give me your eyes i need sunshine

heartI thought I should write another entry because my last one was doubting whether J. was telling the truth or not and I found out he was, and that he did actually get clean after I left. I can accurately say this because I know he only had one dealer’s number, and I talked to that dealer, who said he hadn’t ever called. This guy usually meets me and has only met J. once so he has no reason to lie to me. Also I realized the reason he probably hasn’t been texting me as much is that he’s working 55-60 hours a week now, whereas when I was doing my internship in Portland four days a week for the last couple months, he was unemployed. Now I feel bad for doubting him, since he’s always so honest.

Oh wow, he just now texted me: “Are you ever coming home?!? haha :)” Okay, now it’s back to the way he normally is. We have the weirdest timing with texts. I realize the universe doesn’t work like that, but anytime I’m thinking about him, he texts me. Maybe that’s because I’m always thinking about him.

Then I was just worrying… maybe I’m misremembering what “normal” is for him? Maybe I’ve been exaggerating his affection in my mind? Scrolled through a few months of texts and found a lot of these little exchanges (this one is over the span of me working in Portland one week Tuesday-Friday):

11/10/15 (day I left, right after arriving in Portland)
me: I miss you. I’m sad. 😩
J.: I miss you too
me: Don’t forget to feed the kitties!
J.: I will spoil the kitties like their mother does. 🙂

11/11/15
J.: Wish you were here.
me: Me too. 😩 I miss you. You always cheer me up.
J. I miss you too.
J.: I’m bored without you here.
me: So that’s all I am to you? Entertainment?? haha
J. An integral part of my happiness.

11/12/15
J. Really missing you tonight. Almost wish I could see you tonight. Hope you are doing well.
me: Aw I miss you too! 😩 How are you feeling? I’m super stressed out and I miss you!!
J.: Well keep up the good fight. I feel like I totally wanna do drugs right now. haha! All the cats do is eat and open the door I swear! 🙂
Me: Hmm well ok I hope you feel better. I’ll be home tomorrow though.  Yay!!!!!!!!!!
J.: I definitely need a big hug.
Me: I need a big hug too! What a coincidence!!! My stress level is like one million.
J.: Stay calm. It will be okay.
J.: Well don’t stress out too much. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow.
J.: I’m actually really lonely without you here.
Me: Awwww
J.: The cats are okay but they don’t like you not being here.
Me: I’m really lonely too. I get so much more stressed out when you aren’t here. 😩

11/13/15
Me: I can’t wait to come home tonight.
J.: Come home.
Me: I miss you. I’m tired and I need a hug and a cuddle.
J.: Come get em. haha
Me: My arrival time is supposedly 7:07 pm according to my GPS
J.: I can’t believe it’s really true!
Me: What’s really true?
J.: You’re coming back!!!
Me: Of course I’m coming back.
Me: You thought I wasn’t going to come back? haha!
J.: It started to feel that way haha.
Me: When do you get off work?
J.: Not until 9. 😩 Hey can you have a giant hug ready for me? And tell me I smell good even though I smell bad?
Me: Yeah definitely! I was planning on doing that anyway! And you never smell bad! You think I’m lying but I’m not lying. I was literally just smelling one of your shirts because it smells so good.

So…. yeah. I still feel like it’s weird he has barely texted me since I’ve been here, at least not like that. But I’m clearly overanalyzing. I’m the type to fall in love super fast and often I fall out of love pretty fast too, though not when it’s this intense. There have been several times when I had a huge crush on a guy and just when he started getting into in me, I would lose interest and break up with him. Also J. is not the flighty type, he tends to be very methodical about his choices/loves and then stick with them for very long periods of time. The type of person who still cries weekly about his father’s death 21 years ago. And has only had three serious relationships. Well four, if I count. He’s really loyal and has an overblown sense of honor. So I just keep telling myself that after six months of perfection there’s no reason he’s just going to randomly disappear.

We talked about having kids a few days before I left for my parents’ place. Kind of indirectly. I know he’s really good with kids, all the kids of his friends and relatives absolutely adore him, it’s so cute. There’s a video of him playing “somewhere over the rainbow” with his sister’s daughter. I’m a little confused about why his ten year marriage never involved children, but maybe there were other factors.

Anyway I’ve held off asking so as not to sound like the biological-clock-time-bomb that I am, but I finally asked him if he ever wants to have kids. He said, “Yes, definitely. But I’m not getting any younger.” Also he has never asked me if I’m on birth control (I’m not — it makes me c-r-a-z-y) and has never attempted to use protection or pull out. So far, nothin’. I mean I haven’t had a period in 3 months but I’m always irregular, and I tested and I’m not pregnant. Maybe we are both sterile from so much drug use! That would be tragic. Especially since I’ve had three abortions. Which I have not regretted in the slightest, especially considering the men who had gotten me pregnant, but I would probably regret them more if I was unable to have children.

Anyway. I’ve been trying to figure out what his response to my question means. I was about ready to pick some random guy at a bar before I met J. For real. Actually G. told me when I was in my 20s that if I hadn’t found a potential father by age 30, that he would knock me up, but I’m not sure if that’s still on, seeing as he has a girlfriend. haha.

Now that I finished school, have a job, and an amazing relationship, having kids is kind of the last nagging thing that I haven’t settled yet. Not like everything is perfect — I need a BETTER job for one thing — but I feel like I’m on the path to all my other goals. That in itself is pretty surreal. I should be more grateful, considering that two years ago almost to the day I spent 45 minutes sobbing just from finding out I got into journalism school because it was the first thing that had given me hope in a decade.

Okay. Sorry this was really pointless and I am just writing these things down to reassure myself next time I am mind-fucked by insecurity. 🙂

XOXOXO

from now on our troubles will be miles away

IMG_0003Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. J’s favorite holiday is Halloween. I appreciate anyone who loves holidays, because I love most of them. But we are apart for 10 days. And I’ve been thinking about what those holidays mean.

I flew home to see my family and get clean. You know, that’s always inevitable when two ex-addicts get together. And then we couldn’t stop because I was working full time at an internship and I didn’t have enough days off in a row to go through withdrawal.

The night before I flew to my parent’s place on Sunday, J’s band played a show. They play about every two weeks at a local club, make like $60 per band member from the cover charge, and all of his friends come and have a great time. His friends are amazing, they have totally welcomed and accepted me and greet me like we’ve known each other for years. You can judge a person based on their friends and family relationships, I think. J is clearly someone whom people love fiercely.

I still can’t put my finger on what it is about him that makes me so crazed with  love/lust. Sure, he’s my type, physically, I could spend a lifetime exploring his perfect body, down to the pores, his soft skin, delicate hands, thin and tall and restless, with eyes that wander around the room like mine do, this lightening bolt of something from deep down under the pain that comes out through his eyes. He’s warm and fiery and passionate and emotional and breaks down crying at random moments, which is one of my favorite things in a guy. The way he never asks for anything, ever. Suffers through so much in silence. And then sometimes all the stuff in his head breaks open and I get this outpouring of grief and pain and tears and I just want to wrap him up like a baby and protect him from all the shit in his past that I will never, ever be able to protect him from.

He writes the most incredible songs, too. At first I groaned, not another boyfriend in a band, but he is so good, and so good at writing songs… they are constantly in my head. I can see how cathartic preforming is for him. The suffer in silence stuff goes out the window and he’s got sweat and tears running down his face, wiping them off after every song.

After I got on the train on Sunday morning I almost started crying, I missed him so much already, even just five minutes after we hugged goodbye. I spent the two hour train ride to Portland watching these two videos over and over in rapid succession. The first is at his friend’s housewarming party. J is in the middle, standing, holding a cigarette that he restlessly fidgets with, putting it in his mouth, then taking it out and flicking it with his hand for the next three minutes. His best friend Jon is on the piano, and his good friend from high school, Dave, is on the floor on guitar. Emily is next to the wall. Apparently after J’s divorce two years ago, she told him that she had always had a crush on him. But he wasn’t interested, and she was distraught: “Aren’t I pretty enough?” I always feel weird around her. But anyway… I love this video because you can see how much love there is. J makes fun of me for how many videos I post but I feel like a sponge just drinking it all in. I have been so isolated for so long. And J and Jon are smiling at each other in the cutest bromance way…

Oh, well I was going to post it here but I realized I have no idea how to download a video I’ve posted to facebook, and it’s no longer on my phone. Point is, I spend most weekends singing along to great songs with a bunch of amazing pianists & guitar players.

The second video I still have on my phone so I can post it. This was at J’s last show. He had a cold so his voice sounds a little weird, but I’ve been watching this video over and over with the computer screen about two inches from my face so I can see his facial expressions, because there’s a part where he’s singing directly at me, pointing at me, in the middle… the song lyrics are pretty dark actually. But the refrain is a little lighter… that’s the part where he points at me, then each of his two band mates and repeats the line, “But you’re not gonna die, cause they won’t forget your name.”

The words are:

With all the ideas that they put in your head
Will you think about them, can you think at all?
Will you think about it?
And on the inside when you swallow it down,
Take another hit and drown,
In the darkness and then come back up to breathe
So hypnotizing when the words are let in
And your dizzy head it spins
The decision to pacify from within
With all the ideas that they put in your head
Will you think about them?
Can you think at all?
Will you think about it?
But you’re not gonna die, cause they won’t forget your name.

Watching the videos doesn’t make me feel better. It just makes me miss him more. Despite the logic that I know I will be back in less than a week. For the six or so months we’ve been together I’ve tried to cling to some perspective or independence but it’s hard when he basically moved in with me the second time we saw each other, and we were rarely apart for more than a few moments from then until my internship started, and then only for three or four days a week tops. And he would text me multiple times a day to tell me how much he missed me or that he couldn’t wait to see me that night or whatever.

And when I would walk through the door after being gone for a few days, he would hold me so tight for these epic 15-minute hugs, and would just be so overjoyed to see me, I don’t think anyone I’ve ever loved has ever been that happy to see me in my entire life. I’m needy as fuck, I have zero boundaries, and I appreciate another person with similar characteristics.

The part that is freaking me out is that since I’ve been gone I haven’t gotten the same rapid fire texts that I would get when I was away at my internship. Which makes me think he didn’t get clean after I left. Because he always misses me more when we are clean. It’s just a feeling, but it keeps bothering me. Especially because a mutual friend, one of the few who knows about our habit(s), stopped by two days after I left and reported back to me that J. didn’t seem dopesick at all. And then J. asked me for our dealer’s number yesterday. He said it was because he has to be alone on Christmas, he had to work xmas eve and xmas day at his fancy new job as the assistant manager of a pet store. And I felt so bad for leaving him there alone that I gave him all the numbers I had for people in town. I asked him if he had actually stopped when I left, and he said he had, which didn’t jive with what the mutual friend had said. He has always been really pointed about being 100 percent honest, like I am in relationships, and I loved that about him. And I don’t want to find out that he’s lying to me, even about something silly like whether he used for one extra day after I left or something.

I was thinking about our favorite holidays today as I worried about this. He loves, loves Halloween. I’ve actually rarely met anyone who was as into any holidays as I am, so that made me happy even though my favorite holiday is Christmas. Christmas is about darkness giving over to light, it’s transactional, giving and receiving and seeing where you stand with people based on their gifts. It’s a full-throated celebration, totally regardless of religious connotations, since I have never been religious.

Halloween is dark, it’s about deception, disguise, not recognizing those around you. Or at the very least acting. J is an actor too and he does hilarious accents and impressions. He was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, which seems fitting. Based on some pretty weird and/or unflattering stuff he voluntarily told me about himself, and his constant stressing of honesty, I’ve always assumed he was as honest as he said he was. But then I started doubting him and it’s just eating away at me.

Being in love is really extraordinarily painful in almost every way, even the good bits. I forgot what this was like, for the last 10 or so years. I definitely had some strong crushes and flings over the years but most of them ended so quickly I didn’t have a chance to get in this deep, so far over my head I feel like I can’t breathe. My last relationship, which went on for five years, I think I thought I was in love but now I’m realizing that I wasn’t, or at least it was just on a different level, where I could stay at arm’s length, at a remove, and not be bothered by whether he gave two shits about me or not. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t.) Or whether he was lying to me. I don’t think M. has the same excessive guilt/shame-complex that J. has so maybe he never had reason to lie to me about anything. But I was definitely never up nights wondering whether he was using when I was out of town or trying to figure out why he wasn’t texting me back.

I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, even if he overdosed and died tomorrow or left me or something at least I know I can still love someone that much. I was starting to wonder if I’d lost part of my soul. Obsession runs in my blood and it never feels quite right when I’m not fixated on a person, place, or thing. First Gabe. And then for the longest time it was Eva and Portland, my twin loves. Now that I actually have a job in Portland and have chosen to work remotely from Eugene to stay close to J and his friends, my whole world has turned topsy turvy… I wasn’t aware anyone could top my love for Portland other than Eva.

Being alone and lonely, that was an ache I was used to. Being in a fair-to-middling long-term relationship was pretty familiar too, but after M. left for Alaska I knew I wasn’t going to spend 6 months waiting for him to get back so we could return to our then-100-percent celibate relationship, but even being alone, wasn’t a big deal. I watched a lot of WWII documentaries for the first two months until J. and I finally got together. We’d been messaging each other since March, I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been a bit quicker responding. If I’d still been taking 5 classes when we met, I probably would have gotten straight F’s instead of straight A’s. God, I am pathetic.

If I had known what did happen when we met, when we were both single and clean rather than on heroin and with him dating a psycho drama queen and me dating a shut-in who never touched me, well, I definitely would have taken him up on meeting back in March when he first messaged me. I guess I can thank my lucky stars it took me until July.

And… just got this text that he is feeding the kitties some gourmet food from his job and going to see Star Wars… alone, on Christmas. Five more days until I’m back.

XOXOXO

 

 

walked into the room you know you made my eyes burn

11745505_10154022660573332_2655251653068259187_nLast night I came home and J was wrapped in a blanket, with that brooding look that I know means something is wrong. For some reason I feel so protective of him, like he’s this fragile little bird, when he’s really a 6 foot tall street-smart guy who dealt heroin for a year, used to own a gun and still carries a knife for protection — he’s very worried about safety. He grew up in Trenton, NJ, born in 1977, so his childhood was the worst of the crime epidemic that swept through the country. He’s horrified that I don’t lock my car doors (I can’t — they don’t lock) and that I leave my apartment door ajar for the cats. Whenever I don’t respond via text, or sometimes even if I am responding, he’ll text me, “Are you okay?” as if I’m constantly at risk of abduction or worse. So I guess he feels protective of me too.

I asked him, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “I mean, no. But, yeah.”

We had a cigarette on the porch and I asked him what was wrong.
He said, “I’m having trouble with my mind. It happens, sometimes.” He is a man of few words and I usually have to pull anything personal out of him. After a minute of silence, I responded, “What… what about your mind?”
“I can’t turn it off. I can’t make it stop. Sometimes I forget, this is why I did heroin… to make my mind stop.”
Silence again. In my interview classes, they told us that interview subjects can’t stand silence, and rather than jumping in with another question, if you wait long enough, the person will start talking again, elaborate, offer more details. J must be the one exception to that rule. He could beat anyone in a silence contest.
Finally I asked, “What is your mind telling you?”
Long pause. “Life,” he said. Pause. “Purpose.”
“Like, what’s the point of living?” I delicately tried to pull more out of him.
“Yeah. And all the bad stuff starts coming back, all the deaths, all the faces.” His father died when he was a teenager, and the grief consumed him for years, and he’s had a lot of other people close to him die. “And I think about how many times I’ve almost died, and I don’t know why — why I lived and they didn’t.” He almost died at birth, when his umbilical chord was wrapped around his neck. Later his house caught on fire. His car almost went off a cliff, literally teetering on the edge. And in December he was in that coma for two weeks. The fact that he can walk at all, or that his kidneys started working again, is a medical miracle. He still wears the hospital bracelet, to remind himself of it.
He went on, “I think about how maybe it’s because I have some purpose, like I’ll do something good, or help someone. Like maybe once I held the door for someone and just that small act of kindness made them take a different path in their life.”

Now I was silent. I felt like I was trying to coax a baby bird to walk a little closer to me. I know that feeling, that what’s the point feeling, and the can’t make your mind stop feeling. I know that nothing anyone ever says helps, almost ever. The more people try to convince me that my life is worth something, the more I push back that they’re wrong.

I carefully chose my words. “I’m sure you’ve helped hundreds of people like that. You have so many friends who love you. You’re a good person.” He is a good person. I can feel it more strongly than with almost anyone. The way guilt weighs on him, the way he micro-analyzes his behavior, is so gracious with me, with everyone. He never does anything accidentally. He is so careful to never be a burden or harm anyone. “You’ve helped me. You’ve made me so happy. I’ve done a lot in the last few years, finished college and stuff, that made me feel like I wasn’t a failure… but you’ve made me feel more ALIVE than anything has in years and years.”
We were sitting shoulder to shoulder in the dark, on the porch, and he silently leaned in closer and squeezed my arm. “Sorry to dump all this stuff on you,” he said.
I laughed, “Oh, it’s okay, I dump stuff on you all the time.” I don’t try to hide that I’m an emotional wreck, like he does. “I just wish I could say something that would help. I know that feeling, and I know that nothing people say ever helps.”
“You have helped,” he said. We sat there in silence for a few more minutes. Suddenly he perked up a little. “When was the last time you watched The Life Aquatic?” he asked.
I said, “I’ve never seen it, remember?” It’s one of his favorite movies. He loves fish, worked in marine biology jobs for most of his life. “Do you want to watch it?” I asked. “I downloaded it for you the other day.”
“Yes!” he said, finally smiling. And we went inside and made rice and watched the movie cuddled on the couch.

Someone emailed me and told me that this relationship is a bad idea because J is an addict. But the fact that he is/was an addict isn’t an accident. I date addicts because no one else understands. I’ve dated non-addicts, and I would exhaust myself trying to explain why I did what I did, all the seemingly nonsensical behavior. That’s if they were willing to accept dating an ex-junkie to begin with, which is a big if.

J actually only used heroin for a year and a half, and he’s 37. He had a whole life before he met Caroline and she got him into hard drugs. He was married, owned a house out in the country, kept bees and chickens, learned everything about remodeling and wiring and building and gardening, worked as a research assistant at the university, marine biology, worked in aquarium stores, had his own business before the economy crashed and too many people decided that exotic fish were a luxury item they couldn’t afford anymore. Then his wife started cheating on him, cheated for over a year, and he knew for most of that time. It absolutely crushed him. They had been together for ten years.

Then he met Caroline. She told me their first date was at his big, empty house, and that he was still reeling from the divorce. Caroline had recently gotten out of rehab but relapsed almost instantly, and took J with her. She was the one with the drug dealing connections — she actually started dealing heroin when she was still in high school. I think J felt like he tried to be an adult, tried to live a normal life, and it all came crashing down. And then a gorgeous redhead appeared and offered him this drug that made everything feel better. Who could resist that?

But their relationship deteriorated quickly. She cheated, too, blatantly, like leaving with some other guy right in front of him. Why anyone would cheat on him is beyond me, but whatever. When I met them, Caroline was flighty, irresponsible, careless. J was the one who would finally meet me to bring me my drugs when Caroline had left me standing out in the rain for hours, waiting.

I always had this feeling that I tried to suppress — overwhelming jealousy that she had him and I didn’t. We would flirt, but I could never tell if it was all in my mind, wishful thinking.

One night, in September 2014, I met them on an empty street by some warehouses. Caroline was running around high on meth, rummaging through their car, who knows what she was doing. But J took me aside, and we sat in my car, and had our first real conversation. We reference this conversation a lot, now, because it’s so funny. He told me that I was intimidating, that he could never tell if I was being cold and haughty or if I was just shy. He told me that I had a nice smile and that I should smile more, that I would seem less distant. I can barely remember what he was actually saying, because I was so happy that he was even taking a moment to give me any sort of attention at all.

Later that same night we had an even more flirty conversation via text. I completely forgot about this text conversation until after J and I got together this year, when I was going through old texts… I would have been a lot less nervous on our first date if I’d remembered this:

J: “About our brief conversation, Oh my god I feel like such a dick… I just meant your smile is your secret weapon. Use it more. Sorry shit I say comes out wrong sometimes.”
me: “No I totally get it and I appreciate the advice! Don’t worry I didn’t take it the wrong way!”
J: “Ok good I felt like you thought I was being a dick and I totally wasn’t”
me: “No I didn’t think that at all. See, people always think I’m mad at them or don’t like them! lol”
J: “So in summation, nice smile and good looking and great sense of humor. Just smile more.”
me: “Thanks! :)”
J: “I didn’t think you were mad, I thought I was an asshole. Yeah oh and good looking not only in the dark. But sorry I’m probably overstepping boundaries. I was just informed that you have a boyfriend. Sorry.”
me: “Haha don’t worry. I actually thought it was cool that you brought it up. And no I don’t have a boyfriend. I recently broke up with him. And even if I did, it wouldn’t matter.” [M and I were in limbo after I left him in July 2014… we never officially ‘got back together’ after that, but neither of us moved out]
J: “Oh good. Well if I’m being completely honest I was extremely turned on by you tonight and couldn’t stop thinking about bad things that kept popping in my head. Anyway I think you should smile more.”
me: “Dude don’t you have a girlfriend? I totally don’t mind you hitting on me but really don’t you have a girlfriend? That said, though, I just got out of a 4 year relationship so things are a little weird. But I appreciate the compliments anyway. :)”
J: “Sort of have a girlfriend. Depends on what day you ask me. See I’m a tad bit of a masochist and am loaded with tons of issues and am complicated. Such fun. Our relationship has been very interesting and I love her and not sure I’d want things any different… maybe a little. But I couldn’t tell you if I have a girlfriend. Sorry if I’ve been rude by my comments btw.”
me: “Okay I get it… kind of. Anyway you are definitely attractive and my type. But I’m trying to get clean again… I was clean for 7 months, until July 16. I desperately need to get clean again.”

I guess that last bit was me saying: you are hot and I want you, but I can’t fall for another junkie, especially not my fucking dealer’s boyfriend. Trying to pull myself back from the brink of infatuation. So I guess J is right that it’s a good thing he shot up that dirty dope last December and went into a coma… because while he was in the coma, the doctors weaned him off heroin onto methadone, and then off methadone, and by the time he woke up, he was clean. And then Caroline didn’t have the patience to wait for him to recuperate back east — months in a wheelchair on dialysis, learning to walk again, learning to use his fingers, everything. She found a new boyfriend almost right after he left.

So he reappeared in my life this summer, clean, single, and somehow even more attractive — everyone is more attractive when they’re clean. Thank god for small favors. If going into a coma and almost dying counts as a small favor.

Now if only I could get over my crushing fear of rejection and just relax for a moment — the better things get, the more scary it is that it will all disappear.

He gives the best hugs. Fingers kind of creeping around my waist, pulling me in, and holding me like his life depended on it. I’ve always been an intense hugger — if I really let myself feel how much I love someone, I’ll hold them so close I squeeze the air out of them. It’s too much for a lot of people. I’m strong for a tiny girl. I can’t do that to him because his organs and stuff are still a little fragile from when he almost died. But I hold him as hard as I can without hurting him. He is so skinny he’s the same size as me, just a lot taller. It’s almost like hugging myself. And I breathe in, he has the most amazing scent. And we just stay that way.

“if we strain thought clear of impulse slowly, slowly the day scream subsides to ordered lust”

82ndThe thing I miss the most is always knowing exactly what to do at any given time. The single-minded purpose. The last time I relapsed on heroin, there was about a two-hour interval between when I decided to buy heroin, and when I actually got it in my hands and got high. I had to pick up M’s friend Emil, way up in the SW hills at his dad’s, and then drive clear out to the other side of Portland, to SE 157th and Stark, where his dealer lived, and then even further out to Troutdale or one of those faraway suburbs, where the dealer’s dealer wanted to meet.

Gentrification — driving the criminals out to your suburb!

Anyway, throughout this long tour of the Portland sticks, talking to Emil or just driving silently as he chain-smoked all my cigarettes, I felt this sense of calm that I hadn’t felt in months.

My ability to concentrate completely fell apart after I got clean. And procrastination is a million times worse than it was pre-heroin. Prioritizing what I have to do and actually doing it apparently uses some of those brain cells I murdered during my 50+ overdoses. How did I get five A’s last term? (humblebrag alert!) I think doing well in school is one of those few times in my life when being booksmart comes in handy. But it was a fucking struggle.

You know what I really fucking miss about heroin? Never having to choose what I’m about to do next. I might have been losing my mind on a daily basis about where the next $300 was coming from for that day’s 2-3 gram supply, but I knew exactly what I needed to do to get that money. Even if everything went wrong, clients cancelled, whatever, I had a series of other ways to make money: pawn my guitar/camera/etc, overdraw my bank account, sell my books/records (it hurt…), call various people trying to borrow money, and last resort, call my dealers begging for a front… None of that stuff was fun. It was nerve-wracking and made me feel awful.

But I can say one thing, I never had a single problem concentrating on the task at hand. The threat of imminent heroin withdrawal is better than a pound of Adderall for making you focus.

Even on my days off now, even when my homework or whatever is done for the day, I get anxious about my fucking free time! I should be reading more books… taking more walks… cleaning the house… I should be writing freelance or some shit… I need to work on my memoir… but I’m afraid. 

Portland is a very East-West oriented city, at least the routes I used to drive daily. I’ve done that long drive out to the boonies of Southeast thousands of times. 200 blocks sailing down Powell, Division, Stark, Burnside, or Glisan… the dealers must have a pact to always live as far as possible away from the customers. Make you work for it. I guess I built up an association with that drive.

When I first started using, I had barely ever gone east of 39th St. The area past 82nd was a blank spot in my mind. Chris would drive and I would stare dreamily out the windows as the Douglas firs got taller and taller and the houses got tinier, shittier, and more run-down. That’s how you know you’re almost to Gresham.

Of course, back then, the heroin still felt good. The last few times I relapsed, I knew it wasn’t going to feel good. I knew even if I got a momentary rush, I would come down quickly and then have four days of withdrawal from just using that one time. My body, it tries to tell me not to fuck with it anymore. Do I listen? Hmmm.

Waiting in the parking lot for the dealer with Emil, at some nameless strip mall, a crappy dive bar with guys wearing Semper Fi t-shirts, a Mexican restaurant, discount cigarette store… Emil was freaking out, pacing around (he’s a pacer, it’s very nerve-wracking), chain-smoking, texting the dealer every five seconds and reporting back to me, coming up with a creative succession of theories as to why she was taking so long.

But I was blissfully content. When you’re not strung out, the craving goes away as soon as you decide to score. I was just enjoying that feeling of not having to make any decisions, not having to try to concentrate on anything. Deciding to fuck up takes a moment and then everything is out of your hands. Living in ‘reality’ entails billions of decisions, practically every single moment you have to think about what to do next.

Today I was sitting on my porch when this random guy passed by, walking through the alley. Just then, a beat-up car pulled up and the guy hopped in the passenger door, and they drove away. I had this flash of pure, unchecked desire, like a shock wave passing through my body. If you’ve never been addicted to drugs, picture how you felt when you were most in love, and when you saw your beloved after a long absence.

It took me a second to comprehend why seeing a random guy get in a car had made my nerves sing like that. It was one of those associations my brain holds onto just to fuck with me. I apparently associate hopping into someone’s car with going to buy drugs. And that set off some other shit in my brain that reminded me of that single-minded feeling that I miss so much. I had this vision of the driver and passenger driving off to some far-flung part of the city to meet their dealer, that tense but focused journey… Fuck, they were probably just going to a movie or something. What the fuck is wrong with me?

Sometimes I wish I had a religion or something. A person, or a set of beliefs, or a god, or SOMETHING that would give me a sign, tell me what to do. Just take me in and tell me something that makes sense and tell me I don’t have to be in this war with myself moment to moment. Give me that calm. That’s what I miss. Not the drugs. The relentless need for those drugs that kept me from fragmenting. That’s what I miss.

“What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What is this language we have got backed up into on long worst fire nights like a bad translation? It is important to keep recording the dialect forms, tracking the idioms. Yes there is a violence in it.”
[A.C.]

* * *
ps. Why do I always write the most depressing entries when I’m happy?

how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach

I just realized I can stop counting how many years I used heroin.

It’s a little confusing, anyway. I first tried it July of 2002 in Chicago, but didn’t like it at the time. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving 2002 in Portland when I was 22, when my 37-year-old neighbor Kurt, who was in love with me, relapsed on heroin out of heartbreak that I wouldn’t be with him, and gave me some… that was when it grabbed me. Trying it a second time was mostly because of that thing I used to have, that part of my personality I have had to carve off myself like a sickness… the part that used to make me try any drug that was in front of me, do anything that was possible, try to reach the farthest corners of experience. Unfortunately, the instruments I’ve been forced to use in order to become free of that thing were very blunt and I ended up carving off parts of my heart and mind as well.

It took me a long time to realize why I didn’t like heroin in July 2002: I was on a break from school, with my cousin and friends, generally happy. The second time I was back at Reed and buried in mountains of reading. I remember sitting on Kurt’s futon on the floor while he watched The Young Ones, reading the Communist Manifesto for my humanities class. At the beginning, then, I could still stay awake and read or be productive. That gave me this false sense that heroin was a good thing. I had done plenty of coke and meth trying to finish the hundreds of pages of reading I had to do each day, or the long papers about postmodernism and anthropology, but I didn’t like the jittery side effects and sleeplessness.

I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure what went through my mind as I read the Communist Manifesto flying high on heroin that day, the second day in my life I had ever tried it (and later Marx’s 1844 manuscripts, The Making of the English Working Class, Nietzsche The Genealogy of Morality, Flaubert, Kafka, Baudelaire, Woolf, and so many more), what I was probably thinking, was that I had finally found the magic substance that would help me painlessly finish all my reading without the hovering anxiety and panic that never left me no matter how much of my life I sacrificed to finish the work.

Another thing I realized years later, when it was much too late: the only students I knew who graduated at Reed fell into two camps. First, the ones who didn’t care as much as I did, didn’t mind not finishing the reading, chose their sanity over learning — it was still possible to get good grades and not do ALL the assigned reading, I was just fanatical about it, as I am with everything.

The second camp were simply better students than I was, less flighty, less prone to random acid trips and adventures, willing to sacrifice their personal relationships and other features of normal life. My ex, Byron, the religious studies major who speaks Arabic and a few other languages, who is a professor at a fancy college now, was like that. He was better at not having any distractions, never doing anything “for fun,” never going anywhere other than campus and home. He read on the bus, over meals, directly before and directly after we had sex, as soon as we woke up, even while walking. The only semblance of a social life he had was me, and his best friend from home, Mitch, who moved out to live with him in Portland from their hometown in the Deep South. Byron also had iron concentration and somehow his own free-floating anxiety didn’t hinder his ability to read during all his waking moments.

(Mitch was a classical music composer who would pore over orchestral scores at the breakfast table. If anyone was more committed to the intellectual life than Byron, it was him. He lived on raw oatmeal for a time when he was living in a hostel-type place with no kitchen, in order to save rent money, so that he could go to Cal Arts. He dragged his mattress down the sidewalk from one fleabag tenement to another, in the pouring rain in November, to save money on renting a moving truck. The tortured genius kind of commitment. Mitch introduced me to Anne Carson, one of my favorite writers, for which the entire relationship with Byron was completely worth it.)

I unfortunately fell in a middle group — not organized or focused enough to do what Byron did, but not pragmatic enough to see that the only way to graduate would be to relax my own standards.

My awesome writing teacher/mentor, Miranda, was talking to me about Reed one day, and was shocked to hear everything I just wrote. I told her if I had a child, I would never send them to college there. On paper, the only school in the country that doesn’t do grade inflation (google it), this bastion of intellectualism, sounds amazing. In reality, a lot of my friends ended up not graduating and a lot of us became drug addicts or picked up other mental health issues.

When I worked at reunions there for a few summers, they told me that Reed is the only school that allows anyone to come to the reunion, even if they didn’t graduate. I met people at the reunion who had only been at Reed for a semester and had dropped out or transferred to UO or somewhere else, because they couldn’t handle the work. And these were smart people, people who had ended up with amazing intellectual careers, were doctors or lawyers or professors or archeologists traveling the globe. The reunion organizers said that if they only invited graduates, the attendance would be so sparse that it wouldn’t be worth having an event at all. That should have made me realize I had to relax my own standards if I wanted to succeed there, but I didn’t understand until too late.

That Thanksgiving, 2002, I was immersed in my readings about communism, interspersed with watching Kurt cook up shots of heroin in his kitchen, then I would lean over the stove and look away so he could inject it into my arm. I was still terrified of needles. I didn’t learn how to inject myself until two years later. But after about a week, Kurt decided to stop. Even he was sensible enough to see that both of us were getting strung out (I was blissfully oblivious, didn’t even understand what withdrawal was or what addiction would mean). When I stopped, nothing happened, and I went on my merry way, assuming that heroin had no more power over me than any other drug I had tried.

The only difference was this lingering taste in my mouth, this faint pull, thoughts that would pop into my head, the desire to rhapsodize through several overwrought blog entries as I attempted to describe The Rush.

New Year’s Eve I was on acid and convinced Kurt to buy more heroin. New Year’s Day 2003 I had my first overdose, and Eva banned heroin from the house after seeing me almost die.

Fast-forward to March 2003, I was wandering downtown with a kind-of-friend who was trying to buy meth (long story) and somehow we found a heroin dealer instead, and I bought some. I was in the midst of studying for and taking the qualifying exam to be an anthropology major. The qual was a series of essay questions you had to answer to get to your senior year. Sounds easy, but the stress it caused was similar to what grad students go through approaching their thesis. You had to write about 30 pages in a weekend, and it was the only thing at Reed where the deadline was solid, no late work allowed. Many people I knew who had been anthro majors since their freshman year didn’t pass. They had to take it again the next semester. I’m sure they were less anxious even after failing the qual than I was studying for it. My self-doubt knew no bounds and I was convinced I would fail and never get into grad school. Funny how those things become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I had only been an anthro major for about 3 months. I had a revelation in September 2002 that I didn’t care about art anymore (my original major). It seemed pointless, especially after 9/11, too inward-focused. I found that if I just added one extra semester and took four anthro/history/sociology classes for each of the next three semesters, I could graduate with an anthro degree. People advised me against it, told me that stacking up all those reading-heavy classes at once would be too much work, but as usual, I didn’t listen.

But by spring 2003 I was consumed with anxiety that I wouldn’t pass the qual. So much anxiety that I couldn’t finish my reading, I would sit there staring at the page, unable to read even a single sentence. After I bought heroin that day in downtown, I was suddenly able to concentrate. I got caught up on a semester worth of dense anthro and history reading in about two weeks. (I was taking Semiotics, Anthropology of Eastern Europe, Anthropology of Europe, and Humanities. The reading I was required to do was not humanly possible.) At first, like I said, the somnambulant features of heroin weren’t as present as they were later.

The weekend of the qual rolled around in early April. I picked up the questions on Friday morning. We had until Monday to finish it. There were four or five questions, some of them had readings attached. One of them was “What is culture?” That question is more complicated than it sounds. I was trying to not do heroin but I spend Friday and Saturday unable to concentrate or do any work. Everything felt dark and gloomy and sad. I was listening to Calexico and staring at my cup as my tea got cold and the sun went down. I realize now that the gloom was the first inkling of heroin withdrawal.

By Saturday evening I convinced Kurt to take me out to score some heroin. I wrote the entire 30+ pages on Sunday, took the bus to Reed on Monday to drop it off at 9 am. I remember walking back home, I realized that my skinniest jeans were falling off my body. I had to hold them up as I walked. These are jeans that I haven’t been able to fit into for about 10 years now (I have kept them just to remind myself of how tiny I was at the time). I weighed less than 110 pounds, 20 pounds less than I do now. I had lost at least 10 pounds just in the few weeks I had done heroin.

I didn’t stop doing heroin after that. I passed the qual. A lot of others didn’t. Was it worth it? Hell fucking no.

A month later Reed found out I was on heroin and forced me on medical leave, and my life was essentially over for the next decade. All the countries and states I traveled to, all the people I met, the assholes I dated, all the jobs I had, the books I read, the millions of words I wrote, the skills I learned, the wishes and dreams I crushed daily, none of it filled that hole.

I lost Eva, too. I probably lost her that day I overdosed and almost died on New Year’s Day 2003. Slowly, very slowly, she slipped away, even when she was right in front of me, even when we were living in the same apartment, the same room. Or rather, I slipped away.

I was never sure whether I should count my addiction from July 2002, Thanksgiving 2002, New Year’s 2003, or April 2003. As various months and years passed, I would hope and pray that my addiction would finish on a round number of years. Not that I cared about the number, but I thought maybe I had an internal clock that was forcing me to be an addict for two years, five years, eight years, ten years… once I passed ten years I lost hope. Funny that I got clean right after that. January 2014 was almost 11 years after April 2003. 10 and a half years. I guess I don’t count it from those first few times, because I was able to stop without withdrawal. But I would adjust the start date depending on what year and month it was. In July 2007 I thought, wouldn’t it be perfect if I got clean right now, exactly five years after I first tried it? Of course that didn’t happen. Every potential anniversary passed, some with more hope than others, all with the same result.

Anytime the month lined up with one of those start dates, I would write the story in my head, from my future self: “I finally got clean in April 2013, exactly ten years after my first withdrawal.” Or whatever. Ten years seemed like it would be such a nice number of years. I don’t know why I thought the number of years would motivate me to get clean any more than losing my best friend or losing my identity.

I was looking out the window this morning and adding up the years. I had this moment where I thought “Shit, it’s 2015 now — that means I’ve been a heroin addict for 12 years… or 13 years, if I start counting in 2002… what the fuck? I’ve been telling people 11 years… shit, not more years of failure.”

I had this moment of panic, that feeling I used to have of the clock running out, my life unfurling before my eyes as I sat handcuffed staring at a flame, a spoon, and a needle.

Like in Plato’s cave, I was forced to watch the shadows on the wall, while the Real was just out of sight, my lighter and glowing cigarette illuminating the apparitions that were my entire existence.

Then I realized I can stop counting.

the people of the open wound

Why does writing cause so much more anxiety than other creative pursuits?

This question came to me while reading T Magazine last week, which had mini-profiles of a few writers. For those not in the know, T Magazine is the fashion/design supplement to the Sunday New York Times, which is included every month or so. I usually don’t read T because it is one of the most ostentatious offerings to the temple of lavish materialism, all surface and glitz. But I was flipping through this one because it was the Spring Design issue, and I have a weakness for architecture.

(First I encountered the Platonic form of those houses where you aren’t allowed to touch anything and every room looks like a hotel. This “renowned advertising provocateur” [?] keeps any sign of his own existence out of his NYC condo; his books and even his expensive art collection are hidden in closets and drawers. Even the bedroom is devoid of personal belongings. He said: “I didn’t want it to feel like a home. I wanted it to feel like a hotel.”)

But maybe T Magazine was trying to change its reputation from a confection of conspicuous consumption to something with more substance, because they included this feature about seven writers and where they work. That’s when I encountered Adam Thirlwell describing the room where he works as a “place of anxiety” and Tom McCarthy admitting, “It’s tempting to stare out of the window most of the day. Who am I kidding? That’s what I do.” Then there’s one of my favorite Riff columns in an old NYT Magazine, about self-doubt and writing, which contains this quote:

Because if I had to identify a single element that characterizes my life as a writer, a dominant affective note, it would be self-doubt. It is a more-or-less constant presence in everything I do. It is there even as I type these words, in my realization that almost all writers struggle in this way; that the notion of a self-doubting writer is as close to tautology as to make no difference, and that to refer to such a thing as a “struggle” is to concede the game immediately to clichĂ©, to lose on a technicality before you’ve even begun.

He also refers to “the little voice in your head or the booming baritone in your gut that wishes you to know that what you are writing is entirely without value.” I started thinking, why is writing like this? I don’t know of any other creative activity that is so associated with anxiety. When I was a studio art major (painting, photography, drawing) or when I played in orchestra in high school, I never felt this way. I didn’t sit in front of a blank canvas obsessively cleaning my workspace rather than painting, I didn’t get to the darkroom and immediately remember something I just had to do because I was scared of developing photos, I didn’t dread going to orchestra practice — in fact, all of those activities were very enjoyable.

The problem with the other vocations I’ve tried (including anthroplogy and other non-creative fields) is that I was never sure I was good enough at them. But that over-arching lack of confidence didn’t infect the everyday level of actually doing the thing. I was perfectly capable of working on my art; I just didn’t think I was a great artist or that it was worth pursuing for the rest of my life. I didn’t have anxiety about music, I just didn’t like practicing my instruments enough to choose music as a career, and wasn’t sure I would ever be professional-level good. But it never even occurred to me to procrastinate working on art or music.

The strange thing is that writing is the only thing I’ve done where I do have the overall confidence that I am a good enough. I know I’m a good enough writer that I can make money off it. I know I can produce an amazing memoir. I never felt like this about art or music. My confidence in my writing borders on egotism. But it doesn’t help the daily activity of actually doing the writing. Down in the trenches, none of my confidence in myself as a writer helps me actually write without that sheer terror that is familiar to any writer.

I just googled “self-doubt” and “anxiety” with “writing” and found so many posts calling it a “cliche” or the “biggest problem for writers” that there’s no need to quote anyone else: Anyone who writes — or anyone who knows a writer — knows that writing and paralyzing panic are inextricably linked. This is not related to the concept of writer’s block, which I wrote about in my last entry. Whether I’m writing “for myself” (memoir or personal essays or blog entries) or not for myself (reporting and freelancing), I experience this overwhelming sense of dread and jittery apprehension. Even just thinking about writing makes me feel like I’m looking over a 500-foot cliff with no railing.

The worst part of journalism, for me, is the interviews, which are on a whole other level of panic that we won’t get into here. But I’ve found that even after the interviews are done and transcribed, working on writing the article — which for me is the “easy part” (ha!) — takes every ounce of willpower I possess. I know what I’m going to write, and once I sit down to do it, the writing itself comes out in regular intervals of sentences and paragraphs, but my brain is constantly telling me it isn’t any good. Sometimes when I make it to the end and submit the article, I’m able to relax and feel a little pride in my work — but a lot of times I end up hating what I’ve written, even if others (professors, editors, friends) tell me it’s great. I find this quote (from that Riff piece again) very accurate:

The following, for example, is a frequent enough occurrence in my professional life: I’ll pitch an editor with an idea for something I want to write about, and they’ll tell me to go ahead with it, and then I’ll straight away begin a process of deconvincing myself, of deciding that the article I’ve persuaded someone to pay me to write is actually not worth writing at all or that I’m not the person to write it. And at this point, of course, it’s too late to back out, and I have to go ahead and write it anyway; a whole routine that is very time-consuming and enervating in the extreme.

The fact that professional writers who publish stuff in the New York Times sound just as anxious than me, if not moreso, is not very comforting. Think about it: how many books or articles have you seen about the self-doubting writer? And how many have you seen about the self-doubting, panicked artist or designer or musician or actor? (Stage fright doesn’t count.) I can’t think of ever seeing something about a non-writer consumed with misgiving whenever they attempt to practice their craft.

I’ve found one of the most useful things about going to school for journalism is that it has forced me to write. Much of what I’ve learned is common sense or I could have found in a book, but having someone force me to write journalism has helped immensely. And once I wrote a few articles, I felt a little better knowing that I could do it. But the anxiety remains.

And it’s actually worse for my personal writing. I have more than five books about writing memoir, but I’ve barely read them. When you think about a project for more than 10 years, a project that encompasses everything you care about, most of the important events in your life, and a chance to find meaning in chaos — which you have used to justify all that misery, because “at least I have good stories, at least I can make a memoir out of it” — I’m not sure any writing project can approach that level of significance, and of course the more important the writing is, the more the terror devours me.

As I thought about why writing is like this, I realized that the storytelling, narrative aspect of writing, and its solitary nature, makes it almost the closest to the experience of living, compared with other creative acts. Movies and plays purport to imitate reality, but they require dozens of people and hours of practice before the finished product. Art and music evoke emotion but aren’t narrative.

Writing is like being alive — it’s like the stream of your thoughts. It doesn’t have any bells and whistles to disguise this feeling of being naked before God. No equipment is needed other than pen and paper (or laptop), and the end product is words, only words. In that sense, it’s more personal than anything else. It’s the result of one person, which means that only one person is responsible if it turns out badly. Some visual art is just as solitary, but the artifice can disguise the personal.

Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, there is nowhere to hide when all you have is words on a screen or page. When someone would tell me I needed to play a passage differently in orchestra, it wasn’t about me, it was just about needing to practice or correct a misreading of the music notes. When my art teachers gave me a mediocre critique on a painting or photograph, it was just a product of my hand, it wasn’t ME. But writing is only me. The closest thing to being inside my head. No wonder it’s so hard to start. Or finish.

“the only thing i have learned from life is to endure it, never to question it, and to burn up the longing generated by this in writing”

I have experienced several reasons not to write in my life… writer’s block has never been one of them. I’ve never even understood the concept of writer’s block, especially for someone who wants to be a writer. Why would you want to write if you don’t actually want to write?

hypergraphiaI think I am infected with hypergraphia, actually — it is a condition Dostoyevsky supposedly had, and it is characterized by an overwhelming compulsion to write, coupled with extremes of emotion and hyper-sensitivity, a possible connection to bipolar, and a definite connection to temporal lobe epislepsy. While I don’t have epilepsy, I had seizures as a child and had an EEG, but they never found the reasons for my seizures and blackouts.

Hypergraphia and writer’s block are influenced by the same part of the brain, two extremes of the same impulse, like turning the switch on or off. Alice Flaherty, who wrote a book on hypergraphia and writer’s block, describes how people with hypergraphia have too much temporal lobe activity, which makes them want to write, and not enough frontal lobe activity, which puts the brakes on the urge, making the writer edit and pare down their output. People with writer’s block have the opposite problem: too much frontal lobe inhibition making it difficult to get the words out. Since low frontal lobe activity is also associated with things like addiction and lack of willpower, we can be fairly certain that my frontal lobe is limping along, half dead, while my temporal lobe is gunning the engine and making me want to write.

The problem lately is that I know if I sit down to write anything “for myself” (i.e. not for school) I am afraid I won’t be able to stop. I have so much planned out in my head and I’m dying to write it, but I don’t have time. I’m trying to finish all my classes as soon as possible so I can graduate and get on with my life. One consequence of my addiction, I think, is the inability to do more than one thing at once — and by “at once,” I don’t mean multitasking. I mean that while I’m in school, it’s very hard for me to concentrate on anything else, even when the schoolwork is done for that day. I can’t organize my thoughts enough to juggle four difficult classes, chores, shopping, money, etc… and writing, too. I’m dying to be done with school so I can start working on my memoir for real.

I just finished a 13-page research paper about Wikileaks for my investigative journalism class… took my Russian final this morning… finished the final draft of the article for my feature writing class on Thursday… now I just have to do some writing assignments for my data journalism class, and I’ll be done with this term. The last two terms I only took two classes — last spring I was too busy with the school paper, and last fall I ended up dropping a class that was SOOO boring (newspaper editing… thank god I know that I can never be a copy editor!). So taking four now seems like a crazy amount of work.

Next quarter I’m taking Russian again, a class about interviews in journalism, a psych class for a science credit, and an anthro class for another science credit. The anthro class is about the role of storytelling in ancient societies and how it influenced the evolution of humans… it sounds super interesting. I was looking into the anthro department and it looks like I have so many anthro credits from Reed that if I just take one more over the summer, I can do a minor! If I stuck around for one more year of Russian, I could minor in that too… but I’m anxious to leave town.

greenshotguns
my future shotgun house in nola 😉

Originally I was thinking of moving to Oakland, but since I last looked into moving there in 2011, the rents seem to have tripled. And San Francisco is such an island of privilege now… I started thinking about moving to New Orleans. Other than SF and NYC, it’s probably my favorite city in the country. The weather is warm, there’s tons of culture, and it would give me a chance to live somewhere I’ve always wanted to live, before I get too old to move around the country as much. I’m taking a trip there, actually leaving tomorrow, to see h0w viable that plan would be. The rents are really really cheap there — like as cheap as Portland 20 years ago — whereas Oakland is now several hundred dollars a month more expensive than Portland, for a 1BR.

I’m actually terrified to leave Eugene. Most of the time I’ve lived here I’ve been desperate to leave, and I still am, but it’s scary, too. This is the place where I finally got clean. Though I’m able to stay clean mostly effortlessly when I go up to Portland or other cities where I used to do heroin, it still makes me nervous to think about leaving here… not because I think I’ll relapse, but because my home here is so comforting. I didn’t realize it at first, but I used a lot of things about this place to rebuild by sense of safety and heal some of my PTSD. (not that it’s all healed, by any  means, but it’s better than it was last year.) Living in such a small, safe town really helped. Being able to come home to all my stuff and my cats and not having to worry about insanely expensive rent… I suppose not having to work helps a lot, too.

pinkshotgunThe fact that I am afraid to leave only makes me more determined to do so, because I know I don’t want to stay here, and I feel like I should get out as fast as I can before I become more entrenched. I’ve been here for almost two years now — this is by far the longest place I’ve lived anywhere since my apartment in Portland in 2000-2003.

Most of the time here I am scarily happy. Scary because I always feel like it’s about to disappear. I spend most of my time doing one thing I really enjoy, while looking forward to doing another thing I really enjoy. It’s kind of been blowing my mind.

I think this is how I felt before I became a junkie… it’s hard to remember, but I recall being really happy pre-heroin. Unlike most addicts, I didn’t start using because I was depressed. It was more of a personality problem, an identity crisis, a failure on my part to understand how reality and the world worked, anxiety partially corrected when I was 27 and had a startling revelation about the world: people don’t have to be perfect to be successful or happy.

So I guess I’m actually better off than I was pre-heroin. A lot of stuff that haunted me back then no longer bothers me because I have spent years correcting my ingrained beliefs. Even though I still have a ton of anxiety and unneeded worry, even a 10 percent change in that department seems to have a remarkably positive effect.

peony square_905I started a garden last year, and even though I’ve been too busy so far this spring to do much other than plant some seeds and repot a few things, I’ve been enjoying my lilies and peonies and other flowers coming up from last year’s roots. I trimmed about 3/4 of my roses off, and they are producing new leaves… they’ll probably flower soon.

The garden feels like the first time in a long time, maybe forever, that I’ve been able to enjoy the fruits of previous labor. I’ve felt like Sisyphus a lot… endless difficulties, endless striving, no reward. The few times I made progress with anything, I would skip town, quit the job, and go back to drugs.

I haven’t yet graduated or made a cent off writing, but all that work I did last year — picking up the trash and broken glass, pushing the huge dumpster off to the side, digging up the gravel parking lot that was our “yard” two feet into the earth, filling it in with potting soil, planting dozens of plants, watering and tending to them all summer — is paying off again, now, as spring arrives. I think life is supposed to be like this.

Well, I have to go pack for New Orleans… I need to figure out how to balance writing here and my memoir work with my schoolwork. It’s not that I don’t have enough time, exactly, but that I am literally afraid if I start writing, I won’t be able to stop. I’ve always had trouble with moderation, with the middle ground. But maybe that’s a feature, not a bug. 🙂