Step 1: I Suck At Life


A photo by Tim Marshall.

I remember wanting to stop more than I wanted to take the pills, but will power wasn’t enough because my biology is different.  I remember keeping a strict schedule with the kids so that every four hours, when my skin started itching and I wanted to Houdini out of myself, I had peace and quiet to help ease me into that narcotic hug.

8am:  TV time.  Take 20mg of oxy and let it trickle into the blood that bedtime kept clean.  Strawberry Shortcake had the same effect on the kids.  We zoned out together, as a family.

Noon:  Rush them through lunch, hurry them into their beds, plop onto the big gray sofa, and take another 20mg.  The constant unyielding drive to make my life feel better made it impossible for anyone to exhale around me.  God forbid one of them resist sleep.  How dare you rob my high from me.

4pm:  Quiet time, which I still enact today, but now it’s so can read or prep dinner instead of melting into the sofa with narcotics, and Dr. Phil.  Dr. Phil is it’s own kind of opiate.

8pm:  Bed time.  I would purposefully go longer than the prescribed four hours sometimes, stepping right up to the edge of sanity, so that when I took the 20mg I felt that womb-y rush a little more like a wave and a little less like a ripple.

I know they advise against mixing narcotics with Vodka, but they probably don’t know how great it feels.  Sometimes I drank.  Often I drank.

Toward the end I was usually a day or five behind the prescription refill, but I had amassed a stash from all the surgeries and medical procedures.  Stealing Ambien from David worked in a pinch.

Toward the end I never felt the waves because I had sunk completely under, like when you dive under the white water and settle into the calm against the sandy ocean floor. I hadn’t breathed in years, since the bone marrow transplant.

Toward the end David left work early and often because I regularly nodded off or needed help with withdrawal symptoms.  How did he manage promotions and raises with a sunken wife?  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you, David.

My life was unmanageable, I couldn’t keep going—that’s all I knew.

I also knew that normal people didn’t need three laxatives a day to keep their bowels moving.  And maybe it wasn’t normal to have a 3-year-old who scratched her body, or a social & spiritual life dissolve away.

Once upon a time I decorated a home for Christmas without Adderall, I know that happened.  What about all the Elton John I used to play as I bopped around the house?  What happened to sex with my husband?

Ohhh, right, oxy replaced all of that.  No need for best friends and morning walks when pharmaceuticals rested in the little porcelain box on the side table next to the gray sofa.

My first morning in rehab, after a night in the Shake Shack (where one goes to shake from withdrawal), I woke up skipping because I could see the surface of the water for the first time in two years.  The filtered, green-blue light whipped my insides into a life-y froth.  I heard voices and music again.  Muffled, but audible.

Then Olive, the tall, southern, and slightly-Buddhist chaplain handed out a worksheet at my first inpatient session.  Only seven weeks prior they ripped my baby boy out of me in an emergency c-section, he flipped breach at the last minute, after my water broke at 10cm dilated—I labored right up to the end.


He knew I needed help, too.  And so he ruined what would have been a perfect delivery.  We could’ve left the hospital before his withdrawal symptoms showed up, before they called social services.

In the big room full of bare faces and even barer souls I sat on a pillow on the floor to help with the pain from my half-natural, half c-section delivery.  Oxy would help take away the pain from the pink incision and chemo-fried nerves, but oxy would also drag me back down into the cold, lonely, quiet abyss.

Olive walked through the first of twelve steps: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/oxy/adderall/exercise/control/food/love/sex/power/fear/nicotine/marijuana/everything—that our lives had become unmanageable.

I will never feel more safe or more at home than in room full of addicts, a room full of people unafraid to admit defeat, humanity, and fear.  Turns out, nodding off with your children playing near-by and putting your son in the NICU qualifies as an unmanageable existence.  Which was such a relief.  I don’t have to hold it all up anymore.

Wait, nobody’s really holding it all up, are they?  So, we all need help?

Oh I could get used to this.  I inhaled and exhaled every day in rehab.  I drank way too much sleepy time tea because Ambien is a crutch, they told me.  They encouraged meditation or reading instead, which was hilarious.

“I hear you, but there is a very angry lady in the Shake Shack who is in fact shaking, and smells like kimchi, and maybe mentioned punching anyone who turned on the light again.  And if I get punched with a healing abdominal wound I’m sure I would need oxy but this is rehab, you see the dilemma don’t you?  So please give me some Ambien.”

“Sweetie, I can give you chocolate and a hug.”  The night nurse smiled kindly.

“God-damn it.”  Rehab is where I learned to curse.  People in recovery swear because we can’t drink and we don’t give a rip what anyone thinks of us.

“Fine, I’ll take the chocolate.  And the hug.”


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  1. Claire…….I had no idea that you were in this “place” in your life! God has delivered you in a mighty way…….I am so

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