Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
[I have photos and videos of a heroin addict under the influence.
But I don't think you want to see them. They are not pretty.]
Imagine that you are a heroin addict.
Your total existence is reduced to
a twilight haze,
a fully dilated consciousness,
a white blur of unreality.
Your entire life force is concentrated on the need to stay high. Food, safety, shelter, sex float only on the edges of your mind. What matters is heroin.
Scorched foil in your hand.
Sharp metallic smoke fills your lungs.
Euphoria floods your brain
Heroin is all that matters.
Because heroin has cost you everything else:
Your family and friends
Your passion for life
Your ability to feel anything besides the overwhelming rush of the drugs.
You live in a cage of your own making,
emotionally cut off,
feeling no pain but no joy either - only the numbing, soaring high of the drugs.
You are floating past your own life without actually standing on Planet Earth and experiencing whatever it is that other humans experience.
Spiritually, you're lost. You're a Christian and you believe very much in God. Sometimes you can see a glimmer of his hand at work in your life; sometimes you dare to believe that he wants more for you. You pray and pray and pray and pray: God, save me! But you don't hear him answer.
Weeks turn into months turn into years turn into decades. This life is all you know. This life is more real than reality. And you begin to believe that:
This is where you belong.
This is all you're good for.
This is what you deserve.
And the only logical result of your agony is more:
More meth, to keep you moving.
More fentanyl. Heroin on steroids.
This life of addiction is all you can imagine.
* * * * *
Now, dear reader, you may be thinking, "No, I can't image that I'm a heroin addict. Because I would never let myself become a heroin addict. My parents raised me properly and taught me right from wrong. Since I was a kid, I've known that using drugs is stupid and dangerous. Good, honest, hard work is the only way to get ahead. And I've faced plenty of hardships but look at me now - I've built a good life for myself. Drug addicts are either stupid, lazy, or both, and as far as I'm concerned, our country would be much better off to be rid of them."
Maybe instead you an imagine that you were born, through no choice of your own, into a life of darkness and dysfunction and addiction. From the instant your cells began to knit together in the depth of your mother's womb, you brain was flooded with chemicals driven by her anger, anxiety, stress, and substance abuse. As an infant, you were passed among your relatives, sometimes flying hundreds of miles from one temporary caregiver to another, because you were no one's priority. You were raised by emotionally abusive alcoholics and their co-dependents, all of whom confused love with secrecy and denial and shame. And for years, you were sexually abused by a neighbor - forcibly raped by someone older and stronger than you - but no one in your family ever noticed or even believed you when you finally broke down and told them.
If you can imagine those things, then maybe you can imagine why a fifteen-year-old would come to hate himself so much that he'd start using any mind-altering drug he could get his hands on, and why the nirvana of heroin provides him such blessed and necessary relief.
* * * * *
Now please imagine that, after seventeen years of this chaos, you decide you want to stop.
Oh sure, you've been through rehab at least a dozen times. Imagine the tangle of insurance forms and phone calls and admittance papers you've faced. How is a person in active addiction supposed to deal with the bureaucratic minutia and endless red tape of finding help to safely detox and get sober? I'll tell you how - most of the time, you're too high and strung out to cope with all the details so you just give up on your lofty dreams of sobriety and head back to the safety of heroin.
Prison is easier. Police reports, public defenders, court dates all appear before you, and you simply do what they tell you to do, dope sick or not, and let the system have its way with you. Yes, it's demoralizing, dehumanizing, and another heavy burden of shame and self-loathing heaped upon your bent back, but at least you don't really have to do much thinking.
Still, over the years, you've learned a lot along the way in your search for healing. You can run an NA meeting at the snap of a finger, and recite the principles of behavioral modification verbatim. You've read dozens of inspiring books about people who have healed their addictions and built beautiful lives for themselves. You've memorized comforting Bible verses that promise God's redemption and mercy.
Indeed, you've intellectually mastered the science of sobriety, but that's not the same as learning how to stay sober.
Because it's one thing to quit heroin. Once you get through that first week to ten days of dope sickness, there's a rush of heady optimism that this time is going to be different. You learn how to live. Grilling steaks, playing tennis, watching ESPN Sports Center, going fishing with your son - the joys of normal life come into focus and you feel the sunshine warm on the top of your head.
But inevitably, someone - probably someone in your family - says something thoughtless, hurtful, vengeful, mean. Something that makes you feel that you are nothing, smaller and less significant than a tiny piece of trash. The hardwired agonies of your life light up with shame and your entire body blazes with blinding, searing, unbearable pain.
You hate yourself more than ever.
Buy a hit. Smoke it up. Feel better.
And now as you fade back into the familiar, fuzzy state of non-being, you no longer imagine that you are a heroin addict. You know for a fact, deep in your bones, that that's all you are and all you will ever be.
Unworthy of love.
Unwanted by God.
* * * * *
But it's okay, you tell yourself. you don't mind. Because the only one who has ever truly loved you is the heroin. And you'll always have each other.
Thursday, November 12, 2020
But her art and my art
Thursday, November 5, 2020
"Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance." -Carl Sandburg
A Michigan winter's morning.
A long walk to the bus stop.
Bundled against the cold, I trudge down the frozen lane past drifting snow.
Under the frosty fingers of trees that brush each other over my head, I am surrounded by the white woods.
Little six-year-old me is caught unaware by this wild beauty,
Much to my surprise, a poem suddenly jumps into my head.
Well. The first line of a poem anyway:
With an icicle for a spoon and a snowball for his bowl
I see him right there in the field, smiling as I walk by, preparing for his icy breakfast.
I know he sees me too, and understands. My snowman is real to me.
Morning after morning, as I pass along this same place on the way to school
The idea of this poem dances again and again in my mind, the snowman as real as ever
And I understand that some day very soon
I'm going to write out the fullness of this snowman's poem.
I'm excited to bring him to life.
Wondrously, just a few weeks later, my teacher asks us to write a poem.
Eagerly, I set down the words that flashed into my thoughts that morning in the lane.
With an icicle for a spoon and a snowball for his bowl
I find great joy in the telling.
Days pass. I wait excitedly to see my grade, to hear my teacher's praise for my poem.
Anticipation builds. I'm sure she will love it; I expect her validation.
Now she slowly makes her way along my row of desks, handing us back our work.
I reach up to take my poem from her outstretched arm and look at her red remarks.
She didn't like it.
I am stunned. Upset. Confused. Hurt, I was so sure my poem was a good poem.
Red-cheeked, I stuff the paper into my desk, and try to understand what this means.
Many years have passed since that day, but I still often think of my snowman poem.
Only today do I finally make sense of what happened.
My teacher thought I wrote that poem to satisfy her assignment.
But really, I wrote it for myself.