Drugs to DUI: Reflecting on Emotional Baggage

It seems to me it cost all of $3, although it's been so many years I can't be certain of that memory. $3 for a tiny square of paper—what was it, maybe a quarter-inch in size?—that was usually stamped with a smeary cartoon design. Papa Smurf. Green Daisy. Smiley Face.

You'd put it on your tongue and taste chemicals and pulp and eventually the stiff cardboard-like texture of the paper would get soggy and you'd chew it up until it felt like a spitball. Then: a long period of nothing. Was it bunk? Aw man, it's—wait. Does that chair look, like, really huge to you? Oh man check out that chair


I took my first hit of acid in eighth grade. From the time I was 14 until 18 or so, I tried everything I could get my hands on. It was all readily available. Tabs of LSD, sold by shady-looking guys who murmured "Doses, doses" over and over. Forty-ounce bottles of Old E 800, flat and saliva-tasting towards the bottom. Shitty bathtub crank manufactured out of Vicks inhalers and god knows what else, which burned like fire as it dripped down the back of your throat. Skunky-smelling weed huffed out of homemade two-liter gravity bongs. Alkyl nitrite sold in tiny bottles from porn shops, inhaled  for a headachy, dizzying effect. Coke—but just once, because I hated how it made my throat feel numb. MDMA tablets purchased after hours of riding in a Greyhound bus to an underage goth dance club in Portland.

What else? Oh, who knows. There was a lot, in those years. I wasn't a disaster, exactly, but I seemed to be trying my damnedest to turn into one.

The disaster didn't come until 14 years later, when I scraped along a vodka-soaked rock bottom for a while, then inexplicably managed to dig myself even deeper. I thought the night of the DUI was the lowest I could go, but it turned out that the night in jail I was eventually sentenced to, the one that came many months later when I was clean and sober but also pregnant, my belly sadly stretching out the state-issued jumpsuit fabric, well, that was worse.

That night—the jumpsuit, the overhead fluorescents that buzzed and flickered all night long, the ratty thin blanket, the cement slab that served as a mattress—hasn't faded from my memory quite yet. Maybe it's not the sort of thing that's ever supposed to. I do know that the shame I felt during that period of my life brought me full circle to my fucked-up teenage self, the one I thought I'd left behind over a decade beforehand. I thought I'd grown up and become responsible and had built miles of distance between the misfit girl and the adult woman that was married and had a good job and drove a nice car ... but it seemed like I was wrong. You were a loser then, you're a loser now, I thought.

Over seven years have gone by since that terrible, horrible, no-good very-bad year, and my life is very different now. I have children, I have responsibilities. I confine my overindulgences to pints of Ben & Jerry's. Maybe you'd look at me now and never guess I have a luggage-cart's worth of baggage. Or maybe we all do, and my story of regret and mistakes is really no different from anyone else's, it's only the details that change.

I can't go back and change my past, but I do think ahead to my children's future. How can I help them avoid making some of the same bad decisions I did? How can I explain my own experiences in a way that has a positive outcome? Is it better to be completely honest, or is it better to paint on a fictional veneer? How will I, personally, handle any evidence of experimentation? Will I overreact? Is it better to overreact?

How can I make sure I'm thinking objectively, when it can be so tempting to feel as though parenthood is somehow a chance to relive our own childhood?

I have no answers to any of these questions. And it's funny, how I used to feel like the choices I made only affected me, so who cares what I did? I could never have guessed that they would stay inside me, a jumble of murkiness, for the rest of my life.

Image via Flickr/meta-man

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