I’m 5 minutes into a conversation with a woman who works as a hospice nurse when I realize my life has no purpose.
I’ve spent my life trying to create meaning from brokenness. Smash the mirror and the shards reflect rainbows. I’ve told my stories; I’ve birthed a child and made a home; I’ve cleaned bathrooms at the Statue of Liberty; I’ve used up at least 7 of my 9 lives but nothing I’ve accomplished rivals her love for the dying.
I was three when my father died. All I remember of him are pancakes shaped like Supergirl and the day police came to the door to tell my mother he was dead. “Oh, you have the wrong family,” she laughed, with her gravelly cigarette-flavored laugh. A laugh borne of desperation because who dies at 46 and leaves his wife with six kids? My mother wept and wept and then I was sent away to a group home to live.
I learned early how to go away in my head when people did things I didn’t like.
Seven months, two weeks and five days ago I took my last pill. “Fame, puts you there where things are hollow.” I am fameless, yet I live in that hollow place.
I’ve lost the one true love of my life. Opiates stoked the chemical blaze in my brain that told me the world was amazing. Nothing feels right, because nothing feels.
Wake up. Think about pills. Get ready for bed, think about pills. I double cleanse my skin, layering on serums and lotions and think about pills, bribe myself by saying this is self-care, this is MY time, but who really owns time? I’d like to have a talk with that motherfucker about letting the last couple of decades go by without me having achieved anything worthwhile.
My ex and I are splitting custody of my son this summer. We live so far from one another that I am spending my summer on the Garden State Parkway.
I used to love driving. I was a road warrior, a travel mug and ear-splitting music my shield and javelin. I could drive forever listening to Lenny Kravitz’s saxophone oozing out of my speakers like slow brown honey. This blistering summer, driving feels like a punishment for me AND the highway. My tires pummel miles of desiccated asphalt relentlessly.
Another brutally hot summer, my eighth, I was sent away to Camp Rainbow, a broken mirror of a place with a cheery subterfuge of a name. It was a camp for troubled children.
Was I troubled? What troubled me was having my waterfall of cascading red curls shorn into an ugly pixie cut. My mother saved the ponytail for years. Eventually my hair grew back, but in a tumbleweed of unruly curls that jutted out from my head in a frizzy pyramid. The only remnant I had of those silky red waves was encased in a thick plastic bag.
Without the velvet cushioned rabbit hole of opiates, I have no interest in anything. Destroy the dopamine neurons in rats and they’ll starve to death, even with food right in front of them.
I can’t write. The only thing I want to write about is this, and I don’t want to write about it. Peel back the layers to find what? One doesn’t don’t peel layers of onion expecting to find gold. There is only more onion.
Eventually my oldest brother extricated me from that group home. In the year I spent there, I learned that trust is not a thing and abuse masquerades as love. True enough, I was rescued, but my story was of imprisonment, not rescue.
After that, I carried around a blistering orange sandstorm of rage that my small body could barely contain.
I know why the rescue dog bites.
Sea salt, tomato sauce, protein powder, brown sugar – I reorganize the pantry and think about pills. Later, he’ll ask “where’s the protein powder?” and I won’t remember. It was in the doing, not the thing itself. This is a kitchen meditation performed so I won’t vacuum my car and search for pills.
He’s a good man. But I watch him through eyes that belong to this new person, this woman who goes to sleep at 8 pm because being awake hurts.
He is sturdy, both in mind and body. He is earthy and rooted; the perfect yin to my dreamer yang, he of the melting guitar solos and rustic house by the bay and this would be an idyllic summer if only I could feel it.
I can’t feel my life.
There are pictures to prove it exists; at least fifty the day of my son’s 8th grade graduation. What is left now? How can he be a character in my story, now that he’s telling his own? What else can I give him aside from a deeply dysfunctional childhood?
I only hope it will make you funny, and compassionate. ‘Adversity builds character,’ I say, but what else is left to say when the house is gone?
There are amends to be made, mostly to me. I’ve squandered myself feeling excessively and numbing it to survive. This great Empty is not the selective numbing of drugs. Opiates barricade against pain while simultaneously allowing angels from heaven to kiss your brain.
This is nothingness. This is flat line.
The latest narrative of trendy personal transformation is that we are the masters of our own destiny. What first world arrogance it is, to claim that we alone are responsible for our own stories! New age frivolity has tricked us into believing that we are the average of people we spend time with. As if the nuances of spirit, essence, energy and inclinations are mathematical things.
Some of our stories are contracts with God, written before we have a chance to tell them. Long before I learned the meaning of the word “innocence” I had already lost mine.
For years I kept my addiction private, like a small secret talisman I carried around in my pocket for good luck. Now I need to loosen the choke hold it has on my life. I share this story as a chemist, hoping to dilute its concentration and in doing so, create a new solution.
When I do feel, it’s anger. The stigma attached to my addiction has devoured me from the inside out. Why are women permitted – encouraged, actually – to be impaired, as long as it’s from alcohol? The boozy, wine-soaked mom is a tiresome social media trope. Where are the memes playfully celebrating mothers who pop Oxy?
I’m no longer ashamed of my addiction, nor do I judge those addicted to food, love, religion, sex, exercise, status, material possessions. You’re no doubt reading this on a smart phone you’re addicted to.
It’s inevitable. We have no chance against the science used to ensnare us in our own impulses, trapping us in the dopamine loop of mindless consumption. An individualized mass psychosis as a response to being human in a toxic world.
What is left to believe in? To whom do the faithless pray?
There must be something. It is a beautiful accident that we even exist; that billions of years ago fiery, chaotic forces swirled through empty space and formed our planet. Somewhere between the poles of life and death exists hope.
The story I tell now is of time, and numbers, and counting. It’s been seven months, two weeks and five days since I last used.
One day at a time.
One hour at a time.
One minute at a time.
Talk to me.
Join me on Facebook, so I can have friends without leaving the house.