Recently I wrote one of my rants I fondly refer to as “You Can’t Say That” and posted it here. I was pretty pleased with it because it released a lot of pent-up frustration about how people get on my nerves. They don’t just get on my nerves; they get on every single nerve and do the cha-cha barefoot!
This particular installment included a segment where my impatience leaked over into the realm of addiction, and I got some flak for that. I got one message which stated that unless I had ever been there, I had no idea how hard it is to overcome addiction and et cetera, et cetera…
So, because addiction is its own topic and so much has been written about it, I thought I might add my own two cents in, so that you can see why my perception is what it is.
Usually, I don’t do this. I don’t backtrack and try to explain why I write what I write. I write what I feel, and I let it go, and I put it out there in the Universe, and if you like what I write you read it, and if you don’t, you won’t. I’m kinda Zen about it.
But substance addiction touches more lives than probably any other human malady, and I hit a nerve, didn’t I?
In 1996, there was this girl living on the streets. She had gotten there through a series of bad choices. She had been through physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, and she lost her mind. This is not a made-up story. This is not “based on true events” or “inspired by actual events.” This really happened. Let’s call her Jane Doe, and let’s remember that she is a real person that really exists.
Jane Doe was not a drug addict. She smoked cigarettes and she drank sometimes, but early schooling had drilled it into her brain for years that “CRACK KILLS” and “JUST SAY NO” and all of those and other early campaigns actually worked on her. She never really thought about doing drugs. So, she didn’t.
Through a series of choices, Jane Doe found herself homeless and roaming the streets of a mid-size city. She was 132 pounds, her head was shaved, and she had lost her glasses, so she couldn’t really see very well.
It was December, and it was cold as fuck outside. Jane Doe was out in this cold and her days were spent migrating with other vagrants from one soup kitchen to the next. Her mind was gone. She eventually tried to go to a hospital and tell them she was going to kill herself. While she had no intention of actually doing this, her logic was that if she was suicidal, they would lock her in the hospital for a week or so and she wouldn’t be out in the cold for a little while. It was sound logic, but it didn’t work. The hospital wasn’t interested in keeping her. They held her for 12 hours, took her shoes, then released her, apathetic to the fact that now she was free to leave but had no shoes on her feet.
Jane Doe wandered into the projects, her feet covered in two pairs of socks and a set of blue hospital booties. At this point you could have told her the moon was made of cheese and she would have asked you for a slice on crackers.
A woman stood looking out the doorway of her apartment, there, in the projects, and saw Jane Doe shuffling past.
“White girl! Hey, what the hell you doin’?”
Jane Doe looked in the woman’s direction, stopped and shrugged.
“I don’t know.”
“Get in here, you gon’ lose your feet out in this weather!”
Jane Doe complied.
The apartment was warm, filled with the smell of frying pork chops, and Jane Doe was very hungry, but the woman pointed at the overstuffed fake-leather sofa and simply said,
Jane Doe complied.
She slept for several hours, and at some point someone threw a blanket over her, and she burrowed down into the sofa and slept another few hours. When she finally opened her eyes, there were more people in the apartment, in the next room, talking and laughing and eating.
They offered her no food. She stayed on the sofa and waited. The woman eventually came back to her with a pair of black lace up shoes and directed her to try them on. She did. They were a little big but they stayed on her feet.
Jane Doe found herself seated at the kitchen table, long after the meal was over, looking across the table at a young man who was smoking crack. She didn’t know it was crack, only that the sweet chemical smell was disturbing. She watched his transition from twitchy to calm and glassy-eyed. She finally asked him,
“Why do you smoke that? What does it make you feel?”
And he replied,
“…because for just a few minutes, everything is okay.”
She thought about that. For a few minutes, everything is okay. That seemed like a huge trade-off. The young man did not offer her any of the drugs, and she did not ask for any.
Soon after she left the warmth of the apartment, clad in her ragged oversized pants, wearing two tshirts and an old blue patterned winter-themed fleece, with an army fatigue coat over that. Her slightly too-large shoes were preferable to no shoes at all, as the snow had started in earnest.
Jane Doe had several other adventures that winter, including two trips to jail for no reason at all. Sure, you might be thinking that she had to have done something to wind up in jail, but no. Once she got smart with a police officer who promptly arrested her for “resisting arrest” and that weekend was a warm one, spent in a largish cell with 7 other women because the courts were closed. Another time, she wandered into an extremely classy building downtown to ask for directions, and the smartly dressed, perfectly coiffed woman behind the desk summoned the police before Jane Doe had even reached the counter. She was arrested for criminal trespassing, and another warm weekend happened that winter.
Finally, in mid-January of 1997, Jane Doe stood outside the double doors of the Early Dawn Ministry Shelter. She was tired of walking every day with no destination. She had just recently healed from a severe case of boot rot (for those of you who don’t know what this is, it is a condition where your feet have been damp inside your shoes for too long, and the soles of your feet begin to “rot” and you could lose both feet or die of blood poisoning if not treated.) She had shown up to the homeless health clinic every day for 2 weeks, where a gorgeous young black man named Roger dressed in pristine blue scrubs had removed her shoes and socks, removed the bandages from her feet, cleaning the deep injuries. He applied ointment and fresh bandages, and replaced her socks with a new pair – every day he did this for two weeks and every day she said to him, “Thank you,” very quietly before leaving, because when you are to the point where you cannot even remove your own socks without experiencing pain, you had better find the humility to allow another human being to help you.
So, after all of that she stood – squinting up at the homeless shelter sign and wondering if they would let her stay here – and finally she went in.
It was loud, and chaotic, with crazy old ladies mumbling in the corner and a couple of girls over in the far end of the day room styling each other’s hair and laughing hysterically at something.
The shelter let her stay there. The counselors there didn’t know what to make of Jane Doe. They knew she had lost her mind, but the hospitals were inundated with a heavier than usual winter indigent population, not able to handle any more people, and Jane Doe wasn’t a threat. She had been exposed to the elements for a long time and it had rattled her brain.
The shelter did not have a program for crazy people. They had outreach programs that would show up once a week and chat up the loony old ladies in the corner, but somehow the counselors didn’t think this would do much for Jane Doe.
They decided to put her in The Program. It was an alcohol and drug recovery program and the majority of the people living in this shelter were in it already.
The counselors knew Jane Doe did not have a drug problem. They knew she didn’t have a drinking issue. What they didn’t know was what exactly to do with her, because Jane Doe need a heavily structured environment in order for her to come back down to Planet Earth and join the rest of us. I’m pretty sure the counselors thought the crazy would wash off after a while.
They were right. The crazy washed off because they did the exact thing they were supposed to do. Jane Doe joined the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, the most heavily structured program in the city, and she attended hundreds of AA meetings and hundreds of NA meetings. She read the Big Book, and she got a sponsor, and she went through hell doing a Fourth Step, where she made a searching and fearless moral inventory of herself, of all the people who had ever hurt her and all the people she had ever hurt and then she sat down with her sponsor and told her every single bit of it and it was, according to Jane Doe, like tearing a gigantic band-aid from the length of her body, a raw pain that was soon over.
Jane Doe spent hours and days and weeks and months joined at the hip with women from all walks of life: farm girls and strippers, nurses and computer technicians, waitresses and hustlers. She learned exactly what drugs and the overuse of alcohol can make a person do. She attended funerals of people who were never ready to stop using and never stopped using and let the dope kill them. She cried a lot.
Jane Doe found her mind. It had been buried under the layers of exposure to cold weather and colder people. The fog lifted and she was able to become her version of sane again. She let her hair grow out, allowed her sense of humor to return, and finally went to the ophthalmologist.
She took a friend from the shelter with her when she picked up her glasses. Her vision was bad enough that everything and everyone was blurry. Her friend Bea sat beside Jane Doe when she slid her glasses on her face. Jane Doe looked over at Bea and gasped.
“What?” Bea asked.
“Bea!! I didn’t know you were black!!” They both dissolved in laughter while the ophthalmologist looked on disapprovingly.
A few months later, Jane Doe moved out of the shelter and into her own apartment. She had been homeless for just over eighteen months and she never wanted to return to being homeless again.
This is how I know about addiction. This is why I hate it. This is why people who get addicted make me angry. I know because I am Jane Doe, and I lived through hell – and I didn’t even use drugs. I didn’t need to use drugs in order to make shitty decisions.
We are the sum total of our experiences. We will experience more, therefore we will become more. This is my mantra, my sole reason for existing. I exist to experience, and those experiences will continue to change me, and make me happy, and sad, and those experiences will piss me off and make me want to slap people.
So…YOU – darling Reader, beloved one who devours everything I write, I hope you see now that I write my little You Can’t Say That rants to purge myself of all the negative, and to put a funny spin on life. If we don’t laugh, we don’t live.