Saturday, June 30, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole

It's been a strange couple of weeks since I wrote that last post. I've been inundated with comments, both public and private, from other women who have been through something similar.

Once again, I'm reminded that we're never alone, not really, and that so many more people out there can relate to our struggles than we dare to think.

I'm very grateful to every one of you who reached out, whether because you can relate to my experience with T or because you can't and now know that it can happen even to people who think they're immune. So many of you told me I was brave for writing this story. You were brave for offering your nods of recognition, your words of encouragement, your arms to link in solidarity. 

We are, all of us, brave for expecting more and better from ourselves and from the people we allow into our lives, and for doing what it takes to get the things we deserve from the world. 

And we all deserve to be happy, to be loved, to be accepted as we are. We all deserve to Live. Me. You. All of us. 

So. Thanks. 

Of the six years that I spent with T, the fact that he was an emotional abuser might be the least surprising thing. Of all the strange paths I ventured down during those years, that one at least seemed to spring from recognizable traits of my character: I had always been a caretaker; I had always been conflict-averse; I had always been willing to suspend my own needs for the sake of others. My relationship with T was certainly a worst-case scenario of all of those things, but it wasn't, in retrospect, as out-of-the-blue as it might seem, if I'm honest.

No, the weirdest thing, the thing I'm more incredulous about as time goes on and the picture becomes clearer and more complete in the rear-view mirror, was the drugs.

Amphetamines, to be precise.

I had never been much of an experimenter, when it came to intoxicants. I hadn't been interested in any of that in high school. I didn't even try alcohol until college. By the time I started dating T, I'd developed a taste for fancy beers and had smoked enough pot to know I didn't care for it, and I thought I'd explored all the methods of getting high that I'd ever care to try.

T, however, liked speed.

He didn't do it a lot, but occasionally, when he had a few days off and wanted to record some music (he was a guitarist), he'd get some and use it to stay awake and focused. I didn't know much about it other than what I observed -- this was before the scary HBO specials had come out, depicting meth addicts as toothless, emaciated, scabby cadavers with a relentless need for one more high.

That might have scared me off, I don't know. Back then, at first, the thing that made me uncomfortable about it was the method of delivery. You snorted it. That made it seem like a whole other level of real, of wrong, of dangerous. This was what they meant when they told you to "Just Say No." 

At first, it didn't even occur to me to think about trying it. I'd never felt that I had to join in when the people around me did drugs of any kind in the past, and I didn't feel it with T, either. He offered whenever he had some, I said no, and things went on as usual. He said he thought it would be a fun experience we could share, but he didn't pressure me in any real way. This was early in our relationship, before he became truly mean, and I think my memory of how it all went down is true.

He didn't pressure me. I chose on my own. 

I might have chosen it because I wanted to prove to him that I was willing to loosen up and have an adventure. I might have done that. And he may have implied that at some point, my refusal to "share the experience" with him might be a deal-breaker. I don't remember it specifically, but knowing what I know about him I'd be frankly surprised if he didn't. But in the end, I did it on my own, nonetheless.

I'd seen him do it enough by then that I knew speed didn't do what I'd thought it would. I'd expected it to be obvious, that he'd be manic, talk too fast, move too frantically, jump from one thing to the next and act crazy until the effects wore off. 

But it wasn't like that at all. He'd do a line, and then he'd seem... happier. More vibrant. Confident. Focused. Awake. Not altered, exactly-- not obviously different the way people are when they've had a few beers or smoked a joint. This seemed cleaner, lighter, milder. It seemed like a state you'd actually want  to be in; one that made you better than what you were, normally.

The idea of snorting lines of powder still scared me-- I was a "good" girl, after all, and I certainly recognized a different league when I saw it. But after a few months of observing the effects of speed and seeing nothing at all alarming, I told T one day that I'd like to give it a try.

A few hours later, we were across the Bay in his older sister's living room, and I was being educated in the art of ritualized drug use.

They gave me a few guidelines and taught me some lingo: Try to notice if you're talking too much. It makes you want to talk a lot and it's bad etiquette to interrupt people and talk over them. Don't take more until you start to feel the effects wearing off a little bit. When you do another line, it's called a "bump." It stings a little, but only for a minute. It makes your eye water on the side that you snort it; people call it the "one-eye cry."

They showed me the small, leather-bound kit that T's sister had inherited from their father. From their father, yes. It folded open like a wallet, with slots inside to hold a small mirror, a vial, razor blades, a tiny spoon, a short, metal straw. They didn't like to use all the implements, as it turned out. The mirror was too small when you had an apartment full of picture frames to choose from; the rest didn't fit with the aesthetic they preferred at their parties. It was the vial that got the most use, and that night, it was full to the brim.

They showed me how to chop the crystals into fine, brownish-white powder, how to divide it into tiny lines-- not too big, they warned. This stuff is powerful. You only need a little at a time. They passed on the little silver straw; they used money to snort their drugs-- never use a $1 bill, they said. Always use the largest bill you have. Just because. It's cooler that way. How pathetic is it if $1 is the largest bill you have?

They passed the frame around, and I watched them each hold the rolled-up hundred to one nostril, hold the other closed with a finger, and snort up a line with a sharp, quick sniff, following it along the glass with a practiced movement.

And then it was my turn.

I still couldn't quite believe this was me, doing this, and I sat there with equal parts dread and excitement, and then I thought, what the hell, why not? and I bent over the table, put the hundred to my nose, and took a sniff. 

It stung. Badly. A sharp, piercing sting winding up behind the eyes; a dark, acidic burn in the back of the throat. I shuddered, rubbed away the one-eye cry, and waited, unsure of what I was waiting to feel, but hoping that I'd like it. 

A minute or two later, I knew: I didn't like it.

loved it.

It settled over me like a glow. My heart lifted, my worries eased. I felt... lighter. Better. More excited, more focused, more articulate. Just more. More confident. More interested in everything. More alive.

This isn't the part that will convince you not to try hard drugs. It's the part that shows you why people do them in the first place. I took my first bump and I felt exactly the way I'd wanted to feel-- and hadn't felt-- for years. Awake. Alert. Emotive. Connected. Captain of my own fate.

I've been thinking about writing this post for a long time now; have known I'd need to write it since before this blog even began; and this has been the part I've been most dreading to describe. Not the part about how it eventually went bad, but this, this part here, about how, at first and for a long time after, it was awesome.

It was so much better than I'd expected. I hadn't known it was possible, actually, that a drug could make you feel like this: not altered, not clumsy or sluggish or foggy, but this, THIS! This was what I'd longed for, after years of feeling exhausted and frightened and disconnected from my emotions. This was worth the danger, worthy of the ritual, better than anything I'd ever tried before.

That's what is so uncomfortable about writing about this now, so many years later. I still long to feel that way. I still totally get the appeal. If there was a way to achieve it without any of the down sides (and we'll get to those, of course, you know we will), I'd do it right now. Sign me up. It was a feeling worth replicating, that level of presence, of engagement.

Apparently, some people just feel like that all the time, naturally, without any therapy or emotional work or drugs to aid them. They just, you know, feel their feelings and experience life as it comes, and they are powerfully happy and powerfully sad and powerfully content and powerfully there in every moment. They don't have to learn how to decipher their own brains,  or how to react to stimuli, or how to be authentic, even if it means being uncomfortable. They just are where they are, and feel what they feel, all on their own.

Fuck those people. How do you do it? Tell me how! Tell me!

Ahem. Okay, I'm kidding. Sort of. I know that some of you reading this are "those people," and I am heartily, buoyantly glad for you. Sincerely. 

Just... don't take it for granted, okay? It seems like it would be really easy to take being where you are and feeling what you feel  for granted.

Don't. It's not a given. It's probably not even all that common, come to think. You know people like me, every one of you, and you know people less like me, people who need substances to get anywhere close to here, now, or who think they do, anyway, and you know even more people who don't even know that this is what they're missing, this ability to just be and feel, they only know that they're unhappy and they're missing out on their lives and they have no idea how to fix it and maybe never will.

I used to be one of those people. I used to all of those people, maybe. And now that I'm not anymore, now that I do know what's missing, and can see the gap between what I'm like and what I'd like to be like and spend all my time trying to figure out where to put my feet in order to position myself best for the leap to the other side, I'm just sitting here thinking that if I ever make it, I don't ever want to take that simple, precious thing for granted.

I want to be. I want to feel. 

I want to live!

Well. My first experience with amphetamines was with speed. Crystal meth. It's a powerful high, and a lasting one. A little goes a long way. Later, we also included cocaine and eventually switched to it completely because it was easier to get. The stuff we got was usually fairly diluted and the high was never as strong, never lasted as long, and may have had a lot to do with the way this story ends. But I get ahead of myself. 

Back to the beginning. Speed.

We were quite "responsible" about it, believe it or not. (And I'm being only partly sarcastic here-- I do believe that it's possible to use drugs relatively safely and responsibly; I do not believe that all drugs are categorically bad or wrong. Most people I know have had great experiences on various kinds of drugs, myself included, and this is not a "Just Say No" sort of story. It's more of an "I Played With Some Serious Fire For Some Seriously Unexamined Reasons And Am Lucky That's The Only Story I Have To Tell" sort of story. There are many kinds of drug stories, and this one is mine.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: responsible. We were, in our own way. We were sort of nerdy about it. We'd choose a night where nobody had to work the next day or the day after, so we'd have plenty of time to come down and rest up before we had to go to work again.

We'd eat a big dinner. Speed and coke take away your appetite-- it's almost impossible for most people to eat anything while they're on them. But it also makes you very thirsty, so we'd stock up the fridge with water and juice and protein drinks, as well as beer. You know. To keep ourselves nourished and hydrated. We weren't crackheads. 

Then we'd get the party started. We'd all get nice and bumped up, and sometimes we'd just talk. About anything. Everything. Incredibly focused, articulate, exhaustive discussions that would last all night. Literature. Politics. Religion. Child-rearing. Whatever it was, we were passionate about it, if only for that night.

More often, though, we played music. T would get out his guitar, and we would sing songs we loved. Or his sister would write lyrics, and I would create melodies and harmonies, and we would sing songs we wrote ourselves. We made some pretty good recordings. I was way too shy to sing in front of people under normal circumstances. I still am. But I do have a great singing voice, and the drugs gave me confidence.

We'd keep it going all night, bumping now and then to keep the high, our voices hoarse from talking and singing and talking and singing. It was fun, productive, creative time. And their tradition held that the party was over as soon as someone noticed aloud that the sun was up.

That was when we'd stop, put away what was left over for next time, and begin the slow, angsty decline. Back to Earth.

Coming down, if you've never experienced it, is tedious and irritating at best, and at its worst can be truly nasty business. When that first endless night was over, T told me you're going to feel... sort of... low. Kind of depressed and bummed out. It's like all of your worries come to the surface for a while. But you just have to keep reminding yourself that it won't last, it's just part of the trip and it will be over soon. After a few hours, you'll be back to normal and you'll be able to sleep then.

This was all true, especially with speed. The come-down was long and slow, and you passed from confident comfort to restless angst to irritated depression to deep melancholy to hopeless self-loathing to resigned exhaustion, and then you feel into an uneasy sleep for a few hours, and woke up feeling mostly right as rain again.

That process, by the way, is why people sometimes try not to come down at all. As I said, with speed, it can be ugly. T and I never did it more than one day at a time, once a month at most but probably averaging less than that, but his sister used to stay on it at varying levels for days and weeks at a time. She used it to go to work, she used it to feel normal. She didn't exhibit any of the recognizable signs of being a meth addict, but she was one all the same.

This is important, I think, because it gave me a yardstick to measure myself against and come out ahead. I think I thought, somehow, although I don't remember ever thinking it overtly, that the fact that I didn't have her problems meant that I wasn't in danger. I did heavy drugs occasionally, under carefully-controlled circumstances. You know, with juice and protein drinks.

Nothing to worry about!

Looking back, the yardstick I should have been using was a different one altogether. I started using drugs with people who were deeply vulnerable to addiction, who had a long and full family history of drug use, drug addiction, drug overdoses. They were addicts themselves, with varying dependent relationships on a multitude of substances, some more obvious than others, some more troubling than others, some less controlled than others. They had enormous tolerance and could take in huge quantities before getting drunk or high.

And I was keeping up with them, line for line, every step of the way.

This went on for a few years, partying all night every few weeks, maintaining a decent job and straight-As in grad school the rest of the time. I didn't tell my friends about it. I still couldn't quite believe I was doing it, let alone enjoying it the way I was. But those nights were significant, in those years, for several reasons.

They were the only times I felt at peace, if only for a few hours.

They were the only times I felt confident enough to sing and write music, something I loved to do and which would become inextricably linked with (and ruined by) the sweaty, anxious, heart-pounding muscle memory of an uneasy coke high for many years afterward.

They were also the only times in our entire six years together that T ever told me he loved me.

So the long nights continued. We lost our speed connection (serendipitously, I think) and switched exclusively to coke. It took progressively more to get high, and was progressively harder to get as high as I wanted.

But it was better than nothing. And it was fine. For a few years, it was fine.

And then, quite suddenly, it wasn't.

To be continued...


  1. Girl, as always powerful stuff here. And as always I resonate, which we can talk about more offline. I love your naked truth telling and how your humor shines thru - juice and protein drinks! Love it. Sending hugs.

  2. Wow.  This is *so* articulate and so interesting.  One of the things we're not supposed to talk about in the U.S. is that there are nuances to the reasons that people do drugs.  The catechism here is that people do drugs due to personal weakness, and we're certainly not allowed to point out that drugs are "awesome."  So the fact that you've done so is powerful.

    Also, you can write music!  How amazing is that?  No wonder boys in bands are attracted to you. That's right, it's like "Super Freak," only instead of you liking Rick James, Rick James likes *you.*  I'm sorry writing music feels ruined for you.  I can't help but think maybe it's something you could get back.  If pairing it with unpleasant stimuli ruined it, maybe pairing it with enjoyable stimuli could make it fun again.

    I could just kick T for only being willing to say he loved you when high.  Oh, yes.  Conditional love, with its smallness and meanness and its if/then subroutines.  That is a familiar thing.  And then the question becomes, "Does the person only love you when high, or does he only choose to express it when high?"  Either way, good for you for opting for something better in the long run.  

  3. KateTheGirlWhoLived07 July, 2012 17:44

    Rick James likes ME! He really, really likes me!

    Yeah, music was ruined for a long time, but you will be happy to know that being married to a professional musician has given it back to me. We play guitar together and have sing-alongs, and while there is a lingering sense of anxiety around it, it's gone back to being fun again.

    You should hear our rendition of "Rubber Duckie," that great Sesame Street classic from years gone by. We kill it. Our daughters are in awe of our talent.

    I love the way you always get right to the heart of what I'm trying to say. The weird stigma of talking about drugs in anything other than hushed, horrified tones. The ugly manipulation of conditional love. The question you pose is exactly the question I asked myself over and over when I was with T.

    Even then, on some level, I knew that if you're asking yourself that question, the answer doesn't really matter. No matter what it is, it's never going to be what you truly need. If my story can keep another woman from deluding herself as long as I did, than my work here is done.

    And as for opting for something better, boy, did I ever! An improvement in every category, even down to the guitar skills. ;>

    I do so love the boys in the band...