Looking into the face of addiction

Self Preservation by I Must Be Dead

I smoked a pack of Marlboro Reds every day my first semester of college. I switched to Lucky Strike unfiltereds the second semester because I’m secretly a middle-aged man from the 1940s. I make no excuses for this behaviour. The reasoning is simple: I wanted to be as cool as my indiemodhipster suitemate. I loved the curl of smoke around my face, the earthy scent of a fresh cigarette, the sharp hit of a new pack against my palm.

One day, idling at a stoplight while grocery shopping, I abruptly chucked my lighter and a nearly-full pack of Luckies out the window and then drove away. Couldn’t tell you why.

But that was it – aside from the very occasional cigar, I haven’t wanted nicotine for over a decade. No withdrawal, no mental anguish, no social scarring. I just up and quit. Lucky me, not having an addictive personality. (Except when it comes to sugar, the cocaine of food.)

Imagine my alarm, then, when I ran out of Percocet post-surgery and couldn’t keep my shit together.

I’d never touched anything stronger than Tylenol before, and years of studying cognitive psychology made me wary of the drugs I’d need to manage my pain while my bones knit. Before I went down, I hounded my doctor about the possibility of narcotic withdrawal but was waved off as a perfectly healthy, stable young lady with no need to be concerned about such things.

It took me three days after the meds were gone – three – to figure out that my June chills, untameable stomach, and downright bitchiness weren’t normal. And at that point, I had a choice. I could easily call my doctor in (genuine) tears for another round of sweet, pacifying narcotics to keep me docile, citing the severity of my surgery and exaggerating my discomfort to buy a little while longer without the constant nagging of my inner voices. Or I could admit I no longer needed the drugs for the purpose they were intended, chew on ice chips, drink disgusting stomach tea, and wait for my body to take back control of itself.

I chose the latter. Not because I’m somehow mentally tough. Not because I’m more evolved than anyone else. Not even because I’m brave. But because I didn’t want to let the motherfucking drugs turn me into someone I’m not.

What I loved about narcotics is also what I hated about them: The part of my mind that keeps me guarded and anxiety-riddled was gone, and so I had no inhibitions. Like being constantly pleasantly drunk. But unlike being drunk, I didn’t wake up with a hangover reminding me that I’m a flawed human. With narcotics, I slid down a gentle slope into more brainfuzzies. I was charming. I was funny. I was less uptight.

But it was a lie. And I don’t want to live a lie.

When I quit smoking, it was so easy as to be completely thoughtless. I simply did it. But I only had one, difficult-to-deny chance at avoiding addiction to painkillers. All that kept me from falling into that hole was sheer, stubborn selfishness. I wanted to be me, even if that meant being locked in my inhibitions forever; at least then I can say I’m myself.

This is the short, stylised version of my experience with addiction. I know many of you have been touched in much worse, much deeper ways, whether it’s your struggle or that of someone you love. I’d like to make a safe space in the comments for you to tell that story if you want. No one will give you advice or say you fucked up. We’re here to witness, not judge.

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