I’ve done this before. Sugar. Purging. Alcohol. Caffeine. Bad boyfriends. Withdrawal is no fucking joke, but it always passes, and in its place are hard-won insights and the giddy, breathless relief that the hairy, incontinent monkey is finally off my back.
You’d think those past experiences would be shining, hopeful beacons on the horizon, proof plucked from my own timeline that I can do hard things. Hell, I can the hardest thing of all: I can change.
But that’s the thing about withdrawal: while it’s the gateway to hope, its path is pitch-black, stark. You know why there is no Venn diagram showing the overlap of hope and withdrawal? Because the whole fucking point of withdrawal is to crawl through it even though it feels like a hope graveyard. You keep crawling even though all you want is your drug for one more night and you don’t believe for one hot second that letting go is ever going to feel as good as having the needle in your arm, the Starbucks grande, the bad boy on your speed dial.
I’m there now. I’m staring at the ceiling and sweating while my whole family is asleep wondering what the fuck normal people do when they can’t read. (Sleep, apparently, if the three people in my house are any indication.)
I ride the bus feeling half listless and half buzzed. I’m dying to pull out a book, a newspaper, a Buzzfeed article about the 23 Things Only Girls With Fine Hair Understand. God, anything with the written word on it. I settle for a quick scroll through Instagram.
I feel like I’m dying. I’m Ray Charles in that scene where he’s detoxing, thrashing in the bed, screaming about spiders on his skin. I’m Tom Hanks’ character on Family Ties—the uncle who’s so profoundly alcoholic he drinks all of the Keatons’ vanilla extract to get a buzz. I’m the Ulysses-obsessed kid from my Master’s program who had a psychotic break when he abruptly stopped drinking Johnny Walker Red.
I got here by asking for help with my writing. I guess my shrink got sick of hearing me keen about how shitty my writing is compared to, well, every other person in the world who’s strung more than two sentences together. “I’m stuck, I’m paralyzed, I hate every word I write. By the time he was my age, Salinger was done writing.”
If writing is Crossfit, then complaining how much mine sucks is my WOD.
He lowered the boom: Stop reading for a month.
“Say what?” I said. My paying job requires extensive reading; those Amelia Bedelia books aren’t going to read themselves to my illiterate children; my only sustainable hobby (other than therapy) is reading.
“Other than work or reading to your kids, no reading. For a month.”
I understood the exercise. While for most people reading is pleasurable escape, I’d turned it into something else. I’d turned every book into an indictment against my own work. It was as masochistic as the way I guzzled coffee or enabled my college boyfriend by ghost-writing his essays so he could sustain his drug habit and fraternity obligations. The relationship between me and reading had to be reset.
Was he taking me off heroin? No. Did he take away running or my Costco card? No. Do I have a choice? Yes.