The second time I had coffee with Miranda, my teacher/mentor, I told her the story of when I found out I got into J school. I wrote about it in my other blog but I still need to transfer the entries over. My old-school readers probably remember.
It was a perfect storm of emotional triggers for me: my father was being particularly awful, and I wasn’t so great myself that Christmas, 2013. I had only been clean for two weeks when my father and I had a huge fight in Chicago and I managed to run off, take a bus and then a cab from downtown to my old hood on the West Side, walk a couple miles to Chicago and Homan — “my” corner from when I lived there in 2011, I tried dozens of corners before deciding that was the best and most reliable location — score heroin, buy needles at the Walgreens at Western and Chicago, shoot up in a coffeeshop bathroom a block away, and meet my family nearby, in less than two hours. I think I told them I was having coffee with a friend. I remember crouching on the floor in this icky bathroom trying to hit one of my tiny wrist veins for about 20 minutes while I ignored my mother calling me over and over.
Two days later M and I had run out of the heroin we bought… had just enough to make it through a big dinner with family and family friends without getting dopesick. And then I got the email on my phone.
It still makes me almost cry thinking about it. I can’t remember the actual sequence of events, I only remember flashes. Seeing the email — not really reading it, but seeing enough flashes of individual words that I could comprehend that they had let me into journalism school — my heart was already racing so fast by the time my shaking hands managed to open the email on my phone — when your hands are shaking that much, opening an email is very difficult… I completely lost my hearing, tunnel vision, all I could see was the email on my phone. I showed it to M, and that’s when I started crying, quiet at first, then louder… I cried for 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes… I have no conception of how long it was. I just remember wiping my snot on M’s shoulder, burying my face in his sleeve, sobbing harder than I have ever cried in my life.
When I told Miranda about that scene, she asked me, “So was J school everything you thought it would be? Was it as good as you were expecting?”
“Yes,” I said, “110 percent. Not every single class, but overall, it’s been better than I even expected.” She seemed happy with that answer. I had trouble not breaking down in tears just telling her the story, so I wasn’t able to get many words out about how J school has helped me more than almost anything other than M’s emotional support. At some point, the support of people who love you isn’t enough, you need validation from people who *don’t* love you. At least I do. I’m a high maintenance recovering junkie, I guess.
Her question surprised me. It had never occurred me to judge my experience at J school. It wasn’t even about the school, really, at all. It was about proving to myself that I’m not a failure.
The real question is, did J school, or anything else, for that matter, give me the self-worth I craved? Yes, maybe. In the sense that I don’t think of myself only as a worthless junkie anymore, yes, for sure.
That evening at the restaurant, as M led me out, because the family friends and the waitstaff were getting concerned for my well-being, since I physically couldn’t stop crying no matter how hard I tried, I clung to his shoulder, completely blinded by tears, sobbing as I walked, hardly able to walk at all. The texture of the jacket he was wearing that night, a Carhartt waterproof canvas jacket, tan, dirty. Leaving a layer of snot on the waterproof coating. My hands gripping his arms, feet shuffling along through the ice and snow, slipping and stumbling toward the car that seemed to be 100 miles away.
The dark clear night sky, shining stars and glittering snow, my bare hands going numb from the cold, as waves of joy and relief vibrated through my body. Probably the most intense physical/ emotional experience I’ll ever have.
It wasn’t about school, a future career, or any of that, it was just the sudden realization that it would be possible for me to change. That I didn’t have to be stuck in addiction forever. One tiny step toward whatever it is that I would do after my addiction.
I thought about everything I’d been through, not just the addiction, but the rootless, aimless life I’d had, full of failure and trauma and a litany of woes. It all flashed in front of my eyes like I was about to die, scene after scene of awful memories, surprisingly vivid, but also distant, like I was finally putting those things to rest. One and a half years later, I’m about to graduate, but that moment still feels like it happened five minutes ago. I’m still there, sobbing like a prisoner granted reprieve.
I wonder if I will ever experience relief that visceral again. I hope I never have to.