Addiction is one of those things that so many people claim to understand but…
I have encountered some very ugly, very scary, and very lonely individuals throughout my life. It is no secret that I too have been one of those people. Addiction is one of those things that so many people claim to understand, but unless you have lived it, you have no idea what you’re really explaining. I could write for a million lifetimes and still not cover everything that I have thought and felt throughout my journey. It’s literally like living multiple lives in multiple dimensions. But I try my best, as I felt led to, to write about my experiences. And for some reason this one has been surfacing and resurfacing in my mind…
I have always been what is known today as an Empath. I have always felt people. I have always had a heart for others. I rooted for the underdogs in sports and in Movies. I grew up a child in Georgia, and as all kids in Georgia do, I loved the Atalanta Braves. I remember watching the 90’s Braves teams in the playoffs one year with my dad as they played the Pirates. Now, I don’t really remember the circumstances, but I’m sure it was in our favor, but the manager came out to the mound to pull the pitcher for the Pirates, John Smiley I think was his name- I could be wrong, but that sounds right. And although I was cheering and rooting for the Braves, I remember looking at John’s face on the Television screen and seeing how sad and disappointed he was and I felt his pain. I felt his sadness. And I immediately switched allegiances and started rooting for the Pirates. I have no idea why, maybe because I was like 6 years old and when we’re kids we’re naive, but I did. I also have no idea why I chose to share this with you, but I did. But anyways, the point that I am trying to get to is that I have had this, inexplicable empathy…for everyone. its very strange, its also a priceless gift in my life today. I also cried during “Rudy”. every. single. time I watched it. like 6 months ago even. And Rudy is the single biggest reason I am a Notre Dame fan, to this day. But I digress.
Anyways, the reason I include this little preface to the next portion of my psychobabble, is that I think all of us addicts, no matter how judged, no matter how condemned, no matter how misunderstood we all are- We are all very soft hearted, very vulnerable, very fragile individuals. And because of this, we all get hurt easily, we take longer to heal emotionally, and we tend to endure more and more trauma then most. We also relate to people on deeper levels then we let on, and if you’re anything like me, our gears turn WAY longer than the average “Normie”.
It’s weird to explain this, but if you’re an addict, you certainly understand. It’s like this great riddle of sorts to solve. This whole, “well you’re out here stealing from your grama and family and manipulating people to get heroin, but yet you have this ultra soft heart? Is that what you’re telling me?’ …. Well yeah. It is. Because, once we’re in the grip of active addiction, the life style isn’t intentional. I did’t wake up every day and DECIDE that I was going to rip grama off, or steal a fucking lawnmower. It’s instinctual. Like breathing. I needed my dope, I needed my fix Like we all need air. It’s so very hard to explain, but even though I was living like a scumbag daily, my heart was still very much open to others. And once again, if youre not an addict you probably wont understand.
Even throughout my active addiction, when I was at my lowest, and sleeping on the Red Line or the Blue Line, wandering the streets of Chicago all alone, I always tried my best to save at least 1 or 2 single dollar bills, to hand to other hopeless and lost hurting souls. I thought deep inside of me, that even though I’m out here living the way that I am, doing the things that I’m doing, maybe, just maybe, this one single dollar bill will shine some light into this poor hurting soul’s life and show him or her that someone sees them, that someone acknowledges that they’re there. Once again, I’m not sure why I share these things, or if they even make sense, but I have been thinking alot about this lately so I’m gonna write it. And these open hearted empathetic feelings led me to some of the most heart breaking scenes one could ever imagine. Very closely together I might add.
I had made my way over to Chicago Ave. & Homan yet again. Even after Bud tried to lock me into that little crack shack of his. I had no choice, I was living on instinct. I had to sustain my habit, no matter what the cost. So I did. it was almost like ground hog’s day once again, it was always the same. Hustle, get money, get dope, shit happens, repeat. That much is no secret to anyone who knows what drugs are. And this was just like any other day, maybe I had come up with like 50$ somehow, which was my “try to get to” amount with each run, so I could get a piece of crack as well as some dope to come down and not be sick with. And I had. So my routine stayed right in line. I got to the spot, got my shit, cheeked it, and went on my way. Next came the next challenge, find a fucking place to smoke and get high where 1: no cops will see me and 2: no fellow dope fiends will bother me for a hit, cuz I always said yes unless it was my absolute last hit. So where to go? You would think that I would have these places down pat, and I did, but so did every other junkie on the west side and it was all on a first come first serve basis and they were almost always occupied. And this time it was no different. So I ended up settling for a Dumpster that was enclosed in like a brick horseshoe shaped alcove behind the family dollar right there on Chicago Ave. The squeeze was tight, but I went ahead and tried, barely able to slink between the green iron of the dumpster and the brick wall beside it, and just behind the dumpster was a very small, but manageable spot that I could do my thing at, and, no one could see me. Shit this will work. So on I went. Prepared my stuff and did my thing. Barely through my Crack I hear someone coming, so I had to do my best crack head-weird-ass-mannequin- stance so no one in Chicago could hear me breathe. Hopefully they’re just taking the trash out and they’ll go away. No such luck. Fuck. They’re coming back here. How in the fuck am I going to explain this one? Some white kid standing back behind this dumpster all weirded out? I think I’m going to jail….ugh. Going to jail all cracked out is the worst. Didn’t even get to do my Dope yet. Fuck. But, it wasn’t the cops. As soon as this older black gentleman, in wrags similar to mine appeared around the side of the dumpster, I knew I wasn’t going to Cook County Jail. But what was about to happen? He didn’t even say a word. He saw me and I saw him. He didn’t ask me for a hit, he did’t anything other than give me “head nod” to let me know that we see each other and that we’re both “cool”. And I recall very vividly seeing this pain, fear, and loneliness in his eyes. we were the same. We were both broken people. And then he took his shoes and his socks off. And pulled his pants down just a little and leaned against the brick wall. Holy fuck I’ve gotta get outta here, So I finished my hit and pocketed all of my “kit” to GTFO. And as this man finished up shitting all over the ground inches from where I stood, He bent over and picked up his own socks, to wipe himself with, and then pulled his pants back up and put his socks BACK ON, then his shoes, and as he was squeezing back through the dumpster and brick actually spoke back to me and said something like,”I know white boy, but its all I have”. I was absolutely dumbfounded. No way did I just witness that. And as grossed out and disgusted as I was, It’s fucking weird, although I would never do what he just did, I felt his pain, I felt what he said. I had literally just witnessed someone’s lowest, most vulnerable, secret pain. And I felt that. But it smelled horribly bad and I had to get outta here. I am not sticking around the west side for this shit. So I used my “One day fun pass” to hop on the Kimbal/Homan bus back north toward the dunkin donuts that I picked my food out of from the dumpster each night to find a place to shoot my dope and come down. That was way too fucking weird for me for one day.
I swear to God I can’t make this shit up. But just when I thought my day/life couldn’t have gotten any more bizarre or flat our fucked up it did. I remember getting on the bus and heading back toward Diversey & Milwaukee. “Anywhere but here”. And once I found a seat and was able to somewhat chill, I found myself in some kind of stunned disbelief. What in the actual fuck had I just witnessed? Holy cow what kind of life is this? And although I had a million and one thoughts swirling through my head as anyone on uppers does, I kept coming back to that man behind the dumpster. His eyes. The emptiness. The pitiful sadness. He literally had no other choice than to do what he just did…What kind of life had led him to that very point? I cannot even imagine. I stared out the window of the CTA bus and listened to the voice on the speaker name off the stops until mine came. I got off the bus and made my way toward an alley way next to an old Polish bar that I used frequently. I knew it wouldn’t be occupied. And it wasn’t. As I rolled up my sleeve and did my thing, I couldn’t help but think about that poor man. I finished up and collected my items and made my way back toward the “5 points intersection” I think its where Milwaukee, Central Park, and Diversey all intersect. Night was approaching fast and my mind was completely exhausted. My spirit drained. My body sickly and tired. This was all too much. “I cant continue to do this shit” was probably my most common thought throughout my days. And today was no different. I was tired. I was hungry. I was depleted. I couldn’t even make it to the 5-points, and if I did, what then? Who gives a fuck, I’m just gonna find a bench to sit down. I was completely broken. day in and day out. This was just another shitty day during my shitty ass life. I found myself a cold, hard, wooden and bolts bench to sit down on. And before long, I was nodded out asleep.
I came to- I dont know how long later- with someone sitting next to me. It was cold as shit. Late October or Early November, I think. and Dark. But there was a nearby street light and traffic was still on the move so it couldn’t have been that late. This person sitting next to me is someone I weirdly still think about, someone who I pray for some times, like the man behind the dumpster. I hope they both made it out of their own hells and found life again. This person sitting next to me was a woman. A very old looking, very worn out, very smelly, but also, a very kind woman. She was a prostitute. No, I did not engage with this woman, if that’s what you’re thinking. The reason I know she was is because, weirdly, over the next couple days, this woman became my friend. Almost nightly we would end up sitting on this same fucking bench in the same smelly clothes, worn out from the same lifestyles, and weirdly enough, I actually looked forward to it. I was not threatened by her. And she was not threatened by me. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her. This woman was very sad. She had ZERO teeth, I mean zero. She had these little black almost hole looking stubs in her mouth and she may have weighed about 90 pounds. But the thing-physically- that stood out to me most about her was her right pointer finger. It was black. She was white. I don’t know what could have caused this- some kind of horrible infection like Gangreen im sure, but it actually looked like a beef jerky candy cane. As gross as that sounds, that’s the only way to describe it. It was all shriveled up and had the curl on the end like a candy cane. I have always thought that this woman had injected that “Krocodyl” shit and had contracted some kind of flesh eating bacteria. The thought of this poor woman still makes my heart so sad. And we actually would talk. We would find out ways back to this bench on Central Park, and there we would sit. I dont remember what we talked about, junkie stuff I’m sure. But I do remember that she had kids. She did mention that. And I have always wondered about her poor children. Did they even know where she was? Did she even care? And this poor soul, She would sit there, as would I. And Then She would just hop up and say”Ope, I got a date”. I don’t know whats nastier, her selling her ass or the fact that someone was willing to pay for it. But i remember one time in particular, that she got dropped off after one of her “dates”(tricks) and she came walking back up to the bench and said something like, Hell yeah Mother Fucker I just got me 12 dollars”.
Holy shit. I don’t even know what I was feeling or why this memory disturbs me so badly, but it does. This woman, with no teeth, she smelled worse than me, Her finger was rotting, spoke so normally, never really seemed dangerous at all, had kids, and just sold her body. for twelve dollars. I remember felling so much pity for her. I remember feeling so sad. I always seemed to take on the people I met’s pain along with mine, but for whatever reason, I always felt like there was hope for me, but in this moment, this woman here, I felt so hopeless for. Its a very rare and scary feeling to look at a person or a time and realize that there was no hope there. This was one of those times. There are so many people out there like this. Just existing. The man with the socks, the prostitute with the finger, The pregnant girl in the apartment, Bud, This is what addiction does to people. this is what it did to me. This is where it took me. I saw things and people and places that I never thought I would. Its so much more than an egg in a hot skillet and “this is your brain on drugs”. I still think about these poor, sick, sad, and suffering souls. Theyre all apart of me. Theyre all apart of my story and life. And I hope they all made it out. Or at least got to experience love, laughter, and joy once more before they finally nodded out behind a dumpster somewhere for the last time.
People talk about Fucking statistics. Numbers. They talk about us like they’re tallying up an RSVP for a wedding or something. I know that it’s so truly sad that we addicts die. I will never discount it. But its not just that we die. Its how we die. I think about living a day like that poor woman, or having to wipe my ass with my socks and then put them back on so my feet don’t freeze off, and then passing away all alone on a park bench or in an alley. It breaks my heart as I write this. Those people once mattered. They still do. I feel them. I feel their pain. That was someone’s little girl, or Dad. And now they’re probably gone. now they’re probably one of those statistics we read about. God I hope not. I pray that they made it. I know what that hopelessness feels like.
That’s what addiction is. Summed up in two words. It is the stealer of children and hope. I don’t know which is worse. Feeling my own. Or witnessing someone else’s.