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Monday mornings can be rough. I have to drag myself out of my warm bed and into the fluorescent lights of my desk job. I work in an office (not a "Wolf-of-Wall-Street" kind of place, but the kind with casual Fridays and potluck lunches), and like most people, I really hate Mondays. Except, I especially despise them because they represent that awkward transitional point where my one life ends and another starts up.
When my co-workers ask about my weekend (which, they of course will do because it’s an office and they are nice people), I may say that I went to a farmer’s market (true) and saw a movie (true), and then I’ll ask about their kid’s soccer game, because I know they’re dying to talk about their kid’s goal. But in my weekly weekend recap, I will inevitably leave out the part where I went out did a ton of drugs.
And I don’t mean drugs, as in hitting up a bong while watching Netflix and eating Doritos. My drugs of choice happen to be miniature mountains of cocaine and opiates that find their way up my nose on Friday and Saturday nights. And since this is a world where we talk about hard drugs in very black and white terms, it’s not easy to explain how I live an otherwise normal life as a 30-year-old professional and still manage to use them without sounding like I’m in denial about a problem.
If you believe in after-school specials or the usual rhetoric about narcotics, you’d think that anyone who has ever touched a crack pipe or a needle ends up dead or in rehab. There’s no denying that there are people who hit this rock bottom, and that it’s a grueling climb back up. I understand that addiction is a real risk to anyone who dabbles in intoxicants, whether it’s heroin, cigarettes, or alcohol, and I’m not immune. In fact, it’s this constant fear of falling over the precipice into junkie-land that shuts down that irrational voice in my head egging me on to do just one more line (just a small line, just one more) at the end of typical dope-fueled night. On the flip side, I know others who have sworn off booze and drugs for good, and it takes the bravest people in the world to uphold that kind of conviction in a society that simultaneously celebrates and condemns the party life.
For me, I get immense enjoyment from using, and I occasionally turn to my vices for the same reasons most people do legal or softer drugs (and don’t even try to convince me that vodka isn’t a drug, because really. REALLY). I like coke because it makes me feel engaged, confident, socially at ease, and maybe even kind of charming and funny in situations where I have to talk to people who may find me awkward and unattractive. In fact, I’m probably doing bumps in the bathroom while you’re ordering another round of shots at the bar for the same reasons.
And I love Vicodin because it sinks me into a warm pool of calmness after a miserable week of getting chewed out at work, when someone else might smoke a bowl of weed or go on a chocolate cupcake binge. I’m not saying that turning to any substance in general is the most effective way to manage the stuff life throws at you or that it’s appropriate in every situation, but it can soften the blows and even provide some moments of clarity in the relief.
Of course, illicit drugs mean different things and consequences to different people. While I’m a woman and a visible minority, my experiences are nonetheless steeped in a kind of privilege that is worlds away from the systematic discrimination experienced by the most poor, dark-skinned, and unfairly persecuted users in the game.
I grew up in an affluent suburb with parents who supported me through an extended education that helped get me started in my grown-up life. I do my coke and pills after the dishes have been done, the credit card has been paid, and I’ve cleaned out the last piece of mail from my inbox. I know that I’m ridiculously lucky to have been born into a situation where I’ve been given the opportunity to have this balance in the first place.
I’ve met lots of people who were not so fortunate. Ironically, one of my first jobs after college was at a drug rehab clinic where users were either sent as part legal sentencing, or willingly entered because they had hit rock bottom. Either way, being scrutinized and having your most shameful moments laid out in the open is a frightening and dehumanizing experience.
Patients had to deal with the physical and psychological detox process, but also the stigma of being “in recovery.” It’s a label that haunts people forever in the legal and medical system, as well as in their personal lives since they’re expected to stay 100% sober in order to be counted as a “success,” which is insanely difficult for a lot of patients. I quit the clinic shortly after one “repeat customer” threw a chair at my head after missing his methadone appointment yet again.
What I learned from working with addicts however, was that despite the destruction caused by drugs, the big picture is more complicated than what it seems. I’ve been around plenty of people who use without ending up in a violent rage. In fact, rehab specialists are equipped to deal with a plethora of mental health issue besides straight-up addiction because they so often occur together.
Drugs can be bad, but a lot of the bad stuff happens when folks combine drugs with other drugs, or if they’re suffering from a lack of sleep, or maybe an underlying condition like schizophrenia or anxiety. These things can be managed if they’re treated as a whole package, but it’s much easier to instead pin the entire blame and the solution on the substance itself.
It’s hard to believe unless you know people like me, but despite the tragedies experienced by the bottomed out drug users, I’m actually a part of a larger group of closeted people who can occasionally get their fix while also keeping it together. Except that I’m not supposed to exist because responsible, casual users complicate the currently accepted narrative about stimulants and opiates that says you’re either an addict, a recovering addict, or you’re someone who stays the hell away from it all.
This kind of abstinence-based framework works for some, but it also keeps people like me in the shadows unless it gets to the point where I need professional help or run into trouble with the law (a threat turns me into a jittery lunatic whenever I go to pick up).
Even my closest friends -- the ones I get together with to watch "Game of Thrones" or bake cookies -- don’t know much what I do when I’m with my other friends or having “date nights” with my life partner (in-crime). The few times I’ve let it slip about being high in the wrong company, people look as if I’d just told them I love tattooing pentacles on puppies, or that I’ve been thinking about jumping off a freeway bridge. It’s incredibly hard talking about drugs with non-users without the strong emotions, stigma, and myths that people bring with them to the table thanks to decades of abstinence promotions.
Although I can’t shake the healthy fear that I may one day hit my own rock bottom like the patients I used to work with, I’ve been getting responsibly high on-and-off since I was 16; I’ve been a recreational narcotics user through grad school, several promotions, and a happy marriage. I don’t plan on dropping my habit any time soon because I don’t have a problem.
No, seriously, I‘m happy and well-adjusted and I don’t have a problem. I do however, really wish that on Monday morning at the water cooler, I knew who else was in the same boat because I’d love to take them out for a coffee and maybe talk to them about what it’s like.