As I walked up the street past the methadone clinic, I heard the type of animal yelp of distress reserved usually only for beaten dogs and trapped mice. A tiny wizened woman who could have been anywhere between 45 and 65 was hopping up and down crying in distress, her pink foam crocs falling off her reddened, swollen white scabbed feet, fingerless gloves on her hands, oversized teeshirt baring her bare flesh, her face contorted in an attitude of trapped desperate panic. “Ya gotta give me my dose! My dose! My dose! Bastard! Bitch!” The young man barring her entry to the clinic had his arms outstretched blocking her, absorbing her justified hatred, her dope sick illness, blanking her distress in that implacable way that only men seem to be able to pull off successfully. A malign disinterested arms-length refusal, met her wild upset. Extreme physical distress was pulling at her guts and twisting her mind, alongside the certain and infuriating knowledge that he could help if he was not on an authoritarian refusal power high. All he had to do was empathize, to see what he could do despite her lateness, or her rule-breaking or whatever other bullshit excuse he had for denying her dose of methadone that the System had got her hooked on in the interests of phony harm reduction (reducing who’s harm, not hers), liquid handcuffs tying her to a time and a place day in day out, not able to earn take-home doses without extreme compliance to a whole raft of rules she was set up to fail at.
Methadone withdrawals make heroin look easy. According to friends who took up the methadone deal in order to try and survive, they are vicious, long-lasting and terror-inducing. I avoided it at all costs. I was tempted to go up and stand next to her, and translate for her. “Excuse me Sir, I was forced, encouraged and herded onto the methadone program, and I am totally dependent upon you to stay well. I am sorry that I am late/I pissed dirty for other drugs/ I forgot my ID, but I am absolutely desperate, and you KNOW me, I am here twice a day, every day, having failed to get take homes, and you know how dependent I am upon your kindness. Please give me my dose, because that street shit is not going to touch the methadone withdrawal. Please. Don’t leave me to suffer. I am scared Ill be forced to shoot too much street heroin, which, Sir, we both know is almost entirely fentanyl, and I could die. I don’t want to die, which is why I am here. Please understand. Please help me.” Instead, she growled and roared, wept and shook and threatened in desperation and fear, and I walked on by. I didn’t want on by because I feared her, I walked on by because the Boy was scared, and that stretch of road is quite dangerous. I didn’t have the luxury of trying to help. As I walked by her, quietly explaining to The Boy that she was no danger, she was just scared and about to be in a whole universe of pain. As I defended her behavior I realized I was crying. I didn’t notice my eyes filling up, and the shaking gulps of my tears took me by surprise.
This woman didn’t have help. She didn’t have the option of a nice rehab in some warm Caribbean resort with horses and sand and gentle people telling her it was not her fault and she was unwell, and keeping her comfortable. She had nobody to build up her confidence. She had no one to hold her hand, and from where I stood, the man she was begging for help, didn’t appear to care if she lived or died, and how she lived or died. It was a shameful scene.
At some point in the last few years something snapped inside my head. My compassion because judicious and smaller. I didn’t have it to spare. I didn’t have the tears or the energy to give to others as often as I would like. I distanced myself emotionally, it was that or go under. I do not have an endless well for every Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, and Keith Moon. People who have the option for help, real help, compassionate gentle effective help, rich people like Wineshouse, Joplin, and Moony, and who yet continue to party till it kills ’em, wasting their talent, wasting their lives, wasting their opportunities and leaving me shouting at the screen “You stupid idiot, you fucking NEED rehab, just GO damnit, co operate, don’t sing about how you are ok, then fucking DIE on me!”
My compassion nowadays is reserved for the people who live on the streets of the Loin and places like it, smoking fentanyl because shooting it is so dangerous, when they could be prescribed medical grade heroin to inject in safe injection sites with a nurse there, and a sterile environment and no chance of cotton fever from bacteria particles of the cotton ball filter. Cotton fever is seen as ‘benign’ by the medical establishment, there is no compassion for a junkie convulsing, feverish and burning up itching while they puke their guts out. Gotta punish the junkies, huh. Gotta keep them hurting. Can’t possibly make life bearable for people who need opiates to live.
My compassion cries for the woman who is prostituted in exchange for her drugs, not seeing a cent, and not enough to keep her well or content, and who cannot get away from her pimp. My compassion is used up there, there isn’t enough to cry over rich rock stars who can afford to snort bowls of blow with their wheaties. My compassion is for people who are refused their preferred type of rig at the ‘harm reduction’ clinics, instead pushed to use the tiny U50’s and proceed to stab themselves blindly collapsing what’s left of their useable veins, crying to me asking about injecting into feet, legs and groin.
I have compassion and outrage for the young black man who gets popped by cops for smoking in public when my white self never gets hassled. I don’t care for overblown rock star habits of the rich and famous. Someone does, I am sure, just not me.
Money fixes everything. $2000 a day rehab? The homeless woman smoking crack in the gutter wearing only panties and a bra will never get funding for that. For some rock star junkie alcoholic that is covered in their medical insurance, the only thing defeating them is themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, suffering is suffering, and once I KNOW someone personally I find my compassion and care is intact, but living out here, living like this has made me angry, and there simply isn’t enough anger to go around right now. My anger gets burnt out seeing people try their fucking hardest and still getting knocked down, whilst loving, caring, working, supporting, and doing it all out of a shelter where if they walk outside they can have meth on one corner and what passes for smack on the other. In fact while I am here, I might take a small bow. I haven’t had a drink for two and a half years. I have lived here eight months and the only thing I have ‘done’ is a little legal weed. I’ll just take a bow. No? See nobody praises the little people for something Society expects of them anyway, whilst shedding tears over bratty and lethal self-indulgent behavior of celebrities.
Keith Richards. Now that is a junky rock star I admire. He is alive. No bullshit, no excuses, no denial of his habits, no stupid wasteful dying….even if he did allegedly muscle his dope. Actually I think what has kept Keith alive has been his access to a surplus of drugs, so he didn’t have to kick if he didn’t want to, alongside his musceling habits. If he is truthful, he never mainlined smack, he instead went for the calmer and safer high of muscleing his dope, then this is what saved him. Self control of Zeus himself! Keith deserves to sit in the pantheon of junkie heroes as a survivor and thriver. It is just a crying shame he couldn’t drag Gram Parsons out with him. One hot bag, a disinterested or else inexperienced group of people around him, and he lost that game of poppy-roulette. He had so much more to give musically, and always came across as a gentle, sweet man. Sometimes losing is just the way it goes. I bet Gram didn’t muscle his dope….Besides there was no easy cure back then, it was Burrough’s nurse and a shared bed with Keith to puke in.
I have a plan. I am going to go into the ‘Loin when I have somewhere I can leave the Boy safely, and I am going to ask people if they want me to tell their stories. I will bet you now, they don’t go “My daddy says I’m fine”…and “I don’t wanna go to rehab.” These stories go harder, colder, more hopeless, dirtier. What was so cute when Amy was alive, this foot stamping woe is me, “don’t wanna go”, I won’t learn anything in 60 days in some outrageously expensive rehab temper tantrum, followed by a wasted life, when Winehouse was so immensely talented, doing so outrageously well in her artistic life, now she is gone, when she should be here behaving badly and singing like Etta James on steroids, is now sickening. Being indulged and spoilt killed a brilliant young woman, and that is sad.
It is just like I say, my concern is for the living who don’t have that support, or those resources, or the love and care of the community around them.
Nobody ever gave me a break when I was using. It is all well and good to love me at my years sober, but nobody loved me at my nadir of addiction. Do you think anyone said “poor paltry, let’s send her to a nice rehab so she can talk about what led to this state of affairs”? Society wanted me dead and I would not let ’em do it, I said no, I refused, instead I stuck around to piss people off and have my own little temper tantrums. Caribbean beach trips? Talking therapy and civilized detox? I had to do it for myself, and my survival was ugly, painful and destroyed my health. I honestly believe that is what caused my celiac disease, repeated kicks with no help, vomiting, extreme diarrhea over and over again, punctuated by the typical constipated maladies of the dedicated junky.
I’ll save my care and love and tears for my brothers and sisters. I am no better and no worse than any of the people living in tents outside my window. I’ll save my tears for the young man found blue and dead in an outside dining shelter. I’ll save my tears for my dead friends who didn’t have the support or the chances they needed and didn’t live past 21. I’ll save some tears for myself too. Because I fought the Darkness and lost forever a part of myself I could not keep. I don’t cry easy. I don’t love easy. Something in me broke and when it mended I became someone harsher, colder, tougher. It was that or die.
I’ve been down there with them, addicted to doctor’s scripts on hillbilly heroin and ‘abuse proofed’ morphine. I’ve been that woman in underwear my stomach turning as I work for one more bag, and fuck it I have no tears for rock stars and their pissant habits, and their prissy temper tantrums and the fact that they self indulgently die anyway.
What did that doctor tell Billy when he was getting his script for his brain tumor pain meds? “Everybody has to tolerate a little pain, I’m not giving you any more.” No one would say that shit to a rich person, a clean non stinky person, an upright member of society with a brain tumor that was life-limiting. My compassion has to go to those on the bottom, those without that help and support and possibility. He is out there in a crack house, instead of confined to a senior facility or a rehab, because he is poor. I can’t tolerate his behavior, but he has my tears.
My compassion has run out for those that have extreme privilege and won’t accept the help that is there. That is not to say I am not sad for people struggling or in pain, it is just that they have their help – they don’t need tears that I have no energy to give them. Any death is sad. Any struggle with drugs and booze is devastating to someone, to their family, to their loved ones, their friends. I am not a monster, I am just wore out living in the middle of suffering for what seems like a lifetime.