Metaphor

Bipolar Behind the Glass

I’m standing at the oversized glass window, overlooking the city of New Haven, and I’m trapped inside. Freedom, up until this point in my life, is something I’ve taken for granted. I don’t have my computer, I don’t have my phone, but I do have some coloring books and a plastic wrist band that says my name and birthdate. I don’t have a razor to shave my legs unless I’m being supervised and I cannot use my hair straightener. The only door to the outside has big, red, angry letters on it that state that anyone who exits this door without permission is considered AWOL. I’m fifteen years old and I’m locked in the adolescent psychiatric ward at Yale New Haven Hospital.

The weeks and months leading up to my stay at YPI were a blur. I was completely out of control and had no idea. I was misdiagnosed with depression sometime prior in my early teens, and that was a big mistake. They put me on antidepressants, which was an even bigger mistake. Because what nobody took the time to figure out back then was that I was Bipolar, textbook Bipolar, and how my team missed that is still a mystery to me and my family. Maybe it’s because I was a teenager and the mood swings were attributed to hormones. Maybe it’s because I was only spending an hour a week in therapy and as a young teen I was unable to communicate my feelings properly. Regardless, I was Bipolar and on antidepressants with no mood stabilizer. And that, if you didn’t know, is a recipe for disaster.

There’s a fine balancing act that has to be done when medicating a Bipolar individual. There has to be some kind of mood stabilizer or even an antipsychotic acting as a mood stabilizer on board in order to safely utilize antidepressants. Without a mood stabilizing medication, the antidepressants can almost work “too well”, taking someone so far out of depression that it swings them the other way into a full blown manic episode. And that, my friends, is exactly what happened to fifteen year old me on that brisk spring day during my sophomore year of high school.

I had what amounted to a psychotic break, totally disconnected from reality. I lost track of space and time. I no longer understood the difference between right and wrong. I couldn’t properly weigh consequences. I had no fear. Ultimately, I called myself out of school pretending to be my mother, and stole her car while she was away on a business trip. Ultimately, I got in a car accident and someone crashed into me, bringing my joyride and mental health high to an abrupt stop.

My parents were at a loss. They didn’t know what to do with me, but simply grounding me and screaming at me just didn’t seem like the right course of action, thankfully. I was already in therapy, and I was already medicated. I was presenting as delusional, detached, and my behavior was extremely risky.

I’ll never forget when they admitted me, and came to take my clothes and personal belongings. It was the first time I was ever admitted to the psych ward, but it wouldn’t be the last. Managing Bipolar I is like riding a bucking bull that you never know when someone is going to put a quarter in it and when it’s going to stop or start flailing you around. You’ve got to hold on as tight as you can, but sometimes, no matter how hard you hold on, you still get bucked off. And that’s okay. You find yourself on a high, the world in your hands, everything going great until suddenly everything is moving too fast and you can’t keep up and the world keeps spinning and you just need it to slow down. Then it all gets really slow. So slow that it might even be moving backwards. You’re moving backwards. The only place you’re going is nowhere.

Living with Bipolar I throughout my addiction has made a challenging situation even more difficult, but I wouldn’t change it. My mind is my best asset, my most defining characteristic, my best friend in this world. I take the good with the bad, the highs with the lows, because there is no other option.

A few years ago, the medication that saved my life from the day I got admitted to YPI, lithium, started to destroy my kidneys. A small percentage of people who take lithium develop Chronic Kidney Disease, and that’s what happened to me. It brought me back to that day in the psych ward, standing behind that glass window, looking out at the world. Do I want to be in it? Absolutely. So we try something new.

For the past few years, I’ve been juggling different medications trying to replace the lithium that I loved so dearly and that saved my life all those years ago. It’s been going surprisingly well, and I’ve been able to stay out of the hospital and haven’t had any major episodes despite the medication changes.

Taking good care of my mental health is freedom for me. When I don’t do that, I become a prisoner again. I may not be locked in the hospital, but I’m locked inside a place in my head that feels just as tight, just as constricted, and just as unpleasant. I’m standing behind that same glass window, looking out at the world that I’m not participating in. That’s why self care is so important, especially for those of us who have a substance use disorder on top of a mental health condition.

Today, on National Bipolar Awareness Day, I’m here to remind you that we exist.

We walk among you. We are your brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. Please be gentle with us and handle us with a little bit of care. While I may not be trapped behind that glass window today, it’s still there in a way. Society kind of represents that window where I can see the rest of the world out there, functioning, and I just desperately want to be a part of it but I don’t always know how or have the tools to participate in life the way I wish I could.

Standing at that glass window, I see my mom’s car park in the lot and I know I’m going home today. It’s Easter Sunday. I’m not religious, but I understand the symbolism. Rebirth, renewal, starting over. I walk out of the hospital into the crisp, spring air and feel the sun peeking out behind the clouds. I knew in that moment that I would be okay. And today, I’m okay. Just for today.

©Copyright 2019 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Recovering Slow Turkey

I was watching tv the other day when I saw a commercial for a medication used to help people quit smoking. The ad was a play on the old “cold turkey” method, and advocated instead for the use of their medication to quit “slow turkey” instead.

We often hear it takes 29 days to make a habit, or that change doesn’t happen overnight. So, it got me thinking, why do we expect substance users to change their behavior in an instant?

We expect those with substance use disorder (SUD), which is the appropriate terminology in today’s language, to enter treatment and stop using substances on the same day. This thinking is asinine, and it makes no practical sense for the average substance user.

Using is not just part of our day, it’s the entirety of our lives.

Using and finding ways and means to get more encompasses every minute of our waking hours, and even some of our sleeping hours, too. I can’t tell you how many times I went to sleep with no plan for the next day’s use, and woke up the next morning with a plan in my head that my brain worked on while I was asleep. Using is everything to us, and it takes up the vast majority of our time. For most of us, we can’t just stop using on a dime and jump into recovery with both feet.

Why is it that when it comes to smoking, people understand medication assisted treatment? People understand that ANYTHING is better than smoking. If someone wanted to wear the nicotine patch, or take that medication from that commercial to quit smoking, no one would hold that against them. Even if they had to use those methods for YEARS, maybe even the rest of their life, nobody could possibly say that they would rather see their loved one still smoking. We want someone who smokes to do anything in their power to quit and stay quit, even if it means using a nicotine replacement therapy like the patch or gum.

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid use is the same principle. It’s a medication that assists the person with substance use disorder in finding a way to let go of their illicit use. These therapies use opioid and partial opioid agonists to bind to the receptors in the brain where heroin used to bind. It tricks the brain into thinking it has what it wants, so the brain and body no longer crave the drug with such severity and frequency. It allows the brain to repair slowly over a very long period of time. For some people, they are able to continually lower that dose and eventually get off of MAT. For others, the cravings are too severe because their use was too severe. They may need to stay on MAT for the rest of their lives.

The question is, why does anyone care?

If someone is no longer waking up every day with their entire existence focused on using, then who cares if they’re on MAT? If they can hold down a job, pay their rent, raise their family, then who cares if they’re on MAT? If they have changed their lives so completely and become a productive member of society, then who cares if they’re on MAT?

I see people saying they don’t agree with MAT and I ask myself the same question every time: Why is it any of your business how someone else chooses to recover? Why are you judging someone else’s path?

I have no shame about being on methadone and if you are too, then you shouldn’t either. My addiction was so severe that there were no other options for me. I didn’t have time to keep trying the natural way, the twelve step way, the inpatient way. I was going to die if I kept trying to treat my medical brain disease without a medical treatment.

My recovery is as slow turkey as it gets. I’m not in any rush to get off medication assisted treatment. Why? Because IT WORKS. Methadone is the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder by leaps and bounds over any other method. I don’t know about you, but I’m betting on the winning horse. I’m betting on science. I’m betting on what has worked for me and millions of others. Actually, forget the winning horse. I’m betting on the slow turkey.

©Copyright 2019 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Dear Addiction: I See You.

I saw you yesterday.

I saw you in the eyes of a young girl. She was frail and her skin was red and erupting in anger. It’s easy to spot you inside of people when you know what to look for. I saw you under her fingernails, tangled into her dull, matted hair. I saw you in the hollows around her collarbones. I saw you trying to hide under the long sleeve shirt she wore despite the ninety degree heat that hung like heavy, wet laundry on an already overburdened line.

I saw you last week.

I saw you in the parking lot of the grocery store as I pulled into my parking space. There you were, hanging in the air between a car window and a pale, shaking hand. I saw you folded up in between the three crumpled twenty dollar bills. You didn’t even care that everyone could see you right there in the open, you weren’t even trying to hide. I saw you last week in that parking lot, but nobody else could see you creeping further into our community, seeping into every open space and into every vulnerable soul. Of course, people know you’re around. But they didn’t see you. I did.

I saw you last month.

I saw you hanging around outside the clinic where people go to get help. You’re just so insidious, sitting there waiting for the next person who isn’t quite ready yet, who is still a little vulnerable, who still listens when you call. I saw you there when the checkout girl from the gas station down the street approached my partner to ask for her clean urine. I saw you when a fist full of Xanax were passed from one shaking hand into another. I saw you as nurses and staff came sprinting outside with Narcan in hand to the car parked against the fence where a father of three was slumped over his steering wheel. I saw you too many times last month.

I saw you a few months ago.

I saw you in the long, snaking line outside the funeral home. I saw you in the eyes of mourners, offering their best sympathies to the parents who are burying their child, at the same time knowing they brought you as their guest to the service. I saw you in the burn hole in the pants of a former classmate, struggling to keep his eyes open, as he wonders to himself if he could be next. I saw you in the casket, in the dead body laying in front of me. That body used to be alive with purpose and promise. Now it’s just the two of you, tied together forever into eternity.

I see you everywhere, every day.

Not a moment passes without you trying to sneak your way in, lurking somewhere in the background, always watching and waiting for your chance to get back into my life. I see you in those texts that still come every once in a while when an old dealer gets a new phone number. They don’t care that they haven’t seen me in three years, because they know you will always be there and today might be the day I let you win. I see you in the scars on my skin from where you got inside me, those black and red splotches and blotches that just never seem to fully fade.

I see you in the clients I meet at my job, where I put my armor on and get ready to wage war against you. I use every weapon in my arsenal to try to fight you off, push you back, cast you out. There’s medicine and there’s therapy and there’s twelve step meetings and there’s friends and family who support us and all the while you hang in the air around us. Because our weapons are only enough to subdue you, enough for a daily reprieve, enough just for today. Because tomorrow you will be back, ready to fight another day, back to your ultimate mission.

Because I saw you yesterday.

I know what you want. You want me to come back to you. You want me to be your slave again, your partner, your lover, you want to be my only friend. You want to take everything from me that I love. You want me to remember the good times, the happy days, the warm blanket, the arms of the angel. You want to possess me, own me, control me, and then kill me.

I saw you yesterday, just like every other day.

But you didn’t see me.

©Copyright 2018 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

The House That Addiction Built

Addiction is like the house on a nice street that used to look so beautiful on the outside. Over the past few years, it has become dilapidated, worn down, tarnished. The lawn and gardens are overgrown and full of weeds. The shutters have fallen off the windows, and if you think the outside is bad, you should see what’s going on inside. The family and friends of an addict are the neighboring homes. Their houses still look nice, put together, habitable, but by virtue of living next door to a war zone disguised as a house, their property values fall alongside it.

Addiction affects every single person who comes in contact with the addict. Just like no one wants to be a drug addict, no one sets out with that goal in mind, even more so the people who love that addict certainly never signed up for this life. We drag our friends and family into our uphill battle, and they become broken down, bruised, and worn out right along side us.

Worse still is what happens when one of us loses our battle with the disease. The city comes and knocks down the vacant house, but nobody is able to exorcize the ghosts that live there. Our family and friends will never escape the memories that haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Coming off of another overdose death of a friend, I am exasperated. I am horrified. I am distraught. I am powerless. I am frustrated that nothing I am doing is enough, or will ever be enough, to save everyone. And for every addict I reach, every person whose life is changed, there are thousands of people who will never recover. They will die before they ever have the chance to recover.

I am conflicted deeply about these deaths, as they continue to come like a train that’s off its schedule. We know they are coming, we just don’t know when the grim reaper will show up again to steal another soul away from us. On the one hand, if we weren’t losing all of these incredible sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, I don’t think anyone would even care about this epidemic. We’ve been talking about it for over a decade, and it’s only been in the most recent years that “good kids” are dying that suddenly people want to show concern. On the other hand, how many good people have to lose their lives before we see real change?

The opioids are killing us, but so is the stigma. The stigma is the station that the grim reaper’s train rolls into. If there were no stigma, I personally believe there would be significantly less death.

The stigma is what keeps me from reaching out to a struggling addict, because they won’t admit they are struggling. Even if I ask someone directly how are they doing, are they staying clean, they will lie. There is stigma even amongst ourselves, between who is clean, who is on methadone, who is doing it the “right way”. When someone has been doing well and they fall off, they are so ashamed to admit that they, again, need help. We are told not to associate with people who are using when we’re clean, so we cut them out and blacklist them instead of checking in and offering support. I get it, we all have to protect our own sobriety. But when I look at someone who is using, at this stage in my recovery, the last thing I want to do is join them.

My heart breaks for the desperation they are feeling. For the guilt and the shame, and the pain they are in. The struggle is very real and it never, ever, EVER goes away. No matter how much sober time we have, it never goes away. It’s not something you can put behind you and forget about. It’s not something you can pretend never happened. Some days it’s a tiny mouse on a wheel, turning in your brain in the background. Some days, it’s the elephant, its silence getting louder and louder while it takes up the entirety of your mind. You try to push it out. You try to send it back to the circus. But your life is the circus now. You are stuck in the middle of the center ring and some days the monkey is on your back, and some days you are the monkey.

I imagine that scene in the Little Mermaid where Ariel signs her voice away to Ursula, and then is forced to watch in painful silence as what should have been her life unfolds in front of her. That’s sort of what it’s like. You watch your friends and peers grow and find their way, while you drag yourself around the same worn and beaten path until you wind up in jail, an institution, or you lose the fight and you die.

And if addiction is the dilapidated house on a nice street, then heaven must be the most beautiful mansion any of us have ever seen. I imagine every soul that we have lost coming out on to the lawn, arms out stretched to greet the newest resident as they arrive. Tupac talked about “Thugs Mansion”, where he imagined all of the gang bangers and G’s would go when they died. “Ain’t no heaven for a thug”, he rapped. I picture Addict’s Mansion the same way.

“Dear Mama, don’t cry, your baby boy’s doing good. Tell the homies I’m in heaven and they ain’t got hoods.” -Tupac

Instead I imagine a place where they are no drugs, no needles, no earthly struggles. We don’t need to use because all of our problems evaporated the minute we left our old lives behind. We don’t have a void, that hole we talk about, that we need to constantly fill with narcotics, then food, then shopping, then gambling. That hole seems to always be there. I’ve been emptying mine out for years now, and it’s amazing how much shit can fit into that hole. People talk about finding good and positive things to fill it with. I picture it more like a stomach that stretches to accommodate all the garbage we shove inside it. And just like when someone has bariatric surgery, and their stomach is cut into a much smaller hole, I believe that the hole needs to shrink until there is nothing left. I don’t want to fill the hole with positive things, I want to eliminate the hole and never have to worry about how full it is and the quality of its contents.

I like to think when we arrive at Addict’s Mansion, that hole vanishes. We are finally free and at peace. Our addictions leave us and we don’t need to use drugs to feel whole and complete because in heaven there is nothing but wholeness and completion. That’s where my friends are today. Sitting around a bonfire, shooting the shit, remembering the good times and feeling free from all the bad times.

There are roads in my town that I stopped driving down after some friends passed away, because I couldn’t handle it. I learned to subconsciously reroute around town. I’m not going to do that anymore. It kills me to think I will never see any of those friends outside their houses again. I will never see Buckley on his skateboard, or Mat fixing his quad, or Marc kicking the soccer ball or washing his car. But I will drive by and I will remember them all so that I never forget.

My house today is still recovering from the time when addiction lived here. There are still some weeds in my lawn, a few shingles missing off my roof, but slowly and surely I repair the damage. My friends and family help to hand me the tools I need to rebuild. The program of recovery I work is the blueprint for construction. My sobriety is the currency that pays for all the supplies.

I don’t have to live that life anymore. My friends and family don’t need to watch me die. Standing in that funeral home, over and over again, for too many young lives lost, I know for sure that I don’t ever want my mother and my family to stand in that room for me. Not anytime soon.

Because I know for certain that we can rebuild. We can and do recover.

Just think of all the people that you knew in the past,
That passed on, they in heaven, found peace at last.
Picture a place that they exist, together.
There has to be a place better than this, in heaven.
So right before I sleep, dear God, what I’m askin’
Remember this face, save me a place, in [Addict’s] mansion.

©Copyright 2018 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Theft In Addiction: We’re ALL Guilty

Theft is a huge piece of the puzzle that is addiction. The vast majority of addicts, especially opiate addicts, have stolen something from someone or somewhere at some point in their active addiction. Whether it’s a few dollars from a parent or spouse’s wallet, a pawned piece of jewelry, or an old laptop, most of us are guilty of stealing at one point or another. When we think about theft in addiction, we typically think about the taking of a physical object that does not belong to us. However, that isn’t the only kind of stealing that we do in our addictions.

I recently had an experience with an addict who felt that she was better than the rest of us because as she put it, “I don’t steal”. Apparently she was independently wealthy, or able to maintain employment during her addiction and somehow was able to support her own habit. This is extremely rare, as even the wealthiest of celebrity addicts have used themselves broke in very short order. So this particular addict felt above those of us who have stolen during our addiction.

My father, who generally doesn’t have much to do with the deep and dirty details of my addiction and recovery, is the one who actually put the true nature of theft during addiction into perspective for me some years ago. Even though I never “stole” any money from my dad, unlike the countless dollar taken from my mother’s wallet and endless amounts of her jewelry that I pawned, my dad still felt violated and that he had been stolen from.

He explained that any money he had given me for spending money, bills, or other expenses that I in turn spent on drugs, was money stolen from him. He gave me that money for a specific purpose, and that purpose was NOT to buy drugs. To him, every dollar that I spent on drugs that came from his wallet, even though he had willingly given it to me, was money stolen.

But what about the things that money cannot buy? What about the time that is lost while using? I bet my mom would say that I stole what adds up to years worth of time that we could’ve spent together. She would say that I stole many nights of peaceful sleep from her. I stole her peace of mind. I stole her sanity.

These are all intangible things, things that can’t be measured in dollars and cents, but they are just as real and just as valuable, if not more, than any amount of money that I stole.

Worse still, I stole something more valuable than all of that from not only my mom and dad, but my brother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my friends, and anyone who knew me. I stole their TRUST. Trust can be easy to gain, and even implied among family members. However, once it is gone, it can be impossible to regain it.

I was banned from the homes of family members for years, because I stole that trust from them. I was not allowed to carry cash by my parents for years, because I stole that trust from them. Everywhere I went, everything I did, every word I said, had to be questioned. Even months into sobriety, I couldn’t be trusted to do something as simple as drive to pick up the Chinese food from around the corner. The theft of that trust is the most valuable thing I ever stole, and I took it from more people than I can count.

We steal so much in our addictions that can’t be measured.

Time, friendship, relationships, and trust are just a few of the non-monetary things we steal during our addictions. Money, electronics, cars, jewelry, all of those physical things can be replaced, and in some cases quite easily. The real theft is the emotional toll we put on those around us. There isn’t a single one of us who lived through an addiction that didn’t steal some sanity from the people who love and care about us.

So to any addict out there who feels “better than” because they’ve never been in a pawn shop or lifted a few bills from someone else’s wallet, just remember that the things you stole are just as real, and just as valuable. And until you understand and own that, you’ll never be able to repair the damage and you’ll never truly live life in recovery.

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

She Will Be Loved: My Heroin Anthem

Music plays a big role in many of our lives, because it is so versatile and can be interpreted to fit any situation that we may be going through. Many love songs have been written over the years that are actually about drugs and addiction. For me, my addiction has always felt like an abusive relationship, so whenever I hear a song on the radio that speaks to romance, my first thought is always the torrid and dangerous relationship I’ve had with heroin.

My heroin anthem, which is probably very surprising to a lot of people, is a song that I’m pretty sure is not about drugs or addiction at all. That song is Maroon 5, “She Will Be Loved”. As we go through the lyrics, you’ll see what I mean.

Beauty queen of only eighteen
She had some trouble with herself

I was eighteen when my addiction started, so we open the song where my disease began. I have struggled with mental illness all of my life, since childhood, so you could say I’ve always had some trouble with myself.

I drove for miles and miles and wound up at your door
I’ve had you so many times but somehow I want more

My stomping grounds were all the way out in Waterbury, which is quite a few miles from where I live. I have found myself driving there so many times. And no matter how many times I rendezvous with my lover, my addiction, my drug of choice, and no matter how many times it hurts me and the people I love, I still want more.

I don’t mind spending every day
Out on your corner in the pouring rain
Look for the girl with the broken smile
Ask her if she wants to stay awhile
And she will be loved
And she will be loved

Every single day of my addiction, I spent waiting for my drug dealer. I’m the girl with the broken smile, literally, because my addiction has caused so much damage to my teeth. Metaphorically, because my life is a disaster but I always try to be pleasant to drug dealers. When you’re nice, they treat you better.

Tap on my window, knock on my door
I want to make you feel beautiful

They often walk, whether they’ve parked somewhere else and are walking or they’re hanging out somewhere and they’ve sent you to wait nearby. They come and literally tap on my window, or knock on my car door, so I will let them in. Once I’m high, everything is beautiful. I feel beautiful, even though when I am using I am every shade of ugly.

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies
It’s compromise that moves us along, yeah
My heart is full and my door’s always open
You come anytime you want, yeah.

Just like any abusive lover, they try to convince you that all relationships have ups and downs. They try to make you feel like the bad isn’t so bad, and the good is SO good. The compromise is that I give my life in exchange for a short time of feeling okay. Of feeling beautiful, full, and empty at the same time.

I know where you hide alone in your car
Know all of the things that make you who you are
I know that goodbye means nothing at all
Comes back and begs me to catch her every time she falls

And I sit, alone, in my car, tying off my veins with a auxiliarycable. If it’s night time I might have to pull out my flashlight. Heroin becomes everything you are. It makes you who you are, at that time, because everything that is the real you is depleted by the drug. I say goodbye, every single time, and I always come back. When things are bad, when things are good. When I am celebrating, when I am mourning. I fall, and I am caught by the warm wings of the angels who wrap me up in desperation and despair.

Tap on my window knock on my door
I want to make you feel beautiful

Another day, another tap on the window. Some dealers became so close to me that they actually let me into their homes, in which case, I would be knocking on their door.

Please don’t try so hard to say goodbye

Every time I try to say goodbye to my addiction, it pulls me back. Its grip is so tight, so warm, and yet so cold, it holds on for dear life. For my life. The fight is on going.

Every day when I wake up, I have to make the choice to say goodbye. Because if I go back to that corner, back to the pouring rain, I lose my ability to make that choice. When the addiction takes over, there are no choices left to make.

This song speaks to me so deeply, I feel like it was written specifically for me. Every love song I hear makes me think of heroin, because I’ve never loved anyone the way I loved my drug of choice. I would never stay in a relationship with someone who harmed me, physically, emotionally, and every other way imaginable. But when heroin does it, I find a way to look past it. I accept the unacceptable.

I heard this song on the radio today, and it just struck me that no one else knows this hidden meaning that it has for me. That even when I am not thinking about my addiction, I’m still thinking about it. It lives in my subconscious, and I have to actively fight it throughout the day to keep myself from getting on that highway.

Please don’t try so hard to say goodbye

I am trying, every day, to say goodbye.

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin