I’ve never been a huge fan of reading the newspaper. It’s full of depressing material, deaths, murders, abuse and articles about benefits for sick and dying children. I can’t help but put it down and walk away with my stomach twisted in knots and my mind troubled with helplessness. I want to fix all the problems I read about, and I didn’t even make it past the Local section. Even though I know this familiar feeling I can’t help but pick one up and read it nearly every day, maybe I’m a glutton for punishment? Yesterday was no different. I picked up a couple sections of the LA Times as the lunch table conversation turned to daycare horror stories and general “kid talk.”
As I browsed over the headlines I couldn’t stop the sick feeling as it began to churn in my insides. It was loud and clear on every page, “You’re not good enough!” (And neither is anyone else) I retreated to find some solace in the crossword. I only got 3 clues in before the knot in my stomach twisted a little tighter. 9 Across: Drug Addict – 4 letters. Easy, USER. I didn’t even think twice about the answer. I’m all too familiar with this terminology. It’s what everyone called my brother for about 3 years. They referred to his habits as “using” and I suppose they were in the simplest version of the word. He was using whole bottles of Jack Daniels and homemade tourniquets; dirty needles and street side remedies to cure his afflictions. I was naïve to the severity of his habits. In fact I thought it was cool that he got me into dirty pubs and ordered me Red Bull and vodka so I could stay awake while he partied late into the night. I lived in my underage fantasy world until the night he called me at 3 a.m. tripping off an unknown combination of whiskey and amphetamines. He was enraged and depressed, fighting sobs between lines of expletives; flirting with the barrel of his shotgun. I tried to stay calm and told him stories of our childhood. I talked and talked until he fell asleep. I listened and wept for another hour making sure I could hear the deep breathing on the other end of the phone. That night raw and youthful went out the window and until he got clean I was scared ____less every time I saw mom’s number on my caller ID.
All things considered, it didn’t stop me from becoming a user, but not the hard drug variety. I was the copious volumes of alcohol and random sexual encounters type. I went to an AA meeting with my brother as his “support.” He got his 12 steps and I secretly got a hefty dose of guilt. We stopped using, my brother and I, at least in regards to those addictions. However, it hasn’t stopped us from becoming addicted to other things just like everybody else in the newspaper. We’re all users, addicted to working out, dieting, conflict, violence, fear, recognition, image, ambiance, attention, fantasy, knowledge, entitlement, money, sex, power, justice, guilt etc. It’s obvious in our headlines, each one reeking of addiction, good and bad. Maybe that’s why I can’t stop reading the newspaper, I’m addicted to that guilty feeling; maybe everyone else’s addictions make me feel better about mine. Regardless of the reason, one thing is obvious, I’m still a user.