I stumbled down the street through massive banks of snow.
I was drunk, as usual.
I decided to stop at the diner to get something in my belly—I knew that when I got home there would likely be a kitchen counter full of blow and I would dive right into it—and that I wouldn’t eat until well after it was gone.
It was late, maybe 6 a.m.—the black edges of the sky just beginning to curl up. I was exhausted, my feet throbbing from dancing in stilettos for eight hours, my face heavy with old make up. Before I opened the diner door, I pulled off the fake eyelashes that were hanging halfway off my lids.
The waitress looked at me, expressionless, taking my order with a little grunt of acknowledgment. I could see the kitchen guys staring through the service window at me, whispering to each other. There was no one else there. Outside, the snow began to fall again.
I ate my tuna melt with something like rapture. Maybe it was because I hadn’t had any food in what was it—two days now?
Oh God, I sank my teeth into that toasted English muffin, piled high with cool tuna fish and covered with bubbly yellow cheese as if it were my last meal. In between bites I took long, deep draughts of capital “C” Coke. It felt like the soda was running directly into my veins.
I finished and left double what the bill said—I always gave big tips. I walked back out into the now pale grey morning and watched the snow begin to blush a muted pink.
As I trudged down Broadway, heaving my enormous backpack, the front pocket of which was packed with money I knew I would soon squander and which was, therefore, meaningless, I was filled with a terrible sadness. Another day was coming that I would miss. Another blue sky unseen, another hour of sleep un-slept, of dreams undreamt.
This was not a life. It was a voluntary immersion into hell. Why? Why was I doing it?
I was greeted at the door by my dog, Storm, the stump of his tail wiggling back and forth. In the kitchen I could hear the party going, as I knew it would be, as it always was. The familiar voices:our drug dealer, my boyfriend and our friends. Their chatter was loud and urgent, words tumbling over words. It was always like that with coke—it turned us into talking heads.
Normally, a tight knot of excitement at the prospect of getting high would have started pulling at my abdomen, my bowels clenched with eagerness to finesse that first beautiful line of blow. And while I did feel the familiar pull, it seemed strangely impotent—an echo of something empty but terrifying.
I dropped my backpack, clipped a leash on Storm and walked back outside without telling anyone I was home.
The snow had stopped, the day was becoming bright. Individual snowflakes glittered here and there. I knew no one would come after me—they were trapped in the prisons of their drug addled minds, unable to leave the apartment without crippling anxiety. I stood there aimlessly—watched as Storm lifted a leg and made a deep hole in the snow with his pee.
I could leave. I could just leave.
I took a few steps down the driveway. Where would I go? All my sober friends had long since abandoned me. I was too proud to call my family. And I believed my boyfriend would find me anyway, and punish me, like he had many times before.
I turned around and forced myself to go back in. The lights blazed, sheets were tacked over all the windows and there was a pungent stink of urine. I slipped into the bathroom and washed my face, my boyfriend calling out to me, “Erica, that you?” I mumbled yes and sat down on the toilet. There was a huge hole in the ceiling, the edges hanging slack like the mouth of a corpse.
F*ck! The word bounced around between my ears. F*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck. I got up from the toilet and stared at myself in the mirror. I didn’t know how, but something had to change.
I didn’t leave that night, but I did walk past the drugs for the first time in five years. There was a momentary hush as I passed through, uncharacteristically silent. When I was gone, the clamor of their voices rose again.
I took the dog and locked myself in the bedroom, where I fell into a deep, dark sleep, enveloped in the sour smell of unwashed sheets. When I woke, everything was quiet. I opened the bedroom door to see the contents of my backpack lying all over the floor. My boyfriend had been looking for, and found, the money. The front pocket was empty. I knew without asking that he’d used it all to buy more drugs.
He was sitting on the couch in the living room, gaping at some old porno video, sweating profusely. This? This was the man I had chosen to be with? Horror washed over me.
I finally felt the thing that bound us together—what was it? Addiction? Co-dependence? Love? No—whatever it was, I felt it loosen.
Like a knot that seems like it will never unravel, but we worry it and work it, and finally a loop comes away just enough to slide a fingernail beneath it, and we worry it some more, we gnaw at it, we bite it and we see that if we just keep going, the whole thing will come undone.
Somehow, I had begun to untie the knot.
I didn’t leave that night, that week or even that month. It took several more rounds of doing coke and drinking until I blacked out, and having my money routinely taken and my boyfriend pulling a gun on me to finally drive the point home—if I kept behaving this way, I would die.
And oddly, as miserable and dejected and humiliated and torn to pieces as I was, I wanted to stay alive. I wanted to see the snow turn pink at dawn, watch my dog’s tail stump wiggle and eat tuna melts in 24 hour diners where the waitress clearly does not like me.
I wanted all those things and more, and I was the only thing standing in my way.
My escape was not epic. I threw my possessions in a couple of garbage bags and slunk out.
It has taken years to pull apart the dark threads of the thing I wove. A few still remain, blowing around me on shadowy days like broken cobwebs hanging from the trees. But mostly they are gone.
What’s left behind is this; gratitude. I woke up from the nightmare of self inflicted pain and chose something else. I confessed my sins, I asked for help and I received it in abundance.
Now, any time I think I’m stuck I remember—there are always two paths.
Even if the only way to get our footing is to begin with a slight internal shift—a willingness to be humble, or fierce, or lonely—that will change everything. The simple act of walking through my kitchen without pausing at a counter lined with drugs, going to my bedroom and locking the door—though it was not a final act of sobriety—began to liberate me.
I am still afraid sometimes, but fear doesn’t drive the bus. I put it in the backseat where it belongs and now I’m up front, buckled in but free, and having the ride of a lifetime.
Author: Erica Leibrandt
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock