The Woman on the Left

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Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

The question flashed on the tiny screen as I puffed away on the elliptical, changing channels, diligently dodging images of one unnamed candidate’s face. (Please wake me when it’s November 8th.) As I mused, I realized there is no way to look to the future without glancing back at the past.

5 years ago today, I began swallowing 132 benzodiazepines over a 4-day stretch. It was not a suicide attempt. To me, this made perfect sense. Pills had become the only way I could exist inside my skin, inside a body and mind that repeatedly told me,

You are a loser. You have no purpose. You are a waste of space.

5 years ago today, you might say I had everything: A husband who loved me so much he gave me his kidney 6 months earlier to save my life. "The Kid" was functioning beautifully, kicking renal ass thank you very much. I should have been the picture of health, but the Woman on the Left sat waiting in her doctor’s office for one more script, another handful of pills that no longer brought her relief. No matter what I swallowed, or drank, ate or did not, all I could hear, no, feel, was a voice so loud it permeated every pore. Even when I was past pain, past euphoria, past everything, I could not exist inside my skin.

5 years ago today is where my award-winning, memoir-in-progress begins. I like to say “award-winning” because I still suffer from bouts of egoism, so I throw in gems like that to sooth those nail-tearing, doubt-filled moments when I hesitate to call myself a writer since the last time anything of mine was published I was 13 years old.

“I did not have any awareness of anything other than pills. I lived and breathed inside the vacuum of their plastic container, powerless to climb my way out—not because the side effects of my immunosuppressives had stunted the growth of my fingernails, but because I did not want to. Pills gave me my identity. They were my raison d’être. They were my parents, my lovers, and my friends. I was married to pills.”

The book starts here because it was the moment everything in my life began to change, the tipping point that would take me through my second overdose, hospitalization, and admission into rehab. But it would take me so much farther than that. This last run would bring me to my god.

If you had asked the Woman on the Left where she saw herself in 5 years, would she have laughed? Would I have had the energy to laugh? I could not see a life beyond my bed, and the drawer full of pills beside it. I did not want to see 5 months, 5 days, 5 minutes ahead, unless I was sure there would be pills in it.

Let’s get one thing straight. It’s not like I found God and developed some kind of revulsion towards pills like you Normies. “Ewww, they make me feel funny.” (Um, that’s kind of the point.) I love pills. Love ‘em. Love. Them.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve endured the most persistent period of pain in my life. Between a mystery skin condition and an increase in my immunosuppressives, how is it even possible that I’m sober? That I’m not manipulating my doctor? Doctors? Docti? That I’m not going through your purse? That I’m not scouring your medicine cabinet?

It is one profound irony. I have literally never been more uncomfortable in my skin, and yet, not only am I staying sober, I want to be.

The word miracle gets thrown around a lot in 12-step recovery, but what else can I call it? In the end, I took a pill for a headache, a hangnail, or because it was Wednesday. I could not stop. Not only have I stopped, but I’m happy I have. Because I have something better.

So. Since I have to bring this piece full circle, how do I answer the question?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I don’t know. The Woman on the Left thought the worst thing that could ever happen to her was a life without her daily dose of Codeine. She was sure of it. Today, I try not to be sure of anything. Will my kidney reject? (Maybe.) Will my husband leave me? (Possibly.) Will I ever finish my book? (You better believe it!)

Today, I try to stay out of the question-answering business. Why do babies die of leukemia? Why does my skin burn all the time? Why is Trump Trump? These questions are too big, and I am too small.

Sometimes I still hear that voice.

You are am loser. You have no purpose. You are a waste of space.

But today I know it’s the voice of addiction. Today, I feel a voice that’s stronger. It is the voice that fills my head and guides my heart. I do not know what I pray to. I cannot define my god. I cannot even spell my god / God / G-d, but I have one. I feel him. I depend on her. It saves my life every day.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

With god.

People that have never fought the fight that comes with chronic illness have no idea what an uphill battle you have fought. Even at your lowest point, you couldn’t possibly be a waste of space. You are a winner and have such an important purpose in this world. I’m so thankful to know you and can’t wait to read your book. You inspire all of us! Sending you so much love! — Melody Boling
You have no idea how much I needed to read this. Tears in my eyes and I try to understand and use what I hear from you with my mom. I only hope I can save her as you saved yourself before it’s to late. Thanks for being you. You are amazing and I can’t wait to read more. — Tamra Martin
Any space you take up, I’d eagerly take space next to you. You are an inspiration. Your honesty is profound. Can’t wait to read your book. — Johanna Moorehead
Spectacular!!!! Just BEAUTIFUL!!! You are BEAUTIFUL through and through!!! — Kelly Shipe Jeffers
So profound and moving. — Barbara Priscus