I’m trapped in my thoughts, stupid consuming thoughts. They are so simple, so few. But they are ever there. Crushing my skull inward, until my brain, crippling under the devastating pressure, cries for relief. I scan my body for physical pain, somewhere, anywhere(!) that would justify the agonizing crush of my mind. I find nothing. No physical justification. Just the thoughts. Unrelenting.
I survey again, taking inventory of my surroundings. Some physical discomfort is present, yet not intense. A dull throb in my back. Bones tired. Muscles tense. Hands tremble slightly. The tremble intensifies to a shake as I lift my hand off my knee to examine my hands. They shake as though they belong to an old grandmother. Her hands – frail, veins blue and thin – gently reach with love and excitement, caressing the cheek of her newborn great-granddaughter. But those aren’t my hands. That’s not my story. I’m a 35-year-old woman, supposedly in the prime of my life. Yet those are my hands, shaking almost ruthlessly, veins blue and bruised. I shove them under my legs, trying to regain some control. Or rather, to hide my lack of control. My sweat feels ice cold as the breeze comes through the window, though it’s hotter than sin outside.
My thoughts are back. I suppose they never left. I was only momentarily able to distract myself by focusing on the physical pain. The TV is on, l guess I’ve been watching, but I can’t recall what’s happened. How long have I been watching?
“We should bring a cooler and a blanket. It should be fun, right?” I’m in a conversation! Can I remember what I just agreed to? Can he tell that I only have these unrelated thoughts to any question he, or anyone else, may ask me? Have I responded properly or is it plainly written on my face? I feel the words form on my tongue and my voice says “Yeah, that should be fun. I love Jurassic Park.”
<No!> My brain yells <If I agree to come, I can at least go high, right?!? I won’t have fun without heroin!>
Shut up, shut up, shut up! I’m terrified he can read it in my face. He smiles at me, maybe oblivious. Or perhaps just unwilling to address my constant companion, my hidden inner thoughts. Those opinions of the ever-present monkey on my back. My best friend. Always predictable. Always with the same response. The infernal repetition. Always. Every sentence of the day.
“Cool. We’ll pick up some food and make a picnic of it!”
<As long as I can get high. Otherwise it won’t be fun>
The shows back on. His attention turns back to the television. I relax. Focus is off me. He couldn’t tell I was thinking about heroin. I made it through another conversation. I try to watch some TV. Doesn’t he know that this is the way all our conversations go? Every single one of the day, from the moment I wake till the time I try to sleep again. Although since I stopped using, three hellish, unending weeks ago, I’ve barely slept a wink. I just pray for time to past, waiting till I can feel the needle pierce my skin, see the blood enter the chamber and taste the heroin enter my bloodstream. Waiting…
<You know you can’t stay away from me for long. You won’t be happy without me.>
<You’ve made it three weeks clean! You deserve to get high.>
There’s the pressure again. My brain pounding against my skull. My eyes close trying to keep my brain from spilling out.
I hear a faraway voice pulling me back from the dark… “What do you want for dinner tonight?”
Ahhhh…! Why won’t he just leave me alone! I don’t want to eat. I don’t care about food. I just want heroin, you idiot! How can you be so blind and inconsiderate!
“I don’t know, maybe Subway or something.”
I feel sick but I know I have to eat, or else betray the little voice in my head. The voice of my little monkey friend. And I’m hoping he leaves the house, if just to give me a moment of peace.
“That sounds good. I’ll grab it 15 or 20 minutes. That cool?”
“Yeah, sounds good.” I hear myself say. Although the words are detached.
My mind drifts again, though I pretend to watch the TV. I can’t focus my attention. I don’t want to be this unhappy. I don’t want to be a slave. He once said to me that I didn’t love anyone as much as heroin. Actually, he’s said it a few times. I hated him for saying that. That can’t possibly be true. I love people. Heroin is a chemical. But I thought. I thought about my past. Is that true? Could that possibly be true? I thought about my friends, my family, my boyfriends. I’ve hurt all of them. Every single one of them I’ve lied to. I’ve deceived, stolen from, betrayed. And who was always there for me? To comfort me when I was afraid, humiliated, insecure?
Heroin was always with me when I was alone. It made me feel wanted, accepted, needed. Heroin made me feel as though I had a place in this world. It wasn’t that I merely loved heroin, I knew that heroin loved me as well. But even beyond that, heroin made me lovable. The rest of the world might not see that or understand, but I knew why. I knew what gave me strength in the eyes of the world. I knew what gave me strength in myself.
I suppose he was right. I do love heroin more than any other person in my life. Well, why not? Who else was with me in my darkest, most vulnerable times? When I was all alone and needed a friend? Heroin was always with me.
But here I am, desperately abstaining. For what? The approval of people who don’t understand? Who will never understand? What is wrong with me?
I won’t be without you for long. I desperately pleaded for heroin to be there when I was done with this pointless separation.
<I will always be here for you. You will always need me. In fact, you can’t live without me.>
I knew it was right. I can’t, so why even bother trying. This is stupid. I shouldn’t have to go through all this pain when I know the second this month is over I’m going to have a needle in my vein faster than you could count to the next minute.
Yet here I was. Trying. Giving it one more try. Maybe this time will stick. Maybe this time I’ll learn something new. Maybe this time I’ll clue into this secret that every other person in the NA rooms seems to understand. Maybe…
“I’m going to go pick up the sandwiches. Want me to just make a snap decision while I’m there?”
“Sounds good,” I mumble.
He kisses me on the cheek since I avoid turning my lips to meet his. He is unaffected or unaware of my unexplained bitterness when the door closes behind him. I’m alone again. Thank God.
I try to empty my mind while I watch the TV. I’m not really interested, so I play with my nails, filing and cleaning.
“… I can feel it running through my veins…” I hear the TV say. I don’t know what the context is, but the statement sets the monkey’s voice off again.
My veins. I put the nail file down and turn my hands over to examine the top of my hands again, skin, nails and veins. My nails are dark and filthy underneath. No matter how often I try to clean them, the blackness sticks. Soiled with visual reminders from the black tar, carbon from the chemical reaction between flame and metal and from a general avoidance of a purifying shower. I’ve put off the unpleasant task since I started this futile fast. The reminder of the hot water cooling and mingling with the cold sweats on my body during withdraws gave me the chills. How unpleasant, I shuttered. Although I knew, if only for the sake of the public, it was soon unavoidable.
My veins, now they were the true traitors. They gave my secret away, no matter how hard I tried to hide it. The blood red scabs, the bruising. They told my past. Not only the heroin but the meth, the coke and all the other drugs I maintained directly into my bloodstream and straight to my brain. Over and over again. But mostly they told about the heroin. The telltale signs of a junky. The lowest cast of American society. A cast I was not only proud of but one I clung to, like an obsessed lover.
Although I sometimes tried to hide them, in less critical situations I wore them like a badge of honor. What would I be without them? How could I make it through a day without stabbing a syringe in them 5, 8, 1 0 times a day and still be happy?
<You would not be happy. Only I can bring you happiness.>
My head hung in shame. No, of course not. I could never be happy without heroin. How could I even think otherwise? I’m the traitor.
I heard keys jingle and moments later the door opened. I stuffed my hands back under my legs, lest I betray the voice in my head.
“I got a turkey club,” he said cheerfully.
“Awesome” I spit the word with poison, though I was unsure if the tone gave away my true unhappiness.
<You don’t need a sandwich. All you need is heroin. Soon.>
The internal struggle was killing me. I know that people were happy living without heroin. Billions of them the world over. I saw them on the streets, going about their business, raising their families, going to the movies. All without sticking a spike in their veins. But how? How do they achieve this? That couldn’t be my life, could it? Had I been happy before heroin? Had there been a time before heroin? I could barely remember anymore. I didn’t even want to remember.
Yet there was a softer, weaker voice. I felt it struggling to be heard over the louder, more oppressive voice of the monkey.
<it is possible. you know it is. don’t give up. you are lovable.>
I looked over at my boyfriend and took the sandwich he was handing me. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you, too.” I wanted to cry.