A mental sickness manifested itself into nights of insomnia and self-loathing. My heart pumping poison through my veins long before any recreational drug. I wanted to numb it, to slow the toxicity. To, for just a moment, not care about the emptiness inside.
At the height of my drug use, I was simply trying to have a good time. At my lowest point, I ached to feel like I mattered to someone other than myself. We all had our reasons back then. To drink or smoke. To snort or shoot up. Inside every one of us there was an emptiness we were determined to fill before it swallowed us whole. Driven by a base desire to feel normal, like our parents and the others; who seemingly made it so easily through life.
Getting strung out.
Our past demands a perpetual penance be paid. Living in a self-imposed purgatory. And for what? For being addicts and junkies?
Or for surviving?
A mugshot of an old friend moves through my newsfeed, igniting the feeling of survivor’s guilt inside. A deep sadness settles into place.
There are many things a junkie can hate another junkie for, but being a junkie isn’t one of the them.
Junkie isn’t a title you get rid of. Ever. It’s an exclusive club with a lifetime membership.
I still remember the words rattling around in my head as I reached for another upper, another downer, another bottle, another anything to kill the void I felt inside. Words filled with such self-hatred, their nostalgic presence brings a tightness to my throat and makes my hands tremble for a fix. To kill the internal pain I felt.
The internal pain I feel.
There was a willingness to do whatever it took to kill the hurt inside. To fill the black hole consuming my soul.
A need to numb. Even if it meant my life.
Mugshots and obituaries appear more frequently than Where Are They Now? articles of old sitcom actors.
They are dead. Or in prison. Or still trying to kill that feeling inside. The deep feeling of sadness for them carries through me, bringing with it a guilt for being fortunate enough to survive myself. I don’t hate them for losing the battle.
Like I said, there are many things a junkie can hate another junkie for. Being a junkie just like you isn’t one of them.
One day, I will have to tell my children the story of how I survived. How, I wasn’t necessarily stronger than my friends, I just found what I needed. How the emptiness began to fill, thanks to their lives. How they saved Daddy’s life.
Mugshots and obituaries. Reminders of the stark contrast between where my life is and where it used to be.
My old friends picture sparks self reflection. It reminds me some form of the emptiness will always be there. It’s something you have to learn to live with. Paying your penance in the form of self-condemnation for being okay. The purgatory of having to leave others behind. Knowing you can’t save them, only yourself, but feeling guilt-ridden nevertheless.
I hold no anger for the friends lost. I know the battle we all struggled with internally. Demons on the inside driving feelings of never being enough. A war, waged between broken hearts and chemically imbalanced brains.
The emotional tax of seeing people losing that battle depletes me. I mourn their losses, hoping one day to be there to celebrate their victories. Hoping we both survive another day.
I will always be a junkie. If you’re reading this and are one too, good for you. You’re alive.
We will always be junkies but it doesn’t have to be the reason we die.
Briton Underwood is a writer. His byline includes big publications and small publications. What’s important to him are his words, not where he’s been published.