I was innocent once, shy and quiet. I wrote poetry and kept a locked diary. I drew flowers and rainbows on my bedroom walls. I loved my parents and my pets and all things wild.
It’s 2 a.m., and I’m wrapped around the toilet. I’m dry heaving. There’s no more alcohol in me. There’s only sea foam and snail foam and hydrochloric acid foam. I’m twenty-two. I don’t plan to live much past thirty. I’m an avalanche, an earthquake, a train wreck. My thirty-two-year-old boyfriend is in bed with his crack pipe. He’s in the high country now, even higher, in that place just before sleep, just before oblivion. I will keep curled around the toilet tonight, I’ll be here until—
My boyfriend and I make love. We’re not sloppy drunk yet. We’re the sweetness that comes after a drink or two. The bed doesn’t spin, and he can still get it up. He slides into me like mercury, like hand-blown glass. I have never, not like this—I’m going to get pregnant. I can’t stop—to stop would be a sacrilege, a desecration of something beautiful, something profane. A disembodied soul is floating in the ether above us, waiting for just the right—
It’s 2 a.m., and I’m wrapped around the steering wheel. I can’t see straight. I’m weaving in and out of traffic lanes. I’m so drunk I should be arrested for DUI. I could kill someone, vehicular manslaughter, and I wouldn’t care. All I care about is sleep, somewhere, anywhere, the median strip, an alleyway, the bushes outside my mother’s house. My boyfriend is passed out in the back seat. His eyes are white-tailed deer dying in fresh snow, riddled with buckshot, riddled with arrows. The world is a merry-go-round, a sawed-off shotgun, a ticker tape. There’s no struggle now. There’s only darkness, breathlessness, exit—
I’m pregnant. I have a crack pipe in me. His name is Dynamite. I can’t. I won’t. I’m not the kind of girl who wants to be a mother. I don’t like children. I’m a monster. I’m Cathy Ames. I’m Pandora and her tiny pill box. I’m Medusa and her snake eyes. I’m not someone you bring home to meet your mother. I’m someone who gives good head. I swallow and hum. Certain bad boys like me and other boys, too. This isn’t beauty, this isn’t goodness. This is—
The abortion is painless. I am cotton candy at the State Fair. I am relief and good cheer. I’m powerful and righteous. I’m judge and jury. I’m hitman and assassin. This is not a place for innocence. I am not—but still—I will cry one day. I will be leveled and broken but not today. My mother drives me home, makes me chicken soup. I laugh and light up. I’m proud of my arctic, my fierce, my concrete heart.
I’m a plane crash burning on a runway. I’m a black hole. I starve myself on soda crackers and beer. I cough blood like old man Kerouac. My boyfriend and I go camouflage in shady bars. We throw our money down on cracked pool tables. We tear into each other. We are scraped knuckles, hand grenades, and lockjaw. We are no longer our father’s daughters or our father’s sons. We’re revolutionaries. We’re heroes fighting imaginary wars. We are hot, so hot—
My family tricks me into an intervention. Father, mother, brother read letters and cry. My brother is disowning me unless I go on the wagon. My mother’s turning off the chicken noodle soup supply. My father keeps saying I’m golden and don’t put out that light. Tough love, the therapist says, tapping his pencil on his knee. Fuck you, fuck all of you, I scream and throw over my chair. My rage—a funeral pyre. I’m outside. I’m running to the liquor store. I’m gliding underwater again. I’m golden. I am—
In outpatient rehab downtown. I go to get my family off my back. I go to get my boyfriend back, to get us back, us before the alcohol and drugs, us when we were good together. When we were mirror reflections, polar stars, the two missing halves of Plato’s whole. I just need to—lead me not—resist this growing temptation. It’s been thirty-eight days. A glass of wine might be nice. I don’t even like wine, just one sip, one little—
It’s 2 a.m., and I’ve been drinking since early afternoon. I have a carving knife wrapped around my fingers. My boyfriend is in the high country again. I’m jealous and screaming. I want to be the only one. I want but he won’t—despite my threats, despite my violence—kill me. I’m spinning away. My head is a hyperbaric chamber filled with ugly beasts. I am Ajax and his sword. I am Virginia and Ernest. I am hacking my wrist. I’m cascading fireflies and cherry pop. I have always loved you, Suicide. I have always been—
Alone in the hospital with seven fat stitches and a cast. My throat is burning, my lips are dry. I am self-loathing personified. I am a guilt overdose. I am shame and extreme distress. I am—
In rehab again, voluntarily. I’m twenty-three and coming apart at the seams. Thirty days inpatient out in the country, with a view of farm fields and woods. My boyfriend wants nothing to do with it. He says he’s going to die young and leave a good-looking corpse. I keep my fingers crossed, maybe he’ll come around. I shake in the morning lighting cigarettes. My cigarettes, my yellow fingers, my breath like cinder ash. This isn’t beauty; this isn’t goodness, but still—
I can’t imagine life without booze. I just want to be normal. I don’t want to be beautiful. I don’t want to be good. Beauty and goodness are reserved for angels and school girls and sunset views. I just want—
My roommate is yellow. She pads down the hallway in her nightshirt and wet brain. Her eyes are duffle bags full of drowned kittens. She pisses the bed at night. She’s fifty-five. I bet she gave good head once. I bet she swallowed and hummed. I bet she met boys in bunk beds and under birch trees, on riverbanks, in abandoned houses, on the floors of dirty motel rooms, in bathtubs and showers stalls, on rooftops, in damp basements, and in rusted old cars. Jesus—
She scares the hell out of me. She’s not sexy or cool. She’s not, no. I don’t want. This isn’t. This cannot be my destiny. No, never—
My father comes on visiting days. We smoke cigarettes together. I blow smoke rings, my mouth like the mouths of dying carp on lake shores up north, like his mouth when he tries to kiss me when he’s drunk. The room is gray clouds, sulfur, and lighter clicks. My father crosses his legs and says he’s proud of me, coming here and cleaning up. He’ll go home, suck down a bottle of scotch and pass out. I want to say, Join me, you fucking hypocrite. I rip at the holes in the knees of my blue jeans and say nothing.
We’re in a circle. Group therapy. We are not holding hands (thank God), a dozen drunks, and an ex-drunk counselor. I’m getting a talking to, I am getting a scolding. I’m not serious about sobriety, I’m not taking care of myself. I don’t have a plan. I’m going back to live with my boyfriend and his beloved crack pipe. That’s a problem, they say. I scream fuck you, fuck all of you and throw over my chair. It’s not a question of drunk or sober. It’s a question of wanting to live or die. Don’t you get that yet?
I run to the woods. My cheeks are burning. My fury now tears—a requiem in D minor. I’ll show you, I’ll show all of you. I’m going to find the rabbit hole. I’m going to pass through the eye of a needle. I’m going to meet the Great Oz. I am—at the edge of a small ravine. I light a cigarette. I inhale deeply. My lungs are shiny flying space ships. I’m alone—forever. There’s no one out here, and no one really cares. All my fuck yous, my fistfights, my middle fingers, my protests, my wars. It’s all me, cause and effect, all coming back to hurt only me, every last—
I was innocent once. I loved waking up in the morning and daydreaming in green grass. I loved babies and all things fresh. I’m going to do this—I have no choice. I’m sweeping out concrete dust. I’m skirting the ice. I’m tossing out old boxes and dry, splintered bones. I’m recycling beer cans and pulling back curtains. I’m putting on a fresh coat of paint. I’m flower petals in spring. I am a bird’s nest. I am a rainbow. I exhale. I am here. I am—
Snuffing out my cigarette and going back to join the group. I’m picking up my chair. I’m tired of going it alone, I say. I don’t really want to die. I’m done with shadowboxing. I’m throwing in the towel and getting on my side. I’m going to leave my boyfriend and his beloved crack pipe behind. I’m doing it for me this time. I’m ready to turn the page. I’m writing a different ending. I’m changing the storyline. It’s not always going to be easy but what do I have to lose? I am—
At a recovery meeting with a dozen or so ex-drunks and we’ll soon be holding hands (thank God). It’s been 30, 60, 90, 182.5, 273.75, 365, 1825 days without a drink and I’m getting a sobriety chip. The world is still a merry-go-round, a sawed-off shotgun, a ticker tape but there’s a silver lining, an Elysian Field, a phoenix rising. I’ll never be an angel, a school girl or a sunset view but just for today, I am a red-tailed hawk in mid-flight. I am Artemis and her hound. I am vertical. I inhale. I am here, and I am sober.
Rumpus original art by Lauren Kaelin.
Voices on Addiction is a column devoted to true personal narratives of addiction, curated by Kelly Thompson, and authored by the spectrum of individuals affected by this illness. Through these essays, we hope—in the words of Rebecca Solnit—to break the story by breaking the status quo of addiction: the shame, stigma, and hopelessness, and the lies and myths that surround it. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, adult children, extended family members, spouses, friends, employers or employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors, victims of crimes, and those who’ve committed crimes as addicts, and the personnel who often serve them, nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, prison guards, police officers, policy makers and, of course, addicts themselves: Voices on Addiction will feature your stories. Because the story of addiction impacts us all. It’s time we break it. Submit here.