I’m just about jumping out of my skin. I had my first good night’s sleep in eleven days, so I’m feeling rested. I’ve been waking up around 4-5am, which is not the norm for me. I’ve never been a morning person, though when I first moved into my beloved flat I became one of those morning people. I’d brew a coffee, take it out onto my balcony and look out on the morning. I’d managed to draw a line between happiness and appreciation – a thickly painted line, slapped on with a wide, bristly brush and broad, unsteady strokes. I’d fill my lungs with air, celebrating the beauty and freedom of breath.
Every Saturday, I’d walk to the bakery where I’d treat myself to one
or three of these great big, hunking German doughnuts called Berliners. I’d have a chat to the bakery dude and toddle off home to warm my doughnut (not a euphemism), then I’d sit down with the weekend papers and a cuppa. I’ll admit it – I’m a girl who respects ritual.
For the two years or so I was high, I slept and became a shadow of myself. I sliced myself thin as I burrowed my way further down the rabbit hole. I wasn’t achieving anything because being high precludes you from being productive in any way, shape or form. They were wasted years, and years I didn’t have the right to waste. I’ve been on borrowed time since I had my transplant. I know that. But now that I’m off the gear, I’ve been wondering if this is what my life will be like now. Is this what my life would have been like had I not been addicted to drugs? Early mornings full of joy instead of the dread of where my next hit was coming from, believing that the drugs were somehow helping me? The drugs did help for a time when I was using them for legitimate pain, but before I knew it they owned me and it was like taking out a loan I could never repay.
My pleasure senses were dulled to the point where I just wanted to take my next pill, and I was suffering – truly suffering – from anhedonia, which is when your pleasure receptors basically switch off. My brain wanted what my brain wanted, and that was more of the same. There was littlejoy, no moments of natural euphoria and I was constantly exhausted. I couldn’t write. I had trouble reading.
When I was rationing tablets in Barcaldine in 2013 and getting restless limbs/akathisia, I knew I needed help. I started researching what drugs do to your brain. After all, I was already well aware what they had done to my spirit. I looked at Narcotics Anonymous, and worked out it wasn’t for me. I found my addiction therapy doctor, started opiate antagonist therapy, and the rest is history.
I’ve mentioned this before, but when I did my TEDx talk last year, I was unable to memorise my twenty minute speech. For someone with a near photographic memory, that was quite distressing. My brain was recovering from drug abuse, and I still don’t know how much they have impacted my brain function. I had some pretty hairy moments when I’d taken too much oxycodone and my respiratory system became depressed. I’d have heart palpitations, and one day I had to give myself CPR for about twenty minutes after I had overdosed. I was in acute tachycardia and I didn’t know if my heart had been damaged. It still shocks me that I’m not an overdose statistic.
For me, having a terminal illness gave me an acute absence of fear. I grew up fearless, loud and fierce, and I took more risks because a terminal illness is like having permission slip to engage in risk taking behaviours. It’s well documented that people with a life-limiting illness take more risks than people who don’t have a closer ‘use by date’. There’s a sub-culture of the fearless; tattoos, collecting exotic pets, dangerous friends and dangerous habits. I know a lot of people with illness who favour driving fast cars and adrenalin sports. But you also seek your own truth and authenticity, which is far more admirable. It’s that whole, ‘do no harm but take no shit’ dictum.
I’ve been asking and answering a lot of questions about myself of late – a little introspection, if you will. Ruminating over what my life would or could have been like had my addiction not consumed me. But it did, and I’ve never been one for having regrets. For me, they’re lessons. Regrets stifle your present and paralyse your future.
And another lesson – age is a privilege. I turn 39 tomorrow. Every extra year has been such a gift, and I’m revelling in moving on with life armed with respect, gratitude, boundaries and a sense of responsibility to NOT FUCK THIS UP. The good news is that I can’t see that happening because I’m in the midst of a passionate and fervid affair with my life, my friends and family, my writing and my work. Speaking of friends, on Sunday night, I went out with three of my nearest and dearest – one friend I went to both primary and high school with. It was pretty bloody special.
Tomorrow I’m driving down to my friend’s farm in northern New South Wales where we will celebrate my birthday and turn the sod for the new year. The silence, being in nature, that grasp of acuity, the cattle, and the trees embroidered with birdlife seem to be a panacea for city life. And just so you know, I’m not into resolutions – I’m into revolutions. At the end of the day, we are the product of our choices.
Have a Happy New Year, one and all. Big, BIG love. Oh, and here’s a little poem I wrote back in 2004 on the day I left Canada to travel to see my friend artist George Bleich in Carmel-By-The-Sea. Here we are back in 2004 and here is my tree, The Lone Cypress. Now that’s another story …
Firs only sleep
when branches draped in white
fall with frigid arms, then pitch upward like an angry child
when the sun passes through them like a mood;
never knowing to swing a bitter heat to pat down the ground below
Firs only sleep
when concrete skies close over like a skullcap.
The sky yields to a day hue,
leading to kingfisher blue skies
peppered with stars and Luna
until the spring, when they are free.