Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tripping Down Memory Lane

Note: Statements made by the voices in my head are in italics.

Sobriety has often been, for me, one long episode of Samantha Who? (when a title has a question mark in it, putting a period at the end of the sentence looks weird so I am adding this parenthetical to make it less so). If you never saw the now-canceled Christina Applegate series, it's your fault I can no longer watch it. Oh, what I meant to say was, let me explain the premise. Samantha (C.A.'s character) is hit by a car and suffers amnesia. For the most part, she has no memory of her life before the accident, which is apparently a good thing because she was a self-centered, manipulative, vindictive b...person.

Throughout the course of the two seasons it was on the air, Samantha would periodically have flashbacks about things she did in the past -- they came to her suddenly when triggered by something happening in the present.

When I first was trying to get off crystal, I had the same conversation over and over with doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, rehab employees, etc. The first question they would always ask when I would say I was hearing voices was, "What do the voices say?"

I was fairly certain that these well-meaning people wanted to make sure they weren't dealing with a maniac of the homo- or suci- cidal nature, so I would immediately assure them that the voices did not recommend violence of any kind. But they would persist with the question, "OK. But what do they say." It was at this point that I realized I couldn't really remember exactly what they said. They were cunning. As soon as someone wanted to investigate the situation, they would go into hiding. The momentary silence in my head would always stun me into a confused state and I couldn't really ever offer an answer to the question. I would end up just stammering something vague about how they were mean to me, making me sound like a third grader complaining about the other kids in the schoolyard.

Then when they finally stopped I was completely at a loss to remember what they had been saying. It was one of the things I counted as a true blessing of being sober. But since about the nine month mark, I've experienced those Samantha Who-like flashbacks, suddenly reliving experiences I had during the last year my drug use.

It's often not anything traumatic that triggers the memories. In fact, there is almost a complete lack of anything special about these moments. Just the other day, I was on my way to a doctor's appointment carrying a gym bag that was heavier than normal because it was loaded with library books that needed to be returned. As I turned a corner the bag shifted and hit me in the back, throwing my stride off just a half-step.

Almost instantly, I was back in xxxx walking up 8th Avenue in Chelsea. Even at my most sober, I've never been graceful; when cracked out of my mind, I was not only clumsy but I lacked balance (in several ways). Invariably I would trip over a crack in the sidewalk and it would start. Crackhead, you don't even know how to walk. (To another voice in my head) Look at him, he's going to fall right out into the street and get hit by a car.

It didn't take too much of that before I seriously couldn't walk properly. I'd be staring at my feet trying to make them move in any way that resembled an actual stride. Try that some time. See if you can think your way into walking properly. It was a miracle I wasn't actually hit by a car. Within a half a block, my gait would be suffering from a complete want of rhythm.

Then the fun would really start. Still trying to regain my balance, I'd become acutely aware of everyone on the street being acutely aware of me. Crackhead. That's that crackhead drug dealer. Don't look at him. Crackhead. Crackhead. Crackhead. One after another, every single person I walked by said it. On 8th Avenue in Manhattan, that's not an insignificant number of people.

Maybe if this had happened only once, or if that was the extent of the abuse, I could have withstood and even ignored it. Alas, that was not the case. This happened every time I left the apartment and had to walk somewhere. In the beginning, I would combat it by taking cabs everywhere I went. Where I used to like to walk at least several blocks before getting in a cab, now I would walk out of my apartment and stand completely still on the curb until a cab would come by. Fortunately I lived in midtown, so it wasn't usually a long wait. But even if one cab that was on duty would pass me by, I'd know that they had all been instructed to let me stand there as long as possible.

Of course, eventually I could no longer keep it together enough to effectively run my business and then cabs were out of the question. Every trip out of the apartment was an ordeal worthy of one of Dante's levels of hell.

As I started to adjust to the verbal assaults, things naturally escalated. I would try to keep my eyes focused directly ahead of me, but out of my periphery I would see a succession of people putting their hand up to the side of their face (so they wouldn't have to look at me). These visual distortions of reality (probably people fixing their glasses, rubbing their eye or even answering their cell phones) were always narrated. That's right. Everyone knows you're a crackhead. They can't even stand the sight of you. Oh, by the way, did you just shit your pants? WHAT?! This was a summertime attack that would come out of the blue. If you think you control your brain, think again. As if on cue, sweat would run down my leg from the crack of my ass, sending me scrambling to the nearest Starbucks to clean up what I was sure was a humiliating disaster.

Momentary relief that there was no such problem would yield to infuriating embarrassment as the voices celebrated their victory. HAAHAHHA! He fell for it again. One of the more irritating characteristics of these voices (as if they weren't ALL supremely irksome) was that they would mostly talk to each other, as if I weren't there. One of these days he's going to actually shit his pants. That's going to be hilarious. Bitch, I'm right here. If you're are going to be in my fucking head, do not ignore me.

Now, seeking to retaliate, I'd lash out. Fine. You want to fuck with me. Go ahead. The next one of your friends that puts their hand up to the side of their face, I'm going to grab it and twist it till it breaks. Then we'll see what's real and what isn't, won't we. You don't want to do that. Don't I? Just watch me.

You don't think he'll really do that, do you?

Who knows? It's not like he's not crazy.

Now I was like a psychopath holding hostages. Shut up, bitch. You talk to me if you want to talk. One more word and I'm breaking someone's arm. I swear I am.

Somehow I always managed to talk myself down from that ledge. Either I'd stop seeing people hiding their faces from me or I'd decide that I was better than these horrible people that were trying to make me think I was crazy. Eventually, exhausted mentally and physically, I'd make it back home to the safety of the pipe.


  1. Well I'm glad you didn't actually haul off on some innocent bystander. I'm quite sure that jail would have been at even more unpleasant for you with those voices mocking you the entire time about how you fell right into their trap of getting arrested.

  2. It's sad to think about how awful that must have been for you. But I couldn't help but laugh out loud... oh by the way, did you just shit your pants? I'm sorry- too funny.

  3. By the way, if you EVER trip in front of me I'm going to point, laugh, and call you a crack head. :-P

  4. janet here -- i've realized that when i read these posts i stop breathing for most of it. i'm so relieved to come to the end and breathe again. perhaps the most devastating truth in here is the realization that, what was it you said?, if you think you control your brain, think again. i've come to learn a little about that myself. it can be terrifying.