Authors: Mary Forsberg Weiland,Larkin Warren
A Memoir of Drugs, Rock ’n’ Roll, and Mental Illness
with Larkin Warren
FOR MY MOTHER
NOAH AND LUCY
WITHOUT YOU, I’D BE LOST.
THANK YOU FOR KEEPING ME IN THE LIGHT
I have had to experience so much stupidity,
so many vices, so much error, so much
nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in
order to become a child again and begin anew.
I had to experience despair, I had to sink
to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts
of suicide, in order to experience grace.
Crown City by the Sea
“Be a Model or Just Look Like One!”
Love Is the Drug
Not Dark Yet (But It’s Getting There)
The Chaos Tour
Swimming Through Cotton
Into Your Arms
I hate to say this, but, God—what have you sent me to love?
JOURNAL ENTRY, DECEMBER 1998
I knew that in
order to stay healthy, I needed to restore some semblance of order to my life, to our lives: get out of bed in the morning, make a schedule and stick to it, go to AA meetings—anything to keep me busy and focused on something else besides the problem. The relapse. The inevitable relapse. But my resolve faded fast when I came home one afternoon and caught Scott standing in the kitchen with his partner in crime Ashley Hamilton, the two of them acting shady. Something was up. I looked into Scott’s eyes and saw
immediately that his pupils were “pinned”—shrunken to little black pinheads. Any junkie knows what that means. Damn it, he’d done it. “I can’t,” I muttered. “I can’t handle this again.”
I left the house, headed straight for the corner liquor store, and bought a fifth of Jack Daniel’s. I stashed it in my bag, went back into the house, walked past the guys and straight up the stairs to the bedroom, where I proceeded to drink all of it. No glass, no ice—just the whiskey, straight, and straight from the bottle. I was sitting on the floor, my back against the bed. There, I thought, feeling the familiar numbness flow through me. That’s better.
The relief didn’t last long; in minutes, my 113-pound body reacted to what I had just dumped into it. Violent nausea hit me like a wall of bricks, and I started to shake. I got myself to the bathroom, then threw up. I threw up again, and then again. Crawling back to the bed, I somehow got up onto it and under the duvet, burrowing into the familiar darkness, the safe place where I’d taken sanctuary so many times before. I buried my head in the pillow and slept until I could stand again.
Hours later, I woke up and wobbled back down the stairs. Scott and Ashley were still there. I was struck by how content they looked, how comfortable. In the space of an afternoon, I’d been sober, determined, scared, angry, drunk, sick, passed out, and then hungover—and here they still were. And they looked just fine. I wanted that. I wanted to feel what they felt—something and nothing all at the same time.
“No,” said Scott immediately.
“Yes,” I said. And then I begged. “Come on. I want to know what you’re feeling. You have to. You owe me.”
He had no more resolve than I did. “Okay, but you’re snorting, not shooting. I’ll cook it down and water it.”
He had a fountain pen he’d long since emptied of ink; it worked like a straw, siphoning up the liquid-dope solution he made. Then he handed it to me.
It’s torture, that voice—the one inside the addict’s head that’s always whispering, “It’s okay if you do this. No, really. It’ll be okay.” Whose voice is that? I guess on some level, it was always my own.
Once I’d snorted the heroin up my nose, I sat down on the couch and waited. It was the foulest-tasting thing I’d ever experienced; even now, I can taste it on the back of my throat. But there’ll be a payoff, I thought, and waited some more. Nothing. Had Scott diluted it too much? And if he had, was he trying to save me, or was he just drug-hogging? Given our past, it was likely a combination of both. I wanted something to happen, but long minutes passed and nothing did.
“I have to go home,” Ashley said suddenly.
“We’ll go with you,” we both said. Yes, of course. We got into Scott’s BMW and drove up into the Hollywood Hills.
Ashley was sharing a house with a girl I knew, someone who’d been sober in AA for more than a dozen years, but when we walked in, it was immediately clear that she’d relapsed, with pot (the classic first stumble), then cocaine. She had a friend there with her—someone else from the program—and that girl had relapsed as well. Contagious, I guess. Like the flu.
An addict’s brain remembers where it left off when sobriety began, and it takes no time at all to get back there—the same train, the same station, with a renewed high that benefits from a period
of being clean. On one side of the room, the two girls were drinking and doing coke; on the other, Scott and Ashley were shooting coke-and-heroin speedballs. I sat in the corner, a little apart from everyone else, drinking and snorting lines. But instead of feeling the edges smooth out, I felt an enormous weight of sadness. Sad for the choices I’d made and the time going by. Sad for Scott. Why did he always go back to this? Didn’t he love me? Didn’t he want the happily-ever-after scenario we kept trying to write for ourselves? What was it about heroin that could be worth this, that over and over again he would choose it before me? Choose it even before his own life, and his creativity, and the music he loved? I walked into the kitchen, leaned against the counter, and looked at them all.
“I want a turn,” I said. For a moment, nobody spoke. I could feel the anxiety pour off the very same people who moments before were feeling nothing at all. And then they started talking all at once. No, I didn’t want to hear the consequences. And I didn’t want that useless dope-pen rig that Scott offered up, either. “No,” I told him. “I want to do it like you do.”
He shook his head. “No, baby, you don’t. You don’t want to.”
I moved toward him, as though I were bringing him my heart. “Yes, I do,” I said. “I want to feel what you feel. You go someplace else when you do this. I want to go there with you.”
I could see it in his face—resignation, a sadness that mirrored my own, and, weirdly, a quick flash of excitement. He couldn’t deny me this.
“Okay,” he said. “But just once. After this, I don’t want you to do it again.”
We sat down together at the dining-room table, and Scott began
to organize everything we’d need—cotton, a glass of water, some alcohol swabs, a cigarette lighter, a metal spoon, and what was left of the black-tar heroin. And two clean needles: one for him, one for me.
The table was large and wooden—a family might have sat around it at Christmas, or maybe for someone’s birthday party. For a moment, I rested my hands on the surface, wondering about the people who’d built it. What would they think, seeing us?
Scott put the heroin in the spoon, then added a few drops of water; he lifted up the spoon a few inches, moved the lighter beneath it and clicked on the little blue flame. As the water began to bubble, it turned the color of weak coffee. I could not take my eyes away. Scott set the spoon down, tore off a piece of cotton from the cotton ball, and placed it in the middle of the spoon; when he removed the needle caps and began to draw in the light brown liquid, I took a deep breath. This is it, I thought. This will be the only time I’ll experience this, just once, and then I’ll never do it again.
After each needle was full, he gave it a flick with his fingers, dissolving the few bubbles that came up. Pulling his chair closer to me, he asked one last time, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes.” The word barely came out.
He handed me his belt, showing me how to wrap it around my arm; I slid it up my left bicep, and he pulled it tight. “Make a fist,” he said, “and pump it a few times. Hold the long end of the belt in your teeth, and hold the fist.” He examined my arm for a good vein and as he did, I looked into his face, trying to get him to look at me. But he didn’t.
Once I felt the needle in my skin, I watched the heroin flow into my arm, centimeter by centimeter. When the needle was nearly
empty, a trace of my blood shot into it. The connection between this bloody needle and the very good chance that I was officially on the way to my deathbed never entered my mind. “A few seconds until it hits,” somebody said. “Maybe half a minute.”
I was maybe at the fifteen-second mark when it happened, and there are no words for the way it felt. I pushed all the way back into my chair—I melted into it. Finally, Scott’s eyes met mine. We sat looking at each other for what seemed like a long time. I was closer to him than I had ever been, in a way I’d never known I wanted and could never have imagined.
“Are you okay?” he asked. I knew he was waiting for me to vomit, to be sick. But sick was the furthest thing from the way I felt. I felt normal. Or what I always believed other people felt when they were “normal.” I’d never felt normal in my entire life. No matter what I had ever done, what successes I’d had, what drug I’d ever taken or how much booze I’d drank, how hard I’d partied, how much I’d loved and been loved, I could never get to normal. I’d climb and climb but could never climb out—and now, at last, I was there. I nodded my head, which felt both heavy and light at the same time: I’m fine.
When Scott took the belt from me, it felt like cashmere sliding down my arm. He wrapped it around his own arm, picked up the second needle, and shot up. This was the first time he’d ever done it in front of me—before, he’d always done it in the bathroom, with the door closed. Now he didn’t have to hide it anymore. I knew now that he did love me, and I knew that he needed this. Not wanted it, but needed it. He needed to feel normal, too. What an odd thing, I thought, that we should have this in common, this little mystery.
I wondered, for a fleeting few seconds, why that was. And then the question simply went away.
I closed my eyes. I don’t know how long we sat there. It was peaceful. It was some kind of grace. I felt right and perfect and new, and I didn’t ever want to go back. With this, I thought, I will never again have a negative conversation in my head; I will never again sleep for days, curled up in darkness, afraid or unable to get out of bed and into the sun; I won’t cry anymore; I will never again feel not normal, or separate from the world, or less than everybody in it.
Addiction—to heroin, to anything—doesn’t arrive with a brass band advertising its intentions and pushing you around. It tiptoes in with a small, quiet voice that becomes stronger the minute you let it in. You are going to need more. If you want to keep feeling like this, you are going to need more of what made it happen. Oh my God, I thought. The peace evaporated, replaced by panic. I could not let this go, could not let this be over. To have it and then not have it? No. The voice was right. I was going to need more. Was Scott going to let me do it again? Could he read my mind? Did he know that I would never, ever let this go?
There may be people who try heroin once and never go back for more. There may be people who take it for a test drive, alone or in a room full of friends, and don’t become addicted the first time or even the second time, because they vomit or get scared or don’t like what they see when they close their eyes. There may be people who aren’t addicted in five minutes and completely lost in twenty, blindly walking away from everything in their life and going only toward the next fix. I am not one of those people. My brain—which I know so much more about now—doesn’t work like that. It grabs and holds,
like a dry sponge in the rain. I was twenty-two years old, and I was hooked.
I don’t remember the rest of that night, and even now, I don’t care that those details, the aftermath, are mostly gone. Even today, all these years later, having fought for my health and my peace and my life and my children, I still have that belt, and the memory of those first few moments of heaven on earth. I had never felt anything like that in my life and I doubt that I ever will again. I used heroin many more times before I finally surrendered, and each time I did it, I had a glimpse of “normal”—but I never felt perfect again.