Now that our mule has plowed those forty acres, let me build a little house on one corner of it.
Deep addiction, like jail, distorts time. On one hand, I was acutely aware of every minute, especially the time between fixes. Especially the time between being dopesick and getting well.
Being dopesick is like Burning Man. Impossible to describe unless you’ve experienced it. Naw – being dopesick is one thousand times more miserable than Burning Man and people should not experience it, ever.
Being dopesick is like having a cold and a flu at the same time. Kicking dope is like that but add vomiting, diarrhea, dry heaving, insomnia, and psychosis. Your whole body feels like it’s been tackled by an NFL linebacker. Plus the rats.
Every detoxing heroin addict has that one symptom that breaks them, sends them running back to Mama. Some people can’t stand the constant vomiting. Others hate the flu-like symptoms. Richard had a restless leg thing that made it impossible to kick for several years. Mine was the rats in the stomach. Okay, maybe not rats. Maybe just mice. Or gerbils. I like that word. Gerbil. It makes me giggle when I say it. They’re so cute and—sorry. It was probably gerbils but rats sound better.
However, they were not just any rats.
They were those two rats in a cage strapped to Winston’s face at the end of George Orwell’s 1984. The rats seemed like they hadn’t been fed in several days because they were fighting, clawing, gnawing at each other. Winston’s torturer told him how they might bore through his cheeks should the cage door be lifted.
That’s how detox felt.
It was the worst thing in the world.
And it went on for eight entire days.
It’s part of my body’s legacy and I now leave it with you.
Addiction and homelessness have left their individual legacies, each one an acorn that grew into an oak tree, mingled with the other oak trees growing in the orchard inside my body. They have had some…interesting effects, even after 28 years clean and sober.
A few years ago, I got accepted into a film making workshop for queer and trans women of color. My film attempted to tell the story of my addiction, homelessness, incarceration, and recovery in four brief minutes.
In preparing for the homeless drug addict portion of the film, there I was, in a corner liquor store, standing frozen in front of the 40s, trying to decide which beer had the most authentic look. None of this craft beer shit. I needed something that said, “I belong in a large paper bag being passed around in a doorway then thrown at somebody’s head.” I went to the smoke shop and left with the cheapest, simplest pipe I could get. I procured a brand-new syringe from the local drug store.
I wasn’t going to film myself doing any of these things, but I was going to get as close as I possibly could. At home, in the kitchen of my house that I purchased with my money from my job, I set up the scene to simulate the preparation of heroin like I did when I didn’t have a home. Muscle memory is amazing because I did it as if it was that morning, not almost thirty years ago.
You won’t believe what happened next. As I tapped out the bubbles and positioned the plunger so that a single drop of liquid appeared on the tip of the needle, my veins opened up. Off camera, wide eyed, I had to keep filming.
The blood in my body seemed to change its course and began rushing to a particular spot on my arm. Little men in overalls jumped up from reading newspapers and began turning wheels, pressing buttons, and shouting orders. This particular crew hadn’t worked in decades, but they began working as if no time had passed. The next instinct was to face the needle toward my arm and complete the task. But that’s where the scene ended.
The feeling was real, but the mechanical will to use had been extinguished. Or at least suppressed. Restrained. Besides, if I was going to do something like that, I should get the real thing. I’m sure I could have figured it out, but the thought of abandoning my film with my awesome mentor, driving to the city, finding parking in the Mission, then wandering around like a narc looking for a connection was just too much. We were on a very tight filming schedule and I didn’t have time for that mess. Plus sobriety. Plus jail and thin mattresses. Plus, the rats.
For two days after, I could feel every particle, every blood cell waiting, wondering, inquiring. Even the collapsed motherlode in the crook of my right elbow got in on it, agitating for an infusion. You never forget how to ride a bicycle and apparently you never forget how to shoot heroin either.
That particular legacy is embedded deeply in my cells. In the blood.
I am grateful to God that I didn’t relapse, for these experiences cannot be removed from my mind or my body. They have left their legacies whether or not I’d wanted them to. They have dissolved and dispersed inside of me.
Legacy be like:
“Baby, put a teaspoon of sugar in my tea, will you?”
You put in the sugar, stir it around. Try to remove it ten seconds later.
Tijanna O. Eaton
Tijanna O. Eaton (Tə-zha-na) is a Black poly kinkster queerdo pocket butch with a high school diploma and a rap sheet who has been clean and sober since 1994. Her upcoming book, BOLT Cutters, is the story of her twelve arrests in three years in the early ‘90s during the height of the crack epidemic. She has served on the Five Keys Schools and Programs Board of Directors since 2006, ascended to Chair in 2021, and also served on the board of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project from 2016 to 2018. Tijanna was co-creator of a queer people of color recovery conference in the late ‘90s. She is the proud recipient of the Unicorn Authors Club’s inaugural Alumni award in 2021 and her work has appeared in Honey Literary. She is also a fucking Boomer. Read more about BOLT Cutters here: https://www.bolt-cutters.com