Nine years and counting
Every now and then I decide to clean out my bookshelves. Within about 10 minutes, I find a little gem I've forgotten about, and the cleaning is abandoned for a comfy seat on the couch. Other times, odd bits of detritus will fall out of a book like pressed leaves, only less rustic and literary; mostly they're old CVS receipts.
The other day a card fell out of my Narcotics Anonymous "Blue Book." It was from my grandmother, dated Feb. 14, 2000: "You are, and will always remain, my love, my heart, my Valentine. I understand everything and want you to know that I know that we will see each other when it's right for you."
That card made me sad--not just because my grandmother died four years later by starving herself--but because she wrote that when I'd just come out of rehab. How hard it must have been for her to "understand everything" that year. I hardly understood it myself.
I started my love affair with pills in 1998, when my then-psychiatrist erroneously prescribed methamphetamine. I asked him at the time if addiction was a risk. Yes, he said, but in all his years of prescribing, he'd only "lost" two people to the drug.
Make that three. I quickly (speedily!) ramped my daily consumption up to four times the recommended max, popping the pills like they were Tic-Tacs. My weight dropped to 89 pounds, and obsessive-compulsive rituals, like counting, started to clog up my day and make me late for appointments. Things would happen in my apartment that "I" hadn't done--but then, who had? I was too scattered and dissociated to pay bills, to eat, to return calls. Life was all about maintaining the "right" amount of meth.
It was completely unsustainable, but much of the time I felt like a god.
I went into rehab, did hardcore detox and gained about 20 pounds in six days. Now I've been speed-free for nine years, but after my grandmother died, I had to conquer another addiction to a medication, Klonopin, which took yet another addictive substance--phenobarbital--to work through. And that was hell.
Yet in the same way people fantasize about a weekend on a Caribbean island, I occasionally dream about a substance-abuse weekend: speed during the day, Klonopin and pheno at night, cigarettes at all hours. The fact that it can't happen makes me want to climb into bed and give up. At least St. John is out there. Drugs without repercussions? Just a fantasy.
When I talk to non-addicts about my secret--that I desperately miss those pills, every single day--there's always a disconnect. Why the hell would you miss that? It's hard to explain. But cigarette addicts know what I mean and so do drinkers. The curl of the smoke, the clink of the ice in the glass ... it's not even the thing itself, but its suggestion. When people talk about the loneliness of recovery, they don't mean being lonely for the drug. But my old friend methamphetamine, how I miss you!
When my grandmother's card fell out of the NA book on my nine-year anniversary, I wondered if it was time for a meeting. I thought of Edward Norton hugging Meatloaf at a support group in Fight Club. Maybe I could meet a man with breasts who would let me cry on him?
I'd been to meetings before. After I came out of rehab, I was told to go to AA. But I don't drink, so I felt funny saying, "Hello, my name is Liz and I'm an alcoholic." I thought that tiny bit of deception defeated the purpose. I wanted to be me--the fabulously authentic drug-addict me.
So I tried NA. There I could easily say, "My name is Liz and I'm an addict," but everyone seemed to be suffering from crack or heroin addiction. It made me feel like a fraud. My silly little pill problem--how bourgeois. I stopped going, thus avoiding the wraithlike figures who hovered outside the meetings, ready to offer on-the-fence addicts a fix. But when that NA book jumped off my shelf like a little Michael Phelps bong hit, I took it as a sign.
It didn't work out. Everyone was happy. They invoked the same old cliches: one day at a time; it works if you work it; let go and let God. As an atheist who's only agnostic during PMS, I felt like a freak.
When it came time to share, I briefly considered saying, "It's my anniversary and I feel like shit," but everyone was so blessed, so grateful. I looked around the room and stuffed my bullshit weirdness away. Instead, I parroted the NA dogma: The program works; get a sponsor; use the phone numbers you get "in these rooms." Looking pointedly at a row of people who were there to satisfy the conditions of their parole, I said my piece with a beatific, Higher Power-charged smile. I thought a little recovery PR might keep them coming back; as I learned while working in the world of criminal justice, violating parole sucks.
Lars doesn’t want to be there, every day, sitting in that chair, feet splayed out at an odd angle. But he can’t go anywhere until he gets a new wheelchair and he can’t get a new wheelchair until he has a job and he can’t get a job until he has a new wheelchair. Got that?