Deep Addiction, Like Jail, Distorts Time
Updated: Jun 4
Deep addiction, like jail, distorts time.
Ecstatic states, like a hook pull, also distort time.
On one hand, I was acutely aware of every minute, especially the time between fixes. Especially the time between being dopesick and getting well.
On the other hand, from the first second I got my little globule of heroin to the last drop that I drew up out of the cooker, practically licking the plastic to get every last speck, time whisked by.
“Oh yeah, I’m fixin’ to hit this quarter and then I’moan go out and get me a—hey! Where’s the rest of my dope!? This motherfucka musta shorted me!”
Being dopesick is like Burning Man—impossible to describe unless you’ve experienced it. Naw naw naw naw, being dopesick is one thousand fucking times more miserable than Burning Man and people should not experience it at all, ever.
Creating the circumstances that cause dopesickness can also change your life, often not for the better. Of course, no one can convey to another human being the level of pain they’re feeling, but people who have been in similar positions, no matter the condition, are at least playing in the ballpark.
Being dopesick is like having a cold and a flu at the same time. Kicking dope is like that but also adding vomiting, diarrhea, dry heaving, insomnia, and psychosis, often at the same time in different combinations. Oh plus your whole body feels like you’ve been tackled by an NFL linebacker. Plus the rats.
For me, it was the rats in my stomach that kept me from being able to kick successfully time after time after time. I can think of at least seven memorable attempts plus numerous times of just not having dope and being forced to kick or be sick.
Every detoxing heroin addict has that one symptom that breaks them and sends them running back to mama. Some people can’t stand the constant vomiting. Others hate the flu-like symptoms. Richard had a restless leg thing that made it impossible to kick for several years.
Mine was the rats in the stomach. Okay, maybe not rats. Maybe just mice. Or gerbils. Yeah gerbils! I like that word. Gerbil. It makes me giggle when I say it. They’re so cute and—sorry. Okay. Anyway. It was probably gerbils but rats sounds better and at the time it felt like a pair of rats.
Yes, a pair of rats is still the best description. However, they were not just any pair of rats.
They were those two rats in a cage strapped to Winston’s face at the end of 1984.
I felt as if I were being eaten alive from the inside and there was nothing I could do about it. There was no relief in jail. The supposed ‘kick packet’ they gave you contained ineffective shit such as ibuprofen, bella donna, and trazadone. Well, that stuff would have worked on a normal person, but putting ibuprofen up against heroin is like pitting a bicycle against a truck: the bicycle will get crushed. Heroin detox flicks away the irritating kick packet like a bug on your leg. I could withstand all the other symptoms put together. But the rats in my stomach was unbearable.
It was the worst thing in the world.
And it went on for eight entire days. I felt the pain and delirium in each of those eleven thousand five hundred and twenty minutes.
I’m just going to leave that with you. Here, take it.
A couple of years ago I started questioning how I related to time itself. As with most people, I felt like I wasn’t able to control it, appreciate it, or make the best use of it. I was always on somebody else’s clock. My work demanded me to be available for early morning telecons, which never translated into leaving early; my free waking hours were spent feeling exhausted.
I’d come home with a head full of to-do’s and a body full of nuh unh don’ts. I signed up to help out at events, to attend great shows, to hang out with dear friends and while I was able to be present for most, each transition left me feeling like I was clinging to the back of a slow-moving train—going too fast to hop on, but still holding on in the hopes of finally being able to hop aboard and either take a seat comfortably or make my way up to the front in order to drive it.
But this feeling—of never having enough, never catching up, and never being able to get ahead—was…well, it wasn’t taking its toll exactly. But I wasn’t content. No, that’s not true. I was quite content! But like most human beings I wanted more. Even the day I wrote this, sitting on my couch that’s in my bedroom that’s in my house watching the sun set over my backyard, I still feel like there is so much more I’d like to do and be and, yes, acquire.
So I changed my relationship with time.
I was already listening to my body, but now I was really starting to obey her yearnings. If I was ‘supposed’ to be doing laundry but I had the urge to write, I wrote. If I was on my way downstairs to do something in the back yard and thought, “Why don’t I take a load of laundry down?”, I took down a load of laundry. If I had a free night, I resisted the obligation of scheduling with a friend simply because I had a free night. That seems to be one of the hardest things to do. Say no to a friend when there is free time.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome was my fear of not getting enough sleep. In my 20s I strrrrrrruggled with being able to stay awake, particularly on the job. It seemed that no matter how well rested I was, I was bound to fall asleep at my desk or be dangerously close to doing so. I tried all manner of things to stay awake—coffee, tea, go pills…coffee…tea. Okay that’s only three things but this is what I had in my arsenal back then. Nothing worked.
My ability to stay awake improved when I got into recovery but that fear was always there. In recent years, the fear had turned down the volume on itself. As I’ve gotten older I have less energy and require more sleep, which I’m not getting. And not getting. And not getting. After many failed attempts to heed the warnings of internet articles admonishing us to put down the phone and turn off the computer an entire goddamn hour before bedtime, I had to do something different.
So I changed my relationship with fear.
I let go of the idea of having to be in bed by a certain time. And I internalized the idea that whatever sleep I got would be enough. That I would have enough energy to make it through the day. That I wasn’t in the same monochromatic work situation from the 80s. That I even had a car I could go out to and take a 30-minute nap. I had options.
I had choices.
It was okay.
I was okay.
I noticed an immediate improvement in my productivity, my demeanor, and my happiness. I’m more resourced. But I still have the nagging feeling that I’m not doing enough. I expect more from myself.
So I changed my relationship with expectations.
There’s not a whole lot that I’m supposed to be doing. There is no grand measuring stick for the story arc of my life. If the only things I did from now on were get up, go to work, come home, and hang out with family and friends, that would be enough. The fact that I’m alive twenty-seven years and three months after I was supposed to be dead means I’ve already won.
Huh. That’s really the only thing I was supposed to be doing: dying. Being dead.
So I changed my relationship with death.
Sometimes when I start complaining about how unfair life is I remember that if it were, my daughter would be putting flowers on my grave for the 27th year in a row or visiting me in jail or prison.
In 1988 she was two years old and we had the tightest bond. I was in tune with my baby and she was in tune with me.
As I descended into hardcore drug use, that bond began to loosen, fade, and almost disappear. It was only through hard work, showing up consistently, and fulfilling my responsibilities that I was able to rebuild what we once had. It took a long time. Well, it took me a long time. She had forgiven me seemingly after a few short months. But I held onto the guilt until...hunh...look at that. Still holding onto it over two decades later! Let it go, miss. Let it go.
But on a practical note, it took me until she was fourteen years old to feel like we were reestablished. Good thing too, because she was about to go through her own trials. I needed to be there for her. It’s one thing I attribute my experience to: preparing me to be an unconventional parent for an unconventional child.
I feel like God took me, an unrefined piece of metal, and forged me in the fire of addiction and homelessness. He then hammered me into a beautiful sword, weapon, tool, what have you. As God’s sword, I was able to do things a sword would do: cut, slice through, poke, defend, honor.
When she was about sixteen, she told me she wasn’t feeling safe in the house. I had started going out occasionally during the weeks she spent at my place, leaving her alone for a few hours at a time. Although she was okay with it, it did make her nervous. I asked her what she would like for us to do to help her feel safer. I expected an answer typical of a teenage girl: a larger, more comforting blanket; a giant stuffed toy that she could cuddle; perhaps getting her some music or a video that she really liked.
“I want a knife,” she said matter of factly.
I was not prepared for that.
My first response was a resounding “HELL NO!” but I kept that to myself. Instead, I tried something that went against my better judgment. I honored her request.
We went down to the local head shop on 24th and Mission. She was completely uninterested in drugs so I wasn’t worried that we’d find ourselves looking at pipes and paraphernalia.
“My daughter and I would like to look at knives, please.”
The guy directed us to a case filled with implements straight out of West Side Story. She looked them over.
“I don’t know which one to choose.”
“Try them out and see which one feels the best.”
It was like Goldilocks and the Three Blades. The first knife was too this. The second knife was too that. But the third knife was just right.
We purchased it and took it home.
I was really worried about being stabbed in the middle of the night but placated myself with the thought of ‘who better than my own daughter’?
I slept well.