three stages of sickness

1.

I had no idea what to expect . . .
When I was told they were going to send me to A.A meetings, I pictured dimly lit rooms, and round wooden tables with old men sitting quietly on matching wooden chairs.
I imagined they sat without speaking—and I figured everyone smoked with a lit cigarette either dangling from their lip as the smoke curled upwards, or perhaps they leaned over with an elbow on the table and the cigarette fit between their pointer and forefinger.

I imagined a room filled with sullen faces. A half-emptied Styrofoam cup would be within reach of each man and an ashtray would be within distance of a flicked cigarette.
I envisioned white-haired men with white beards and dirty hands. I figured there would be winos or drunken bums that came from the street. I assumed they would stink from urine and they only attended the meetings to get away from the cold New York streets.

I had no idea these meetings were worldwide. I had no idea if there was an age rage. I didn’t know if women were allowed in the room, or if it was free to join.
When I was offered the chance to attend Alcoholics Anonymous, I agreed—but I agreed for one reason only.
I agreed because I thought they drank in these meetings—only, the drinking was kept secret because the meetings were anonymous.

It was clear that drugs had led me down the wrong path. Admittedly, I was not through with drug use; however, I was under the watchful eye of the court system, and while leashed under their supervision, I was to be sent to an upstate treatment facility.

Only, I had no idea what that meant.

I imagined it was a locked ward with nurses in white uniforms and doctors with white jackets. I figured they carried clipboards, and spoke in soft voices to keep from disturbing the crazy patients.
I imagined hospital rooms and hallways with shiny floors that smelled from disinfectant and cleaning solutions. I imagined the sound of tones ringing and velvet throated nurses paging the doctors on call.

I thought of drugs like Thorazine and its effects. I knew of others in my situation that purposefully staged a meltdown. They threw fits until the orderlies restrained them, and then once they were restrained, they found themselves beneath the point of a Thorazine needle

“It was a good way to kill a few days,” I was told.
“You just sort of check out for awhile.”

Before leaving for treatment, I had undergone an evaluation at a hospital near my home. I waited on a blue plastic chair outside of a small office. My long hair dangled in my eyes and my head leaned back against the wall. I was alone and waiting to be seen by a doctor so that he could report to the courts..

I sat in a long hallway. There was a series of bright shiny windows at one end of the corridor and a gray, self-locking double-door at the other. The rectangular section of glass at the top of the doors was wired with mesh in-between the glass. And like I imagined; the floor smelled from disinfectant and cleaning solution.
The green and white floor tiles were glossy and cleaned. The white walls reflected the sun glare from the windows and I could hear the sounds of hospital tones, which was followed by velvet throated nurses calling out to the doctors on call.

Banging the back of my head against the wall, I whispered to myself, “What the hell am I doing in this place.”

I had never seen a white girl with dreadlocks before.  But I was about to.
She was escorted through the gray doors. She was very thin and extremely pale with open acne and puss-like sores on her face and in the corners of her mouth. She had thin, razor-like scars on the side of her arms, as if she were counting each self-inflicted slice.

Her dark brown dreadlocks with blonde tips reached to her shoulders. She had blue eyes with dark, bruised like rings beneath them. She wore a beat up pair of Doc Martin, steel-tip boots, which were black with white laces. She wore skin- tight blue jeans, which clung to her thin, pole-like legs.
Her black t-shirt was torn at the neck and the sleeves were cut off, allowing a side view of her small chest, which hinted to her tiny, chocolate chip nipples that poked outward from the inside of her shirt.

“What the fuck are you looking at,” she asked me.

But I didn’t answer.
I had my own problems to deal with.

Her eyes were wired to the speedy casualties of cocaine addiction. Her lips were blistered with the recognizable burns that come with smoking a glass pipe. There were purple lines over her veins near the inside of her elbow on her right arm—otherwise known as track marks—and somehow, I thought I was better off than she was.

This is exactly what I expected treatment to look like. I expected a locked ward and medication time. I expected to be sedated and partially euthanized to rid me of my aggression or addictive behaviors..

And again, I asked myself,
“What the hell did I get myself into?”

2.

Paul handed me a small, clear plastic capsule, which was plugged with a blue top in order to hold its contents. The capsule was not very large. It was clear, but the almost prism-like ridges along its cylindrical body distorted the view of its contents. Inside were a series of tiny, off-white boulders, otherwise known as the destruction of our society. This was during the height of the crack/cocaine epidemic—and I was another one of its casualties.

I put the vial in my mouth and pulled the blue cap off with my teeth. I could feel the immediate numbing sensation from the cocaine. I had yet to take my first hit, but my adrenaline was already on the rise.

“Don’t spill it,” said Paul.
“I know what to do.” I told him.
“We’ll see,” he replied.

The pipe, otherwise known as a stem is a thin glass tube. Towards the front are a series of screens which are designed to hold the tiny boulders into position. I dumped the contents of the vial into the pipe.
I knew there was no turning back at this point. There was no saying, “No.” There was no way out. I stood at the so-called ledge and I had no other choice but to jump.

I began by heating the pipe. I rolled my thumb down over the blue cigarette lighter and held it on the red tab to keep the flame high and dancing. Then I placed the flame against the stem, creating a sizzle, which melted the tiny boulders.
Next, I took the opposite side of the pipe into my mouth and I inhaled all the smoke that I could hold in my lungs.

The smoke was white and thick. I felt my windpipe numb. My chest numbed. My mouth was already numbed from the top of the vial that was shoved aside between my cheek and gums—and as I exhaled—I felt the complete sensation of weightlessness. It was perfect.
My ears began to ring. I felt my head lighten. My heart thumped inside of my chest and my breath moved quickly. I felt the triumph of something so different, yet, so physically beautiful, or mentally orgasmic.

All of my tension and all of my worries, fears, or insecurities, were numbed. Everything internal that I saw as ugly was temporarily transformed into an outrageous form suspended animation.
Nothing was real. There was no pain. There were no enemies or worried thoughts about the crowd. I was sectioned away in my own gentle atmosphere and protected from the awkward collisions that come with life.

Suddenly, I understood why people traded their world for this. I understood why people sold their soul. Most of all, I understood why people warned me about this drug.

Paul asked, “It’s good, right?”
“My ears are ringing.”
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Paul said.
“No hit will ever be as good as this one.”

He wasn’t kidding . . .

3.

I walked into my first stay at treatment during the month of September in 1989. It was two days before my 17th birthday. Much like the girl with dreadlocks—I was painfully thin and horribly pale. There were dark circles beneath my eyes and my face looked bony and drawn. At the time, I weighed 80lbs. I could not read properly. I could hardly sleep and I struggled with the imaginary sounds of breaking glass.

I had no idea how sickly I looked or how far I had fallen. I cannot say I was willing to stop at this point. My willingness took time. However, time was on my side.
I was remanded to treatment and taken out of my element. I was removed from the people, places, and things that kept me sick.
I thought of running—but there was no place to run to. It was either treatment or jail. And since I did not have a “Doing time,” kind of body—I chose to go to treatment.

The hardest part of my beginning was the drug dreams. I dreamt of white powder by the spoonful. I dreamt of heroin and needles entering my vein.
I dreamt of dark rooms, dope dens, and shooting galleries. I dreamt of police chases, jail cells, and gunshots. I dreamt of dying—often dying at one of the drug spots in East New York Brooklyn or B15th Street in Rockaway.

When I learned about sobriety; I wondered who I would be.
What would I do with myself?
What do I do now without something to help wash the struggles from my mind?

Those first 30 days were most frightening to me.

I had no idea what to expect.
I certainly never expected to stick around

Or still be sober almost 24 years later . . .

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