– Non-Fiction by Andrea Bedoya –
Addiction is an obsession. It takes over mind, body, and soul. It seeps into your pores, hides between your toes, collects in the corners of your eyes and under your nails. It becomes you. It becomes the only you and everything else goes away. It becomes the way you think and the way you speak. It takes over, covers you completely like a second skin, from head to foot. And when you try to fight back and crawl out of the darkness, its hold suffocates and drowns you. Chokes you until you black out, and then, when oblivion is near, there is nothing left besides the darkened shell of your former self. And then, it takes that, too.
Or so I’ve seen.
I don’t know when exactly addiction became a part of our lives. When the pills morphed from a doctor-prescribed solution to a full-blown addiction. Was it the first one? Number 2? Number 27? Number 1,473? Maybe it was immediate, maybe a slow creep. I’m not sure. Since I was on the outside looking in, all I know is that eventually it became the problem that took over our lives.
He had been sick since childhood. I think it started with OCD and moved onto anxiety, and then depression from there. But it started fairly innocuously – as innocuous as mental illness can be – at first. Walking home from school in a certain pattern, careful to not step on any cracks or imperfections in the pavement, along the way. And if an imperfection was stepped on, even if accidentally, knowing that it meant having to start the whole process over. Because if the process wasn’t done right, without any mistakes, it was done wrong. And doing things wrong was unacceptable.
I don’t remember when I started realizing there was an actual problem with a real name. There were so many small things at first, all easily explainable, seemingly harmless, one-time mistakes that didn’t correlate with one other. Dates mixed up meant a new prescription was needed a few days before the scheduled doctor’s appointment. Being clumsy opening a bottle of pills meant that a couple pills went down the sink so the pills ran out quicker than the prescription. All reasonable excuses as to why the pills ran out early.
Shit happens right? Mistakes and accidents are made every day. Your mind doesn’t immediately go to addiction. It allows you to believe the stories; all the innocent reasons as to why more pills are needed at a faster rate. Only later do you learn that they were all lies.
Needing more pills morphed into having to go beyond the basic prescription and look to the street to get what he needed. Easy enough to find if you know where to look: all it takes is money. And as the pills increased, so did the need for more money. That’s when the gambling started.
I became good at hiding my emotions. Undercover-agent-expert-level good. I put a wall up – an armor to shield me from the worst. I became numb. Numb meant I didn’t feel the highs or lows. Everything was dimmed, dulled to a more manageable level. Because, if you’re numb, you won’t cry sitting at your desk at work. If you’re numb, the worst of the worst doesn’t feel so bad. If you’re numb, watching him hysterically sob, pull out his hair, scratch his arms until they bleed, scream nonsensical words at the top of his lungs while he’s throwing everything he owns around the room, destroying furniture, doesn’t scare you quite as much as it should. Numb means that when your friends ask about him, you can lie smoothly and say everything is fine. If you’re numb, you can handle life just a little bit better.
Instead I willed myself not to breakdown. I told myself over and over again, every single day: you are stronger than this. Do not cry at work. You are not allowed to cry. Keep it together. On my way back home, the tears would prick the corners of my eyes and I’d tell myself, just a bit longer. Stay strong. When you get home, you’re allowed to cry. Allowed to feel. But when I’d finally reach the sanctity of my apartment, I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t feel. I had become so goddamn good at repressing everything all day that I would feel nothing when I allowed myself the freedom to feel again.
He tried rehab. Then he tried it again. Then he went to NA meetings.
I started going to my own meetings. The ones created for the family and loved ones of those addicted. Each meeting started with a reading from little blue books. For the first few months, I cried at every meeting. Painful, body-shaking sobs while I clutched my copy of the little blue book. It was the only time I allowed myself to be weak enough to cry. I cried for the position he was in, I cried for the dreams I had, I cried for the struggle that was still to be fought.
Addiction is always written about as a “descent” – a descent into addiction. A movement downward without control. Like it’s accidental. Something that couldn’t be helped; it just happened. Like kismet. But that’s wrong. Addiction is movement downward all right, but it sure as hell isn’t without control. The addiction has total control. The addict is in its total mercy.
It’s a coup d’état.
It’s a complete takeover you didn’t see coming. A struggle; a heart-pumping-in-your throat fight for your life, where semi-automated weapons drawn by Che Guevara tshirt-wearing guerrillas who have been ordered to you take you out while you’re standing there in your graying underwear, dumbstruck, mouth gapping open, holding a broken stick in one hand as your only pathetic line of defense.
If you’re an addict, you don’t win this fight. Because if you win against the 21st century weapons of mass destruction that is addiction while you brandish a stick, you aren’t an addict. Addiction is repeated behavior despite adverse consequences. That isn’t falling or fainting or accidental. It’s obsessive. It’s actively doing something that you know will fuck you up, but doing it anyways. It’s taking a hit, a fix, a pull, the dice, the spoon, the needle, a drag, or a sip knowing that it’s the wrong decision. But doing it regardless. And you do it because you don’t have control. Because the addiction is making you do it.
The addiction has total control. The obsession owns you.
I was scared of the phone for weeks, months, years even. When the phone would buzz because of an incoming text, I would break out into a cold sweat. My heart would start beating fast and erratically. I would immediately become nauseous. I’d get so anxious, that my muscles would seize and my shoulders would clench painfully. It was overwhelming. I stopped eating breakfast; I’d become so anxious and nauseous that I couldn’t eat a full meal without gagging.
I had learned over the years that a text or a call meant something bad was coming. Learned behavior, like a lab rat. He would be erratic, pick a fight. Or be crying hysterically. Or give me an excuse as to why he had to cancel plans. Tell me, without asking for it, how he needed money. Or describe his latest money-earning scheme. Or worse, my daily nightmares would play out in my imagination while the phone would buzz. He was dead. Suicide, car accident, or a hit because of money owed. He was in the hospital. Self-harm or angry loan sharks out for revenge. He was in jail. Fighting at the casino or pulled over for reckless driving. He was acting out and needed to be sent back to rehab. Again.
Whatever possible scenario, I had played it out in my mind a million times over. I went to bed every night imagining all the ways he could hurt himself, all the different ways he could die. Would he commit suicide to make all the pain go away? He always had a flare for the dramatic, would he try something public? Would it make the news? My imagination would move onto more practical pieces of the story. Would I get a call during work? How would I react? Cry? (No, don’t be stupid, of course not, I can’t cry at work.). Would I be able to calmly tell my boss I had a family emergency? How many days off would I get if I needed to go to his funeral? Would I be able to look his family in the eye?
Watching TV shows or movies about addiction became completely out of the question. When Silver Linings Playbook came out, knowing that the movie was about two recovering addicts, the commercial alone gave me palpitations. When I watched American Hustle with friends, it took all my energy to not have an anxiety attack when the characters talked about the mob and loan sharks. I would lunge for the remote anytime an ad for “Intervention” came on.
In the darkest moments, when I struggled to put one foot in front of the other and carry on, I would clutch the little blue book like a lifesaver. What became my own mantra was a quote on page 13 of the good book: “To watch is not to love.” I would repeat it to myself over and over. I’m not sure why that line in particular meant so much. Was I looking for a way out even then? Grasping for absolution? That I was allowed to leave? Anything that would help me feel exonerated of my (future) guilt?
I finally left when I realized I was the last one fighting. After 10 years, I was the only one still trying to hold onto that goddamn stick in my sweaty palm. I didn’t want to wait on the sidelines, powerless. I had seen it start, seen the struggle, and I was drowning. I knew how it would go and I didn’t want to stay and see it end; see how he ended. I didn’t think my own mental stability – squidgy even then – could take it.
When the obsession completely took over him, when he was beyond sanity and any repair I could do, I reminded myself, yet again, to watch is not to love. So, I did the most selfish thing ever and left, stopped watching, and loved from afar.
About the Author – Andrea Bedoya
Andrea Bedoya is an American expat who lives and works in London. “Obsession” is Andrea Bedoya’s first published story.
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