigarette to draw it up through, and the reason for my urgency, a quarter gram of cocaine, ready to slide in once the junk was heated and dissolved.

I’d pump a few more tokens into the machine and look around for some fucking going on in a white room.  When I thought the light was the best, I’d take the spoon and twist it up into my sleeve, creating a tourniquet, and start poking around till I got something.

Afterward I’d try to stay in there, use up my tokens, check out the movies, but I never could. I’d flip around the channels, rubbing myself a little, but I had no interest, I was already satisfied. Then, the paranoia would set in, and I’d have to move on the next place, the next comfort zone.

*

It took a month or so before I felt like I had to go back to the booths again. It was late, the public pay toilets on Market Street were being serviced and it was too dangerous in the Tenderloin to just plunk down in a doorway and start fixing. The place beside the methadone clinic was too far away. It would only take a few minutes by bus, but that would require waiting for a bus, something I could not bear to do.

The closest places were the seediest joints in town. Turk and Taylor. The corner was widely known as the place you could buy any drug you could think of. I’d never think of buying there. It was a sure fire burn. It was crack dealers and people selling heavy duty meds. It’s where the homeless went to shop when they needed to self-medicate.

My presence down there was an exercise in self-denial. But I wasn’t gonna linger, I was gonna get this hit and then a bus ride wouldn’t seem so agonizing. After all, I hoped the next bus ride would take all night long.

The shop I picked was at 45 Taylor. It was next door to a halfway house a friend of mine stayed at when he got out of the pen. I walked in and browsed a few moments. It was the same stuff as the other joint. Dildos and DVDs. Same shit, different hole. I walked up to the counter and asked for tokens for the booths in back.

“Minimum three dollars,” said the clerk. Same as the other place. I didn’t say a word; I just forked over the three dollars and made my way toward the back. Once inside, I went through the same ritual as before. Only this time I noticed that the tokens didn’t give me as much time.

I was tearing cellophane with my teeth and drawing up water when I heard a knock. I froze. Fearful like a deer. Who would knock? Is that management? What do they want?  They’d have to assume I was jerking off and want privacy so I decided to ignore them and keep moving.

The red digits on the seconds counter fell as I hurried to assemble the hit. Dope, water, flame, coke, cotton.

Knock, knock, knock.

I had just drawn up the hit, I couldn’t have somebody pounding on the door when I had a needle in my vein, I had to answer.

“Fuckoff.” I called out. No sense in beating around the bush.

The knock came again, a little lighter this time.

“Fuckoff.” I repeated. A little louder this time.

But the knock came back, this time with a voice.

“Open up.” It was tough to make out, but it was a voice.

“Busy.” I answered. I wanted to kick the door open and scream What the fuck!, but I wanted that hit.

“Come on, man. Open up.” The voice was barely above a whisper. I knew it wasn’t management or the cops. It was almost pleading.

What?” I said, as sharply as possible. I still didn’t want to open that door. Then I heard the voice say something I couldn’t make out.  It was a question, I could tell, but who knew what?

The voice repeated the question.

Jesus Christ, I wasn’t gonna get rid of this guy. I didn’t know if he needed a light or if he was hitting me up for change, but I was going to have to open up that door.  I held the needle behind my back and cracked it open just a bit.

There was no one there.

Then, the voice repeated the question. Even with the door cracked, I still couldn’t understand the question. I open the door further to see where the person owning that voice went.

It was then I saw something move in the blackness in front of me.  I looked down and saw two yellowy eyes and a set of grinning teeth looking up. I recognized him immediately; it was as though I’d already seen him in my nightmares. He was a tiny black man,only about 4 and a half feet tall.  I’d seen him many times on Market Street handing out photocopied poetry to uninterested commuters. He was dreadlocked and dirty. His head was too big for his body and his yellow glassy eyes bulged out of that enormous head.

“What?” I repeated, in shock from seeing him there in the first place.  He asked the question again. “Can you what?” It still made no sense to me.

He slowed down.

“When you are done . . . can I eat your wad?”

I blinked, astonished. This is what he wanted? This stranger? Is this what this guy did all night? I was nauseated, disgusted, but most of all pissed off that he interrupted me for . . . this.

I held up the needle in front of his face.

“I’m trying to fix. Fuck off.”

But he just stood there expecting me to change my mind. Grinning, waiting.

After a pause he said, “I mean, after.”

“I’m fixing, I don’t have any . . . wads,” I said and slammed the door.

I went back to work. Wham. Slam. Pack up and get out. I was trying not to think about that little troll at the door, about what kind of death wish one must have to go and beg to gulp a stranger’s semen in a porno booth in the Tenderloin.

As soon as I opened the door, there he was. Still hoping I was going to change my mind, or maybe waiting for the next guy.

I thought to bitch to the clerk, but decided against it. Better to keep moving. Next time, I’d take the excruciating bus ride down to the train station and take my chances with the hobos in the public restrooms; anything to avoid suicidal deviants.

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