It started with Tylenol 3’s, the ones with codeine.
I got a prescription in middle school because I got terrible migraines that completely shut me down.
What kind of doctor prescribes refillable codeine to a twelve-year-old is a question I didn’t ask then. I just wanted not to hurt.
I’d lie in my dark room, the fan on full blast and a bag of frozen vegetables resting on my forehead and the pain so strong I couldn't leave it alone.
I stepped up to Vicodin, yellow Norcos, Watson's, and ran around a bit on them until I needed more, got hooked up with Percs and Oxy, crushing blues with my driver’s license.
Upgraded to meth, powder, and Adderall, popping them back to back like pizza rolls.
Graduated to smack magna cum laude.
How old are you?
I had to think hard.
That’s not what you said earlier.
What did I say earlier?
That you were 18.
They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom because they said I couldn’t stand.
I can stand, I said.
No, we don’t want you to. Here, pee in this.
They gave me one of those kidney shaped bowls to pee in but I was laying horizontally.
Opiates make it difficult to urinate. You have to push it out, concentrate. Laying there, I couldn’t do it.
My mom said, Here, stand up. Lean on my back and use this. She handed me an empty Gatorade bottle.
Resourceful like always.
I stood up with her help.
I leaned on her back.
I pushed out the piss, orange like Tang.
Her back started to heave against mine and I thought she was crying. Crying because her 30-year-old son overdosed on heroin and had a grand mal seizure.
A lot to be proud of.
But she wasn’t crying. She was laughing. Laughing so hard she made me laugh too.
The pee splashed against the sides of the bottle.
At the morning community meeting I was shaking my legs so much one of the case managers had to take me aside.
She took me to the day room and asked me what was wrong.
I said I was sick, real sick.
How long have you been clean?
Okay. Let me contact your therapist and the doctor and see what we can do.
They always said the same thing and never did anything different but always said it in a way that made you hope that they would.
She left the room and I stayed on the couch looking at the posters on the wall with their bullshit positivity and thought how come I always failed at this? Third time in rehab, in my thirties, and I still couldn’t get right. I was fuuuuucked uppppp.
Or was I?
In NA meetings whenever I expressed depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, they told me it was because I wasn’t working the steps correctly. Character Defects. We were all there because we had character defects. We had substance abuse issues because we were broken people.
Well. Put anyone in an NA meeting and they’ll find something to talk about. If it’s not narcotics it’s working, or gambling, or drinking, or porn. Shopping or vigilantism. Life-giving. Ferocious. Compulsive.
Something that fucks up the lives of the people who love you but makes you feel like you can live yours.
At least for the next minute. Next hour. Next day.
When I told my therapists the meds weren’t working they gave me different meds. CBT or DBT or XYZ. As if I were a combination lock and there was a magical chemical sequence that could unblock the light.
I wiped sweat from my face with a paper towel.
They didn’t know what was wrong.
Nobody knew but me.
There was something fundamental about living in this world that was missing from me. I lacked it or it had been taken.
Either way, it wasn’t there.
The nurse told me my last urine test had shards of Valium in it so they couldn’t give me Suboxone. The best they could do was prescribe some shitty blood pressure medication.
I told her I didn’t want it, my blood had been pressuring me enough.
She didn’t laugh. I stopped laughing and told her I hadn’t taken anything, shit. The benzo I’d been taking wasn’t even Valium, so what the fuck?
She shrugged her shoulders and said she could only go by what the data showed her. She was the type you saw at every rehab wanting to pay it forward. White girl, long hair, wood clogs, tattoos, probably never did anything more than ecstasy that one time at Outside Lands wearing a headdress off Etsy. Maybe some coke back in the day but she never paid for it.
I’m serious. I’ll piss for you again right now.
If you want, she said. But we won’t get results until tomorrow.
I said, Look at me, does it fucking look like I did Valium recently? Why would I be this sick, why would I be begging for some help if I had Valium? That doesn’t make sense. I was trembling by this point. I couldn’t hold it together. It felt like my cells were threatening to eat themselves. I was freezing, and on fire, and wanted to puke, and had no liquid to do it with. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Could she see that?
I knew she felt bad for me and wanted to help but she couldn’t. There was nothing she could do and she said so. There was nothing I could do but feel angry at her. I was mean. I was a dick.
But here I was trying to get well again and now something besides me was in my way.
It was too much.
I picked up my backpack, told her to fuck off and left.
I slammed the door and walked out of the building and cried.
I stood on Broadway in Oakland and cried.
I called my mother and told her the story and couldn’t stop crying.
I didn’t do any drugs, mom.
I believe you. It’s okay. Come over.
Driving down 80 I started to cry again.
I spoke out loud to my dead fathers, and dead friends, buried in the ground or scattered around the Earth. I petitioned them. Begged. Pleaded.
Please help me. Please. Help me.
Just like when they were alive.
When I got to my mom’s she put me in the guest room, turned off all the lights, gave me a frozen face mask for my headache, turned the fan on high, and brought my Rottweiler Ozzy to sleep next to me.
I love you, she said and closed the door lightly.
I told Ozzy I felt empty and dead.
I told Ozzy there was something wrong with my DNA.
He looked at me. The orange dots above his brows danced and his ears perked up. I knew he’d heard me and understood what I meant.
I told him I loved him with all of my crummy heart and fell asleep thinking thoughts of self-annihilation.
I woke up to my phone ringing.
It was my rehab therapist.
He was a soft dude. Soft like baby shit, like NERF missiles. When I first met with him and told him both my father and stepfather had hung themselves he gasped and took his glasses off like he didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t appreciate the dramatic gesture. It made me feel like I had to be the one to make him feel better.
I didn’t even get around to telling him the last thing my father said to me before he hung himself was What’s a blessing when you’re cursed.
It was like, come on dude, act like you been here before.
Hey Cory how you doing? I heard about what happened with Christina this morning.
I propped up on my elbow and took off my face mask. I was pissed.
Yeah, fuck y’all. Telling someone they have dope in their system when they haven’t used and shit. You guys are gonna kill someone doing that. Get your piss test game up.
I understand your frustration and I’m happy to let you know that the last urine test you did was clean.
I know it’s clean, I told her I was fucking clean.
So do you plan on coming back? I could see you this afternoon.
No, I’m done with you guys. You fucked me up.
He started to speak but I hung up the phone and screamed.
Ozzy looked up at me and I told him it was okay, but it wasn’t. Nothing was okay. Nothing was anywhere close to where it should have been, at all.
My mom flew into the room.
Who’s screaming in my house?
My bad ma. I’m fucked up.
She said, It’s okay baby and sat down next to me on the bed.
Cory Bennet lives in Ohio with his wife and stepson.