It has been a while since I have written. I know in early recovery this could mean many things, including bad things. It could mean relapse.
My husband, by the grace of God, is still sober. In mid October, he will be one year clean.
I have not written because we have been enjoying a magical summer. One that is drastically different than the last. Polar opposite actually. Last summer, my husband was unemployed, sometimes high, more often dope sick, definitely addicted, once hospitalized, once arrested, and regularly stealing from me to support his habit. Now he is the man who gets up early in the morning, the husband I can depend on, a truth teller, a gym goer, a man I go on hikes with, enjoy vacations at the beach with, he is gainfully employed and up for a promotion, and our financial situation is (slowly but surely) on the up and up. When talking about how far we have come, and how different life is in comparison to one year ago, my husband said this to me:
“There is one thing that I have done differently, just this one thing that I took out of the equation, and that is dope.”
Just that, quitting dope. It sounds simple, but it is not. And while it is not easy, there is a kind of sweet austerity in this simple/not-simple truth. There is also this:
So much rides on my husband’s sobriety.
This piece marks a special anniversary for me. One year ago I started this blog. As I mentioned, at the time, my husband was actively using heroin, fentanyl, and crack, and we were in a very dark place. My life was in a tail spin and my husband was flirting with death. While he did not surrender one year ago, I believe that our ascent towards recovery started with this blog. This is the place where I came out of stigma’s shadows, placed denial aside in favor of speaking the truth, faced our codependency, accepted my enabling, changed my actions, spoke the truth to family and friends, contemplated detachment, and finally decided upon connection.
This is also the place where I found a loving community. A community that has carried me through, held my hand, comforted me, and assured me that I was not alone during the loneliest time of my life.
One night in October of last year, my husband told me a story. It was the night he came home between recovery programs, and he was sick as a dog with a cold or flu. He had just been discharged from a 13 day partial hospitalization program here in Massachusetts and the next morning had a flight booked to a rehab in Florida. With sobriety comes truth. He told me about this place. A trail he visited often last summer.
There is a northern city on the border between 2 states.
A river runs through this place. Once a booming industrial city, the birthplace of workers rights revolutions, and the rise of unions, it now has vacant factories, condemned and burnt out buildings, brown canals where ducks swim, and a high unemployment rate. It is one of the many cities in the United States battling the worst drug addiction crisis we have seen, the opioid epidemic. This is my city. The city where I live. The city where we live, my husband and I.
Behind a park where children play there is a trail placed strategically on the border of two cities (one of them the city I described, where we reside), across the jurisdiction of two police departments.
Making it effectively a no-mans land.
There are no joggers here and no women in yoga pants pushing babies in strollers. No dog walkers or healthy bike riders. Perhaps that was it’s purpose, but no matter, because it is not that kind of trail. It is like no trail I could have imagined. On this trail, lives are bought and sold, poison spit from rotting mouths and passed between filthy hands, misery bartered. My husband described it as hell. He went there to buy crack and heroin. Then fentanyl, but more about that later. Up in the cut, in the woods far behind the trail, there is a tent. It is a large 4-section camping tent. One man lives there with his dope stash. From his tent off of the trail, he runs a brilliant drug operation, one that is open for business 24 hours.
There are two ways onto the trail.
You can jump over a rusted metal fence and travel through woods or you can cross a trellis bridge over metal brown train tracks, past an old overgrown graveyard no one seems to visit, and then go down to the trail through the woods. Two young Dominican boys ride endlessly up and down the trail, half standing, pumping pedals on bikes too small for them. Their names are Mosquito and PJ. They are addicts. Their weathered teenage jaws are locked and loaded with baggies. Baggies of crack rock and baggies of powder, maybe heroin, perhaps fentanyl, maybe even both. Ready to swallow if the cops show up, the boys sling to the customers that wander the trail. All walks of life come here, men after work in button down shirts and ties, prostitutes, homeless, teenagers, kids. My husband came here as well. He said there was constant traffic and he was never alone. Despite this, it was a lonely place. No matter if he was there during the day or at night, he was always accompanied by addicts, traveling city’s underbelly, isolated-together with a shared goal. To get high. To get high and maybe even to die.
My husband first heard of this place on the city street from another junkie.
When he found it, he couldn’t believe his eyes. From Paterson, New Jersey, he thought he had seen it all. But he hadn’t. First time there, he cops from the man-child Mosquito; he has long, brown, lanky arms covered in track marks. Mosquito pulls the baggies from his mouth to sell to my husband, who tries to push thoughts of rotting teeth, unknown secretions, and disease from his mind. Anything for a fix. First its heroin and crack. On his third visit (maybe, who the hell knows) to the trail, from Mosquito’s mouth emerges something different. He tells my husband, they can’t detect this on a drug test because it is synthetic, manufactured. He is talking about fentanyl. Up to fifty times more potent than heroin. Perhaps manufactured in China or by a cartel, but Mosquito knows no different; he gets it from the tented dope stash deep in the woods. All he knows is he sells it to finance his own habit. Fentanyl was relatively new on the streets then. My husband asks Mosquito, who is perched upon a child’s bike, how to use it. He tells him that he shoots it, but, he continues, he “shoots everything, including crack, so whatever floats your boat.”
“Looking back”, my husband says to me, as he narrates the story, “I don’t think that is true, what he said about detection.” Marketing, trail style. No matter, heroin or fentanyl. “At this point in addiction you stop wondering what the powder is–as long as it is a fix–you even forget about the stench filled mouth from which it comes.” Like he said, anything for a fix.
Every few weeks, the cops, from one of the two city’s jurisdictions, flood the trail, snatching people up, searching them, checking for warrants, and arresting those with warrants or holding.
Mosquito and PJ swallow the baggies and the man in the tent up in the woods is nowhere to be found. The police arrest addicts and tote them off to jail. Only to release them back to the street, without treatment, and eventually back to the trail. The War on Drugs in all of it’s miserable, failing, detestable glory. My husband was never there for one of those raids, but he had a plan if he was. A plan to run.
My husband hit rock bottom on this trail.
On that October night before entering rehab, my husband told me that days before he surrendered and agreed to get help, he was watching a homeless man and prostitute shoot up on the trail, and realized he was one step away from becoming like them. One step away from losing everything, if he hadn’t already.
The trail is not there anymore.
It was raided too many times. And while the trail may not be there, behind that park where children play, we all know that it is somewhere. And, by the grace of God, no matter where that somewhere is, that lonely hell, today my husband is not there.
He is walking a new trail now. We are walking that trail together.
Thank you readers, friends, community, artists, writers, recovering, relapsing, or using addicts, all of the amazing things that you are, for walking this old and new trail with us over the past year. I feel your presence on it every day. I love you all dearly.
Happy One Year Anniversary blog.