Close your eyes for a moment.
Shit… hold on… WAIT! WAIT! Did I catch you in time? Good.
I just realized you need to read this first. THEN you can close your eyes. My bad. Sorry about that.
Okay, so in a minute I want you to close your eyes.
I want you to imagine that you’re inside a tent. A very small, very narrow tent.
And in this tent, is a sleeping bag and a camp pillow, and you’re in there too, lying on all of it.
It’s a warm, summer night and the fireflies are out, lighting up the sky occasionally with their iridescent bellies. You catch their glow every so often through the thin, yet surprisingly durable material standing between you and the elements.
You’ve just zipped up the entrance and you’ve settled down to sleep under the light of the stars. Everything, is perfect. The blankets, the pillow, the thermal underwear that provides the perfect balance between stuffy and shivering.
You close your eyes and prepare to drift off to sleep.
And then you hear it.
The high-pitched squeal of a gnat, trapped inside the tent with you, trying desperately to move his sparse belongings into the cavernous tunnel of your left ear, and squat there, uninvited.
You swat it away, but it quickly returns. Over and over again.
You unzip the exit, hopeful that your new invisible friend will flutter his way to freedom, but he stubbornly refuses to leave. He’s comfortable here. It’s his new home.
And you, are his new housemate. FOR LIFE.
You make your peace with this involuntary arrangement. Close your eyes again, and drift off to sleep. Yet, even in your dreams you hear him, humming joyfully to himself. Oblivious to the irritating nature of his incessant murmuring.
NeeeNNNNNGGGG nEEEEEEnnnggg NEEEEENNNGEEEEEEEEE!
Okay, you can open your eyes now.
What, you may be asking yourself, was the point of this little exercise?
Not too long ago, a coworker of mine asked me what anxiety is. They genuinely had no idea. They wanted to know what it felt like.
I sat there and stared for a minute, mouth agape.
There are people out there… lots of people apparently… that don’t know what anxiety feels like?
I was shocked to the point of speechlessness, feeling much like I had when I was in the second grade and the teacher explained that there are people who are color-blind.
And all I could think to myself was, My God, what I wouldn’t give to be one of those people.
Due to the rather shocking nature of the question, I sputtered out some type incomprehensible answer that did not do anxiety any justice. I mean, how do you explain the color RED to someone who can’t see it?
Days later, as nervous people tend to do, I re-lived the conversation in my own head and came up with a much better analogy, storing it in my brain in preparation for the next anxiety-blind person who requests my assistance.
And that… is how the gnat metaphor was born.
I don’t know what the typical life cycle of a gnat looks like.
You’d have to ask a gnat specialist.
But if I had to ponder a guess, I certainly wouldn’t say that gnats survive for over 33 years.
That’s how I know that the gnat in my metaphorical tent is special. He’s downright geriatric. He’s been buzzing around, wreaking havoc on my psyche since I was born. And age hasn’t dampened his efforts in the slightest.
There have only been a few times in my life that I’ve managed to quiet him. To dull his constant droning so that I can FINALLY get some quality sleep.
And almost none of the methods I’ve discovered, are healthy.
At age 14, I began having the most painful cramps imaginable, once a month, for obvious reasons. I was aware that menstrual cramps were unpleasant, but confused as to why mine were absolutely debilitating.
I mean, none of my high school friends were rendered completely incapacitated for 3 days each month, so why did my experience seem to be so categorically different?
It eventually got to the point where my mother had to talk to the middle school front office, and leave a bottle of ibuprofen there for me, to be dispensed by the school nurse during my most intolerable moments.
Occasionally, even ibuprofen wouldn’t touch the pain, and my mother would be forced to take a half-day off of work and come pick me up. I’d be in a ball on the school office floor, rocking back and forth, crying and holding my lower back in agony.
After a time, my parents became so concerned that they brought me to a specialist, who recommended exploratory surgery to discover the source of this extraordinary pain.
Thirty minutes inside my pelvis confirmed it: I had endometriosis. Bad.
The gynecologist held up his little plastic pictures proudly during the follow-up appointment, displaying what appeared to be a barren, bloody minefield around my internal organs. Diseased tissue had overtaken my pelvis. It had spread and multiplied and invaded every crack and crevice near my uterus. The outside of my bladder was coated in it. Even my colon had not escaped it’s destruction.
The doctor explained that it was an awful case, and that the only way to go about fixing it, was to remove my uterus and ovaries.
I was 17 years old.
My mother, transformed instantly into a grizzly bear at this news. She shook her paws at the doctor, threatening him with her razor-sharp claws and pointed teeth. He did what any self-respecting Physician does upon finding himself in this situation, and played dead.
My mom scooped me up in her teeth, and dragged me out of his office by the scruff of my neck. She made some calls, and found a new doctor. One that would operate around my organs, instead of scooping them out sloppily, like a construction excavator.
It would take 4 surgeries over the course of several years, before all of the diseased tissue was properly excised. By the time my pelvis was salvaged, I had a giant scar that cut a gnarled line across my lower abdomen, spanning it’s entire horizontal surface. I also have lots of little 1 cm disfigurements dotted all over my belly, as an added bonus.
Typically, they use a microscopic laser to burn the diseased cells off the healthy tissue. In my case, some of the lesions were so large that they had to be removed with a scalpel.
“I had to saw it off, with a knife… like a tree-branch!” The surgeon exclaimed excitedly, “And it was the size of a grapefruit! Incredible. Just incredible.”
Obviously, the post-surgical experience brought with it all sorts of pain, in every variety imaginable. And for the very first time in my life, I was given all kinds of special pills to nullify that pain.
I had no idea that those pills, would eventually come to define who I am as a person. That so much of my experience on this Earth would be altered, by a tiny white tablet, mass-produced in a factory somewhere, and marketed to physicians as safe alternatives to “addictive medications” like morphine.
It started with Vicodin.
Sweet, Sweet Vicodin.
She was so lovely at first.
Our sordid affair began with that first pill after surgery. I popped it into my mouth unknowingly… and 30 minutes later…. Bliss.
Here’s where the debate starts. I’m not going to sit here and try to impress upon you my opinions (of which I have many) about addiction and cite the numerous peer-reviewed medical journals and qualified institutions that have all conducted double-blind research studies that prove, unequivocally, that addiction is a disease. That’s something I plan to delve into at another point in this blog.
All I can offer you right now, is my own experience. And that experience, began with the completely unintentional and absolutely innocent administration of an addictive substance, for a purpose in which it was medically necessary and legitimately prescribed for a perfectly valid and well-documented reason.
I swallowed that pill with a full glass of water, steeped in youthful naivety.
And after 30 minutes had gone by, it was hard not to notice it’s effectiveness in reducing my pain. The throbbing tissues, angry from the trauma of fresh surgery, were coaxed and soothed into submission. I felt better. A LOT BETTER.
And here’s where it gets tricky: I didn’t just feel better physically. I felt better MENTALLY, too.
Remember that gnat… buzzing it’s low and annoying hum in our tent?
IT WAS FINALLY SILENCED.
For the first time in my, albeit rather short, life… my anxiety was gone. It’s ever-looming, crushing presence was finally lifted.
The tent, was quiet, and I could begin to hear the sounds of nature and finally appreciate the beauty that surrounded me.
I quietly fell in love with the little white pill that made all of this possible.
Not, because it got me high. Not because it made me feel good.
Because it made me feel normal.
Little did I know, that Vicodin was a vindictive little bitch, who lures you into the light with her siren song, and then STOMPS THE LIGHT OUT once she has you trapped there.
It wasn’t always Vicodin. Sometimes, it was alcohol. Alcohol is easier to obtain. It’s cheaper. The most detrimental legal drug available on this planet.
I plan to write an entire series about the years I lost to addiction and alcoholism. That’s another story for another time.
But just know, that over a third of my life was dedicated to it’s destruction. And finally, 5 years ago this November, I broke free from the shackles of addiction. And it absolutely changed my life.
Yet I so very nearly gave all that up, just a few weeks ago.
September 9, 2019 – 12 PM
The heavy door slams shut, trapping me inside the hotel room that has become my prison cell. I set the brown paper bag on the counter, and the liquid inside swishes back and forth like a tidal wave.
I retrieve a plastic cup from the shelf in the miniature kitchen, hands trembling.
Am I really doing this? I’m really doing this. 5 years, down the drain.
I break the seal of the large plastic cap, twisting it off unceremoniously. The old, familiar smell of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey wafts into my nostrils. I gag, unexpectedly.
I’d never noticed, before, how much this bottle of legal poison smells like hairspray.
I used to love it’s refined scent. Now, I’m choking back vomit as I pour the brown liquid into the plastic cup, filling it to the brim with pure, undiluted alcohol.
My plan, is to chug it in one fell swoop. To wait a few minutes for it to take it’s effects, and then finish the grisly task I had started the night before. Knowing that the contents of this bottle, are precisely what I need to erase any second thoughts that may have prevented me from following through the night before.
To eradicate the mental image of my family and all the guilt that goes along with it.
Although I’d been euphoric a mere hours prior to this, that euphoria has petered out, giving way to another wave of soul-crushing depression.
I wrinkle my nose as I bring the lip of the cup to my mouth. Catch an even stronger whiff of it’s nefarious odor, and begin to dry-heave. This is not going to work. Not at all.
Angrily, I toss the cup towards the kitchen sink. Watch as it’s contents explode onto the counter and drip from the bottom of the wall-cabinets.
Fuck it. If I’m going to die, I might as well just do it sober.
An odd sense of pride fills me. Knowing that I will have stayed sober, to the very end.
But no matter how hard I try, I can’t naturally erase the guilt of what I’m about to do. It’s a catch-22. I can’t do it sober, but I can’t do it drunk either.
Time… I need more time, I think.
I tear around the room in an urgent frenzy, grabbing items sporadically and shoving them into a backpack, stuffing it full of random toiletries and pieces of clothing, not even stopping to consider if they’re essential or not.
I hoist the backpack over my shoulders and take one last look at the room, filled with all my earthly possessions. Then I close the door, sealing everything inside, including the key to get back in.
I will never return to this hotel room again.
To be continued…