The first time I did heroin I got so high I could barely walk.
I was 25. I knew, unequivocally, that everything else I’d done up to that point, whether alcohol, weed, cocaine or benzos, was all a waste of time. Heroin was what I’d been waiting for my entire life.
I didn’t inject it that first time – my friend Susie cooked it up and put it in a needless syringe and squirted the liquid up my nose. We were at her parents’ house in north Seattle, where she’d been staying. The effects were almost instantaneous. She grasped my arm as she struggled to get me out to the car so we could leave. She didn’t want her mom to come home and see me like that, because she’d instantly know I was loaded.
Her mom was no rookie.
She pulled me in close and stared at my face, worried that maybe she’d given me too much.
“You’ll be fine,” she said.
Later that day, when I left to go home, she gave me some dope to take with me.
“Just make sure you never use more than three days in a row,” she said. “And you’ll be fine.”
Never use more than three days in a row and you’ll be fine.
That was the first time I’d ever heard of the three-day rule, which is meant to shield you from potential opiate addiction. The basic premise is that if you use for more than three consecutive days, you’ll have withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop.
Keep it at three days or less, and “you’ll be fine.”
Somehow, somewhere, somebody had decided that three days marked the threshold of opiate addiction. It was the doorway between fun-loving-recreational-heroin-user and full-blown-needle-wielding-face-picking-abscess-festering-junkie.
It was a simple rule, but like a lot of things that are simple, it wasn’t easy. Because when you’re faced with withdrawal symptoms, even at their most subtle, it is much easier to get some dope than it is to suffer through that sickness. It is much easier to disregard the three-day rule entirely and worry about the consequences later. I’ve attempted to follow the three-day rule countless times and failed every single time.
“I’ll be fine, I won’t use more than three days in a row.”
I’ve said it a million times.
Yet, the framework of the three-day rule is structurally sound. Establish a threshold between enjoyment and pain and then take great care not to cross it. How hard can that possibly be? When it comes to dope, it turns out that it’s pretty hard. But over the years I’ve remained captivated by the three-day rule; my belief in its validity is absolute.
Dance right along the edge, but don’t go beyond.
In 2016, I decided I would apply the three-day rule in a different way – I would use it to protect myself from the pain of failed relationships. I separated from my long-term boyfriend on December 31, 2015, and woke up, by myself, in my own apartment on January 1, 2016. To say that January 2016 was a difficult month is like saying opiate withdrawal is mildly annoying. Opiate withdrawal makes you want to die.
January 2016 made me want to die.
I maintained the rule’s simplicity: don’t fall in love. That’s all there was to it. I was barred from love, and anything even approaching love. Like, lust, fun, friends, even a dramatic crush… All of that fell in front of the threshold and into the category of “you’ll be fine.”
It was easy to achieve at first, since not one guy showed me even the slightest inkling of interest. The year was almost over before one finally did, and I realized instantly that I couldn’t have hand-selected a better candidate for the three-day rule. He was perfect.
It would be impossible to fail.
We had literally nothing in common – we couldn’t have been more different. We weren’t destined to be together, in fact, we were doomed from the start. It was never going to go anywhere or become anything, and even in a parallel universe, it still wouldn’t have gone anywhere or become anything.
Despite the mismatch, he ignited my insides.
He turned the floor into lava and forced me to hop around on tables, chairs and mountains to survive. It was more than just butterflies. It was earthquakes and tidal waves and impending death. It burnt my face and hands and peeled off layers of my skin. It was intense and I loved every minute of it. I was not fine, nor was I going to be fine. I completely failed at the three-day rule.
I mean, I failed.
And then, inevitably, he dumped me.
I was shattered.
The thing is, I wasn’t really shattered over the guy. I’ve been through much more traumatic breakups than that. Despite the fact that I had proved myself inept at following the three-day rule, which was frustrating, I had known intellectually that we weren’t going anywhere. It wasn’t rocket surgery. Yes, I was heartbroken, but it was really just a case of poor timing – it happened immediately after my abrupt separation from the newspaper, in January of 2017.
That newspaper was my entire life. I survived January of 2016 because I still had the newspaper. In 2017 I had nothing. I was irreversibly altered. My cells shifted and assumed new formations.
I was rejected as a worker, rejected as a professional writer, and rejected as a woman.
All in the same week.
In January of 2016 I had wanted to die. In January of 2017 I wanted to jump out of a hayloft, impale myself on a pitchfork, hobble onto the railroad tracks and have a train splatter my body parts into the Skykomish River. It was too much. I was filled with loathing for the people who “fired” me and for the man who broke my heart. I hated them all, vigorously. I reveled in that hate.
And the more my situation didn’t improve, the more I hated them.
I told myself over and over and over, that never, ever, ever again would I allow myself to be vulnerable. It wasn’t worth it. Those butterfly moments always led to pain. I took crazy-bold risks in my adventurous exploration of this other human, but it wasn’t worth it because love muddled everything up. Love broke my resolve, it broke my determination and it eventually broke my heart.
No more. Ever.
But, like sore muscles or a bad migraine, the pain eventually faded, and in 2018, I met someone who sparked my interest. The situation was eerily similar to the first one in some ways, yet worlds apart in other ways. At his core, he was exactly the opposite of the first guy. We had a lot of things in common. It was easy to be with him because we shared similar views and had experienced things that most of polite society has not.
Unfortunately, my failure to correctly implement the three-day rule was even more catastrophic than the first time.
I didn’t just disregard it or put it on a shelf. I tossed it straight out the window of a car traveling 65 miles-per-hour and watched it bounce along U.S. 2 a few times before disintegrating into a cloud of dust.
The worst part was that without even knowing he was doing it, he was able to follow the three-day rule perfectly. And he didn’t just follow it, he executed it flawlessly. That was not an outcome that I anticipated, and unrealistically, I assumed that I could change it through force of will. It made me mad that somebody was better at my rule than I was, which led to some undesirable tactics on my part.
I tried everything to push him beyond that threshold. To get him to feel the same way I did. To get him to discard the three-day rule like I had.
Sadness, anger, adventure, edginess, medical frailty… I tried it all. Nothing worked.
It’s embarrassing to admit that, and I’m not proud of it.
The strange thing was that his rejection of me went far beyond typical rejection. It was rejection on what felt like a daily basis. It was excruciating because I had a weirdly stubborn sense of hope. A sense of hope which was constantly doused, only to resurface again almost immediately.
It was worse than typical rejection in ways that I’ve not experienced before in my life.
He made it clear that he didn’t want to be with me, but even worse, he actually went so far as to encourage me to be with someone else. Except for all the times he did want to be with me. It was like he was saying, “You and I aren’t even a remote possibility. We never will be a remote possibility. We never were a remote possibility. You are so undesirable that I not only want you to disappear, I want you to widen the gap between us exponentially. Except not right now. Hey. Come here.”
It was insanely hurtful, yet still I’d go back for more. Like a puppy.
Did you change your mind yet?
How about now?
Matters of the heart, like drugs, render my intelligence completely useless.
I hadn’t heard from him in over a month, and he reached out recently. It gave me pause. I engaged, at first. But then, our entire situation unfolded in words right in front of my eyes and it happened all over again. That kaleidoscope of feelings I’d experienced almost daily for so many months.
A glimmer of hope, a touch of excitement, deep longing, and then stabbing pain as he, yet again, shoved me away as hard as he could. As badly as I wanted to focus on the positive parts, cave in and go to him, I knew it was only a cheap, temporary solution to something that I’m not even sure is a problem. I knew I couldn’t. I knew I wouldn’t.
I bounced off him this time, like a rock-climber, rappelling down a granite cliff. It felt lonely and terrible, but it also felt like closure.
Watching it happen right before my eyes was illuminating.
I still think the three-day rule has validity. I still think it could be worth another shot. I’ve identified the deficiencies in my previous two attempts – I obviously didn’t try hard enough. And it is, after all, the three-day rule.
It only makes sense that I’d find success on my third attempt.
Never use more than three days in a row and you’ll be fine.
Also, while you’re at it, never fall in love.