The Abortion That Saved my Life
While I was still doing cocaine and sleeping with the only guy who wouldn't judge me for doing it, I became pregnant.
Back when I did cocaine, I believed that becoming a coke whore required some finessing - by which I mean that it seemed like figuring out the supplier and sleeping with him probably wasn’t nearly as complicated as working out the details of the arrangement without feeling…well, like a hooker. (Apparently, a few years after I got sober, Craigslist managed to help streamline this process.)
Even so, using the same financial planning skills that factored into my decision to pursue a career in writing, I was the opposite of a coke whore. What I mean by this is that I always bought the coke and then slept with the only guy I knew who was willing to still do coke with me. So, make no mistake: not being a coke whore wasn’t a moral decision so much as a practical one: I simply had to control the coke supply since I didn’t ever want to be stuck jonesing if, say, the person in control wasn’t willing to supply it. (The way I counted these things back then: a night where I did someone else’s coke didn’t actually even count as a night of doing coke.)
So, I found ways to buy it - by which I mean that I drained accounts filled with stocks left to me by my dead grandmother in order to finance my purchases. I didn’t see any of this as a problem. No, the problem was that the more cocaine I did, the less other people wanted to do it with me. “You started out so fun at the beginning of the night,” I remember a guy telling me as he dropped me off at about 10 am on a Saturday morning. I’d sworn off cocaine the day before but ended up doing it all night with this guy and some of his friends. “Then you just got…depressing. Dark. Not fun.” I’d nodded as I got out of the car and wandered to my front door, thinking only of the five or so Ambien I planned to take as soon as I walked in so that I could sleep and forget about another lost night and what he’d said.
After a while, every guy I knew started saying things like this - some even with concerned looks that indicated they thought I could be helped, which made me want to melt into a puddle of shame or slap them or both. I’d long since stopped doing coke with women - they couldn’t keep up. Now men were a problem, too - hypocritical men, as I saw it, for they did drugs, too. Who were they to suggest that we do something less depressing than snorting cocaine all night? Who were they to imply that this was something they could take or leave? I stopped returning their calls.
There was this one guy, though, who didn’t seem to find doing coke with me depressing - mostly because I don’t think he noticed there was anyone around but him. He seemed to be some sort of an addict himself but his denial was so thick - his entire personality was so thick, really - that it didn’t look as if he’d ever realize it. He did more drugs than anyone I knew and was endlessly cheerful about his life. To be clear: He bugged the shit out of me.
But like I said, he would do coke with me, which means that I would buy the coke and we would do it. When I was on drugs, he seemed a lot less annoying and pedantic and full of shit than he did the rest of the time - which means that I could almost stand him. And then, because I would feel grateful that he would do coke with me and not judge me and tell me how worried he was about me the way the others did, I’d figure that I should sleep with him. I owed him that much, I figured. I never stopped to ask myself if I was attracted to him; questions like this were luxuries I could no longer afford.
Safe sex? That’s something I’d certainly practiced at earlier points in my life. But that, too, seemed to be an outdated luxury - the sort of thing that only someone who cared about herself would consider; and a girl who ingested cocaine, cigarettes, Ambien and whatever else every day couldn’t afford to care about herself. I don’t think using a condom even occurred to me that last night I spent with him.
The following month, when I didn’t get my period, I was shocked. Despite the drugs I’d been doing for the previous years, my period had always been ridiculously regular. But I was even more shocked when the drug store pregnancy test turned up positive. I’d expected the universe to understand that I simply wasn’t capable of dealing with real life, and the pink line on the test felt like a betrayal. So I told myself that it had to be wrong. Who trusted something from a drug store?
Unfortunately, the gynecologist confirmed the news, even adding a hearty “Congratulations” which I silenced with a scowl. I didn’t debate whether or not to keep the baby at all; even the thought of telling the Impregnator about my pregnancy filled me with irritation. I simply moved forward with the abortion arrangements.
But something strange happened when I went to the doctor the day before the procedure. The way I remember it, I had to lean back in a chair while a nurse took my blood—blood we’d need if something went awry during the operation. I felt the way I normally did at doctor’s offices back then - like I was protecting myself from these militant do-gooders who were, really just another version of cops: people to lie to, people who were always looking to bust me. Being in their presence made me feel guilty - in retrospect, probably because they reminded me that I wasn’t supposed to be engaged in the process of killing myself. So I was thinking the standard defensive, hostile thoughts about medical personnel when I put my arms out in order to have the nurse insert the IV. And that’s when something popped into my brain that I’d never thought before or since:
I’m so glad I don’t have any track marks.
What? I remember thinking. Where the fuck did that thought come from? I’d never shot drugs in my life and I’d only snorted heroin once. Why on earth would I be relieved not to have track marks? I shook the ridiculous thought away.
The abortion went forward as planned and I stayed high on the pain pills they gave me for a week or so afterwards. But through my opiate haze, the relieved-not-to-have-track-marks thought had unleashed something in my brain that made me finally able to face a truth I’d been avoiding for years: I had a serious drug problem and needed to do something about it.
I knew about sobriety: I’d grown up in Marin County, where Easy Does It bumper stickers decorated many a BMW; where my mom had even once dragged me to a meeting because her friend’s son had gotten sober and told my mom that since I went to the same parties as him, I should consider it, too (she wasn’t wrong; that guy and I had definitely done drugs together). But even though I had these not terribly unpleasant ideas about what sobriety could be - that guy had still seemed relatively cool even after he got sober - I’d been telling myself for years that there was no way I could do it. Sobriety, I was certain, meant not just the end of fun but the end of life.
But I was starting to realize something else: if I kept on the path I was going, my arms were going to be filled with track marks. The best way I can make sense of what happened that day is that the universe somehow folded into itself and I caught the clearest glimmer imaginable of a future I was about to enter - a future I knew would really be the end of life. And I figured, ever practical, that I could try the sober route first and if it was as bad as I felt certain it would be, I could circle back and complete my track-marked destiny.
Despite the fact that I haven’t given up on the idea of having kids and am at the age where most women have, I don’t regret the decision I made. I was in rehab 10 days after my abortion, immediately entering a world that was more hopeful, honest and comfortable than any I’d been in before. That isn’t to say that my sober life has been easy - far from it. But I know something now that I didn’t back then: I wasn’t strong enough to handle much more of the road I was on. I would have probably killed myself before my disease killed me. So, even if my abortion cost me a life that I could have brought into the world - a life that would be an astounding 14 years old now - I firmly believe that having it also managed to lead me to saving another: my own.
Anna David is a former editor at The Fix.