Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"What Happened"

(This blog is third in a four-part series, "My Story")


Relationships were my first fix. I discovered that I could use the turmoil of teenage love to shape my emotions. Suddenly I had reasons for all the feelings I felt. If things were good, I had a reason for my manic highs. If things were bad, I had an explanation for my sorrowful lows. I learned that I could use the girls I dated as a way to make myself feel better. Because I was so good at being what others wanted me to be, I was an attentive boyfriend, and I had an odd talent for picking the girls that thought no one would want to be with them. This was, of course, projection: the truth of it was that I thought no one would ever want to be with me.

My world centered around whoever I was involved with. My self-esteem was tied entirely to how good a job I did at making my girlfriend happy. I was only a good person if I was perfect at being whatever she needed me to be. At the same time, I was judgmental and egotistical. I would throw my girlfriends' flaws back in their faces. I'd throw temper tantrums when they didn't do what I thought they should, or say the things I expected them to say. And it was always their fault for not living up to my expectations. It was always their fault for being who they were, not who I thought they should be.

I thought that it was my job to change them. I thought that by simply being with me and following my example (the way they should), my girlfriends would be magically transformed into the beautiful people I knew they could be. It took Recovery for me to understand how dishonest this was: I didn't date them for who they were, but for an imaginary idea I had dreamed up in my head. And for sex. I didn't accept or love them for who they really were; I didn't know how to. All I could see was what I had created in my head. I would become bitter, spiteful, and resentful when they failed to be who I thought they were. And all the while I secretly hated myself for not being perfect at who I thought they wanted me to be. I was a failure for not being able to make my relationships work. I was a failure for not being perfect.

My other relationships were much the same way. The few friendships I had didn't last and I could never understand why no one respected me, even though I did everything I could to turn myself into who they wanted me to be. No one called me. The times I called others, I felt like a horrible burden for bothering them. Most of the time, I didn't even have anything to say. I didn't know what I wanted; I couldn't tell you how I really felt. I'd learned that I wasn't allowed to want things, and my true feelings were either buried or hopelessly amplified out of proportion. I had no sense of self, only an empty hole in the center of my being.

I'd made two suicide attempts by this point. I'd been married and divorced. I'd been in a mental institution and in jail. I withdrew from college before I could flunk out--or before they could kick me out. My parents had had almost nothing to offer me through any of it, aside from my mother's frantic hysteria at what the world had done to her baby and my father's wisdom that life was 'basically unfair'. To this day, we've never really had a conversation about any of it. In time, I got back on my feet and went back to school. That was when I finally found marijuana.

I use that word because it felt like something I'd been waiting my whole life for. I was a daily toker virtually from the word 'go'. I'd struggled with insomnia as long as I remembered; now I could get to sleep at night. I had friends now, I was included. I never would have believed you if you'd told me they only cared about my pot and not about me personally.

More than anything, I'd found a way to quiet my chattering brain. All the crazy thoughts, all the obsessions, the never-ending cacophony in my head would cease when I was high. My constant frustration at life never going my way disappeared. After a year or so, I resigned myself to the idea that life was never going to go the way I wanted, so I decided that I'd simply smoke my pot. It was, after all, the only thing I'd ever found that brought me happiness. That was my definition of happiness, being numb.

The years began to pass. I graduated college by the skin of my teeth. I almost missed the ceremony because I'd helped bail my roommate out of jail the night before. I never got fired from a job, but that was because I never took one that drug tested. I was too lazy to go to the trouble of faking my way through one, and too afraid of what would happen if I failed it. The jobs I took were far beneath my skill level and abilities. I resented having to work at all. The only thing I wanted was to smoke my pot.

Eventually, one of my connections got me a job working for a record company. As a kid, that had been a dream job to me. The thing I really loved about it, though, was smoking on the long drive in, smoking on my morning break, smoking and drinking at lunch, smoking in the afternoon, and smoking on the commute home. Each day, by the time I made it back to my apartment, I had nothing left for my girlfriend. My first Friday there, I passed out after a company lunch and woke up at 9:30 pm with my face in a toilet. It never even occurred to me that I might have a problem.

Over the next few years, my relationship deteriorated and my employment stagnated. I never progressed at my job and had no ambition to do so. I had an affair, then patched things up. We got married, looking very happy on the surface, but underneath that veneer it was as bad as it had ever been. I took a job in town, thinking that would give us time to work on our marriage, but all it really did was give us more time for fighting. Her denial was as strong as mine and never once did she suggest that I quit the weed. Once in awhile she would say she didn’t like that I was ‘dependent’ on it. We finally split, and I was glad to see her go.

With my wife gone, I was ecstatic. I had the place to myself and was free to come and go as I pleased without having to endure her constant nagging and nitpicking. But I discovered that I had the same problems I always had: I hated life. I hated the world I lived in. I hated that nothing ever went my way. The rare times I had tried to quit smoking, that was what always came back to me as the reason why I smoked—I couldn’t handle life without it. The thing I couldn’t admit, that was still buried in my subconscious, was that I hated myself, too.

Without my wife’s income, I was forced to downgrade my living situation. There was never enough money. I was constantly scraping by, constantly overdrawing my bank account. But if I found myself with a little extra, I didn’t use it to buy gas or groceries. The herb was my escape, but it no longer kept me from being miserable. The only thing it did was help pass the time until the next event came along that I had to deal with. I didn’t care if my refrigerator was empty or my car in disrepair, so long as I had my pot. It was the only thing that mattered to me. I’d cut off all communication with my parents. The only people I spent any time with were my connection or the smoking buddy I’d go in on a sack with.

The reality of my situation began to penetrate the thick fog surrounding my brain. I’d look around at my apartment, full of decades old hand-me-down furniture, and wonder why my place still looked like that of first-year college student. My work situation turned out to be yet another dead end with no opportunities for advancement. After a bad experience with another substance, I realized that I wanted to quit. Not just what I had tried, but everything. Especially the pot. To my subdued surprise, I discovered that I couldn’t. If I had it, I smoked it. Period. If I didn’t buy any, I’d end up smoking what my friends had. If that failed, I’d scrape resin. If I didn’t have any, I’d find someone who did.

It was a friend of mine who told me about the rooms of Marijuana Anonymous. His wife had done an Intervention on him. When he told me the story, I wasn’t amazed so much by how he had been able to successfully quit, but by the fact that he was choosing to remain sober. I thought to myself, “that must be how you do it.” I smoked my last bowl on Sunday—thinking the whole time about how I didn’t want to—and tried the next day to make it to a meeting. I couldn’t find it. The day after, I tried again and succeeded. And so began my Recovery.

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