This morning Sam and Hope are taking the kids to the park so I can have a little bit of writing time. Today is a big day for me and a day I celebrate every year. Today I celebrate my 17th year of being methamphetamine free. I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about being an addict although I know I’ve mentioned it. Now feels like the right time to talk about addiction and to share some things I’ve learned along the way.
17 years ago. January 19th 1998. I was 17 years old. It was my dad’s birthday. I hadn’t bought him anything because I’d used most of my money buying a quarter bag of meth the night before and some mini-thins. I’d do a line or two of meth every four hours with mini-thins interspersed. My heart thumped with great big thumps. My skin crawled. I still bear the scars from where I would dig into my skin. My hair was greasy and lank. Many don’t know this, but when you are using meth it is very hard to keep clean. Even bathing every day doesn’t help. Your hair and skin stay oily and gross. Looking back it was probably from all the toxins coursing through my body. You also don’t sleep. By my estimates I hadn’t slept in 10 days. This could be wrong — I was strung out on meth I could have slept and not remembered — but I am pretty sure it was 10 days. I had gone to several parties and I had worked several shifts at the local pizza joint.
I came home and my parents were angry with me. I had a dog I loved, Prissy, and she had gotten out again and they were tired of dealing with her while I was off doing whatever. They told me to put my dog in the pen out back and I think I said no and back talked and they were going to get rid of the dog or ground me or something like that. I can’t really remember what started the argument. Something normal and silly and typical of teenagers and parents. This night it turned into something more. I told my parents I had drugs and I was leaving home — again — and I would find a way to stay with my dealer so they didn’t have to deal with me any longer. I didn’t expect what was coming next. My dad grabbed me and told my mom to call the police.
The police. Methamphetamines increase paranoia in the user. I cannot even number the nights I spent crouched on the ground, belly down, peering through the blinds and thinking every single car was an undercover drug cop car. I cannot tell you the number of times I endured or witnessed physical and sexual violence or had money stolen from and did not report it because it would bring the police. I did drugs in homes with neglected and possibly abused children and frowned on the parents but did nothing to stop it because it would bring the police. When my parents said they were calling the police I snapped.
What happens next is a blur. I know that I was on the ground. I know that I was hitting, kicking, and biting. I bit my dad’s hand so hard it ripped open. I told them I was going to kill them. I was going to kill everyone and myself. If my dad hadn’t held me down I probably would have tried to kill my parents. I did all of this in front of my little brother and sister. My sister, Becky was a little younger than Hope is now (about 13). My little brother, AJ, was not yet ten years old. They saw all of it. My screaming and raving. The violence. They ran next door and got a neighbor who helped hold me down until the cops arrived. I’ve never managed to repair the relationship with my sister. We get along, but it is strained and will probably always be like that. My sweet baby brother bore the brunt of the trauma. That episode scared him so much and I have never forgiven myself for the anguish that nine-year old little boy endured.
At first the cop thought I was an out of control teen who needed to cool off. Then he found the drugs in my purse. I was booked that night at the Hall County Detention Center on charges of Possession of Methamphetamine, Assault, two counts of Battery, and Terrorist Threats. Five felonies. I was booked as an adult and the youngest person in the jail with exception of Pearl Weaver who was awaiting a trail for murder. I was in the Hall County Detention Center for 52 days and served four years of felony probation. Thanks to a judge who scared the living crap out of me (thanks, Judge Fuller) and my family refusing to bail me out I was sufficiently too scared to go back to meth. I was able to plead under First Offenders, which meant that my record was sealed and I could retain all of my rights with the exception of owning a fire arm (smart law).
That was my arrest and jail time and, obviously, one of my darkest episodes in my life. I want to take this time to address something important before I move on:
It should be noted that in November of 1997 I tried to move back home and get clean. My liver count was off and I had to be tested for hepatitis C. Luckily I didn’t have hep C, but I had damaged my liver. This is after less than a year of drug use. I didn’t even use drugs until the spring of 1997. I had to pay for the doctor and the testing myself because I had no medical insurance. I also tried to check myself into rehab, but guess what? No insurance. I was also a 17-year-old girl. They had programs for adults and programs for teen boys, but no local services specialized in teen girls with addictions. When I tried to check myself into rehab I was told that I was probably just experimenting and I needed to behave. I also find it troubling that my public defender and everyone associated with the case showed no concern that I was a 17-year-old girl with a 33-year-old alcoholic boyfriend (ewww) who up until a year ago was a governor’s honors program nominee, an honors student, and a member of the academic team. There was not even the pretence of getting me into rehab. The lesson of the story is that health insurance and access to mental health care matters SO VERY MUCH.
Okay, so I get released from jail and I never use meth again and everything is wonderful *throws confetti*
Nope. That isn’t at all what happened. I didn’t do meth, but I was — AND STILL AM — an addict. I used LSD for a time because it doesn’t show up in a drug screen. I engaged in many risky, degrading, and meaningless sexual relationships. I “straightened up” when I got pregnant with Hope. At that point in time I quit using drugs hard drugs, smoking, and drinking. To everyone else I appeared okay and I had “beaten addiction.”
Nope. Still an addict. I gained 75 pounds within the first year of quitting meth and I continue to struggle with emotional eating. I had a suicide attempt in college. I am still a cutter. Yes, I am a cutter. The last time I cut was last summer. I usually go about 6 to 8 months and then relapse. I am an addict and I will continue on the cycle of wanting to replace addictions for the rest of my life
So how do I manage?
In the words of Mad Eye Moody, “constant vigilance.” I don’t keep alcohol in the house and indulge in a drink or two only socially and about once a year. I refused to take Xanax for anxiety and instead spent many years taking the non-addictive Risperdal for my anxiety. After my c-sections with Atticus and Persy Sam had to confiscate my Percocet. I found myself wanting to take them to relax and sleep. I have continued conversations with Sam about what to do if I ever started using again. I confess when I hurt myself and work to not keep razors or sharp knives around. I won’t watch Breaking Bad or Intervention because I still crave drugs. I have honest conversations with Hope about my past and emphasize that between my drug addiction and her bio dad’s alcoholism she will have a higher tendency to addiction. Her friends may be able to drink or use recreationally, but it is almost sure to be more difficult for her to resist addiction.
I’m sure this sounds bleak or hopeless, but it isn’t. It is honesty. I think we can look at people like Philip Seymour Hoffman and realize that even after 23 years of sobriety things can turn ugly very quickly. The more honest conversations we have about addiction the better. Sure, I am married to a wonderful man, I have three marvelous kids, a job I love, a college degree, friends, and my idea of partying now consists of drinking coffee after nine at night. BUT…. but… but…. my genetics point to addiction and scientists increasingly believe that drugs rewire the brain and impact the body in ways we are only beginning to understand.
My belief in Jesus has brought me comfort and relief from addiction, but probably not in ways you imagine. I’d like to say that Jesus will just wipe out my tendencies to addiction, but my addiction is a medical disease. If being a Christian meant you wouldn’t be an addict, then that would be like saying that Christians can’t have cancer or clinical depression or other illnesses. Instead my belief in Jesus helps me get through the rough patches. The root of my use is in my inability to love myself. Any addict could tell you stories of regret, guilt, and self-loathing. Jesus loves me even when I’m a terrible person, even when I’m hurting myself, even when I give up on wanting to live. Knowing that someone loves me even when I am at my most broken, even when everything seems dark, even when I am so choked with regret, pain, and loneliness is amazing. I don’t deserve this family, or this drafty apartment, or this cup of coffee… or my life. I’ve done so much wrong and so many bad things, but Jesus loves me like I love my children: constantly and consistently. I know at the end of the darkest of days that there is light and hope and peace and I rest easy in that.
The struggle is real, but I’m not alone and that means everything.