Plagueless III: Xanax Dreams

Part II is here, if you missed it.

I mentioned recently that I had read an interview with Duff recently that triggered a recovery memory (note–recovery, not recovered). The interview, which is a damn fine one, references his slip in 2005, which, to the best of my memory, I had never read him speaking quite so directly about (though he’s mentioned the general events of 2005 several times–he wrote “Wasted Heart”–if you have never heard it, shame on you, it is a beautiful tribute– for his wife after the troubles of that year and mentions that at pretty much every show). A second article, referencing the same period, appeared this week

He remarks in the first interview that:

For me, it is the drama. I had a relapse on pills in 2005. It came out of nowhere. It was because of all this bullshit. Xanax was prescribed for me. I was supposed to take one if I had a bad panic attack. I had them in my bag and that was my first mistake. I took one, and the next day, I took two. In only nine days, I was up to 22. That is what guys like you and I do.

Addicts, he means, of course–particularly those of a particular stripe. Addictive behaviors can respond to all manner of triggers, and Duff has never really made any bones about what band and touring stress does to him. Hell, “Beautiful Disease” makes reference to the notion: “lost my mind about 30 time ’cause of bullshit pulled on tour” (this in a song about addiction, and realize that 30, in this case, isn’t hyperbolic…in fact, it’s probably a conservative estimate). While I am admittedly baffled that someone prescribed Xanax to a person that had struggled so badly with addiction (it’s a benzo , for goodness sake–easy addiction), I imagine that the level of stress required–the anxiety produced by that stress–must have been dramatic for him to have even sought the option. I have no idea if he fully informed himself about the dangers of Xanax to addicts either, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Reading the remark (and then hearing him talk about it on stage in Nashville) triggered a rather uncomfortable memory from 2007–when I was in therapy. I should note that I am now eternally thankful that the particular doc I saw was an advocate for non-drug therapy, especially for addicts. I recall being so incredibly whacked out (probably the best way to put it), panicking, rising to anger even more quickly than normal, and, oh lord the obsessing! that I went in one day convinced that he needed to prescribe something. Anything would do at that point. All I wanted was to feel normal. Unfortunately, I really hadn’t experienced normal in quite sometime. I was simply in sensory overload, which he recognized, and being the good addiction specialist that he was, he taught me a few behavioral tricks to try before writing a scrip. And I am grateful for that for precisely the reason Duff mentions above, because, as he puts it in the second interview, once he began taking the Xanax: “Boom! I was off to the races. It knocked me off my feet, man. Guys like me, once you start thinking you’re bulletproof that’s when it gets really dangerous. I learned a great lesson from it. I let myself down. I let my whole family down. It killed me.” That could have and, worse, likely would have, been me on such anti-anxiety meds. Such would have undoubtedly forced the kind of collapse that I fear–to the detriment of my family.

Addictions are a shared burden, as is the management of the addictions. Too, as with mental illness, the burden is shared with our children as possible (terrible and unintentional) inheritances. I coach TG regularly about addiction–the realities of why mom reads cough syrup labels and finds non-drug ways to deal with anxiety and insomnia– and why it is absolutely essential that I do and that he pay attention to his own choices and habits. And, while I fear for myself, I fear far more for him and what he stands to inherit from his family tree rife with suicide, mental illness, and addictions.

The other thing that occurred to me when reading this article (the first one) came up time and again as I read the two bipolar memoirs and throughout the last two weeks is this: addictions and mental illness are a shared burden that we slowly learn to share and the we must share. We have to navigate how much to tell and to whom we will tell it. It strikes me as no small thing that 3 1/2 years after the fact, Duff is telling a bit more about his and his family’s ordeal in 2005, just as the flood of information about the events of 1994 was slow to spread, but eventually became a natural part of his discourse. I met a young woman recently who confessed her own addiction struggles to me when we met, just as I shared with her. Why? It was important that we do so, given the context behind our meeting, which began with a misunderstanding borne of my attempting to type while angry (always, always a bad idea), and many thank yous to her for her bravery. You know who you are.

I find myself increasingly able to give voice to my addiction stories, especially the pre-2007 ones, though I’m trying to give voice to the recent slip as well. The stories, the act of sharing, creates and maintains a space in which addicts can survive, because the space is honest and realistic and, well, shared. Because if nothing else, each addict has to learn to rely on someone other than him or herself–too often we cannot be trusted with ourselves. We put the Xanax in the bag, give in to that one glass of wine, go seeking that one trigger because it will give license to release the demon (because we were cocky, because we were brave, because we were forgetful, scared, excited, whatever). What a difference there is when someone keeps us from traveling too high or picks us up when we crash; such a gift of a person can only exist inside an honest relationship.

And so we tell. We tell new acquaintances who might become friends. We tell coworkers. We tell our families. We tell the audience at the show. We talk and we tell and we share to survive. Which is, I guess, why I gravitate toward addiction and mental illness narratives, because they are part of an enormous participatory narrative.

Which brings me to Beautiful Boy.

Sheff’s narrative of his son’s addictions and rehabs and relapses and the toll that they took on the family frightened me initially not because of the point-of-view of intervention and concern–I’m well aware of the havoc addictions wreak on families and friends, but because of the same thing that Duff mentioned as “scaring the hell” out of him when he read it. What frightened me was the father/son role, or parent/child, to generalize a bit. Why? Simple: I worry over TG and what the experience of an actively addict parent and the genetic inheritances will bring about in his life. I worry because he does know that he likely inherited a potentially lethal disorder and that he alone has the ability to escape it. What can I do to prevent addiction for my son?

Honestly? I don’t know.

Realistically, addiction begins as pulling a trigger–the first time might get you, or the third, or the ninth, or, if you get lucky–never, but pulling the trigger nevertheless. And, it begins as a solo effort–the not-yet-addict, responding to desire, to peer pressure, to fancy, to…whatever, makes a choice. Perhaps the not-yet-addict is unaware of his or her genetic potential. Perhaps (as was true of me) he or she is perfectly aware of the torrid family history (“she caught the family disease,” goes Loaded’s “Queen Joanasophina“) but pulls the trigger anyway. Maybe she’ll get lucky; maybe not. Maybe it will be, as Sheff puts it, a “near miss” that pulls her out of her addiction (274), should that be what comes to pass, rather than wholly destructive or deadly rock bottom. Parents can guide, encourage, intervene, and pray; we can teach and hope something positive sticks. In the end, though…there is choice, over which we do not and should not have control.

I could (no, I can’t, but I’ll fake it for a moment) try to intellectualize my response to Sheff’s book. It chronicles parental struggles in painful (and, at times, overwhelming, detail), and the infernal and constant questions: how much do we tell? How much of our own habits and histories do we share with our children, and how much do we edit, realizing that everything we try to hide may come to light in spite of us, even if we never lived in a spotlight? At what point do our stories cease being cautionary tales (which is certainly how parents tend to see them) and become fodder for arguments over who did what, when, how often, and with whom or, worse (?) mere anecdotes of parental lost-coolness? The reader occupies and experiences those questions and that position throughout Sheff’s narrative–the parent overwhelmed by fear and anger and betrayal. And then simply overwhelmed. A telling quote:

There’s a lot I don’t know, but I have learned some lessons about addiction. Though there are some wrong courses of action to take, there is no predetermined right course. No one knows. (275)

If that isn’t parenthood on any subject, I really don’t know what is. No one knows.

One of the most telling pieces of his narrative is the way in which Sheff is nearly always in motion (save for when he is himself hospitalized). Time and again, we see the frantic action of parent calling, praying, screaming, and the addict sleeps. Sleeps or is otherwise passive. We don’t see much of Nic’s activity because we are in David Sheff’s world, not Nic’s*. As a device to heighten the tension of the text, though–it works. Everything in Sheff’s life becomes, for a time, about Nic’s addictions:

Here’s a note to the parents of addicted children: choose your music carefully. Avoid Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” from the Polaroid or Kodak or whichever commercial, and the songs “Turn Around” and “Sunrise, Sunset” and—there are thousands more. Avoid Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” and this one, Eric Clapton’s song about his son. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sneaked up on me one time. The music doesn’t have to be sentimental. Springsteen can be dangerous. (192)

Even the most innocuous of sources (*cough*Springsteen*cough*) is cause for emotional upheaval that may come utterly without warning. Everything in Sheff’s world comes to be defined by his son’s addiction (this is also true for the addicts, of course–every bit of music, every sunset, birthday, vacation, workday or image may be defined by its relationship to the addiction).

Addiction stems from solitary actions; though some are performed quite publicly, they are nevertheless actions imbued with separation from the world. Sheff captures the solitary motions of his son’s addiction in the spaces of loss and terror, ones Sheff himself cannot voice the story for (as he did not experience the stories). However, addiction recovers in shared space–Al-Anon, AA, NA, rehab, group and individual therapy, books, blogs, stories shared over coffee and during concerts and runs and myriad other events. Sheff’s website speaks to this need and truth, as he offers a forum for people to share their stories in. Share there. Share here, but do share your stories, whether they be hopeful or horrific, funny or frightening (alliterative or reasonably normal, for that matter).

Would I recommend Beautiful Boy? I don’t know, really. Probably–especially for parents, though not in the “you can learn from THIS!” sort of way. Parents of addicts and addict parents–yes, definitely, if for no other reason than to hear someone else telling your/their/our story.

So there you have it, the sum total of my recent forays into fiction and non-fiction. Up for tonight? A Christopher Pike novel. Sort of needed a mental download. I’ll get back to real work tomorrow.

Up next? Zakes Mda’s Cion and Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock.

(and Gravity’s Rainbow, in my annual attempt to finish the damn thing).


*Nic’s story is available in Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, which I’ve not read and haven’t decided whether or not I am going to yet.

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