When Copping Seemed Cool

By Patty Powers 08/26/11
As a little girl, Patty Powers idolized the addicts she saw in pop culture. Later she followed in their footsteps. But when the needle stopped providing relief, she had to find another way out.
Schoolgirl fantasies

I admit, like most impressionable kids, my earliest influences came from film and television. I bet if I were an adolescent, given today’s choices, I’d be a ghetto-fabulous, booty shaking, gangsta bitch dreaming of meeting my own Avon Barksdale. Makes me grateful I came of age in the 70s. We didn’t have guns—only punk rock and heroin.

I was seven or eight when I first saw Bonnie and Clyde. There is a scene where Faye Dunaway turns to Michael J. Pollard as he pumps gas and says, “We rob banks.” She was beautiful, sexy, confident and lived outside of society. My favorite game became “Bank Robber’s girlfriend."

I even loved the idea of drugs long before I ever picked up; loved the coming-of-age anti-drug propaganda films of the early 70s: Go Ask Alice, Maybe I’ll be Home in the Spring, Lenny, Lady Sings the Blues.

When my dad said, “He’s a dope addict,” Johnny Cash immediately took on a mysterious edge that made me pay closer attention. I was eight. Not to mention 60s rock stars on drugs were fabulous, sexy and exciting. The very words “counter culture” had an authenticity to my pre-adolescent ears. It seemed there was something to rebel against “out there” and I wanted to be part of the revolution.

It always felt like the dope was too weak or I should have done more. I could never get high enough to quiet my head.

I was a child in a country without Vietnam, without racism, without ghettos, without glamor, without rock stars. In 1968, I couldn’t have felt further removed from mod, swinging London, Warhol’s New York, or San Francisco’s Summer of Love. There wasn’t a Canadian version of Go Ask Alice. Canadian teenagers weren’t running away to the counter culture revolution. We didn’t really have a need for the Black Panthers or the Weathermen.

We moved into our house when I was four, an only child. If I stood on my toes, I could peer over the window ledge and watch children walking to school, longing to be old enough to join them. But when I finally got there—to kindergarten—it was a letdown. The problem, I decided, was my age. My childhood was spent waiting to become a teenager.

“Patty, stop trying to grow up too fast. Enjoy your childhood.” My parents didn’t understand. There was an exciting world out there waiting for me to be old enough to join it.

I loved getting high. The people, the lifestyle, the risk, the thrill, the crazy situations, the glamour, the image, the dramatic suffering, the euphoria, the absence of pain, the false confidence, the not giving a fuck what anybody thought, the distorted perception of my own cool, the way it separated me from others and from society as a whole.

I loved getting high and it worked, as they say, until it didn’t. This wasn’t the bottom that made me get clean. It took a few years of trying and failing to get drugs to work again.  “Not working” can best be described this way: when I had money in my hands and was on my way to cop—it was working. I had hope that relief was on the way—relief from the physical withdrawal and relief from the voice in my head  criticizing and blaming me for the disaster my life had become; relief from the devastating loneliness, not only from the separation from my family and friends, but a loneliness for myself, for my soul (for lack of a better word). So with money in hand on my way to cop, all was right with the world. This would last until the final drop of heroin was injected into my veins. Then my first thought would be, “You fucked up” and the self-hatred would begin again. I’d be swallowed by my own personal hell until, once again, there was money in my hands and I was on my hopeful way to the dealer. I never found that peace, the fun, the pleasure drugs had seduced me with ever again. It always felt like the dope was too weak or I should have done more. I could never get high enough to quiet my head.

It took several years of getting no relief, of wanting to stop and not being able to, when the need for money and drugs completely consumed my life before I was ready to consider getting clean. I always say that if I could have figured out a way to use one more day, I would have.

Complete abstinence and a program of recovery was my way out. For about a year, I grieved the loss of that once dependable relationship I had with drugs. It was like a death or a break up but thankfully, it was not difficult to stay clean once I made the commitment—and it is a commitment because to be honest, some days life is hard and it is a drag to have to feel all of it without the luxury of taking the edge off.  

For me, nothing is black and white. I am not anti-drugs and I don’t think everyone who takes them needs to be clean. At the end of the day, I have no opinion on what another person should do with his or her life. We are free to make our own choices. My experience with complete abstinence is that once drugs were out of the picture, my life got bigger. I am never bored. For all the early years of thrills and bigger than life excitement I found in drugs, the final years were actually the least interesting of my life.

Patty Powers is a writer and sober coach living in New York City who appeared on the A&E series Relapse. You can read her blog here.

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