White lines. Colombian marching powder. Nose candy. Devil dust. Blow. You've heard all the names for it, the whole reason why Tony Montana was cranked enough to tell people to say hello to his little friend. Just about everywhere, there's a cocaine culture. In New York, you really got to know it.
But you weren't originally introduced to it in the Big Apple; a few years ago overseas, you remember your first line. Even now, you can still picture it perfectly cut from the ID card with the currency note rolled up as a makeshift straw in your hand. You inhaled. Your body practically zinged. You giggled, and purposely quoted Claudia from Interview With the Vampire.
You wanted some more.
But, past that batch, you didn't get any more. For a few years, you forget about the impulse. And you don't remember it until one night in a New York bathroom, where some new girlfriends offer you a bump.
That is, if you want some.
So, you do it. As your heart pounds faster, you marvel at how your mind just seems to be more awake. Alert. You practically want to skip, sing, and race through anything put in front of you. Because you can. Once you're back in the bar, you practically chug down your cocktails, delighting in the fact that the vodka isn't knocking you on your ass the way it normally does with your crappy tolerance. You love it. And you don't even mind the monstrous hangover the next day. You were invincible.
After that, you go ahead and find out where people score their gear. You sample bags from this guy and the next; you end up racking up some five or six different phone numbers, vowing to discover who's got the best stuff. You want the fattest bag for the best price. They don't make coupons for this shit, and hey, shit's expensive.
Invariably, word gets out in certain circles that you're in on the game, too. People reveal themselves to you, folks you never would have guessed partook this deliciously dirty little vice. You are astonished by just how many different people admit they've tried it, liked it, and have someone to call on their own. After the ninth, tenth, and eleventh person talks to you about it, the novelty wears off. Instead, you wonder if everyone in New York snorts up storms on the down low.
For a good year or so, you're content to grab a bag on the weekends. You share a little with your friends, and they hit you back in return. You even laugh when, on your birthday, virtually every contact you know hits you up with a free bit of something-something. You share it with your friends and think nothing of it.
But, someone new comes into your life. In the context of making what you think is a new, awesome BFF, you go deeper. Together with your new pal, you score, and spend nights dancing up a storm and pouring out your heart in soul-to-soul conversations that last till dawn, and sometimes well into the next afternoon. Granted, your nose hurts by the end of them, but you don't care.
Your use goes up. You notice, but don't really give a shit.
Sure enough, you have one bad night. It's one where some guy flattens your ego, and instead of nurturing yourself, you call for a bag. That night, you rock through the whole thing, not caring that daylight shows up, or that the eyebags on your face look more pronounced. You just don't want to feel hurt. Instead, you're in the most frozen state of pain possible. And you can't breathe.
It's from that point that people around you start commenting. But, instead of telling you to slow down or that you look exhausted, they say something else- that you look amazing. You've lost weight, girl! Whatever it is you've done to ditch the baby fat, keep it up. Oh wow, this is the skinniest I've ever seen you. You're like the perfect size 6! You look awesome! You lost like ten pounds in four weeks! You're working out more, huh?
Through clenched teeth, you mumble sure. Or you nod, feigning a brightness in your eyes that you hope deflects any possible search in theirs. You also make shit up about your diet that (you think) sounds plausible. I eat my heaviest meal at the start of the day. After that, I'm really disciplined. Oh, I've just gotten smarter with my portions. No, I don't really do fast food anymore. I don't really crave anything in particular.
You marvel at how much people like this brand-new skinny you, one that's a product of only eating once a day. You're also glad that no one can tell that you're actually shivering your ass off with chills because there's no food in your system. For the first time in your life, you are an anorexic. You become afraid of what you eat, even as you tuck into plates of steak fries with the knowledge that you're going to get rid of it within hours. But to your compatriots in your circle, you laugh off the weight remarks. You say you're blowrexic with the expectation of getting a laugh to your little joke.
You feel hilarious.
Still, however, you deny that you have a problem. No, you're not the crackhead who mows through an eight-ball in a weekend. You're not eighty pounds. You still pay your bills on time, even though you never buy anything nice for yourself anymore. Your sleeping habits suck, but your house is clean, especially if you've done the bathroom floors with a bag nearby. You're not one of those addicts. Uh-uh. No way.
Slowly but surely, you come to realize that even though you never sought to become the excessive addict advertised on TV shows like "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew", you've become one nonetheless. Like a college student who gets into speed to write term papers, or a desperate housewife self-medicating herself with a little Ritalin or Valium to get her through the day, you have become a functioning drug addict, albeit a closeted one.
Shocked at yourself, you try stopping on your own. But, the efforts don't take. After all, people know you. Your contacts always say hi to you, letting you know that they've got new shit coming in guaranteed to blow away whatever you've done before. And, your friends are still doing it. As you exchange bumps in the bathroom, you swear you'll never do it again after that night.
Admitting this to a friend outside of your usual circles one night, you cry your eyes out. You purposely choose him because you know he's in treatment for marijuana use. His reaction is instant sympathy and an offer to go with you to a Cocaine Anonymous meeting the very next day. When you go, you look at the forty-strong people in the room, and marvel at just how many people are there with you.
When it's your turn to speak, you cry your eyes out.
For the rest of that year, you struggle. You succeed in staying clean for a few weeks, but because you retain a mistaken belief in being able to cruise through this as you did in school, you relapse again- and again. One night, it's because you got some for free. Another time, it was another breakup. And on the next night, it's because people around were doing it, why not you?
You drift way the hell away from your meetings. And you hate yourself for that on top of your addiction. So you push yourself again, and get yourself together enough to get and stay clean for more than thirty days. To your delight, you realize you can do it.
To your complete horror, you also start gaining weight. Where your body was once a size four, it rapidly becomes a size ten. People start talking about your ass as though it could occupy its own website. Girl, you're getting bigger. Hey, have you gained weight? You look like you're definitely... uh, healthier. When did you get those tits? Seriously yo, your ass is bigger than mine.
You feel completely appalled. But it isn't just because you feel like the swan who reverted into the fat kid who can't do a pushup in gym class. Without the white stuff, you are who you've always been without the predisposition to numb yourself. Everything feels too real, too much, and too hurtful. You feel every insult, become anxious at any given moment, and inclined to dive into booze so that you don't feel like some loser namby-pamby who can't hack it in the real world.
One night, you hit the vodka so hard that you relapse right back. You get so drunk that you can't even remember doing what you scored, and have to be reminded the next day of how monstrously you behaved. You blacked out. It is the only night in your adult life where you can't remember a damn thing.
You praise God for small mercies, and buoyed by what is arguably the worst night you've ever had, you start over. Though you don't attend any C.A. meetings, you kick off your own program, one driven by a simple numbers game. The first, second, and third days progress. Each goes so slowly that you just can't stand living. But you hack your way through each day one hour, one minute, and sometimes a handful seconds at a time. You throw away all your old paraphernalia, and delete your contacts on your phone.
In addition, you solicit support from the sober people around you. Just as people outed themselves to you as party fiends, others admit that they are former addicts. They encourage you to keep going, to forget about the cracks about your weight, and just make it about you. Once again, you're pretty sure that just about everyone in New York has snorted a storm or two in their life. But, this time, you're grateful they survived to help you.
Another decision you exercise is to back off from your party friends. While some fall out of your life on their own accord, the majority sticks around. Some even continue to call you for sources even with the knowledge that you are trying to remain sober. But nevertheless, you just cut them out. Luckily, you never cared about most of them that much in the first place, but don't feel the same way about your former BFF. You miss him, but not the binges.
Additionally, you pick up the parts of your life you neglected. You start shopping again; one of the reasons why you splurge on an iPhone is to remind yourself of what your money can buy instead of drugs. You start sleeping properly again, glad that you don't have to knock yourself out with Tylenol PM. You eat a few times a day, initially approaching food with trepidation, but enjoy your foodie instincts all over again. You start exercising and get stronger, taking some pride in the fact that your body is changing thanks to Biggest Loser workouts and Hot Yoga, even though you still stuck at pushups.
Thanks to all your effort, this time sobriety cements. Single digits become double numbers. In what feels like a slow elevator ride filled with people you can't stand, you get through the thirty-somethings, forties, and make it to the fifties. Even though you want to scream on some days and feel tempted on others, you are determined to ride your commitment to triple digits. When you make it to 100 days, you are fucking thrilled. You flag yourself on. You made it this far. You can go even farther.
And, you do.
As of this writing, it is fifty-one whole weeks since you last took a hit. It is almost a year since you blacked out. You are a point that feels like a lifetime away from your heavy heyday as a party girl, one you thought you would never reach. But, you are here, and grateful to have made it.
Thus, it is now that you assign an explicit label to yourself: you are a sober cocaine addict. You never thought you would ever define yourself with those words; on some days, you feel like you deserve your very own scarlet letter. But, as you know your courage no longer comes from a bathroom bump, you are all right with deriving strength from your day-to-day persistence of drug abstinence.
In spite of the positive changes you've initiated, sometimes you miss your old days. You miss the furtive excitement of scoring, the quickie round-the-block car ride. You wonder if there's a way you can have the thrill without the addiction, something to kick out of the moments that feel almost unbearably boring. But, you know you can't have one without the other. And, you hate being guilty more than being bored.
Even though you're tipping the scales and are on the heavier side, you do your best to accept your body. You pitch more than several fits at being unable to fit in certain tops and dresses, but you're still certain that you would pick where you are now over being skinny and afraid to eat. You don't miss being validated for your anorexia, either. (Besides, thanks to the exercise, you're pretty sure you could kick your addict ass of yesteryear up and down an alleyway.)
Apart from feeling thankful and far less arrogant about addiction, the thought that reverbates in your mind most is love. You're not interested in whether or not you'll end up with the perfect boyfriend on a beach, but you wonder just what it means to really love yourself for who you are. While under the influence, you lost the ability to do so; now that you're sober, you feel more than a little scared that you won't know how it feels to cherish yourself.
On some days, you don't know where to start.
You may not know for sure just how that feels, but you figure that how you look at yourself and your addiction is key. As you go through each day, you remind yourself to remember your addiction without any more anger or apologies than you've got, and to keep learning from it. The first lesson you embrace is to forgive yourself, for this could have happened to anyone. Even you.
You can't help wondering just how people will react when they read your words. Invariably, you figure people will have their own judgments. And, you're also a little scared. But, you know why you wrote them. You're not here to win 'em all or to point at yourself as some sort of role model. Oh, no no no.
If anything, you simply hope that your words reach whoever could use a little help. Maybe, just maybe, you can help someone else usher in their own changes, or just locate enough courage to start. Especially since drug use and addiction is far more prevalent than what's in your own head, your community, or New York, and is also rampant in hush-hush, closeted habits.
As the fifty-second week of sobriety approaches, you chance upon a thought that seemed impossible in the heart of your party days: I made it.
Your breath is momentarily gone; you are surprised beyond measure. But, you have arrived at the point you swore to reach. Part of you wants to jump for joy, while the other just wants to sit and slowly savor the moment. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, you simply know- with utter certainty- that you succeeded in reforming yourself. You have been sober for a year. You made it.
So, you smile. And, all you need to do is just that.
An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
1.18.10 @ 3:25p
Wow. Lexy, by far and away your best piece-- and I'm looking forward to reading it again.
1.18.10 @ 3:55p
Yep. You got guts, kid. And a keen mind and hopefully an inexhaustible stubborn streak. Bad habits are hard to break. Addictions are nearly impossible. Keep fighting. Keep winning.
1.18.10 @ 4:04p
Thanks Spence. The way I figure it, my addiction is one hell of a mean teacher. I've learned how to be a smarter, healthier person by doing the wrong thing first- and like quite a few of us who ever develop an addiction, I just liked jumping down this particular rabbit hole- and without ever guessing there would be very dire consequences in store for me.
Thing is, getting out of it was a bitch. The whole cycle of addiction and sobriety has been a pretty vital lesson to learn. I never expected to ever become an addict, and while I'm not exactly glad that I ever became one, I'm glad I have enough stones to walk away.
And, I'm likewise glad to be someone who can say, "Hey, you can walk away." I still know people out there who developed deeper relationships than I ever did with booze, coke, or marijuana. Where I spent a rough year and a half out of my head, I know they've been out of theirs for three, four, or even five years. Where my road felt rough, theirs will feel worse.
If they ever come across this piece, I hope they learn that they can walk away, too. Positive change is possible, and it just starts from wanting to be a sober person.
1.18.10 @ 4:08p
Russ, I got steel in my stubborn. My brattiness, kicking, and screaming aren't usually redemptive qualities, but they've helped. And, I like winning too much to ever lose to this again. So yes, I'm keeping it up.
1.18.10 @ 5:24p
Good. Now, about that meat-from-a-can intervention...
1.18.10 @ 5:28p
I've gone pescatarian. I have no idea what to do with the SPAM my mom sent me with my Christmas gift.
1.18.10 @ 7:21p
Lex, this is awesome. I am so proud of you!
1.18.10 @ 8:08p
Thanks Juli. It's been a rough ride, and I'm glad I can stand up to talk about it.
1.19.10 @ 10:41p
"Now, about that meat-from-a-can intervention... " HA!
Alex, I completely understand your perspective here. When I'm in NYC, we'll talk, darling. And just think of the marvelous travel you can do with the money you save. :D
If you want to continue moving forward, I have absolutely no doubt you'll succeed. I'm proud of you, too!
1.20.10 @ 12:36a
Ohmigawd Tracey- in hindsight, the money I spent on this was a lot. Even though I used to score freebies, I spent a stupid amount of money. It's hideous.
If there's yet another reason to keep moving forward, it's definitely the money. I'd be too embarrassed to admit that I spent money on this AGAIN.
1.20.10 @ 2:54a
Alex, allow me to wish you a Happy Rebirth-day. That's what it is when you come out on the other side and stay out, isn't it?
1.20.10 @ 3:16a
That's a pretty awesome way of putting it. I gladly accept. Merci.
And wow, here on the other side, it sure is mighty nice when things don't feel like they're going on an accelerated fast-forward. Who knew?
1.23.10 @ 9:00p
Girl, that is some seriously good writing.
1.24.10 @ 3:57a
Dirk, thank you. This is my experience, crazy as it was, and intense as it feels even now. I'm glad to have channeled it into something that perhaps can help others, but can always remind me of where I've been- an addict. It'll always remind me that something can get under my skin regardless of my better judgment, and that I can't outsmart a drug.