I have a story to tell, and I will prefix it by saying the very idea of this vulnerability terrifies me. That said I am inspired by my recent admiration of the recovering alcoholics and addicts in my life.
I’ll start by being blunt. July 14th, 2014 was the last day I ever took an opiate into my body. Codeine was the vice that took me by surprise. It was the one I hid from the world, the one I normalized because it was legal – it WAS normal. Codeine is a hell of a drug, one that wears the face of a medicine, and for some really is medicine. For a time at least. Profound empathy and emotions have always been both my gift and my burden, imagine my shock when I found a way to turn them both off nearly completely. This was the most dangerous form of seduction I have ever endured.
TW: talk of depression/suicide/opiates
I have never celebrated this anniversary, I guess it’s because a part of me still doesn’t want to admit that I was/am an addict. But that doesn’t stop it from being true, in 6 months I will be celebrating 3 years sober from codeine and other pain killers. I will admit that not a week goes by that I don’t feel the tug of oblivion, that said thats a hell of a lot better than when i felt the tug every day, or every hour even.
In the spring of 2009 I had my first tooth abscess, the mixture of several bulimic relapses over the course of my teens and then becoming pregnant wreaked havoc on my teeth. Over the course of 2009 and 2015 I suffered 7 abscessed teeth. Now let me tell you something, I have the pain tolerance of a masochistic horse; but infected tooth-nerve pain is a special kind of hell I would wish on very few. Electric, hot, blaring and absolutely unignorable this was the type of pain you would do anything to stop. And betwixt raising the thousands of dollars for dental work I tried pretty much everything to sooth the anguish. The doctors in their piteous gaze were more than happy to provide me with a plethora of pain killers. These I learned worked a lot quicker when you mixed them with hard liquor – and actually wait! Not only was my physical pain gone, but so was my emotional pain, and mentally I felt better that ever. Really fucking great, oh hot damn I could take on the world. What I didn’t understand then was that much like my physical pain, the emotional hurt wasn’t going away, it was just building up. Waiting to crest in the moments where I wasn’t cavorting in euphoric numbness. Those moments were the worst.
So I guess I became an addict, but I had no idea. Throughout my years of being around substances and as a “bad kid” using various party drugs I never found myself particularly pulled to continue on taking any of them. It got the job done sure, but it was merely experiences. Even with smoking I was very much aware that I did it for the social lubricant, the connection. In my hubris I had thought myself immune to such an affliction, how could I be an addict? I know better than that.
I once was given the reflection
“You are a very real person, in a very fake world. That is why you hurt so much”.
While the expression was well meaning it only plummeted me deeper into a space of emotional exile. Why did the whole damn world get to be fake and I had to deal with realness. I wanted to be fake too, I wanted to stop hurting.
So around 2010 life got hard, really fucking hard. I, awash in stereotypes tried to balance life as wounded knight, a single mother, a private dancer, a vengeful lover and a starving artist. Even after my teeth were fixed I still continued to pop these pills, openly I would state I had migraines, or that I took them to stay awake at parties. When you’re so nonchalant about something so frequent people start to believe you’re just fine, I certainly believed as such. In late 2010 I went to the doctor, at the end of my rope with my depression. He gave me a test and after spending 15 minutes talking AT me concluded I was indeed dangerously suicidal and needed to be medicated right away. He prescribed, Effexor, Ativan and Quetiapine. I expressed my trepidation in being given the possession of drugs that could result in overdose, he scoffed and told me they would balance me out enough so that wouldn’t be an issue on my mind. For the record it did very much continue as an issue on my mind.
“Don’t worry” he said “I am on effexor, and it works fantastically. I feel great”
Desperate and bamboozled I agreed. What he neglected to tell me is that Ativan should never be mixed with alcohol, and effexor’s withdrawal has been described as more intense than trying to quit a heroin habit. But thats a whole other story. So the next year was a whirl of fog and self medication, and as it was utterly endorsed by my doctor I still had no idea I had a substance problem. I knew my life was a mess, but for a variant of other reasons.
I couldn’t have a substance problem. Not me, I was wild, sensual, silly and fun – unless of course I was behind closed doors being a total venomous bitch or feeling inconsolably hollow.
2011, I go to burning man, the Temple breaks me open in every way I need to be broken open, I soon after leave Effexor, Ativan and Quetiapine behind me and never touch them again.
“I’m cured! I no longer have a dependance for anything. But, you know. I get these headaches still…..”
Post Burning Man I start to get my life in order yet I am still fluctuating between elation with life and crippling depression, but at least I can feel again. And when I don’t feel like feeling, I have the pain killers.
“I don’t NEED them though”
2012 I am off to Burning Man again, two days before-hand I get another abscess in my tooth, stubbornly refusing to cancel my trip I go to my doctor. He prescribes me 80 (eighty!) Tylenol 3s. I feel the joyful glee of one hell of a time in the cards. It was a hell of a time, probably one of the best times of my life. Even though I can’t really remember much of it, I’m pretty sure it was fun. Right.
The years pass and while my life has balanced out significantly I am still battling depression and frantic bouts of rage/suicidal thoughts – mostly in the privacy of my own solitude. Where was this coming from? Or was I just broken by nature?
In 2014 my Partner at the time and I were having a heated argument, he went to the bathroom and while he was gone I popped a handful of pain killers and washed them down with whiskey. He returned and I was subdued, my eyes glazed over, a perfect apathy washed over my face and I motioned him to continue. He looked at me with a bewildered pain in his eyes and asked
“Where did you go?”
“I’m right here” I smiled
“No Mya, no you are not” he said.
He was right, I was gone. That was the end of the conversation. He later told me he had never felt so abandoned by me. Abandoned? How could I ever do that? What was I running from? The next few days were a blur of emotions, me alone at home by myself, feeling irritable, heart broken, suicidal, erratic, physically worn out; the intensity of it all didn’t hold any logic to me and suddenly I had a thought.
“Is this withdrawal?”
I hopped on my laptop and consulted Dr. Internet on symptoms of codeine addiction. “loss of appetite, depression, irritability, anxiety, stomach pain, psychosis, mania”
Cue life bomb in 3….2….1….boom.
Holy shit. I was addicted to pain killers. And I had been for a very long time. Life happens fast, and sometimes you pick up some crazy demons along the way, never even noticing they have latched on to you. So I stopped, I admitted it all, I quit. It was far beyond anything I would call easy but I quit, cold turkey. Catalyzed by stigma, shame, and guilt I haven’t touched pain killers since, even though gods know I wanted to. This addiction was like biting the proverbial apple, when you are always well aware that there is a magical little pill that can make your intense emotions stop dead in their tracks. Not just the negative ones, all of them, even the amazing emotions are a lot to deal with. The seduction of that knowledge is always there, whispering its pillow talk into the back of your mind.
That was July 14th, 2014, in addition a few years later I would also quit hard alcohol because of the triggering connection I still held between the two substances. I never gave a shit about craft liquors, what year they were, what their history was. I just wanted to stop my heart from expanding so rapidly, I wanted to douse my fires with an apathetic “nothing”. It’s been nearly 3 years (if you round up) and it’s taken me this long to even begin to tell people that I had a problem. It started in my shadows, and that’s where it ended. There is something very sad about that.
It’s true, I am a very real person, and much of the world is very fake. Much of this is because of the same reasons I fell into addiction. We are lonely, we have lost our village mindedness, many of have no sense of home, family, and beyond the mask of ego we are constantly fearful of losing love, or that we at our core are ultimately worthless. This isn’t true, but it sure is easy to believe.
The world isn’t fake, the thick veil of worthlessness that most of us are smothered with, THAT is what is fake. On a micro scale I am a recovered addict, on a much larger scale I am in the process of recovering from a very shattered culture.
It’s when I am alone that my cravings are by far the strongest. There really is something to be noted about that. So I am taking the time along with others to peal back those voices of disesteem and go deeper. This can’t be done without emotions, without love, anger, grief, and without each other. It’s hard, but baby it hurts so fucking good.
So yeah, theres a little piece of my story, heres lies my little tale, still in the midst of being written. Each day I step more and more into me, although sometimes it’s hard – I wouldn’t wish to be anyone else, or to have become as such any other way.
‘I assure you, I am not put together at all. Nor am I broken. I’m recovering – finding the beautiful in the ugly and stitching it into my life’