Have you ever noticed that all the songs about cocaine are happy little songs with an almost zippity-do-dah feeling about them?
If you listen to the words, they almost always reflect a sick obsession that has its user trapped in a compulsory performance from which there is no escape. That is what it is really like to become addicted to cocaine. There is this desperate sense of pleasure that you are so afraid of losing that you cannot really enjoy the pleasure you feel.
Most people have no clue that I was an addict. Not as an irresponsible teenager trying to find herself, but as an adult. As a functioning, executive-level professional.
As a mother, as a daughter, as a friend. Part of the horror of my addiction was that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I couldn’t ask for help without revealing my addiction and potentially losing my daughter, my career, and the respect of people I cared about. No one in my everyday life knew I was doing it while I was doing it. Not my friends or my co-workers or my employees or my daughter. The only exceptions were my partner who encouraged and supported the addiction and the fringe people who were a direct part of the drug scene.
I was amazed that I never got caught, amazed that no one noticed. There was evidence everywhere—drug paraphernalia accidentally left out in the open, sinuses that were wrecked and constantly bled, health that deteriorated incomprehensibly fast, complete social withdrawal, sallow skin, dull hair, a body that had once been firm and well-defined becoming like bubble gum chewed for so long that it disintegrates in your mouth.
Later, after I had won my freedom from the drug, when I told a few select people what had been going on, it was like a light bulb coming on for them. They had noticed what was happening with me, but it was so inconceivable that I would have entered into such a sordid and contemptuous lifestyle that the possibility of addiction never occurred to them.
Near the end of my addiction, when I was desperate to find a way out, when I was exhausted and sick and suicidal, when I was frantically struggling to find a way to walk away from the cruel and heartless master cocaine had become, I reached out to my best friend. I told her what had been happening to me and begged her for help. I needed someone to lean on, someone I could trust. I had been trying to quit alone and in the effort had used up every bit of the personal strength I had. I remember driving down the road and pulling over – huge, wracking sobs shaking my body, terrified to go home because I knew the drug would be there and that I only had to ask and I could have some. So I told her, part of me thinking she had to know already, part of me thinking that it wouldn’t be that big a deal since I was trying to quit.
She broke my heart. She blamed me for the addiction. She demanded to know how I could do this to her. She raged and cried and threatened to report me, to have my daughter taken away. She soon came around and went to a few N.A. meetings with me. She did her part. But she never again trusted me. We never again shared the closeness that we once had. I had betrayed her by not being the person she had placed on a pedestal and eventually she found a reason to stop being my friend. The messiness of my life, of who I was with no secrets, was too much for her. We had known each other nearly all of our lives. She knew me better than anyone of the face of the earth. She didn’t really know me at all.
About a year after our separation, she dropped me a note that simply said, “I love you.” I squalled when I read it. Mainly because I knew this was her attempt to salve a guilty conscience, but also because I still desperately miss her. I don’t think she was interested in reconciliation, just in doing enough so that she could reassure herself that she wasn’t the one responsible for the debacle our friendship became.
Recently, I ran into her at shopping for groceries at Wal-Mart. We were careful not to say anything personal. We were careful not to say anything painful. We spoke like strangers who had been introduced at a party once long ago and upon recognizing each other felt compelled to say something. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I watched her scanning me, gauging whether or not I was still using cocaine, holding on to the belief that I wasn’t capable of change. I saw her judging me and finding me defective. Then, I saw myself judging her and stopped.
In many ways, the end of my addiction was the end of many things. It was the end of self-deception, the end of relationships that no longer served, the end of superficiality and masquerades, the end of living a lie. I have no regrets.
The beauty of an ending is that it always reflects a new beginning. Today is a gift. I look forward to whatever comes next.
Sister Shamu (not her real name) is the former owner of Oops Mental Health Services (not its real name), which was a casualty of the unstable American healthcare system and an over-inflated ego. Now unemployed, Sister Shamu realizes that what she is qualified to do bares no resemblance to what she wants to do and has become preoccupied with confronting her slightly hostile and often devious Shadow Self by sharing intensely personal blogs and writing a novel that, like her, seems to be in a constant state of edit.
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