The reason I write is to reach people and share stories worth telling. Below is one of the most honest things I've ever shared, a comprehensive summary of the 18-ish months I spent trying out a lifestyle that was quite bad. It was one of my rock bottoms, but certainly not the only one I've met.
I'm not proud of anything that happened during this time in my life, but I'm grateful for what I learned from it. I quote Discourses as a way to connect you with the lessons I walked away with; I'm truly lucky to be alive and free.
Currently, I'm a law-abiding citizen and productive member of society.
My Short Existence Outside the Law
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, Book II, ch. 17
I had a criminal period in my life that I deeply regret, but also wouldn’t trade for the world. More was learned, in that short time, than the sixteen years of public school that preceded it.
Don’t worry, fair reader, I didn’t murder anyone.
I was guilty by association and negligence. As a result, I became an observer in my own life, as it imploded around me. Without these experiences, I would have never acquired the perseverance that’s kept me alive since; I couldn’t have become the woman I am, and I’m not sure who I would be instead.
Who really knows who we’d be if things played out differently? There are many ways our lives build us, but also many ways in which our character persists when we endure the toughest challenges. No one is born a blank slate, and much as I wasn’t predetermined to become a sociopath, I also refrained from making the choices that would send me down that narrow road, with no recourse to recover.
“A bull is not made suddenly, neither is a brave man; but we
must discipline ourselves in the winter for the summer, and
not carelessly run toward anything which doesn’t concern us.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, Book I, ch. 2
When I went to college, I was coming from years of abuse from my mother and father. I was raw, weak, and had no support system to lean on. Much of what I went through, years of criticism, insults, and blatant harm, was unresolved. To put it bluntly, even though I put on a brave face, I was a prime target for the things to come.
During my first semester away at school, I got mixed up with a coked-out bisexual woman. She was a washed-up tennis star, opiate addict, and purveyor of all things drug-related. In our time together, she proved to be a liar, a thief, lazy, and an electrifying codependent. I was in over my head and had no clue.
The first time I saw her, she stood outside the school’s dining hall, staring back at me. On her forearm was a fresh tattoo of The Eye of Providence, an eye within a triangle within a circle. She had spiked red hair, heavy eye makeup, and a penetrating gaze. I didn’t realize it then, but she did this stare down routine to everyone. She cast a net just to see who she could ensnare or who would willingly respond. She stared through me, like she could see all the messed-up gunk underneath my shabby exterior. It felt like she sized me up to be the right fit, but that was merely the effect she had on people who lacked a secure identity and self-esteem. Her followers were a ragtag bunch and none of us got along.
I clamored to be the top friend, her girlfriend to boot. It made me the singular person who was the most used, although all of her so-called friends were victimized by her one way or another. She acquired a group of at least twenty different college students and coworkers, the members revolved as the weeks and months passed. Being with her felt like real friendship, like giving, but it was akin to being sucked dry by a parasite.
She must have been to prison, juvenile hall, or simply had really good lessons in being a manipulator. On one hand, she was so lost and she knew it, but on the other, she was always squeezing the last drop from anyone she could. There were times when her mask slipped, and she seemed like a completely different person, a vulnerable girl with interests and dreams. Her true self seemed so weak compared to her tough, butch front, and it disgusted me. Her exposed identity reminded me of my own shortcomings and weakness, and for that reason, I preferred her predatory personality. Something about it made me feel strength, whether it was my confidence in her ability to get what she wanted, or just a weird, misplaced sense of security.
We were together for almost two years. We sponged off one another and got high.
She introduced me, and a guy from her job, to oxy on the back of a toilet in a gas station bathroom. She made lines out of the pill and only gave us a little bit. I thought it wouldn’t be enough, but I was very wrong. The rest of the day, we tubed down a river, and I felt messed up and anxious. It was too strong. I had snorted too much, and couldn’t function. I smoked too many cigarettes and felt like I was hung over.
I wish my initial distaste, and slight overdose, would have stopped me from doing any future substances with her, but it didn’t. Even when I had a splitting headache, dehydration, and disorientation from the afternoon on the river, part of me was already hooked.
We continued to do pain pills in the following weeks and months. At first, it was like a fantasy. The chemicals in my brain that were released were like none I had ever experienced. If I hadn’t lived in toxic stress throughout my childhood and teens, if I ever felt loved and welcomed by my parents, or if I had experienced love for myself and others, the drug wouldn’t have transformed me so quickly. Being high was like I was instantly capable and lovable.
My grades in school went up. The release of endorphins gave me confidence and kindness. I made mental connections I couldn’t have otherwise. For once, I felt like emotions were something I could contribute to and control. I’m sure much of what I experienced was just the drugs talking, but I had been chronically depressed since I was very young, and nothing had ever lifted the haze so expertly and completely. Antidepressants didn’t save me from the abuse I suffered, nor did therapists or psychiatrists, but opiates somehow blocked out the entire, resultant system of self-loathing within my neurons.
From the way I negotiated society, it was obvious I never had attachment to my parents or family, as they kept me in a constant state of trying to earn their affection. This pattern was one I repeated within my day-to-day interactions, always feeling subverted, as if my existence was an inconvenience or annoyance. Living like this was draining, and I didn’t have the capacity to compete in school, nor did I have the chops to survive on my own. I felt as if everything I ever did was wrong, lacking, or below average.
With oxy, I no longer felt pathetic and flawed. In the beginning, it was like being drunk, but not sloppy. There were moments in my life when I thought I was beautiful. No longer was one painful second followed by the next. It quieted the voices in my head who cut me down in a never-ending song of disappointment. Energy flowed. I felt excited by things. I lost shame. Possibilities seemed within my reach.
It didn’t last. The euphoria faded and need replaced novelty. My emotions became erratic as addiction set in. My drive for pills overshadowed everything else. I was sick without them. Anything outside of getting high became trivial, details became less important, and many things that used to be deal breakers, stopped mattering as much. I stood by and watched her steal, marveling at her lack of conscience, but also astounded by her understanding of human behavior. She was like an expert on other people, always guessing what they would do, always knowing what would be seen, and what would be ignored.
One muggy evening, she picked up a bike in front of the library, one that someone had only left there for a moment. She jumped on it and rode away. She stole that bike, right in front of my eyes. Later, she sold it, and bought pills from the profits. A few days after she unloaded the bike, she twisted reality, and created a new lie as another way to make fast cash. While I sat next to her in a gas station parking lot, she called her mother and spun a story. She blabbered on, saying her bike was stolen, and pretended to be upset. The same day, her mother transferred money into her bank account and we bought more pills.
It was expensive to be addicted, and trying to keep up with the cost was like trying to catch a race horse by chasing after it on foot. We had a brief windfall, when she filled a fake prescription for Vicodin at a small, neighborhood pharmacy. It was written on a stolen prescription pad, and split with addicts that lived outside the city in a trailer. Told you I was a criminal. I stood by and let her do it, worried like mad that she would be arrested. I should have walked away from the relationship that day, as I couldn’t stop her from making the deal and filling the script, but I was too attached and too afraid to be alone.
The Vicodin lasted for a while. She gave me a few here and there, and others she made me buy off of her. I became jealous of her during this time, for several reasons. She became more and more popular, while I began to stagnate. I had a crush on one of her coworkers, and he drew her this fantastic picture she hung above the bed. That was just one of our problems, of which we had many, and every day, there were more reasons on why I should leave her. I never treated my mother like an ATM, at least not to the capacity she did hers.
Her mother was an enabler, always falling, in one way or another, for the sob story, and sending money when asked. The woman was quick, but my girlfriend was quicker, manipulating words and knowing exactly what buttons to push to get the dollars flowing.
The pills dried up a few times and I became ill; I couldn’t sleep and my entire body ached. Before getting hooked, I didn’t have chronic pain, except for psychological pain. Being in withdrawal was physical, it felt like being stabbed from every angle. It hurt too much to sleep in bed, so I would go downstairs, we lived in a two-story condo at the time, and lay on the sofa. When I closed my eyes, I heard blood pumping in my ears and felt pressure in my sinuses. It seemed so loud and I felt lightheaded. The entire room spun, I was dizzy, like I had the flu, and my thoughts became muddled.
When we got pills again, it was like the cloud lifted. The sickness took a brief reprieve and we were back on the horse again.
After a few more months of her squeezing her mother and I dry, her mother put her foot down, and I too, encouraged my girlfriend to get a job. She was fired from the one she had when we first got together, as well as her next job, and then stayed job-free for almost six months. I worked full-time during this period, and she would beg me for $60 daily for pills.
She lost her first job because she wasn’t showing up, but she had also been stealing from the register. She had a complicated system, where she rang up a food order, got the payment, sent the order to the kitchen, and then, if the customer paid cash, she would cancel the sale after the fact. She kept a tally of approximately how much she was over in her drawer, and then snuck the bills out when no one was looking. Before moving to the condo, she moved another woman into our laundry room, a woman with four cats, who worked at the same restaurant and taught her the drawer-swiping scam.
I told her not to do it and that she’d be caught and send to jail. She didn’t listen, kept doing it instead, and one day got fired.
Next, she worked at a gas station and stole from the register multiple times. She was fired there too, but I can’t remember if they discovered her stealing, or if she was calling in too much.
There’s a lot of details I can’t remember from my months on opiates. I was eighteen and nineteen years old, and when I was finally clean, it felt like someone had taken a permanent marker and blacked out every single day of my life up until then. Sure, I knew things happened, but taking those pills, in combination with all the other recreational drugs we did, severely inhibited my capacity for memory.
Just before I got away for good, her mother had put her foot down again. My girlfriend, or rather, my codependent nightmare, had to get another job to pay bills and keep the habit up. She decided to join me in the dredges of retail and got a job in a large department store.
Things looked up and she got really happy. All of a sudden, I started hearing about her new friend. Soon, we were invited to party at this friend’s home by the beach. I was happy for her, she finally seemed like she had some hope.
Her new friend was dumpy. The woman had thick glasses and permed hair stacked on her head, dyed dark brown. Everything about her was flabby, even her personality. She doted on my druggie partner, right in front of me, and they seemed beyond close.
What once would have thrown me into a jealous rage, gave me a cool sense of calm. Finally, I smelled my exit. What I couldn’t articulate then, but I know now, was this woman felt a motherly need or urge to fix the drug addict that I had shacked up with. I didn’t realize that my own actions were based on insecurities playing out as an underlying desire to save others. Lucky for me though, I survived long enough for her to find a new target.
Whether she meant to or not, she stumbled upon someone who was even more pathetic than I was when we met. I should have known better to get mixed up with her in the first place; the public service announcements I grew up with should have been enough to steer me away from an addict. When she began to sponge off of me, and our relationship grew rocky in the formative phase, that was another red flag I should have acknowledged and used as a lever to break free. I had found the wrong person, the worst person, but I didn’t stop myself. It was too easy to be weak and codependent, and too risky to be strong. I felt such emptiness because I was single, and such aloneness because I had no self-esteem to fall back on. I knew better, but I didn’t know how to know better.
I imagine the woman from the department store was in a similar situation, though our lives were much different. How could someone spend sixty years on earth and be so lonely? Perhaps she only became so around that time, after a loss, and found herself a willing participant. She basically volunteered to give up on her own life to invest in someone else’s.
The new friend was a bit sour and gruff, and I found her unpleasant to be around. Perhaps that was just what I felt because she spent most of the party glaring at me. When we were about to leave, she begged my girlfriend not to go and began to cry. It was awkward, but it gave me confirmation. To me, she was a gift from God.
I believed I could leave without much consequence, as she would have someone new to latch onto instead. Don’t get me wrong, the new woman and I both should have known better, and there’s no excuse for my actions nor hers. In fact, the pill-head thief herself should have always known better, and sought help for her addiction long before we ever crossed paths. However, we all chose to be weak in our own ways.
In the days leading up to my departure, I couldn’t afford to buy additional pills, so I was stepping down the dose without being obvious. I also stopped buying them for her, which made her very angry, and caused a lot of arguments. She got physical. Once, she pushed me up against a wall and strangled me when I refused to give her money. She strangled me again when she found out I was texting a guy behind her back. My attraction to women dwindled. My initial fascination was based on it being a forbidden interaction, and once that wore off, there was nothing there.
My departure wasn’t graceful. I found myself with huge holes in my life and small chemical dependencies that lasted for years after the relationship ended. My pain tolerance sank to levels beneath that of a toddler. To this day, I swear opiate pain medication only exists to get people high, and does nothing to decrease the pain, while simultaneously making people’s ability to withstand physical pain plummet. It’s no wonder why the addiction was so powerful.
I moved a lot after that, not able to find housing within my budget that was stable. I met a man who proceeded to break my heart every few months, and dated here and there in between rounds with him. Though I was out of one abusive relationship, I still had issues with my confidence and sense of self.
I internalized a lot of negativity about myself, most of which came from my father, although much came from my mother as well. My father never taught me to treat my body or myself with respect, nor to love or value my contributions to the world. Furthermore, he didn’t teach me I had any intrinsic worth. More than anything, he reminded me that I was worthless, pathetic, disgusting, and I should take whatever man I could get, as no man in his right mind would want me. Yes, he said those very words to me on more than one occasion, even remarking how I was an “old maid” at twenty-three, because I hadn’t yet married anyone. It’s been thirteen years since he chirped that, and I’m about how old he was when he said it to me, maybe a few years south. I couldn’t imagine saying that to a young woman who has her entire life ahead of her, no matter how ugly or gross she may seem to be. If anything, when I see someone struggle, I want to lift them up, so they know to value themselves. I hate the mistakes I made because of low self-worth and want that for no one.
My mother wasn’t much different. She washed her hands of me when I turned 18. She acted as if it was a privilege to know her, one I had no right to earn. I worked two jobs, but she criticized my laziness constantly. She berated me for having no self-esteem, but any time I had confidence, she did her best to knock it out of me.
My ex-girlfriend died in 2014 at age 29. Three years before she died, she was convicted of running a “drug house” at the beach.
It was the same type of “drug house” I used to get my drugs from occasionally, during the time after I had pried myself away from her. I used more mundane substances, like weed and alcohol, until I finally made my way through the repercussions of addiction. After a while, I had to step down and off those too.
I remember the last day I did any bit of an oxy, I told myself, “Okay, this is it, you won’t get sick, and you’ll never do this again.”
It wasn’t quite cold turkey, but I was proud I stopped on my own.
Five or six years later, in an attempt to earn my father’s respect, I told him about my addiction and how hard it was to quit. He looked at me and said, “That didn’t happen, don’t lie,” and excused himself from his own front porch. The man couldn’t see me for who I was, even if I was the only other person on Earth.
There are a lot of abused people in our world and there are a lot of paths that lead to addiction. Part of it, for me, was my wild side. What can I say? A life of abuse left me partial to a thrill. I didn’t mention it, but I have stories about tripping on strong hallucinogens in public while dating her. We went to Disney World on my 19th birthday, while rolling on molly. There were all night adventures with the entire group, whoever it contained at the time, that ended at the beach. We attended massive parties, drag shows, and I saw RuPaul perform live at a club, before she was a household name. We smoked opium out of a PVC pipe a few times, and she drove drunk, chucking beer bottles out of her car window on the highway. There were times when I felt more alive than I ever had. It wasn’t all bad being with her, and any time I take to reflect upon these dances with fate, I’m shocked I’m still alive.
If you made it to the end of this, I hope you understand that even though I’m still a bit of a thrill-seeker, I’m no longer codependent or an addict. If you’re struggling with self-esteem, addiction, or codependency, you can overcome this. The strength to survive this world comes from inside ourselves.
“It is circumstances which show what men are. Therefore, when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man.” – Epictetus, Discourses, Book I, ch. 24