The virtue of a proportionate response

I had to have surgery last week, and I was determined to get through the aftermath without the assistance of narcotic pain medication.

My surgeon had confidence in my ability to take pain pills like a normal person, but he doesn’t know me. He prescribed them to me, even after I told him I was an addict and needed to get through the recovery process without opiates. In a way, I appreciated this very much. My feelings on this topic are complex. I don’t want to be denied pain pills if and when I legitimately need them.

But I know myself. I know myself too well. I can have them prescribed to me. I can even fill the prescription. But I can’t actually put them inside my body.

I wish the reality was different, but I can honestly say that at no time did I feel the urge to take those pills responsibly. From the get-go, I was mentally calculating how many it would take to get high. They were only fives, the lowest dose of oxycodone you can possibly get. I viewed them with snobbish contempt and told myself they were hardly worth the relapse.

But still. There they were. A tank that I decided to stand in front of.

Why not just rip up the prescription?

I don’t know. Because I’m me, I guess.

I hate asking for help. While I know a lot of people, I am generally a very solitary human. I like to take care of myself and hate to seem vulnerable. But in this situation, I had no choice. I had to have a caretaker for at least 24 hours, and I knew I needed something to get me over the hump in terms of the pain. As terrified as I was to take a pain pill, I was even more terrified of throwing them away before the surgery, as I had no idea what I was up against.

Asking for help was complicated by another issue.

I felt awkward fielding questions about why I needed to have surgery in the first place. It’s not like I had to have a cancerous tumor removed. The need for this surgery was related to a decision I made in 2002, when I opted for breast augmentation.

Breast implants don’t live forever. At some point, they need to be replaced. I’ve known that mine needed to be swapped out for years; one of them had starting leaking and you could visibly see that they were lopsided. It drove me crazy. I hated the way they looked. I’m sure that nobody has died from a leaking saline implant, but still, it was a problem that I needed to address. And I felt guilty for the indulgent behavior.

I’ve been postponing the surgery for years, because of the necessary downtime.

I booked it on kind of a whim. I did it quickly and tried to not think about it.

And then there it was, staring me in the face.

I thought about my hard-fought sobriety. I have six years of clean time and if I can make it through to March of 2019 without ingesting any mind-altering substances, I will be in uncharted territory. Six years was where I slipped up last time, and it was because I was in an extraordinary amount of pain.

I thought about the things that motivate my sobriety and there was one thing that stood out in a way that was profound. The men and women of the Monroe Police Department.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office too, for sure, but the MPD has a special place in my heart.

It’s an interesting thing, and one of the greatest gifts of my job as a reporter. As an addict, I was a walking felony. I was always terrified of cops because, typically, when I ran into one, I was doing something illegal and would inevitably end up in handcuffs. The first few times I had to interact with law enforcement as a reporter, I was petrified. I assumed they could smell my criminal history. I remember standing in Sultan in 2013, shaking then-Lt. Rob Beidler’s hand, at a complete loss for words.

I assumed they’d dislike me because of my background. I was awkward around them. My face would turn red. I felt guilty even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wanted to offer my purse and say, “LOOK! See? There isn’t any dope in here.”

But over time, that changed dramatically. I started divulging my history more and more. And every time I did, no officer looked at me with disgust, or treated me any different than they had before. Every time I did it, it was transformational, so I kept on doing it.

By the time I did my ride-along with MPD in 2016, I think I lasted about 30 seconds before outing myself as a felon and a recovering addict. My ride-along officer was entirely unphased by the news.

I watched my former self get arrested that night, in the pouring rain, as I sat in the front seat of that patrol car. It was an amazing experience.

I loved covering stories for the Monroe Police Department. Especially in recent years, when nationally, cops have been under fire. I sought to reverse the trajectory of negative press. I thought, and still think, that if I could create a compelling narrative that changed the mind of even just one person, it would be worth it.

These are officers who show up at little kids’ birthday parties with gifts, often purchased with their own money. Kids they’ve never even met before.

These are officers who are so impacted by their own children, they organize things like “Shop with a Cop” to help support the kids who need them the most. These are officers who don’t hesitate before dipping in to their own pockets when confronted with a community member in need. These are officers who break windows and jump in front of trains to save a person’s life. These are officers who jump at the chance to text an ex-junkie who is facing surgery scared and alone.

They are champions for their communities and champions for the human race.

They are champions for others in law enforcement.

They create nonprofits. They travel and build monuments. They feed the hungry. They volunteer their time. They honor and respect.

These stories are not told often enough and within the Monroe Police Department they are countless.

It became my mission. I never had adequate time to devote to it, but I did my best. Somehow, the consistent interaction with law enforcement gave my sobriety an entirely new dimension. It was sharp, and meaningful, and had such power.

It’s a power that lives and breathes today. It has never diminished.

I started covering Monroe Police and Fire Appreciation Week in 2014. It’s an annual occurrence, and was one of my very favorite things to cover as a reporter. It always ends with a big celebratory lunch, and in 2016 I was asked to speak at that lunch. I honestly had no idea what to say, but figured I’d better not waste the opportunity.

It was an especially meaningful year because the Monroe Fire Department had merged with Snohomish County Fire District 7. They had merged with my fire district. The ones who had saved my life on more than one occasion after overdoses, accidents and other calamitous, drug-related mishaps.

I decided to speak my truth. I stood in front of a roomful of cops and firefighters and told them who I was. I thanked them all for saving my life – literally and figuratively.

All of these scenes played out in my brain as I contemplated my sobriety, and I decided to ask the MPD for a little bit of help in terms of my surgery. I sent a few texts and Facebook messages to officers that I know, and reached out to a few of the officers’ wives that I met and became friends with over the years.

I was nervous and self-conscious, but I did it anyway.

It’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.

They came through like an army. I received text messages, emails and Facebook messages. And not only on the day of the surgery! They started coming in the day before, and continued to come through afterwards… Every single word serving to remind me of who I am today. That army was essential. It was the powerful, proportionate response that I badly needed.

“Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”

One of the officers told me that, and it became my mantra.

I got my surgery on Wednesday, November 28. I got rid of the narcotic pain meds that night. They were no longer an option.

I was blessed with exceptional support. My caretaker took heartbreakingly good care of me. Nobody can break my heart like he does – it’s not his fault and I won’t name him here. He shattered my insides the whole time I was there. He did almost everything for me. I ended up staying at his house until Friday night. I wish I could have stayed forever and at the same time I’m sorry I went at all. I do everything wrong with him and seem to cause irreparable harm whenever I’m in his presence.

When I got home, there were flowers waiting for me on my porch. They were from the Monroe Police Officers Association.

Never has a bouquet of flowers meant so much to me.

On Saturday, a fierce anxiety settled in. My chest burned, my heart pounded, and my skin crawled. Combined with my low energy and overarching pain, it felt exactly like opiate withdrawal. Which made me angry. I denied myself the opportunity to take opiates… So why did I have to feel like this? Every cell in my body screamed. I was rifling through my mental filing cabinet in search of any person who might be able to hook me up with some benzos. I was ready to humbly request, cajole, beg.

My addict-brain kicked into high gear. Lorazepam would be fine, I told myself. That stuff pretty much sucks anyway. My doctor might even give it to me willingly… Probably not, but it’s worth an ask. It’s not taking opiates if it’s taking an anti-anxiety med. I can still say I did it without pain killers…

But I knew that was a lie. I can no longer outsmart myself in that way.

I went back to my mantra. I adjusted the wording.

“Anxiety is temporary, pride is forever.”

Crippling anxiety was my companion for three full days. And then, as of today, Tuesday, December 4, nearly one full week post-op, it started to subside.

There are grand changes afoot in my life, and I am better prepared for all of them with my sobriety firmly intact. When an addict needs help there is no such thing as a disproportionate response, and I humbly thank everyone who has been there for me in the past week. I owe you all my life. That may seem overly dramatic, but I assure you that it’s not. In any given moment of any given day, I am a heartbeat away from a hot spoon and that tangy, pungent smell that I can instantly recollect.

I need my armies.

Pain is temporary, pride is forever.

Thank you, MPOA

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The 2016 Monroe Police Department Citizens Academy graduating class

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When they ribbit, it means they’re happy

On two separate occasions in my life, somebody has stood in front of me with their hand out, palm facing the sky, holding a dead frog as tears streamed down their face.

Granted, frogs are awesome, and it is sad when they die.

But how many people can actually say that that’s happened to them? Twice, no less.

The first time it happened, it was my boyfriend, Terry. He had incredible love when it came to animals, so it wasn’t a huge shock to see him like that. I’d seen him nearly weep over baby possums that we found in the middle of the road one night; their mom had been hit and he was frantic to save them.

The frog was my pet. We had gotten him from our friend Laz, who had a plethora of snakes, tarantulas and other exotic critters that he was getting rid of. He’d closed his Everett-based reptile shop, hence the slithery menagerie.

I’ve always loved frogs, but honestly, that one was kind of intimidating and I never really bonded with him. He was a Brazilian horned frog, and he needed a pool in order to survive. He didn’t have to be in water all the time, but he had to have water access. He ate crickets.

He liked his pool and he liked crickets.

I kept him in a small terrarium that had some wood and rocks and, of course, his pool. The terrarium was actually just a converted fish tank, but it worked perfectly fine. At least, it worked until the owner of said fish tank decided to reclaim it, while Terry and I were out of town for the weekend. We came back to discover that my poor frog had been rehomed, and that he had not taken well to his new environment.

He was all dried up and dead, pool-less, in a small, round bowl.

The fish tank belonged to Terry’s brother, who had apparently decided that he needed it worse than my frog did. That was clearly not the case. Terry discovered the mishap and picked up my petrified frog, distraught, crying inconsolably. I was bummed too, don’t get me wrong.

But, I took several Xanax and pretty much felt better right away.

That was the first time it happened. It happened again about a decade later.

In the interim, I had another pet frog. I really loved that frog. I found him myself… He was hopping around inside an apartment complex in North Seattle. It was not a place where you’d expect to find a frog, so I caught him and took him home. He was adorable. He was a green tree frog, and he’d change colors depending on his surroundings.

I built him a terrarium and bought him crickets to eat. He’d ribbit all the time which was really endearing. I asked the people who worked in my local pet store how to care for him and they educated me. They told me that his ribbiting meant that he was happy.

Unfortunately, my cat Fang became obsessed with him. She’d lay on top of his tank, and just stare at him. The poor guy must have thought the sky was made of white fur. While I was in rehab in 1999, she dislodged his terrarium and it fell and broke. Either she ate him or maybe he got away.

Nobody presented me with his corpse on the palm of their hand as they wept, although I might have held him myself and cried, had I been there to discover his cat-ravaged body. I really loved that frog.

It was probably 2003 or 2004 when it happened again. My dance with addiction was in an intensely hopeless phase. I was homeless and had somehow hooked up with a married couple named John and Linda. They were older, and both longtime junkies. The relationship worked well for me, because Linda had a great hustle – she was an amazing shoplifter. She was slightly pudgy with wrinkles and long grey hair and looked like somebody’s grandmother, not like a person who would fill their coat and bag with merchandise they didn’t plan to pay for.

She almost looked respectable. Until she smiled and revealed her alarming lack of teeth.

At any rate, it was a mutually beneficial relationship, because we could cost-share. We split the cost of our hotel room every night, shared our dope, food, crack… Pretty much everything. Linda did all the shoplifting and I did the returns. We actually had some fantastically elaborate receipt scams; she was quite ingenious when it came to that stuff. We pulled off some grand capers that really made the whole thing seem feasible on a long-term basis.

Until one of us got arrested, overdosed, kicked off a bus or set our bathroom on fire.

We didn’t have a car, so whenever possible, we’d hire one. The only problem with that, was that it meant less dope for us at the end of the day, because we had to kick down the driver. Because of that, we typically relied on Metro to get us to where we needed to go. We rode busses up and down the I5 corridor to avoid hitting the same stores all the time.

One night, we got off the bus at the Lynnwood Transit Center, which is just a few blocks off Highway 99. I don’t remember where we were going, but it was dark, and we were making our way to 99 on foot. It was the end of our “work day,” so I’m sure we were heading to one dope house or another. We were walking west on 200th Street S.W. in the Scriber Lake area when it happened.

We suddenly realized that the ground was crawling with frogs.

It was dark out, and wet. And there were frogs everywhere.

They were big frogs, like my Brazilian horned frog, and there were hundreds of them. They seemed to be coming out of what looked like a pond or a stream on the north side of 200th, near the entrance of an apartment complex. That’s where they were the thickest. They were headed south, across 200th. The problem was that it was dark, and drivers couldn’t see them, so every time a car entered or exited the apartment complex, the frogs were getting run over and killed.

They had a semi-decent shot at survival once they began to cross 200th, because their groupings were far less dense. But in that little driveway, they were getting massacred.

When we realized what was happening, we found ourselves at a loss for what to do. The frogs seemed bound and determined to travel from one side of the street to the other, regardless of the danger. Regardless of the fact that their journey was killing them. We tried to get them off the road… We tried to persuade them to take another route. But they just kept coming.

Linda started picking them up and tossing them out of harm’s way. I wanted to help her, I really did, but they were so big and there were so many of them. Linda was frantically determined, desperately trying to save as many as she could. And then, she inadvertently picked one up that had been hit by a car.

It was in bad shape, and it died while she was holding it.

There it rested, dead, on her outstretched palm. She made a sound, and I turned to face her, to see what had happened. She looked at me with such profound sadness. Tears streamed silently down her face and her mouth gaped open as she gasped for air.

It was just all so hopeless.

In a way, it’s weird that we stopped at all. It was the end of our “work day,” which meant that our number one priority was meeting our connection, so we could get loaded. That’s why we did what we did. We’d do our wake-up in the morning, embark on a day of stealing and returning things, and then we’d re-up at night. That’s how it usually went. That was our day.

The fact that we spent so much time trying to save the frogs is oddly out of character.

I can see now that we were the frogs. And maybe on some level, we recognized that. Maybe that’s why we tried to save them. Our daily endeavors were just as risky and doomed as theirs – it’s just that it took us longer to die. The primary difference was the reason we did it – our “why.”

The frogs had a cause that was far more noble and worthy than ours.

They faced certain death because they wanted to go swimming in the lake across the street. Maybe that lake was their home, maybe their food was there… Or perhaps their families. Whatever was there, they found it worth the risk. We faced certain death as well, but we did it because we needed to pay for a hotel room in which we could shoot dope and smoke crack all night. And we’d get up the next day and do it all over again. Everything in our lives was contingent on how much we could steal from others.

There was nothing noble about that.

Eventually, John and Linda and I parted ways.

I saw them again – or at least I thought I did – several years later. I had been in and out of federal prison twice and was building a life of sobriety. I worked in south Seattle at the time, and was on my lunch break, having just picked up an expensive bottle of wine for my boss. It was his birthday, or maybe his wedding anniversary, I can’t remember which. I was wearing designer jeans and driving my own car, on my way back to the office when I saw them.

They were sitting in an alley, holding a sign that asked for money.

My insides froze.

Granted, it happened fast, and it may not have been them, but Linda’s hair was so distinctive, and John’s was too – always tied back in a scraggly grey ponytail. It looked like them.

It felt like them.

I remember pondering the weird dichotomy of the situation. There I was, heading back to my job, wearing $130 jeans and transporting an $80 bottle of wine. I had an apartment of my own and a full tank of gas. I remember being so grateful. Even though I wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be in my life, I was still grateful.

I feel a similar gratitude now. I may not be exactly where I want to be in my life, but I generally don’t indulge in habits bent on killing me.

And if I ever do, hopefully my cause will be more noble, like that of the frogs.

 

This frog is not related to this story in any way, but it demonstrates that I do really love frogs. I took this picture at an event in Monroe in 2016.

Bad men win when good men do nothing

I’ll never forget the first time I met Mama Susie.

She was outside of her Kenmore apartment, caring for one of her plants or maybe one of the many birdhouses she had scattered throughout her “yard.” She stood awkwardly, gently swaying, and there was an odd stiffness to her spine. Her back was to me, and when she turned she had the sweetest, friendliest, most welcoming smile on her face. It seemed remarkably out of place.

I was there, after all, to buy drugs from her.

It reminded me of the first time I experienced a holding cell at the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle. I had been locked in there for hours, and when it was finally time for me to go to court, I was escorted past the woman in the holding cell next to mine.

She was an older woman, in her late 50s, with short, curly salt-and-pepper gray hair. She smiled at me so brightly that I was taken aback. It was bizarre to me. I was miserable and terrified, and I had no idea what was about to happen to me. And here was this woman, who looked like a grandma, in much the same situation as I was, but she had a beaming smile on her face.

It was incomprehensible.

I’ll never forget her. Her name was Karolyn Grossnickle. I ended up on the same unit as Karolyn, which was DA, or Delta Alpha, as they say in prison-speak. I never really got to know her, but she was always kind. She had gone her entire life without even a traffic ticket, and yet there she was in federal prison.

Susie and Karolyn were nothing alike. It was just that Susie’s smile was so staunchly at odds with the circumstances, much like Karolyn’s was that day.

Susie was older too, maybe in her 60s, but there was something very childlike about her. She looked at me with genuine kindness and ended up giving me the drugs on a front, which was even weirder than her happy mood. I guess maybe I had the tiniest bit of credibility, as we were introduced by my sister, who she knew.

Through a very unfortunate set of circumstances, I met all my most recent drug connections through my sister.

Susie was an incredible source, as she had a multitude of serious health problems and was on strong, narcotic prescription painkillers. She would sell me her entire monthly script of “tiny green bombers,” which were 15 mg oxycodones that I could smash up and snort if I wanted. I loved them, and she gave me a great deal. She didn’t need them because she mostly managed her pain with Opanas, and also meth, hence the need to sell her oxycodones.

She had a cramped, two-bedroom apartment stuffed full of things. It was a typical junkie sanctuary; messy, airless and exquisitely disheveled. I love places like that. I always have – I am instantly at home in them. Each room was filled with teetering piles of stuff, stacked with plastic containers that were filled with more stuff. At least one other person officially lived there, but it was mostly Susie’s place.

Lots of people came and went, and they were all junkies, of one kind or another.

She had a sweet dog named Sasha, an older black lab who was kind of fat and very loving. I loved that dog. She was mellow and gave the place a touch of normalcy.

Cooking, feeding the dog, leaving to run errands, eating Starbucks cake pops, walking through the woods behind the apartment building… All those mundane things happened there, but all of that was secondary. That apartment was where you went to get high. That was its purpose. That was what it was all about.

It was black and white. You didn’t go there to achieve, set goals, or work towards future success. You went there to fail, obliterate feelings and to experience a world where everything is black or white. Sick or well are the only things that matter in that world. Are you sick, or are you well? Do you have dope or don’t you? Everything you do is dictated by how you answer that question.

Beautiful in its simplicity.

Susie liked to do crafts and she had fishing tackle boxes and plastic bins filled with sparkling, colorful trinkets that you could make jewelry with. Beads of all shapes and sizes, metal loops, clasps, chains, pieces of other jewelry that had been carefully dissected, and an endless collection of tiny charms.

It was a flailer’s paradise.

I love charm bracelets. I always have. Creating a charm bracelet was the perfect project for us to do together… I got to dig through all her containers and hand-pick all my charms, while she put the whole thing together. It was a project you could really get lost in, and we did. We smoked meth and snorted Opanas and did heroin as we worked.

Crafting and getting high go together quite nicely.

The bracelet was a multi-day project, not something you could whip out in a couple of hours. One of the days we worked on it, we toiled for an entire afternoon, floating in that hazy, delightful space where the drugs are good, you have enough of them, and you don’t have to talk or think or feel.

Sasha snoozed quietly on that floor that day, and I vaguely remember thinking that she didn’t seem quite like herself. She hadn’t said hi to me or come up to get any pets. It never dawned on me to lean down and check on her, which in retrospect, is probably a good thing.

She was dead.

I don’t know when she died, but she was dead when I was there. I spent an entire afternoon, doing drugs, flailing through buckets of charms and beads, and I was sitting next to a dead dog the entire time. And I never even knew she was dead. I left to go home, and when I came back the next day, she was gone. Susie told me that she was dead. We both looked at each other because we had known that something weird was going on with her that day.

She just wasn’t herself.

Every time I think about Sasha I feel unworthy of eventual dog ownership, even though dogs are my favorite thing in life. What kind of a monster spends an entire day crafting next to a dead dog? It’s a relentlessly dark memory, and I feel ashamed when I think about it, but it’s important for me to remember that it happened.

It is important for me to remember how ugly I can get.

Lately, my life has felt completely out of control. It’s making me squirrely, uncomfortable, sad, angry and filled with loathing. I hate not having control. I hate being told no. I hate not being able to get what I want. I hate bullies. I hate when people stand idly and do nothing when others are abusive, cruel, fake and punitive.

The people that allow the unjust to continue are just as guilty, in my view.

“Bad men win when good men do nothing.” – Susie Hollenbeck

Most of all, I hate having feelings and want to kill them so fiercely that they can’t ever again reassemble themselves into something the lives and breathes.

When I get like this, I like to know that failure is still an option. I like to know that the door is there, and I can walk through it – or not. I like to know that my past misery is available to me. All I have to do, to get it all back, is pick up a drug.

It’s inexplicably soothing for me to know that.

And to truly be in control of that choice, I need to know where the drugs are. Knowing means that I have ultimate control over where I go from here. I need to control something so desperately, I can feel it in my teeth. I can feel it in my soul. I can control my sobriety, I can control my muscles, I can control my strength… These are the things I love and embrace the most right now.

Even though sobriety can be such a tedious pain in the ass.

I texted my sister the other day, and asked her about Susie and some of the other junkies that we spent time with at the Kenmore apartment. I just wanted to know where they were, in case I ever need to find them.

Just like Sasha, they’re dead.

Two out of roughly eight of us are dead. Those are bad odds. That means a quarter of us have died in the last six years.

Susie, like I mentioned, had severe health issues, so it’s not too stunning that she’s gone. My sister thinks it was her cancer that finally took her. My heroin connection was a younger girl, nice, always loaded and always friendly. She’s dead too. Overdose.

While it could be viewed as alarming that I made this inquiry in the first place, I’m glad I did. It is absolutely, 100 percent, time for change in my life, but not that kind of change. I’m not going down like that.

I still wear my charm bracelet. And I think about Susie and Sasha every time I wear it.

NOTE: I named this blog “Bad men win when good men do nothing” because it struck me as EXACTLY the right title. My friend Susie Hollenbeck used to say that, and I love the sentiment. In the interest of clarity, Susie Hollenbeck is NOT Mama Susie. They are two completely different people, coincidentally both named Susie. 

Bracelet

Ode to the Dr. Sy kick package

Back in the day, if you were a junkie and you wanted to quit, you could go and get a kick package from Dr. Sy. All the addicts knew about him… He had an office on Beacon Hill. For all I know he could still be there today, prescribing kick packages to desperate heroin addicts fighting to get clean.

In theory, it’s a great idea. You got a total of seven different prescriptions, each of which addressed a different aspect of opiate withdrawal. The intent was to get you through the most acute part of the detox by using medications to help diminish the pain of the withdrawal. You got all the stuff commonly associated with opiate detox, including anxiety meds, a muscle relaxer, blood pressure meds, nausea meds, meds for stomach cramps and other digestive issues, and something for sleep.

I can remember the names of most of them, but not quite all.

The anxiety meds were always Ativan, which are adequate, but definitely not as awesome as Valium or Xanax. They do help with anxiety though, and they can be fun if you take a lot of them.

The best part of the whole package was the muscle relaxer… The muscle relaxer was typically carisoprodol, which is the generic form of Soma. Soma is one of the earth’s most delightful pharmaceutical treasures.

Take enough Soma and the angels will sing to you, right before you fall on your face.

He would refill the prescriptions for you one time, and that was it.

The only real caveat was that you had to have a caretaker. You had to have someone who could babysit you and dispense the medications throughout the entire withdrawal process. And you had to bring that person with you to the appointment, or you couldn’t get the meds. He would meet your caretaker, ask you to stock up on fluids and electrolytes, give you the prescriptions, and then you were on your own.

Again, it’s a great theory, but unfortunately it breaks down in practice.

No normal person is equipped to handle a withdrawing drug addict hopped up on a vigorous cocktail of seven different prescription medications. For me, things would start to go awry the minute the dope-sick began to settle into my bones. And then, once I was two or three doses in, my ability to function as a reasonable human being deteriorated completely.

I am rabid when I’m in withdrawal.

If my caretaker closed their eyes for 30 seconds, it was 30 seconds too long. I was tearing up the house, searching closets, pulling open drawers, dumping out purses and bags, looking in every corner of every room until I found my kick package. In that process, if I found medications belonging to my caretaker that looked like they could provide me with some relief, I’d grab those and choke them down by the handful without any hesitation at all.

I attempted several Dr. Sy detoxes throughout my years of addiction, often with tragic and sometimes nearly fatal results.

The first one was the worst. My mom was my caretaker that time – it was before we knew any better.

We got the meds. We stocked up on Gatorade, Sprite, soup and saltine crackers, the way Dr. Sy advised. We started the process.

Once I started getting sick, the recommended dosages weren’t enough. I wanted more. I was relentless. I was absurd. I drove my mom insane until, somehow, I got the kick package away from her. She may have handed it over – any reasonable person would have – just to get me to shut the hell up.

At that time, my parents were my landlords and I lived right next door to them. I carried my kick package back to my house in a brown paper sack, like a furtive alcoholic in possession of a bottle so precious, that nothing else in life mattered at all. Once I was inside, I started taking the pills. And when I still felt terrible, I took more. And when I still felt terrible after that, I decided to take them all.

That’s the thing about opiate withdrawal. You can take a hundred different pills to try and alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal, but nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever vanish that pain entirely. Except dope. One shot of dope and it disappears instantly. But dope is the only thing that will give you any true relief.

I took the whole kick package.

I don’t remember much after that.

I was in one of my bedrooms when everything began to hit me. It felt like powerful magnets were pulling me down to the hardwood floors, like the air had suddenly turned to quicksand. I was being sucked into the floor and my knees would smash against the hardwood every time I tried to take a step. I’d struggle to get back up, only to slam back down onto the unforgiving floor once again.

It hurt. I remember that.

At some point, I was discovered, on the floor, unresponsive. It was not the last time I would be found like that. I don’t know how close I came to death that time. I rode to the hospital in an ambulance, which I’ve done many times. My parents were upset. When I woke up all I wanted was a strawberry shortcake dessert, and they went and got me one.

It didn’t stop me from doing more kick packages later. Over time my addiction worsened, and I attempted to get clean over and over and over. Nothing ever really worked.

Kick packages always sounded like a great solution. I knew, in my heart, that at some point, I would get it right. It was too beautiful of an idea for it to never work. I started each new kick package with hope and excitement, and an odd feeling of superiority over my ability to acquire such a thing in the first place.

But I never quite managed a successful kick using a kick package. If I’m going to detox, I need medical professionals to dispense my meds – I need people I can’t manipulate, browbeat, harass and drive completely insane. I need to be locked up, so I can’t rob my caretaker blind and do irreparable harm to myself and those around me.

But I still love the idea of kick packages.

I think I’ll always love the idea of kick packages. They are tangible. You can hold them in your hands and then you swallow them and they’re inside you. They’re a part of you. They make you feel better. They alleviate your unpleasant symptoms.

They take away the pain… Or at least, they make the pain much more tolerable.

I love that.

I think they should have kick packages for regular life. It shouldn’t just be a junkie thing.

I love the idea of having multiple medications to ease my suffering while I’m enduring a hardship. When I feel like I’m in hell because I want things I can never have; a kick package would help make that fiery jaunt a little less horrific. I long for a kick package when life gets too overwhelming. I long for a kick package when I get a broken heart. I long for a kick package when my soul aches so fiercely I can feel it physically. I long for a kick package to tone down life’s intensity so I can breathe.

I long for a kick package when the noise inside my brain is so loud it renders me incapable of rational thought.

Just for a few days, to get me through to the other side.

In theory, it’s a great idea.

It would probably break down in practice.

Photo: The bag I carried to my last detox. I finished all my dope and checked in at King County Detox June 25, 2012. Sober date: June 26, 2012. 

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Fireworks, a big fish and a myna bird

The front door of my grandparents’ house was never locked.

You didn’t even have to knock when you arrived. You could just walk right in. It always felt a little strange to me, because I couldn’t imagine people just walking in to my own house. But my grandparents didn’t mind at all.

It was a grand house, with large, square brick columns that extended all the way from the ground to the roof. The never-locked door was the front of the house in name only, as it pointed east, while the home’s true face – its essence – looked out west over Big Lake in Mount Vernon. I loved that house as a child and I loved that house as an adult. I still love that house, and it is difficult for me to fathom that I will never again set foot inside its many walls.

It was a house filled with rooms, and the rooms were filled with things.

As a child, it appealed to me greatly because I loved the idea of a house that you could get lost in. It was an adventurous house, and you could look around and see new things every time you were there. There were secrets there, just waiting for somebody like me to retrieve them.

Every year they had a huge 3rd of July party that all were welcome to attend. The Big Lake Fire Department does fireworks on the 3rd at Big Lake, and the party was always huge and sunny with tons of food. I always think of fireworks when I think of Big Lake.

There was a pool table downstairs, and a leopard-print chaise lounge. The chaise was draped with an actual bear skin rug, which captivated me as a child. And there was a whole extra living room down there. You could be down there and do whatever you wanted, even if you were a kid. There was freedom there, because all the adults were upstairs in the other living room watching sports.

That’s where my grandfather was.

Any time I picture my grandfather, I visualize him in one of two places. He is either in the living room of his lakefront house, in his chair, or he’s behind his desk at Hendrickson Realty. In both places, he always held a lanky brown “More” cigarette in between his fingers, usually with a full ashtray lingering nearby. At home, a can of Budweiser accompanied the cigarette like a chaperone. At the office, it was coffee.

My step-grandmother, Ida, held an identical pose.

My grandfather, Willard M. Hendrickson, was an intense man. He was a force of nature. He was a perfectionist, who expected perfection from others. I always viewed him as a strong, imposing man, even though from my earliest memories, he walked with an unsteady gait from an injury long passed that left him without depth perception. He spoke of the incident often, but I can’t recall whether it was a logging accident or something that happened to him as a paratrooper in World War II.

His gaze was often steely, sometimes mischievous, but always filled with life and fire.

Even on his deathbed.

All my life I felt very close to him. Out of everyone in my family, I feel I am most like my grandfather.

Even though there were many places inside the Big Lake house that I never saw my grandfather go, every corner of it absorbed his essence. It breathed and expelled my grandfather’s air. It too, was filled with life. There was a huge aquarium at the top of the stairs, inside of which was a round fish that swam lazily. And there was always a myna bird named Joe, who conversed with my grandfather often.

I have a million stories about my grandfather. By the time I was born, he had gotten divorced from my biological grandmother, Elsie, and had been married to Ida for almost a decade. Grandma Elsie lived in Depoe Bay, Oregon, with my step grandfather, Captain Stan. As a kid, I felt very lucky. I had a whole extra set of grandparents on my father’s side. Not everybody had that.

After Willard and Ida had been married for a while, they decided they wanted a child of their own. My grandfather had four kids with my Grandma Elsie; my dad, my uncles; Norm and Rich, and my aunt Diane. He and Ida adopted a baby girl and called her Wilida, cleverly combining both of their first names. When she got older, Wilida started going by the name Wendy instead, but to me, she was always Wilida. I don’t think she liked the name very much, but I always loved it.

I bet there’s nobody else in the world named Wilida.

I loved having an aunt that was only three years older than me. None of my friends had aunts that young. When I was a kid, my grandfather bought a small RV, and they’d take Wilida and I on trips.

That’s how I know that despite his demanding nature and brave face, there were things that gave my grandfather pause.

On one trip, for whatever reason, we drove through Depoe Bay. I’ll never ever forget it. As we drove down U.S. 101 we passed Tradewinds Charters, which was owned by my step grandfather, Captain Stan. Grandma Elsie was in there, helping customers. I could see her rosy cheeks and the red hat she always wore. But we couldn’t stop – my grandfather would not. It felt so odd to be in Oregon, driving right past my grandmother, with her never knowing I was there.

I think we went back at some point, and spent time with Grandpa Stan, but only after Elsie had died.

When I was older, I lived at the Big Lake house. I got my real estate license and worked at the family business. To get my license, I had to take a course and pass an exam. My grandfather never for a second doubted that I passed that test the first time I took it. There was simply no question in his mind. I was not so sure. I was terrified. It was a hard test. I was sure I had failed.

But I passed, and he looked at me with undiminished pride.

My grandfather and I would drive for hours all over Skagit County. My week-long real estate crash course had left me ill-equipped to sell vacant land, so my grandfather filled those gaps.

He would sometimes say that I reminded him of his daughter, Diane. My aunt Diane died in 1981, when I was 11 years old. I remember her only in bits and pieces. I wish I could have known her better.

You have the Hendrickson gene, he would tell me, as though it were a coveted prize. I’ve often laughed at the curse of the “Hendrickson gene,” but maybe it’s not all bad.

Willard was a brilliant man. Nobody can argue that. All his kids are brilliant. He may not have been spry enough to exercise in his later years, but he never stopped studying things and learning. He was passionate about information. He was forever an entrepreneur, which makes perfect sense to me now. I can’t ever imagine him working for another person. This is something else I can relate to very much.

I never would have thought of myself as having an entrepreneurial spirit, but this past year has taught me much about such things.

I have a million stories about my grandfather, but I have one that is my favorite. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when it happened, but I vividly remember the aftermath: my grandfather’s knees, torn and tattered, covered in wounds that looked vicious and unruly, even as they were healing.

He had been off exploring properties located along an old logging road, which is something he did frequently. He was a logger for many years, before transitioning into real estate and land development. His first office was in Smokey Point, which he later relocated to Sedro Woolley. He knew those old logging roads like the back of his hand, he knew about land, he knew where you could drill a well and where there wasn’t any water for two miles down.

As he got older, I admit he belonged behind the wheel less. His issues with depth perception made driving a challenge. But he loved challenges and he was stubborn. I’m the same.

I wouldn’t want to stop driving either.

This time, he had adventured west of Big Lake, winding up some old logging road, until his car veered off into a ditch that he couldn’t get out of. He left the vehicle and tried to walk out, but walking was not his strong suit. I forever worried about him walking up and down the narrow, steeply-pitched stairways in the Big Lake house. He always seemed more-than-slightly unsteady on his feet.

He walked as far as he could, down what was likely a silent, narrow road of dirt and rocks, and when he couldn’t walk any more, he got down on his hands and knees and crawled. The details are murky to me now, and I would kill for a written account of what happened. I bet you anything there was one, somewhere, at some point. He may have been lost overnight, but I am not 100 percent sure of that.

He was gone long enough that my grandmother became worried and sent people to look for him.

I can guarantee you one thing; giving up would have never occurred to him. “Lay down and die” is something that would have never entered his mind – not even for an instant. He walked as far as he could, and when he couldn’t walk anymore, he crawled. There was blood running down his knees as rocks cut into his flesh, and he continued to crawl.

Eventually, somebody found him, and rescue was at hand. By the time I saw him, he was back in his chair, proudly displaying his wounds of battle.

And even after all that, he never stopped exploring his properties, his logging roads, his territory. I know this because he did it all the time when I worked with him. I know this because it was in his blood.

One time, we were somewhere north of Sedro Woolley, and he showed me a house that was entirely underground. We laughed as we thought about the people who lived there, mowing their roof.

The story of him crawling his way down a deserted logging road is one that I relate to very much. I crawled my way out of addiction in 2012 and was left empty and shaking but with hope. I built a new life which was blasted into rubble in January of 2017, and I’ve spent the past year clawing my way out of a selfish, reprehensible pit of self-indulgent misery. I didn’t last five seconds on my feet before I was forced to crawl, painfully, inch by inch.

Some days, I still feel like I’m crawling.

When you want something bad enough, and you can’t walk, you crawl. It’s just what you do.

My grandfather died on September 11, 2007. He had fire in his eyes even as he fought death. He talked about going in to the office, and I don’t doubt that had he been able to crawl, he would have tried to get there. I miss him. I wish he could have read my work and I wish we could have talked about property rights and land use and the Growth Management Act (GMA). I wish I could visit his house, and breathe in some of his will and spirit, but the house is lost to us now.

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but nobody named Hendrickson owns property on N. West View Road in Mount Vernon.

My mom and I discovered this just a few months ago.

I hopped onto the county assessor’s website. People I have never heard of before in my life now own 23924 N West View Road. It is unbelievable and shouldn’t be. It just shouldn’t be.

I have a million stories about my grandfather. This is only one of them.

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One of my favorite pictures of my grandfather, holding my sister in 1979.

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My grandfather and Wilida, with my dad and I.

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Beautiful Big Lake

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The butterflies will kill you

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with buried treasure. I wanted to find some, Trixie Belden-style, guided by clever, hand-drawn maps and a smattering of clues that I discovered while riding one of my best friend’s horses.

I didn’t have a horse, but we did have a huge roll of wire mesh fencing in our backyard that bounced up and down when I straddled it. It was sort of like a horse. When I got silver dollars and fifty-cent pieces on birthdays and holidays, I would sometimes bury them in a jar, in hopes that I’d forget about them long enough to be surprised and delighted when I found them again.

I planned to ride my horse-fence to retrieve the goods, ushered by hidden clues that I stashed myself.

Less than a day would pass before I’d get tired of waiting for my mind to forget, and I would dig the coins back up. Even as a kid, I was bedeviled by the need for instant gratification. If I couldn’t immediately be struck with some rare form of amnesia, then buried treasure be damned.

I wanted the thrill and the excitement of finding something secret, but I didn’t want to wait for it. And I didn’t want to wait to spend my money. I wanted to spend it now.

To this day, my proclivity towards short-term thinking compels me to my detriment. Over time, it seems to have rendered as an innate inability to savor good things when they happen. Even worse, I am endlessly captivated by bad things. Bad things, when they happen, resound in my brain over and over and over and over. They are what I deserve. They are what I know.

They are what I love. I need them to quell the possibility of joy, which is something I don’t easily comprehend.

When something great happens, I am shocked and almost as panicked as I am when something terrible happens. And then, it’s like I’m too scared to really believe in it, so I look beyond it, immediately seeking the next thing that’s going to make me feel good.

This pattern was much easier to navigate as a drug addict. I miss that simplicity. Heroin was always the thing that would make me feel good, so I just had to do whatever it took to get more. Easy. The fact that heroin was the love of my life for so many years, demonstrates my constant desire for instant gratification. Heroin is instant gratification in drug form.

There’s nothing like it.

These days, feeling good is much more complex than numbing my mind with a substance. These days, if I want good things to happen, I need to take bold risks and put myself out there, which is terrifying and uncomfortable, and I hate it. I really do hate it.

Worse of all, the gratification is never instant. It takes forever, and waiting is agony.

On Friday, I had a bad day. Something bad happened. And although I worked hard to prepare myself for the bad news that I knew in my heart was coming, it still crushed my spirit. I put on a brave face, but it was meaningless and not at all authentic.

I don’t think you can ever truly prepare yourself for rejection. It generates an unholy pain that is absolute. It breaks everything.

On Saturday, something great happened. It was amazing. It was a response that I’d hoped and longed for since the beginning of April. It was unexpected, which I suppose should have made it even better. It did make it better. And luckily, it came in the form of an email, so it’s something that I can read over and over and over again.

Because my brain doesn’t have instant replay when it comes to good things. Only bad.

I gasped, I gulped air. I checked to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. I got out of my chair, went out into the living room, and started jumping up and down. I want to cling to that small bit of goodness, I want to hold onto it tightly. I want to possess it so thoroughly that it can’t ever leave me. It’s mine and I need it. It’s a lot bigger than what happened on Friday.

It has greater implications and a broader context. It’s my whole life.

But Friday still hurts. Friday fractured my heart and Saturday should have repaired it, but now I’m already wondering about the next thing and I’m quaking, and butterflies are churning, and they just might kill me this time.

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Also we do handstands

I am fascinated with CrossFit.

I love everything about it. I love the challenge of it, the seeming impossibility of it, and the fact that it has its own language. And I especially love that in CrossFit, hard work can give natural talent a serious run for its money. I feel like CrossFit is my destiny, or rather, it’s what my destiny could have been if I hadn’t wasted so much of my life shooting dope.

I’m obsessed with the Dottirs. I follow them, and other notoriously badass CrossFitters, on Instagram for inspiration. But as bad as I want to be like them, my fascination with CrossFit does not outweigh my fear of it. I’m terrified of CrossFit. I feel like it might humble me to an unbearable degree.

I’ve only ever really done two CrossFit workouts, and both times, it nearly killed me.

The first time was in September of 2016. I had about a month of Beachbody under my belt. I thought, “I run stairs. I do Beachbody now. I can do anything. This will be a breeze!”

It was not a breeze. I did a very abbreviated version of the WOD (workout of the day) and ended up dripping in sweat and dizzy to the point of being slightly nauseous. Which, as weird as it sounds, is very appealing to those of us constantly seeking the hardest, most intense workouts. I did it at the Monroe box, and I remember trying so hard to act tough, like it hadn’t affected me that much.

The next time was better. I was inspired from watching Fittest on Earth, so I tackled “Murph.” It was a modified version of Murph – I didn’t have a weighted vest and I used a door attachment kit for the pullups – but it was still Murph. For those that don’t speak CrossFit, Murph is a workout consisting of a 1-mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and another 1-mile run.

I did it last year it to celebrate my five-year clean and sober birthday.

The pushups were a nightmare. I knocked them out in sets of 20, which towards the end became sets of 10, and then sets of five. I ended up with petechiae all over my face from the pressure.

My fascination of CrossFit has grown since then, as has my fear of it.

For the past month, CrossFit enthusiasts around the world have been engaged in the CrossFit Open, which is a series of five workouts stretched out over five weeks. Any CrossFit athlete who strives to compete at the annual CrossFit Games must compete in the Open, which can take place at any CrossFit box. Each Open workout is numbered using a system that incorporates the year and where the workout is in the sequence. The week one workout is called 18.1, week two is 18.2, and so on.

It was 8 p.m. last Monday night, and I was lying in bed scrolling through my Instagram feed, when one of the moves from 18.4 caught my attention. It was a handstand pushup, also known as a HSPU.

I was instantly intrigued.

I decided I needed to get up and try one for myself.

I walked out into my living room and cleared the needed wall space, which was not difficult, since my whole living room is pretty much dedicated to fitness. Even so, I made sure I had plenty of room. I positioned myself a short distance from the wall, raised my arms high into the air, lifted my knee to gain momentum, and went to propel myself forward into a handstand position.

Just like I did a million times as a kid.

I was shocked to discover that I couldn’t do it.

There was some bizarre disconnect between my brain and my body. In the standing position, I could see the wall right in front of me, and intellectually, I knew that once I got into a handstand position, the wall would be there to safely support me. But the second I lost sight of what was in front of me, my brain lost track of what it knew, and I became scared and unsure about what was going to happen.

Something about my head plummeting towards the ground and my feet flying up in the air felt wrong. It felt abnormal. Am I going to fall on my head? Is this even a thing I can do? Am I going to fail miserably? It sent me into a little bit of a panic, even though a part of me knew my arms were strong enough to hold me up, and I knew that the wall would be there to support me.

It happened over and over. Each time I tried, my legs got a little bit higher and I got a little bit closer, but I still failed. That flash of fear-driven indecision rendered me completely incapable of doing what I wanted to do.

It really made me think about my life.

For the past 14 months, I’ve been miserable. I’ve distanced myself from friends because I’m a chore to be around. I’ve kept myself sequestered so that others don’t have to endure me. It is a million times easier to stay home, by myself, every weekend, than it is to go out and risk whatever might happen socially. In general, I don’t have anything good to say about anything, so why bother talking?

I’ve been waiting for things to magically get better, but they don’t. They don’t get better. I’m miserable, and I’m so afraid that I’m going to fall on my head that I do nothing to change the situation.

The influence that fear has over my own mind is astonishing. Fear holds me back in everything I do. It is suffocating and pervasive, yet strangely comforting. I’ve never been good at being happy.

I’m tired of it holding me back.

Last year, I was working to increase my strength with the goal of being able to lift my 30-pound dumbbells for a chest press, without a spotter. I knew I could press them once I got them up; it was getting them up, safely and without hurting myself, that was the problem.

I tried many times and eventually got discouraged and stopped trying. Then, one day, I was sitting at my desk, and suddenly, I just knew that I could do it. I got up, walked to my weight bench, and hoisted those bad boys up without even hesitating. Yes, it’s not something I’ve always been able to do – but I put in the work to make it happen. The following Monday, which was chest day, I worried that it had been a fluke. Would I be able to lift them again?

That doubt was crippling. That doubt almost stopped me in my tracks.

That fear-driven indecision nearly rendered me incapable that time too.

But I knew I could do it because I had done it.

I have no idea how long fear influenced my brain to the extent that it hindered my ability to achieve something. I am 100 percent convinced that my muscles were strong enough to lift those weights long before my brain would accept the fact that I could do it.

I’ve been practicing my handstands since last Monday. As it turns out, HSPUs are hard.

After my first series of failed attempts, I went to work in the morning and dismally explained the situation to my coworker. She suggested that I start facing away from the wall, placing my hands down on the ground and then climbing my feet up the wall behind me, until I’m up in handstand. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so I tried it as soon as I got home.

It works, but it’s not a true HSPU. It’s almost like an extreme decline pushup, which is awesome, and it’s incredibly challenging, but it’s not what my CrossFit heroes do.

I’ve tried other variations as well, including facing the wall, starting on my head and achieving handstand slowly. This is when I realized the strength it takes to complete a handstand pushup. I couldn’t lift myself up when I started flat on my head.

By Wednesday morning, I had petechiae on my face again, from all the handstands and handstand variations.

I had not managed a single, true HSPU.

But with each attempt, I got closer. And with each attempt, I was inspired to do other things that I haven’t been brave enough to do. I reached out. I made some connections. I made some decisions. Most importantly, I didn’t give up. As much as I’m an instant gratification girl, weight-lifting has proven to me that sometimes, results come after a long, sustained effort. I didn’t lift my 30s overnight. But I lift them now whenever I want, which is something that I couldn’t do 14 months ago.

On Sunday, I accomplished my most solid, strongest handstand yet. I managed to get there without compromise – I stood, faced the wall, and flung myself forward from a standing position.

Just like I did a million times as a kid.

Once I was up, I stayed there for a few seconds, poised for whatever happened next. I started to do a pushup but lost my balance. I have yet to do one full, completely legitimate HSPU.

But I’ll get there. You watch.