It’s allergy season.
I live in the sagebrush dotted hills of Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington State. ‘Having allergies’ is no small thing.
We are a city of farms and crops and flowers and trees, so pollen. We’re practically a desert, if it weren’t for irrigation, so dust. Also animals, “because farms,” so dander. Once the scorching summer sun comes out in full force the weeds take off like wildfire, which means more pollen. The ragweed kind.
To be fair, I don’t suffer as bad as some, but in my old(er) age (wtf total bs) I have developed a Goliath histamine response. From late April until late June, I’m Seven Dwarves all by myself – sneezy, watery, sleepy, cranky, runny, itchy, bitchy, and for the most part a completely unpleasant person to spend time with.
When my allergies get really bad, I stop listening to people when they talk. I spend half my time at work staring into space, the other half blowing my body weight in boogers out my nose.
I can’t focus, I can’t pay attention, because I’m too busy wishing I could shove a puffy pipe cleaner down my throat and out my schnoz (like the crazy-eyed middle school kid did with spaghetti in the lunch room), then grab both ends and give them hell, just to itch the spot inside my head that doesn’t stop itching for three months.
I can hear you now.
[“Um… just take an allergy pill. They do make those, you know.”]
Yes, yes they do.
Trouble is, I’m also an addict.
PILLS are a problem for me.
Have you ever read A Million Little Pieces?
It’s the story of an addict that goes to rehab, ends up needing his teeth worked on, and can’t even risk the pain killers while the dentist drills and grinds and yanks the roots of his teeth out of his head. The simple, standard, “normal people won’t go on a bender after this” shot of pain killer might cause a relapse.
My aversion to pills is kind of like that.
All pills, allergy included.
Not worth the risk.
This year, a year of particularly high pollen count, my allergies have been so bad that I struggle to concentrate on my work. I’ve had to stop every three minutes to blow my nose, and simple using of the eyeballs has been painful.
Imagine the blurry, burning, “ohmygod my eyeballs are turning to raisins” feeling when you open your eyes underwater in an over-chlorinated swimming pool, then the firey feeling in your head when water gets up your nose.
Now do that every three minutes.
A week or so ago, as I was running errands, in between sneezes and sniffles and super sexy, back-of-the-throat snot-clearing snorts (you know the kind), my brain spoke up.
Me: “Hey Erin, maybe you’re mentally well enough to get some medication.”
Other Me: “I don’t care if I’m well enough. I have to do SOMETHING, because this isn’t working. I CAN’T EVEN STAND MYSELF OMG.”
With snap-judgment impulse, I pulled into the parking lot of the very next grocery store I passed, bound and determined to get some relief.
In the store I located the medication aisle and beelined for the allergy meds. I found the Benadryl, reached down to grab a box, then stopped.
There, on the second-to-last shelf, right next to the 24 pill box of Benadryl, was a bottle of generic store brand.
“100 Tablets” for the same price as the 24 pack of name brand pills,
“BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE.”
I stood up straight.
I sat down completely, cross-legged in the middle of the medicine aisle, and faced the shelf.
I had a decision to make.
If you’re not an addict, my dilemma will seem confusing. The struggle I was going through will run right over your head, because the answer seems quite simple.
“Save the money, buy the extra pills. You know you have allergies every year, you know you’ll use them all, just get the pills. Go big or go home.”
If you ARE an addict, you understand what was going through my head.
…or to be more specific, you understand the snarling, ravenous, ferocious beast that was ripping through my guts, eviscerating my colon, and clawing its way through my diaphragm into my chest, wrapping its stinky, jealous, greedy fingers around my throat.
Like the unsuspecting astronauts from Aliens, I was carrying around company, and the thought of 200 pills brought it to life in my chest.
It started fighting and clawing to get out.
I can hear you again.
[“But allergy pills? Really? It’s not like we’re talking about Ecstasy or Oxy, at most you’ll feel a little sleepy.”]
Yes, allergy pills.
And yes, “a little sleepy.”
Because see, that’s how it starts. When you’re an addict, ANY type of chemically altering substance can pull the trigger to a full-blown relapse, and you never really know which ones will do it. When you do something that would otherwise be safe, you don’t know if the mental-health timing is bad. You can’t tell beforehand if what once was safe will still BE safe.
If I were in a good place and took a pill, I’d be okay. The allergies would disappear, I would ride out the sleepiness, “sober up,” as it were, and be back to my normal, sniffly, Seven Dwarves self without another thought.
If I was NOT in a good place… well. That could be disastrous. An addict can take a pill once and be okay, then later at another time on another day take the same pill, and fall off the edge.
“What if this makes me fall off the edge? It could.”
After fighting blood, sweat, tears, and rehab to recover, “it could” is just not worth the risk.
I had a decision to make.
I picked up a bottle of 100 count pills, rolled it in my hand, and waited.
I waited for the compulsion to die down, so I could think. I waited for the right decision to come.
A few days ago I wrote a post on Facebook that said, “When you’re bulimic, the second that giant size bag of chips is drug across the scanner at the grocery store, you’re making a commitment to abuse.”
Purchasing two bottles of pills, 100 capsules each, would be making the commitment to abuse.
I sat on that grocery store floor for a good five minutes. It was an out-of-body experience, almost, like I was hovering over myself, just behind and to the right, examining my choices, thinking about my journey so far.
Was it worth the risk?
On that cold, hard floor, under the blazing overhead lights, a mom with her baby picking out formula behind me in the aisle, I remembered how good it felt to get high. I remembered how good it felt to disappear into the oblivion of abuse, to sink into the pillowy, soft silence of rock bottom, to submerge into the endorphin fueled quiet of the pain in my guts after a binge, where all the voices in my head stopped arguing, where the voices of self-hate and self-disgust stopped screaming at me for attention.
I remembered the nights of withdrawal. I thought about the cravings, the itchy, twitchy, angry depression, the restless energy with nowhere to put it and no place to run.
I remembered how it felt to sit inside my sober self after weeks of mental absence, learning to think and feel again, listening to the screaming in my head, hearing the voice drill into my soul, “you did it again, we have to fight back to the light again.”
Abuse doesn’t make the pain go away, it just delays it for a while. Like a dam that holds back the flood, at some point the flood has to come through.
The pain has to come through.
The only way around the pain is through, and through I have been.
Going back through it I WAS, retracing my steps through the dark cycle of addiction I know like the back of my hand, sitting there on the floor, waiting for the compulsion to stop. Not moving until it did, just waiting.
There was a time in my life, a time not so long ago, I would have purchased that big, fat, giant bottle of pills and his bitchy twin. I would have added those pills to my basket, both bottles, then walked my happy ass down the cookie and snack food aisle to load up for a binge. I would have added a bottle of wine for good measure, and I’d have considered buying a gallon-size ice cream chaser.
I considered all of this, what I used to be, and then considered what I AM.
Where I WANT to be.
WHO I want to be.
Me: “Who do you want to be, Erin?”
Other Me: “Not this. I don’t want to be this.”
I put the bottle back on the shelf. I grabbed the 24 pack of Benadryl and walked myself to the register where I paid for just the pills, then headed home.
I didn’t even take a pill until I was home, with a sensible snack and a glass of water, instead of tearing into the package like a wild animal on my way to the car.
Addiction is a tricky thing. It’s like a living thing inside your chest, a creature that grows weaker and quiet, but never really dies. The tricksiness of it becomes apparent when we, the unlucky caretakers of the beast, feel as though “I own you, I can control you, you will do what I say,” or when we mistakenly think the monster is dead.
We think we’re in control, that we’ve won, or that it’s dead, so we stop being careful.
We lose our edge.
We step over the carcass, do what we’ve always done, and with one, small, mindless action, the long-starved beast wakes up more ferocious than before.
I heard someone once say “I’m always an addict, the craving never stops. The craving will never go away, but I can learn to cope with it.”
In my experience, nothing is more true.
Whether your addiction is behavioral or chemical in nature, here are five things I learned from my recent experience with The Beast that might help you with your next compulsion.
- Just wait. When you feel the compulsion, WAIT. Sit in it without acting for a while, and wait. Give yourself the time you need. With practice and training, I have learned to create a gap between “what I want to do” and “what I actually do.” Inside that gap runs the road to recovery. The Beast feeds on compulsion and impulse. Break the cycle you’re stuck in with a different activity, and wait.
(think about it – how many bad choices have you made when you’ve given yourself a lot of time to think about it? probably not as many as you’ve made on the fly.)
- THINK. While you’re waiting, think. The Beast doesn’t want you to think, so do it hard. Ask yourself what you’ve been through and where you’re headed. Ask yourself if it’s worth it. Think about what you love, and who you want to be. Is the high right now worth the risk?
I’d love to say “it’s never worth it,” but when you’re an addict, sometimes you’re sure it is. It’s tough to feel “It’s never worth it” when The Beast is using your brainstem as a chew toy. Instead, ask “would the Recovered Me think this fix was worth it?” If you have to think like you’re someone else, do it. Do whatever you must to leverage the right behavior.
- Consider a compromise. In this case, I really, really wanted to take an allergy pill to fix the allergies. I was miserable. Between the two extremes of face-scrubbing allergies and drugged out, high-as-a-kite, there existed a balance, and I took it.
COMPROMISE DOES NOT WORK WHEN YOU’RE IN THE DARK OF PURE ADDICTION. Compromise does not work when you’re an alcoholic, addicted to narcotics, or stuck on a substance you can otherwise go without.
Compromise DOES work for those of us that are addicted to necessary substances, like food, life-improving medication, or a sexual relationship with our significant other. It has to work, because we cannot exist without it. Finding balance in these circumstances is a step toward healing, not destruction.
- This is the only time I say this – “don’t go big.” GO SMALL. Taking one step, then stop. Taking one step does not mean you have to run for fifty miles. You can do some and not all. As addicts, we forget that.
I took one pill. JUST ONE, then I stopped. I waited for 8 hours (it was only a 4 hour pill), then I took one more before bed to help me breathe while I slept.
I did not take two pills. I did not take one pill, then one more in two hours. I did not take all 24 pills in a 48 hour period. As a matter of fact, most of the pills are still here, in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
Eat one sandwich, not four. Drink one bottle of soda, not six. Eat one chip, not two bags. Learning moderation with regard to our addiction is recovery.
- MOST IMPORTANT: Stop trying to stop the discomfort. Let it come. Bearing the burden of addiction means that on occasion, you are going to be uncomfortable.
I’m pretty sure that most addicts abuse in order to STOP feeling uncomfortable, or to feel uncomfortable on their own terms.
It has been a grievous process, but I have accepted that sometimes I am going to be uncomfortable, because LIFE is sometimes uncomfortable. Discomfort cannot be helped, controlled or changed, but it can be endured.
Allergies make me uncomfortable. As much as I can, I’m going to choose to be okay with that.
We can endure more than we know. We can endure the screams and howls of the beast, no matter how loud, because we are made of even more powerful stuff.
Even more significant, we have one another.
To those of you that wrestle daily with The Beast of addiction, I hug you now. I hug you, pat you on the bum, wrap my fingers over each of your shoulders, look you square in the face and straight in the eye, and say firmly,
“YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”
You are not crazy. You are not stupid or weak. You are powerful, to be carrying around such a beast as this, and you are capable of more than you realize.
You’re capable of more than The Beast realizes, or he wouldn’t have fucked with you to begin with.
Stay strong, my friend. We’ll hold hands, grip our steely spears with bloodied fists, and push forward.
Straight through The Beast.
Find yourself. Embrace your truth. Change your world.