J.D recounts an episode of his active addiction, one that led to him getting the help he needed.
Poetry recitals don’t get more bizarre than this. I was standing in my entrance hall with just jeans on, brandishing a samurai sword while spitting angry stanzas at the front door. I was swinging the sword in curved arcs around me as I recited the lines to those outside trying to break in, “The violin strings have been unplucked; their stirring souls have gone mad and run amuck!” followed by the rest of it, the theme being:
An orchestra falling apart.
Just as my life had done. I was grieving the death of Walter, my cat, who, it felt like, was my child – he had a long dormant virus from the cattery I got him from. I had been in a hostile work environment after getting into a corporate knife fight with someone with more taste for ruthlessness than Hannibal Lector. And my strict diet of drugs and alcohol fuelled an addiction gone ravenously out of control.
A cocktail for craziness, and I didn’t so much go over the edge as rocket boosted off the darn thing.
Naturally, my family were concerned when I declared a holy war on the world, so they tried to get me committed to a psych ward. Being as responsible as a typical addict, I found it hard to commit to a new relationship, especially one with loonies, shrinks and overly manly orderlies.
So, one afternoon, as I lay trying to get some rest, there was a loud knock on the door, and a polite request, as polite as a border collie gone rabid, to open the heck up. When I refused to comply, they broke the lock. Suddenly, with the strength of ten Spartans, I bounded through the apartment and flipped over the dining room table, crashing it against the door – just as they attempted to open it, and push through.
I shouldered back, and with the table wedged there, they could barely open a centimetre before Le Resistance forced them to give up.
My white cat, Balton, my teenage kitten, who I adopted to help heal the hurt of Walter’s loss, scrambled whilst the melee, leaping out the one-story window. I rushed to it, in time to see him scuttle out the gate in the garden below.
An agonised scream issued forth from me, and I ran to the study to grab the samurai sword, and stood spewing words, as my father looked through the key hole in horror.
Poetry I shouted, like a war cry. Funnily enough, I was given the nickname ‘ninja poet’ when I was in high school, but I doubt anyone envisioned I’d get an addiction problem, and it would result in this.
The reason I’m mentioning this incident is because I was reminiscing this week. I was going through some old photographs and found one of a teddy bear. He was wearing a small, red boxing glove, while seated on a window sill, looking out of the brown, wooden shed through a window, to the blue and green world outside.
I took that picture with my iPad at the clinic for the sanity-challenged. But the psych ward wasn’t enough. It helped repair my mind. I later went to Houghton House, to repair my soul.
(As a side note: I found Houghton’s counselling team very knowledgeable about mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. They also have relationships with various clinics, who will recommend them as the best treatment centre for addiction. My doctor, especially, was enthusiastic when I told her I wanted to go there.)
We all have in our life stories multiple strands of chaos woven together by a loom of lunacy.
You might wonder, how did they get me? This guy, modelling last summer’s jeans in the throes of active addiction, was kind of dangerous.
I wish I was dangerous. It has a certain risqué sexiness to it. But Balton helped save me.
For years, I practiced with that darn thing. Good cardiovascular workout, really, swinging cold steel like a samurai. (This was a replica sword, by the way, the kind they use for movies – it couldn’t even slice bread.) Put on some action music from an intense movie trailer, and you really get the blood pumping. My cat would watch bemused. Sometimes, I felt judged.
Now, hours after the initial attempt to breach the door failed, the emergency team and my family considered calling the police to get involved. I think this would have ended my story in a gripping newspaper headline. Perhaps deadline is more like it.
It had grown dark, the Sun casting her last rays through my window. I still had the sword in my hand, like a child holding his teddy during a lightning storm. All I wanted to do was look for my cat, but I was terrified I’d be carted off the moment I stepped through the door.
Then I heard desperate meowing outside my bedroom window. I ran to it and looked down. There was this little blue-eyed creature who wanted back into his home. I couldn’t deal anymore.
So I picked up the phone. Like a terrorist negotiating the release of hostages, I got them to agree to pick up my cat from the garden below, in exchange for me.
Then I surrendered. I dropped my sword on the floor, grabbed a cat carrier bag, and walked through the barricade, before opening the door and stepping outside. Carrying no suitcase, nothing, just the cat carrier bag, I begged them to find him.
Meanwhile, off I went to the psych ward in a pretty ambulance, lights flashing and all.
My parents found Balton, and took him to stay at a relative, with cats of her own, who he became best friends with.
Pets tend to be ill-treated in active addiction, and end up with neurotic behaviours. I’m proud to say my cat had a tranquil personality, and a friendly one, where he would introduce himself to strangers without being skittish.
I took care of him, because sometimes even drugs won’t destroy who you truly are. For those reading this, those still stuck in the throes of active addiction, you’re a good person, maybe you’ve done bad things in addiction, but maybe your goodness shone through despite everything. Hold onto that, and get help, for your loved ones’ sake.
He had a lovely, trusting way about him. Had. Because, and I will never forgive myself, one of this relative’s cats had the feline leukaemia virus. Contractible as easily as by the nose-bumping cats do when they greet each other. It is always fatal. A gentle cat who fought a battle against his illness as long as he could, for another year. Then, the day eventually came when I walked, with a heavy heart, into the veterinary hospital carrying him in his carrier bag.
His illness now caused him pain, and we decided prolonging his life any longer was selfish. I didn’t want to let go, but it was time to. I was there with him the whole way through. When the vet said it was time to say goodbye, I kissed his little white, furry, forehead. I used to pick him up when I got home from work, and did it all the time. This was the final time.
He meowed, so confused, at the tube inserted into his slender leg, his baby blue eyes looking to mine for answers. Then the vet asked if I was ready. I wasn’t, but this was now about him.
She plunged the lethal dose of anaesthetics into him, and barely a second later, he turned rigid, tongue out his mouth, and fell over. He had gone from my loving, soft, little creature, who would nip me on the nose in the mornings while I was half-sleeping, as he kneaded the pillow, to just a thing.
“Do you want to touch him? Some people find it comforting,” the vet said.
“There’s not point now,” I replied. “He’s gone…”
Samurai were said to be the fiercest of warriors, who showed no signs of human ‘weakness’.
They didn’t cry. They certainly didn’t bawl like a summer thunderstorm had erupted in their tear-ducts.
But I’m no samurai. Thanks to my time at Houghton House, I don’t need to be. I don’t have to constantly fight against the world anymore. I was free.
My little white cat gave me the greatest gift one can have bestowed.
The only way I could win the war against active addiction was to wave the white flag of surrender.
For me, I no longer need to carry arms because that war is over.
I hope yours is too.