(I originally published this on Open Salon. I've completely neglected this blog, but am hoping to get started again. I'll probably have to change the name. Well, here's my start.)
I tried cocaine for the first time when I was 23. At the time, I was living in New York City, working in public relations and reveling in my pre-9/11 Sex and the City lifestyle. I was single, young, and though relatively broke (PR may be an alluring field for a young twentysomething, but it certainly does not pay the big bucks), lived a whirlwind lifestyle of far too many expensive dinners, opening parties, late nights and hungover mornings. I was surounded by a large circle of equally priveleged, fancy friends, most of us recent graduates of prestigious east coast colleges, and all beguiled by our new, adult lives. Clutching my life-giving cup of coffee as I traversed the subway, even my hangovers felt glamorous - a badge of honor after a successful night out in the city.
I grew up in the "Say No to Drugs" '80s, and while I was fully aware of the dangers of using drugs, I have to admit that I barely considered the consequences. In fact, I thought it was all very hip and thrilling, as I sat around a glass table with some of my work colleagues listening to Madonna and snorting small lines of the fine, (and I later learned) very stepped-on powder. I was instantly smitten - cocaine kept me awake so that I could enjoy those late New York nights, gave me that extra boost of confidence, made conversation flow from my tongue like water. It made the edges of everything shimmer.
I never thought that it would become a problem. How's that for a cliche?
But the years passed, and I continued to use cocaine. Initially, I could do only a few lines a night and be good to go, but as anyone who's ever tried the drug knows, soon the desire for it grows, creating a seemingly bottomless need for more and more. I began to use it alone. I moved to Los Angeles from New York, reunited with an old boyfriend, moved in with him, and got a much less glamorous job in education. I soon found a dealer, and then two (in case I couldn't get a hold of the first), and graduated from grams to 8 balls. It crept up on me, the addiction, until one morning I found myself shivering and crying after an all night bender when my boyfriend was out town, my heart feeling as if it would burst out of my chest.
But still I could not stop. I kept my drug use a secret from my boyfriend, and even the friends that I used cocaine with had no idea of the true extent of my use. On the surface, I was a pulled together, successful, responsible adult, but inside I was an obsessive addict, constantly scheming of how I was going to get my next bag. I used cocaine at work and at my parents' house during holidays. I cried in my car, even as my shaking fingers dialed my dealer. I looked up Cocaine Anonymous meetings in my area, joined an online support group for addicts and several times, flushed a bag of coke down the toilet in what would later turn out to be an empty gesture of closure. But still I did not stop.
When I was 30, my boyfriend and I got married. The day of my wedding, as I was getting my hair done and my mother and bridesmaids fluttered around me, I was texting my dealer. Because I had used up all my stash the night before at the rehearsal dinner. I thank God that for whatever reason, he was unavailable that day. I shudder to think of what my memories of my wedding would have been if I had allowed myself to experience it in a drugged-up haze.
On my 31st birthday I was supposed to meet my husband after he got off work for dinner, but I had been home all day snorting coke (even today I get an icky feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of those long, fitful, wasted days) and couldn't even contemplate the notion of eating, let alone getting in the car and actually driving somewhere. I knew that I was a person wasting away inside - here I was, no longer in my twenties, no longer single and able to rationalize my drug use away with the idea that I was just "young and experimenting." I couldn't bring myself to confess my problem to my husband or my friends, and the weight of keeping this horrible secret and maintaining my pulled together outward appearance began to make me feel as if I was slowly losing my sanity. What the hell had my life become?
And then I got pregnant. I had always wanted to be a mother, but had put it off for several years because I valued my freedom so much. But the night those two little lines showed up on the pregnancy test everything changed. I knew I could no longer use cocaine, and with that knowledge came the most soul-cleansing, overwhelming sense of relief I had ever experienced. Soon after, the morning sickness hit me like a mack truck and I became intimately acquainted with my toilet bowl. Even as I retched, I marveled at the fact that I was sober - that my body was somehow supposed to be doing this; I was not throwing up because my poor, abused body was relieving itself of toxins. And I found strength in that, even as those around me marveled at how I could continue to work and go about my life while throwing up upwards of 10 tims a day. And then there was the crib to buy, strollers to test drive, the doctor's appointments and the baby shower and the gender predictions and the insomnia and the hormone induced crying fits. Never once did I miss cocaine.
When my daughter was born I fell in love in a way that makes my teeth ache. I would die for my daughter. I squeeze her so tightly and kiss her warm head and love her so much that I want to cry and laugh and sing all at the same time. She deserves a mother who is whole in body and soul. I do not ever want to use cocaine again. I will not ever use it again. I know this with the same certainty that I know that the sky is blue and the earth is round.
I am sure some people would say that I am just practicing "white knuckle sobriety" (in the parlance of recovery) and that in order to truly recover I need to admit to my addiction, seek therapy, and/or attend 12 step meetings. But they cannot see inside my heart. I believe my daughter saved my life, and I will spend the rest of that life taking care of her and loving her with every part of my being. No drug could ever be as powerful as that love. Never.