The following is the first excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, The 10 Minute Time Machine – a story of wreckage, renewal, and redemption. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.
There’s a strange phenomenon in the human condition where we can simultaneously experience an event, and seem to watch the entire ordeal as if through a detached consciousness, almost as an observer. Throw drugs or alcohol into the mix, and that experience is magnified several-fold. February 7th and 8th of 2015 were exactly like that.
I remember – from the perspective of this “observer” – with a striking degree of clarity that when I stepped through the supermarket doors I had no intention of picking up anything other than dinner and breakfast food for the kids. My kitchen cupboards had long been nearly bare; I could rarely tolerate food without an intense degree of queasiness or vomiting violently. I hadn’t had something resembling an appetite for longer than I could remember. As a Catch-22, my stomach, after some time without anything solid would go into equally violent pangs, so my daily diet tended to consist of an extra-large Slurpee (in addition to the easily digestible sugar bomb, I needed the internal cold to temper the nervous system bonfire stoked by all the stimulants I was ingesting), and an extra-large pre-made Rice Krispies square. That seemed to disturb my digestive system the least, and if I timed it right, in my delirium I could choke it down without too much of an issue.
The supermarket trip was meant to be a standard 9-items-or-less gathering of microwavable macaroni, cereal, milk, and eggs for breakfast. The kids were walking by my side, so again, I recall in earnest that even the devil inside of me wasn’t up to his usual tricks (initially, anyway) as we filled the shopping basket. But when we passed the pharmacy aisle, he couldn’t resist booming in:
“You know, you haven’t slept in three or four days. If you go another night without it, you’re going to be even worse in the morning, and the kids will know it, their mother will know it, and then we’re in even worse trouble.”
That was it. That was all it took – a lightning flash of a thought cloaked in dubious reason and dressed-up benevolence – to send me into the longest night of my life. To bring me to the brink of an outcome I had so long craved, but never wished for my loved ones to have any part of. It brought me to the moment I thought I was about to lose my life in front of my children.
A lot of what happened that day is still a fog, but there are moments that remain vividly and indelibly marked in my memory. Sitting on one end of that couch, trembling and alone, while my kids sat wrapped in their blankets, dressed in PJ’s, tufts of hair askew as they watched their morning cartoons, seemingly oblivious to what was happening with their father. The thought and visualization of it now almost instantly brings tears every single time I call it to memory – that that could have been the last moment. I don’t know that the thought of it is ever going to stop bringing the emotion. I hope it doesn’t. I hope I never forget.
Watching the seconds tick away on the clock was a maddening experience as my mind went through this constant loop, trying to make sense of what had occurred, and how we had arrived at this moment now. I vaguely sensed that somehow this wasn’t a permanent situation – whatever it was, or however it came to be – and eventually someone would come pick up the kids. Maybe by then I would have bounced back and been able to make sense of all of it, and make sense of what was happening with me. Maybe by then I’d be able to speak coherently, and in that desperate mode of fight-or-flight, manage to get back to some sense of safety or retreat. In the meantime this bizarre scenario I found myself in would likely play itself out in one of two directions: either the kids back to safety and me back to doing what I do best, or total disaster.
What threw me on this particular morning was that in 20 years of substance abuse – in all the wild moments of having pushed the envelope further and to more extremes than would seem probable to recover from – this had never quite happened before. A scenario where normally through the virtue of time passing – often with excruciating slowness – instead of getting gradually better, I was becoming consistently worse. I might have understood had this been in the midst of a withdrawal – things always got a little worse before they got better – but there had been substances “on board” just a few hours before, and that should have initiated a predictable pattern. Instead, with every passing minute, the memories of the days before, the afternoon before – even the night before – were evaporating, like the remnants of a dream right after waking. Motor skills were disintegrating. Language was lost and one-word answers were all that remained. The memory of even a day ago – let alone a week, or the months leading up to now – was as elusive as vague senses of deja vu. It was as if a tide of amnesia was slowly creeping up the shoreline of my memory.
And all throughout this constant cacophony in my thoughts, this maddening loop – “I don’t understand why the kids are here. It doesn’t make any sense that they’re here. They’re not ALLOWED here. It doesn’t connect that you could be this fucked up, and they’re here. They couldn’t be here – nobody would let this happen. How did they get here? Why are they here?” – on, and on, and on. Occasionally interrupted by a question or comment from one of them, which would sound like foreign language to the blender that had become my brain. Despite whatever they had said, and whatever half-sensical response my mind would form, only a one-word answer would eventually follow. “Yes.” “No.” “What?”
As the clock continued to tick, seconds feeling like minutes and minutes like an eternity, finally one thought, one voice, was able to cut through the noise and boom out slightly louder than all the rest…. “You know, I think you might have done it.”
This had stopped being about drugs or alcohol long ago. This wasn’t about getting high – that had ceased working years before. This was about a singular mission. This was about a life that had become shrouded in despair – from all the pain I had caused, all the heartbreak, all the unfulfilled potential. This was about an incontrovertible belief that the best thing I could possibly do for those two blanket-wrapped and pyjama-clad children on those couches would be to remove the one constant in all that pain and disappointment: to remove me from this life. And then all of this – all this uncertainty, all this anguish, all this shit – would finally be over. That had become the solution. That would be the antidote.
This had become a single-minded mission to take the right combination of substances that might make any given night the last night.
And I sat there, briefly sobered but altogether paralyzed by that thought – “…you might have actually done it.”
The strangest mix of emotions flooded over – this irreconcilable mix of relief, euphoria, panic, resignation – like nothing I had experienced before, and certainly unlike anything I’ve experienced since. There had been a few close calls – moments where I thought I might be going, moments where those around me thought I could go – but nothing quite like this where I sat, paralyzed, staring down the potential of mortality. Thoughts crept in like “this might be your last few minutes”, or “it’s getting real now, you need to prepare yourself for what’s about to happen”.
When I think about that now, what strikes me is the surreality of being in that kind of head space. For as much as I had longed for death, there was that moment of staring down the finality of it that bowled me over with the fear this could actually be it. To pause and consider that – the idea that this is very possibly, in the unwinding clock that is our lives, the last few minutes remaining – was an intimidating place to be.
But still, relief. That maybe all the heartache, all the broken promises, all the missed events, all the anger, all the sadness, all the darkness – was finally coming to an end. Maybe Dad for them would in time become just a memory – albeit a painful one – fading from thought and feeling… instead of an inconsistent but undeniable force for pain in their lives. There would be no more missed school concerts, no more of Daddy being back for a little while then disappearing again, no more wondering what condition he might show up in, or in what mood he might wake. Dad would just be a process to unravel from, a period in time to unpack. The pain would fade, the wounds would heal, and maybe, just maybe, something positive might be made from all this.
In the midst of this strange meditation, this wild, conflicting mix of emotions, I remember looking back at them. The tousled hair, the PJ’s, their little faces. And the same voice which had earlier suggested this could be it, now said “But not like this. Not…. like this.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Your passing was supposed to give them peace. It was supposed to make things better, not scar them further.”
Yet even with that thought, my ingrown devil’s advocate fought again to rise and say “You know, if you make that phone call, everything changes. Everything ends, and not the way you wanted it to, either. What if you survive this? If you get medical help, if you get on the other side of this – when people find out what’s really been going on, it’s all gone.”
It wasn’t that I was worried about losing my home or anything of that nature – in fact with everything I ever lost along the way, I was rarely fazed – I’d just think “Well, that’s one less thing to worry about”. What terrified was visions of being compelled to stay under care, in the psych ward or someplace like that. Worse yet, I thought about “surviving” it but never bouncing back – what if my brain stayed like this? What if I was never able to function properly again? What if I remained a prisoner in my own mind?
And then I looked at my kids again – not knowing for any number of reasons if this was maybe our last moment together – and the voice that boomed out over all the rest said “But you can’t die in front of your own kids. This isn’t safe, and you need to get them out.”
That was the moment that changed everything.
To be continued.
(Obviously. I’m still here. ;-))