207 Days Clean: Nothingness & SpongeBob - Conversations with an Addict
And by addict, I mean my son
207 Days Clean Today
But who’s counting? Oh… me, I’m counting.
SUPER BRIEF UPDATE: Chris is doing very well. Physically huge improvements but the real surprise are some of his personal introspections and realizations. I provide a recap and then discuss nothingness.
Other posts about his situation can be found here:
Recap: How we got here
Christopher’s mother picked him up off the streets of Koreatown. I cannot overstate that she very likely saved his life. This is, at least, the second time she’s done that.
He couldn’t walk, could hardly speak, was covered with filth. He was extraordinarily sick. She rushed him to the West LA VA Medical Center. I was informed that I could not visit as he was diagnosed with Covid as well.
At approximately 1:30am on 12/21, a doctor from the VA called to tell me Christopher had had a stroke - or several. They did not know if he would make through the night. The next day his mother and I were on a conference call with a doctor who described Christopher’s situation as “grim.”
Over the next seven to ten days, the best news we could receive was that he had stopped having seizures and strokes, could speak a little, and had not died. Those were some pretty dark days.
He had an aggressive, antibiotic resistant strain of MRSA & Septicemia - meaning, the infection was in his blood stream and attacking internal organs. It had lodged in his heart (Myocarditis). This was causing septic emboli - sticky clots of bacteria - to be spread throughout his body. His kidneys, liver, and brain were all being attacked.
As it turns out, Christopher experienced several strokes, most likely beginning on the streets. The septic emboli spread from his heart, lodged in the brain, and formed a clot. A clot in the brain leads to a stroke.
Christopher was being pumped full of some aggressive antibiotics, which, in turn, create their own set of issues - including stressing his kidneys.
He ended up having a mitral heart valve replacement. Between the antibiotics, blood thinners, thyroid meds, etc. etc. etc. his body was taking a beating.
But, over the next 72 days, he improved. He had to re-learn to walk and needed speech therapy. But, eventually, he was released to our care with dozens of appointments, multiple each week, at the VA. We were seeing everyone: Infectious Disease, Cardiology, Neurosurgery, Anti-Coagulation Clinic, Podiatry, Cardiac Surgery, Physical Rehab, and others.
I’ve mentioned it before but the staff at the VA Hospital are my heroes. The doctors, the nurses, the guy who would empty the trash can and always had a nice word to say to Chris… all of them. It goes beyond the care they provided. It is the obvious care they expressed. They give a shit!
Over time, he was taken off most of his medications. He still takes a couple antibiotics and may be taking that for the next year to years!
He will have another back surgery - his third - in the next couple months. While somewhat major, his current physical health is significantly better than during any other surgery he has had. The Harvard trained (yeah, we like that) surgeon is very confident that his surgery will be successful and that Chris can recover completely and live a perfectly healthy life.
Conversations About Nothing
Deb and I picked Chris up from the train station a few weeks ago. He had been visiting his mom. He was quiet until he got in the car.
Then, his voice shaking - as with fear - he said he wanted to tell us something.
Note: Though he’s been doing amazing and attending 3 group therapy sessions, just the phrase, “I want to talk to you guys about something.” causes an immediate anxiety reaction.
Chris told us that as he boarded the train, he heard someone playing a song on their phone. It was a song he often heard when he was on the street - while using fentanyl. Kind of a party song… but nothing about it felt like a party.
He discussed a feeling that he would often have on the streets - a feeling that he was suddenly having on the train after hearing that song. A feeling that caused him to feel cold; cold to the point of shivering.
He said the feeling is one of utter alone-ness. That, even though he is in a public place and there are people around, he felt as though there was nothing! It was apparent as Chris described this, that the feeling goes beyond hopelessness.
As he described this he was near tears. The shakiness of his voice betrayed real fear!
He told us that he would have this feeling on the streets. As though there was nothing but him. No God. No devil. No family. No friends. Chris said, “I would wish that there was a devil, just so there was something. Anything being there, even the devil, was better than nothing.”
Than he said, “This is going to sound a little childish but it reminds me of a scene in SpongeBob, where Squidward, trying to get away from SpongeBob, goes into a time machine and ends up in a place where he is alone and cannot escape being alone.”
But it didn’t sound childish to me. The fear Chris was expressing… the desperation it induced in him… it sounded scary to me.
We found the clip online and I’ve include it below.
Sure, it is from a cartoon. It is talking mollusk. Silly. Hilarious. Or…
I apologize about the quality. I couldn’t find a better clip.
Think about feeling alone! Empty! Really ponder it… And I don’t mean alone as in, you are in your own space. This goes beyond solitude. Think of a place where only you exist…. forever!
It’s not easy to do. We have a constant influx of stimuli. Social media, maybe family. the world outside…
But if/when you existed in nothingness - that’s heavy. It really is.
Chris explained that those were the times on the streets that he thought of taking his own life. That death would be better than nothingness. He also explained that the feeling made him think about like going back to the streets.
He was not feeling an urge to use, per se. He tells me he has no desire or interest in using. But the feeling of hopelessness and meaninglessness, it causes him to feel disconnected from everything/anything. A feeling of worthlessness.
The bigger breakthrough is that he knew it would pass. He realized that he has family and, in realizing that, rather than allowing hopelessness to drive him back to the streets, he knew he needed to talk about it.
Chris has always struggled with truly opening up. He felt speaking to his counselors was useless. That they only spoke to him because they needed to. Of course, they would offer advice - that is their job. What else were they going to do?
He explained that he thought that about doctors too. That, when they spoke to him about getting him help that it was just their job. It wasn’t because they cared.
That is also a HUGE revelation. It was for me.
If you feel worthless, of course everyone who expresses concern is on the take. They can’t possibly care about you. Why would they care about a worthless person?
I asked Chris to please bring this up in his group therapy. He did and it prompted the psychologist who runs the group to reach out and initiate one-on-one sessions with Chris. She felt it was a remarkable insight and needed to be unpacked a bit.
How many others feel this way?
This conversation and subsequent conversations feel like we’ve turned a corner. They feel hopeful. Hope, as I’ve said many times, is the most frightening emotion I can feel.
But, the fear I have of feeling hopeful, is NOT the same fear and hopelessness that someone feeling alone - truly alone - worthless and hopeless - feels. It cannot be.
I’ve NEVER felt that! Thank God!!!!
I told Chris that what he was expressing, that feeling, gave me insight into what others on the streets and those struggling with deep depression, may be feeling. It feels like a BIG reveal! That, if we can try to understand what that feeling is like, we might approach the people we love - the addicts, the depressed, the desperate - with greater empathy.
And more important, how many feel that same aloneness that Christopher expressed - the same worthlessness and hopelessness - but are unable to adequately express it. Perhaps, someone will hear Christopher’s explanation and even see a silly cartoon, and be able to say, “That’s it!!! That’s what I feel!”
If they can give it a voice, express it to someone, could it help them deal with it better? I am not an expert but I think it might.
I don’t chuckle when I watch that SpongeBob clip. It scares me! And it makes me sad that Christopher, that any of my children, that ANYONE, ANYWHERE, ever feels that.
If you understand that feeling… if you have struggled to explain it… use Christopher’s explanation if it will help. And let me know. You are not alone!! If you are able to look past the emptiness that you are experiencing, Christopher has been in that same place. And there are others…
Sadly, it is more crowded there than it should be.
Well, that was heavy
I really didn’t expect this to go this long, or be this heavy. We are still considering a book or some other content specific to our family’s story with addiction. If that is of interest to you, consider adding your name here.
Upcoming: This weekend, I’ll be publishing a video of a new song I wrote a couple weeks back. You can preview the lyrics here.
Until then, I leave you with this…
My oldest, Matthew, introduced me to Joe Pug. This is a song Joe covered that impacted Matthew in a big way. Both Christopher and I cannot listen to it without some tears. It is called Deep Dark Wells. Enjoy!
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This was amazing--I think the insight about nothingness unlocks so much. Civilians have a hard time understanding our behavior and maybe it’s because we addicts and alcoholics have been fighting that feeling secretly our whole lives. The way you put it into words is so, so moving. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing. I’m an addict and it’s also profound and moving for me to hear the perspective of the parents of addicts.