I’ve been through a dark time recently. So, I ask myself, do I write about it? The darkness? The vulnerability? It seems deeply personal somehow. A secret. Not in good taste to share this part of me with you dear readers. I want to be seen as well and on to it. My representative representing. Not that lonely and sick and scared old woman.
It takes courage to write about this shit. To tell of this time. Poleaxed as I was by influenza. The ‘flu’. It sounds benign, doesn’t it? Such a small word. Simple. A minor inconvenience. Well it was none of those. When I recovered, I googled, and it’s “a common viral infection that can be deadly in high-risk groups”. Turns out I’m in two high risk groups. I’m over 65 and I have a compromised immune system. Deadly?! Fuck me! I was right. There were times I felt as if I might well die.
Fever/bone ache/cough/sore throat/sleeplessness/muscle ache/racing pulse/lack of appetite/upset stomach. I felt shithouse. My bones ached so badly I thought I had a reoccurrence of the dengue fever. I dragged my sorry arse to the doctor. She checked me over told me I ‘had a nasty virus’ and prescribed a Vitamin C infusion, wrote me a medical certificate and told me to go home to bed for the rest of the week. With a B12 shot for good measure. The nurse sorted me out with the ‘C’ and I sat in the comfy armchair in the sun and received the infusion gratefully. But that intramuscular B12 shot hurt like hell, radiating and pulsating pain up and down my thigh. It certainly took my mind off how shite I was feeling. I was yelling “FUUAARRRK” in the car as I drove home.
The physical symptoms of influenza are a right bitch. It was surreal being in the throes of high temperatures and little sleep. Reminded me of the days when I was using amphetamines. I felt unhinged. Colours and noises were heightened. Sharp. Mad. Too much information coming at me. I retreated inside. It was dark and I was lonely but so what.
The depression and despair that went with the territory compounded the pain and fed the stories. I was scared dispirited and disconnected. The realisation that I’m old. That’s all there is to it. That’s how it is. Old and vulnerable and fucked. All the spiritual principles of patience, tolerance, acceptance, gratitude, forgiveness and loving kindness meant nothing. They flew from me – just like that – gone. To be replaced by those constant companions from long ago – free floating anxiety and fear. “So”, I marvel, “you hadn’t gone away after all. You were waiting for a time such as this to make a reappearance and take me out”.
Before recovery this was how I used to feel every day. In the last three years of my using I would wake up in the morning and be pissed off I hadn’t died quietly during the night. And that’s where I began my day from. The difference here being I wanted to live. Recognising the reality of how vulnerable we all are was frightening. Everything was scaring me. The only thing I had going for me was writing. Pages and pages all hours of the day and night.
I have this thing when I’m sick whereby I give myself a timeline. I’m able to be patient and kind and tolerant with myself and take care and so on and do all the right things up to a certain point. A timeline of say, three days? If the sickness goes past the due date I get irritable and am not a happy patient nor am I patient. I’m like this with others as well. Supportive up to a point then I’m toast.
Anyway, I was laid low in bed for 9 days, giving me plenty of time to reflect and re-evaluate my life. What was I going to do now that I was incapable of returning to work or having a conversation or ‘really’ writing or going out at night or spending time with friends? Now that I was old and vulnerable and a drain on society. Destined to die alone and destitute and unloved in one of those ghettos for the aged and infirm with those pruned standard roses planted out front and the smell of urine and air-freshener inside. Or in my car. I just knew this was how the rest of my life was going to pan out.
I was out there in the darklands where the cold wind blew – sucking up light and warmth in its wake. Traversing the crazed corridors of my mind, without a torch, lost and hating everyone and why didn’t anyone call and see if I was okay the selfish fuckers and never wanting to see anyone again anyway. My head was doing overtime. “Was I ever going to work again? Laugh again? What is that wee lump in my mouth? Melanoma? My chest feels tight – is this what heart failure feels like? My jaw has been tender for days. What does that mean? A tumour?” I resisted the urge to google, and lay there waiting. The thing is, as someone in recovery from active addiction I know what will quickly take care of all physical, mental, spiritual and emotional pain. And I wouldn’t HAVE to wait. That knowledge is always close – like a second skin. I also know, now that I am a respectable responsible member of society, I could go to the doctor and get my hands on the warm and friendly pain relieving opioids. How cool is that? The trouble is the craving pathway in my brain does not know the difference between a prescribed opioid from my local GP or one bought on the street. It’s party time either way. As the song says so succinctly “it’s just a shot away”.
I went instead for a different type of needle and had acupuncture treatments which began to bring some ease to my chest. Gradually I began to recover. Someone made me a soup and delivered it to my door and another took me to a 12-step meeting and I began meditating again. That all helped restore my spirit and reconnect me to what is real and what is true.
Light disappears sometimes. And while I was way out there on the edge of darkness where the vultures circle, life went on living – the sun rose and set and the moon waxed and waned – people died and babies were born – we all grew older – we cried we laughed – people celebrated belly button birthdays and recovery anniversaries and others made decisions to use. Birds sang and cats prowled the neighbourhood. Daffodils poked their heads out. Joys and sorrows. I wrote myself right and my heart and mind healed along with my body. I came back home. I engaged with others and I returned to work and I went to a play and listened to music and gave thanks. The river of life energy flows through us.
May we be well
May we be happy
May we live with ease