The Last Time

drunk girl

The last time I touched cocaine was January 31st. Had I have known it would be my last time, I probably would have done things differently. I would have picked up an eight ball instead of a half and stayed awake all weekend. I would have thrown some sort of epic going away party for the dirty little habit that had taken up much of my twenties.

I had quit before, but was easily seduced back into its familiar arms. Cocaine promised to take me somewhere better than where I was, to a version of reality where I was happier, where I could forget about the depression and anxiety that plagued me, the things that robbed me of my confidence and grace. I wasn’t as sad as I used to be, or at least I didn’t think I was, but I still had this shadow that followed me around. Cocaine was like sunshine in comparison, and so I always returned. But something felt different this time.

It wasn’t so much that I was sick of the drug. There’s a reason I liked it for so long, a reason I was late for so many parties, and then, once I got to those parties, why I was always one of the last ones to leave. There’s a reason I spent way too much money on it over the years, an amount I don’t particularly care to calculate. I was just sick of me being on drugs and I thought about this as I put on my shoes and headed to the party. But later, after a few bumps in the bathroom, I pushed the thought away and my night turned into a blur like all the others before it.

I woke up on February 1st and, as I began putting the pieces together from the night before, I realized I didn’t want to be that girl anymore. I replayed the night’s events over in my head thinking, was I the only girl high at the party? There used to be more of us. But over the years, people trickled off. Some quit. Some went to rehab. Some disappeared. It used to be that cocaine was everywhere—or at least it felt that way. Sometimes when I was trying to do less I would tell myself I’d only do it if someone offered it to me, knowing that it would indeed be offered to me a some point in the night. Life felt glamorous like that. I felt like a woman from a rock and roll memoir, a wild child. I felt like I had a secret that made me interesting, which is such a cokehead thing to believe, that doing coke makes you interesting. It doesn’t.

If it was a rock bottom, it was a quiet one. There were worse lows scattered across the half a decade I spent dancing that line between a bad habit and an addiction. There were nights that ended with intense fights, and others with minor interventions. There were nights I don’t remember, and scars I don’t have stories for. I have been high in the presence of people I should not have been high around in situations I should not have been high in. On occasion, I bought the drug instead of doing something more responsible like paying bills or buying food. Once or twice, I found a baggie in my purse at work and did just the tiniest little bit, to even out. One time I rubbed it on my teeth as my boyfriend sped down the highway. I just wanted to feel alive, you know? And coke made me feel alive.

Plus, aside from this, it didn’t really cause that many problems in my life. I held down a job and progressed in my career. The friends who did coke with me also had 9-5s. They were artists and teachers and engineers. We paid for our drugs with pay cheques earned the good old-fashioned way, at corporate jobs or through freelance gigs. We looked after each other. We had fun. We laughed a lot. We danced. No one got arrested. No one died. And no one seemed to mind that I was high all the time, so I didn’t really mind either.

In fact, I looked forward to it. When I first started doing cocaine I didn’t want it to become a problem, so I’d make myself wait until 10 p.m. on Friday night before I did my first line. I thought this little ritual proved that I had willpower and restraint. But after a while, I stopped waiting for 10 p.m. Then I stopped waiting for Fridays. After a little while longer, I had three dealers’ numbers saved in my top 10. I was hooked. I loved doing a quick line before I went out. I loved the way it felt riding the streetcar high through the city. I loved a quick bump before a quick fuck. I loved doing it while I was getting ready to go out somewhere, with the record player spinning as I put on some eyeliner, stopping to do bumps between drinks. It was one of my favourite routines, the act of getting ready. The act in itself.

I didn’t realize it had become such a crutch, filling a void alcohol didn’t fill anymore. I was used to coke, and I felt more like myself when I was on coke, or at least more of the self I wanted to be. I felt confident, sexy and smart. It made me social and outgoing. I thought it made me fun! This is exactly how I used to feel about alcohol. Except I didn’t realize that it had taken the place of alcohol, because the alcohol never stopped either.

I’ve been playing the part of the party girl, though perfectly cast, for far too long. Coke was helping me to maintain an image I’m not so sure I want to maintain anymore. When I came to that February morning, I knew it was time to stop hiding under a veil of powdered confidence and liquid courage. It was time to say good-bye.

In like a lion, out like a lamb. That’s how this felt to me. And maybe this means my story is a happy one and that I got out before things got too bad. Still, it’s been harder than I expected. I crave it almost every weekend, talk about it too much, and find myself yearning for it, especially after a few drinks. I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to delete the numbers in my phone, though I have stopped responding to text messages from business-savvy dealers. I’m aware that temptation is a dangerous mistress. While I have no intention of indulging, there is comfort in knowing she’s just 10 digits away. Like the ex-smoker with a pack of cigarettes on the top shelf of the pantry, I keep it just out of reach. Just for now. Just in case.

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In Defence Of Mental Wellness

there's more to mental health than mental illness

I don’t like the way we talk about mental health, mostly because the conversation is usually framed around “mental illness.” Mental health is so much more complex than that. There’s this entire other side to the equation, one we don’t talk about as much or often enough, and that is mental wellness. When we forget about wellness, we remove not only the element of hope that is so crucial when you are depressed or anxious or angry or lost, but also the opportunity for things to get better.

I’ve written a lot in my life, and on occasion I’ve even gathered up the courage to put something out there that is really personal. It is terrifying to admit to the world that you are flawed, that you have complexes, that sometimes the things you do or think are not normal. I’ve shied away from talking about my own battles with depression and anxiety because I too fall victim to the stigma. But I’m starting to care less about what people think these days. Depression and anxiety may be a part of my life, but they do not define it.

I started shifting my thinking about this late last year. I realized that I had a problem with how I viewed my own mental health. My perspective mirrored society’s. I too looked at my condition as a mental illness and I forgot about my own mental wellness.

It’s easy to do that when you are sick. But after a while, I became sick of being sick. I was sick of feeling sorry for myself, sick of being sad, sick of crying all the time, sick of feeling like nothing was ever going to get better, sick of talking to people, sick of taking pills, sick of drinking too much, sick of feeling the way I felt, sick of being tired all the time, sick of fighting it. I cycled through years of this and every time it felt just as bad as the last.It felt like things would never improve, like I was destined to live in this cloud of darkness.

I read memoirs about other people’s struggles with depression and even the ones I cherished, most notably Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation, didn’t do much to make me feel better, even if I felt less alone. At some point, I accepted depression and anxiety as part of who I was, and that was a dangerous thing for me to do. With acceptance comes comfort and once you’re comfortable, what desire do you have to ever change things?

It’s not like I didn’t try. I spent a lot of time getting referred from one place to the next and listening to one person’s opinion then another. I worked hard on my career, determined not to let my sickness bring me down and even though it did at times, I was further determined not to let anyone know that this sickness existed. I got pretty good at it too. My reputation for being social and bubbly and hard working never faded. But it was not a very effective method for me because at the end of every day I still felt sad, this deep crushing sadness that made me question everything in my life, including my value and my worth. I wondered if people thought I was talented. I wondered if people loved me. I wondered, when they told me that they did, what they could possibly see in me, a shell of a girl.

Then I started thinking about it and I realized I was actually just sick of thinking of myself as mentally ill. How I hated that term. I’m not mentally ill! I shouted from the inside out. There’s so much more to me than that. I’m ambitious, I’m funny, I’m loving, I’m fun. I like to plan events and parties and talk to people and travel places and take pictures and document life and try new things and take chances. I realized it’s not that I was mentally ill, it’s that I wasn’t mentally well.

This idea of wellness seemed new to me. I hadn’t quite looked at things through that lens before and this changed things. I started to recognize that I really did need to learn how to shift my thinking patterns, and I realized this would take time and effort. I stopped thinking about the things that made me sick and instead concentrated on the things that could make me better. I sat down to write a list of 25 things that made me happy and before I knew it I had 47, then 60, then 82. I had a totally new perspective on my own mental wellbeing and I knew it was up to me to make some changes.

I decided to embrace mind over matter and I stopped looking at myself as sick and started looking at myself as someone who had the power to be well. I started embracing the very idea of wellness. All these things that were contributing to my depression and anxiety, I realized I could change them. And if I couldn’t change them, I realized I had to let them go. Maybe I’ll always struggle with my mental health to some extent, as I still do now, but I’ve realized I have a responsibility to myself to not make it any worse. I have a responsibility to myself to make it better.

Everything is going to be okay because what other option is there? ~ Me

In order to become okay, I had to put work into myself, a different kind of work than I was doing before. I had to be proactive and less passive. I had to decide what was worthy of occupying what I call my mental real estate, the places in your mind where all your thoughts, fears, and dreams live. I had to decide to be okay.

After so many years of feeling trapped and running in the big fat hamster wheel that is depression and anxiety, realizing I have the power to open the door was a huge discovery for me. And being ready to open that door was life changing.

Normal Girls Are Boring

normalgirls

“Normal girls are boring,” my boyfriend said, as he does on those lucid afternoons where instability swirls around us like sparkler streaks on Canada Day. In these fleeting moments my own delusions work in my favour and it dawns on me that being crazy is a hall pass. It’s a way out. Being crazy forgives me for things normal girls could never get away with. Sometimes its memories that go missing in the deep, dark crevices of my mind. Sometimes it’s too many T3’s and JD and not enough skirt on a Tuesday in winter when I should be writing or sleeping. Sometimes its door slamming and item throwing followed by confusion, crying and often hugs. Normal girls could never get away with that. But crazy girls? We get by just fine.

Crazy girls mean things stay interesting. I used to be self-conscious in my craziness, but now I embrace it whole heartedly so much so even the word “crazy,” as politically incorrect as it is, has brought with it such adventure, I am beside myself in gratitude.

Crazy girls mean things always change. It means no plan is set in stone. Ever. It means talk of R&R but trips booked to Vegas. And once you become one with your craziness suddenly life seems different. New. Like everything before was rose tinted. Like we all had blinders on. Like we’re older now and more grown up. Improved versions.

Two point oh.

Normal girls know themselves, or maybe they don’t, but the normal girls I know do. They go to work and make lunches in advance and take on the world prepared, effortlessly almost. My normal friends do normal things like buy popcorn AND candy at the movies. And they drive cars like normal. And they dress normal. And they buy houses like normal. And they fuck normal. And I used to envy normal because at least there is structure in normalcy, something every crazy girl needs now and then. But there is also discipline. And explanations. And accountability. And I don’t always have those answers or even know the questions to begin with.

And I used to feel bad, horrible even, a guilt conscience that ripped at my heart and made my insides bleed and spill all over the floor, through the drains and into other dimensions, every time I couldn’t explain myself.

Sometimes crazy girls get confused, I’d say. Forget the day, forget the time, forget meds.

Sometimes crazy girls get lost and found and lost again.

Sometimes crazy girls don’t get it, any of it, ever.

Or maybe that’s just me and I’m the only crazy one or perhaps not even crazy at all.

Maybe he never even said that.

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.