Eddie takes a drag, exhaling smoke from his nostrils the way a walrus might. Eddie kind of resembles a walrus. Or a bear. I’m leaning against a car beside a handlebar-moustached cane-dependent walrus who chain-smokes Marlboro Reds whilst belaying indomitable wisdom through a wheeze and cough that is loud enough to hear over his oldies coming from the car stereo. What questions do you ask a walrus?
“Have you heard the one about the wolves?”
“Wolves? What do you mean?
“OK. Hang on a second.”
He rotates his torso 45 degrees to lower the volume on his CD changer.
“A boy in a village wakes one morning and feels very strange, both happy and sad at the same time, mixed emotions of war and peace. He walks over to the other side of the village to see the medicine man. ‘Boy, why have you come to see me?’ The Shaman takes a long inhale from his pipe, waiting. ‘Shaman, I feel like I have two wolves inside of me. They are fighting. What does this mean?’ The Shaman exhales, resigning himself to his place of sage integrity within the village. ‘Boy, you have two wolves inside of you, there is no doubting that. One is the wolf of light, the other is the wolf of dark. They are fighting because they are hungry. You have to make a decision on which wolf you feed. If you starve the wolf of dark he’ll continue to gnaw at your insides as his hunger grows, but you’ll allow the wolf of light to grow into a powerful part of your spirit. Feed the wolf.”
My expectations, deterred away from the reality of living in the present — it was all fucked. Fucked. I would wake up in the morning, feeling all kinds of anxious, for seemingly no reason, and immediately seek self-medication as a means of escapism, to dull the anxiety, dull the pain of feeling absolute wretched emotions with the capacity to drag one down into deep, deep oblivion. No. That is not a good place to be. And I know that. With every fiber of my being. And yet, in the throes of abhorrence and avarice the tunnel vision is so deep, so fathomlessly black, that escape is out of the question. “Give up hope, all ye’ who dare to enter.”
It has only been three days in the program and I’ve made so many new friends; the family I’m forming here in detox and stabilization has been more than friendly, inviting of all credos, dual diagnoses and mentalities, fully cognizant of the individual crosses we have/had to bear coming into a program such as Michael’s House in the beautiful 100 degree desert heat of Palm Springs, California. Not more than 48 hours ago I was writing in agony (pun intended) and now I’m stepping off a plane in an unfamiliar place, jumping in the Intake Control and welcome wagon off into a different kind of episode, the next great… something. Everything moved fast. Or at least I was moving fast, fast, fast, unable to slow down the processes of an unquiet mind. The desert heat is the most intense I’ve felt since doing service work in Haiti’s arid clime in 2010, very similar to the nightly cool downs of Thailand that I worked in 2015. With that, I arrived at phase one of detox, peed in cups, blew breathalyzers, went through psych evals after psych evals, had dozens of blood vials drawn — once a week for four weeks, for lithium levels, is what they told me, albeit completely unnecessary and recommended testing is every three to six months — answering questions probing about my sordid past of substance abuse, manic episodes, suicide attempts, domestic violence, legal proceedings and brush-ins with the law, and of course, relationships, both successful and failed. Telling the story, my story, has been easier than expected, although anytime I lay down with my thoughts demons surge to the surface. Am I really that bad? Has it really come to this?
Even after yesterday, the day of my re-birth, I had started off the morning relatively positive, considering taking blood before sunrise, being the most popular newcomer to the detox center, meeting psychiatrists, therapists, med-doctors and nurses-in-training. The crew, my new family, even made me a card that had all the signatures, both staff and surrounding sober sallies sitting in a circle around me, filled with chicken-scratch messages of positivity, well-wishing, love, luck and sobriety for the future. That was the highlight. But the day got longer, as mid-summer days often do, and sometime after an actually halfway decent meal — my first full attempt at eating in two weeks — I crashed. All the attention had given me a retching feeling, which turned to lower realms of isolationism. Tortured. Alone. Loveless.
Am I not supposed to trust love? Or understand caring, compassion? Was it not just impassioned drinking and drugging driven by emotional irregulation, or was it self-medication, the vicious kind, that I’m unable to love myself, as much or more than others in relations, platonic, romantic, strange. A [polar] shift might look like crying or not crying when alone or in the company of said others, wearing the same shorts or same genial non-clothes day-to-day, week-to-week, occasional showering, forgetting to shave in conscious decisiveness, sleeping during the day, or as soon as I wake from dreary slumber late afternoon. What I wanted is for a star in the seventh quadrant of the outer nowhere to explode, wishing hopelessly for a release of some cosmic, dark energy that could bring my angels back to me, back into my arms. It may have not been anything I was doing, except for the actions I was not doing. These things, the letting go of angels, is an extremely frustrating, heart-breaking, maddening and what I would learn later, or might still have yet to learn, is just part of life’s great misdirect. As much as it sucks, falling up or flying down, I won’t kill myself over anyone else. Escape the pain, sure. Just for today. Let’s stop shooting ourselves in the foot; especially the right one “because we came in on the wrong one.”
Last night a (former) heroin addict told me I was the Buddha of Detox; a user of GHB and crystal methamphetamine told me I would change the world; a gap-toothed black woman fed me warm, forceful hugs telling me that I’m a “blessing in disguise.” From learning about alcoholics’ “pocket juice” to reaching a state of embrace, mild forms of acceptance, what some might even call “love” of a different brand, three days in a confined space with other “broken” individuals had given me some strength to stand up again. Music mindfulness, a practice I have been working on for the better part of 22 years relinquished fortitude, resilience in containing and controlling my racing, speed racer thoughts. Yes, I have been taking my meds, and no, I haven’t transcended yet to graduating out of rehab into the real world. Haven’t seen the outside world yet, actually, save for lab visits. But I do have a small fire lit in the belly of this beast, and this will burn those who cast their doubts down to the ground. I’m sure of that, at least. My fire had burnt down to embers, then coals, but at least it’s still burning.
At some determinate point in the future I’ll come to the conclusion that every day I can either grow stronger or weaker; every day the pain diminishes by a sliver, sliding off my subconscious to join the rest of the forgotten ice sheets on the thinning layers of my weeping heart. I was… I am, vulnerable. Perhaps I was careless. Thinking I could open Pandora’s black box of my “angels” and my demons to some beautiful beast of the emotional-affective romantic persuasion. But maybe that’s how it always has been, this way and manner of thinking the entire time. If she, whomever she may be at that moment, does not possess the wherewithal to wade with me into these turgid waters, that only goes to show that she would not have the strength nor tenacity to join me on a lifetime adventure together. Recovering the satellites is a lifelong venture. Mine alone.
The 7 a.m. nature walks help calm me, my moods and my madness ceasing fire just for the briefest of moments before the rosy red sun has yet to bud over the desert’s horizon line. Not too far away from our facility is a park: 30 minutes on the outside, after not leaving for the heavily-enforced 72 hour-requisite confinement, was truly a blessing. The word itself, as my definitions change, is operative and is not to be taken lightly, overthought or ignored. Blessed. Gratitude for the simple things. When was the last time you took yourself out for a walk? All the “angels” that had left me, or were leaving, don’t walk with me. At least for half an hour, each and every step is my own. My thoughts after walking out the front doors were something akin to “so this is what the outside world looks like… yeah, I remember.” The degree of separation invented by this detoxifying commune is a beautiful thing. Petting and feeding a toy pug became a moment of wonder; sitting and swinging on a swing set was a childhood revelation; stopping to smell the chocolate flowers (literally, the genus and species translates to “chocolate flower,” indigenous to the desert flora) was in of itself an act of astonishment. I took my time with every step. Every breath became slower, less hurried, more easy on the lungs without the consistent introduction of nicotine and secondhand menthol I had grown so accustomed to from the smoke pit. It was anything but enough.
Twenty minutes lingering in the back of our merry band of misfits. The sensations are visceral now, forgetting the Lamictal, forgetting whatever else was supplementing my pharmaceutical diet. For those 30 minutes I was only on the walk — not in my head. Not worrying about what I left behind, or what would lay before me on the roads to come. The detox, I am so quickly discovering, is not only defeating the poisons of the mind, or finding a way out — it is an ability, learned, practiced, to let it go. To let it all just go. I felt it. I feel it. I took it back in the van, to the facility and drank it in my tea by the pool writing these words, sweating bullets through the composition of this narrative, dripping toxins onto the pages, smearing ink on my calloused fingertips. Mindfulness. Being present. These things I could do. I was here because I had not yet gained the skill of letting it go — the relationships, the fractured episodes, the Passenger — letting it all go. Without all of that, them, in my head things are clearer, readable, permissible, possessing a greater ability to influence stability on what is a chemically-unstable conscience. I am realizing this now, that I control what things are in my control. Redundant, yes. Stay with me here. Everything else outside of my control is of impractical irrelevance. I cannot do anything about the things outside of my control, that almost always are left unresolved in a conflagration of anxieties, spirals of torturous depressions. That, as I am soon discovering, does not help things one bit. It does not encourage healthy behavior, or do anything for me and my emotions, my psyche. If I am truly to take this rocket up and out of this atmosphere, I have to leave all the dead weight on the ground. It was short of impossible before. Now? I am selfish, rightfully placing a priority on self-importance, and damned proud to be back in the fight. Never give up.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”– Anonymous
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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure