What Addiction Sounds Like

By Anna David 02/20/12

I snorted so much cocaine that I couldn't do anything but try to avoid the insistent beeps of my computer. I failed every time.

Anthology of Addiction Photo via

I was not someone who should have liked cocaine. I’ve always been very energetic, very jittery, very wired. If I was going to do a drug with enthusiasm, it should have been pot or acid or mushrooms or even Ecstasy. But pot just made me paranoid that no one understood what it was I was trying to say—a fear exacerbated by the fact that when I was high, I made almost no sense so no one did understand what I was trying to say. Mushrooms and Ecstasy were okay but didn’t give me that kick. And I had as much interest in acid as I did in bathing in hot wax: expanding my mind so that I could go deeper into myself, have profound realizations and maybe imagine some spiders? Ugh. I was born far deeper into myself than I ever wanted to be. I wanted the opposite. I wanted out.

Cocaine got me out. It made me the me I’d always wanted to be: me, but euphoric. Everything, from whatever cigarette I happened to be smoking to whatever fact I happened to be expounding on (and, in the initial years, I expounded on a lot of facts), excited me. Cocaine made me fall in love with myself—a state unimagined during all those years of subconscious yet crippling self-recrimination. While falling in love with myself surely made me annoying company, this wasn’t a problem in the beginning since I was surrounded by many others who were having similar self love affairs and we were all happy to co-exist together. It can be depressing when everyone around you is in love—unless you, too, are in the same boat. In those early days, the group of us could remain confident that we all had someone to love and were also loved back.

People who are utterly convinced of their own brilliance can become tiresome, particularly if they’re competing with your cocaine-addled brain for airtime. 

The center, of course, could not hold.

People who are utterly convinced of their own brilliance can become tiresome, particularly if they’re competing with your cocaine-addled brain for airtime. No, you find yourself wanting to say, the idea of starting a website where we give people financial advice based on their astrological signs is not a good one. No, you realize, you don’t think the group of you should consider starting a band, seeing as none of you play instruments or sing. These people, you suddenly realize, are losers.

You don’t think of yourself as a loser at this point. At least, you’re doing your best not to.


The first time I stayed up by myself all night, high, I wrote a brilliant television spec script.

It was for Third Rock From The Sun, a show I’d never seen, but no matter. I was writing the Hollywood way—by studying other people’s scripts in the hopes of mimicking one enough while also injecting enough of myself into it for my words to rise from the bottom of the slush pile to the top.

After pouring cocaine onto the framed print my mom had given me, slicing it into lines and ingesting a few in the name of getting my creative juices flowing, I suddenly came up with a genius idea for an episode of Third Rock. Which led to me writing the genius episode that night.

Initially, it was surprising when the birds started chirping and I heard my neighbor leave for work. People who do coke in LA, I would come to learn, are greeted each morning by birds creating a cacophony of cheer so far from the state of mind of the average cocaine user at that time of the morning that somehow they make suicide sound like a reasonable escape. But this came later. That morning, after completing my brilliant spec script, the birds sounded lovely—like a harbinger of joyous news to come. Television writing jobs. Riches. New friends. Happiness. If I needed cocaine to help make that happen, I remember reasoning, so be it.

Alas, it was not to be. My Third Rock spec script was not decreed the paean of brilliance I’d been sure it would be. (I still maintain that it’s a damn fine effort.) But, even worse, my writing system—do two lines to get the creative juices flowing followed by two lines every 20 minutes or so for the following eight to 14 hours in order to keep the flow happening—became instantly ineffective. 

The next time I sat down to write, I couldn’t do it. And by “it,” I mean move. Cocaine, the drug that had once made me ebullient, transforming every lampshade into a potential hat and keeping the party going all night long, betrayed me even further. It made me unable to do anything but sit in front of my computer and shake.

I’d be crouched there, thinking about how badly I had to pee, really wanting to get up and go to the bathroom. But I’d be too jittery to stand up. Or too frightened. So I’d just stay there and shake. I was capable of some movements: I could wipe my nose and chain smoke and even occasionally rise to peer out the window at the neighbors—a composer and his wife, do-gooders who I was convinced spied on me with binoculars.

One movement I could not make, alas, involved tapping keys on the keyboard. I’d stare at the screen, at the Great American Screenplay I’d convinced myself I was writing. And I’d have a lot of ideas for how to make it better. Too many of them, alas. I’d want to try one but there was the shaking to contend with and just the fact that I couldn’t seem to find a way to tap the letters out. Still, I’ll say one thing for me: I never gave up. I never said, “Gosh, this writing while wired thing isn’t working out. Maybe I should watch a movie.” I just stayed there and kept trying.

The worst part of it all, as I saw it, was that the way my computer worked was if you didn’t hit a key for 60 seconds, a box would pop onto the screen asking if you wanted to save. The question would be accompanied by a beep. Now I don’t know how loud a beep it was—how loud I would consider it today—but I know this: in the state I was in, that noise sounded like a megaphone inside a microphone inside my ear. And so I lived in fear of the beep. It somehow symbolized just how bad things were. If I could avoid the beep, I somehow thought, that meant everything was okay.

I couldn’t avoid the beep.

I’d sit there, huddled, telling myself to just hit a key—any key!—so I could buy myself some time. But there was a disconnect between my brain and my hand and it wouldn’t happen. I’d be in fearful anticipation, thinking, “Do something or the beep will come…the beep is coming…Dear God, it’s getting closer…Do something now!” But nothing would happen and then—


I’d nearly jump out of my skin, every time. And then I’d spend the next 59 seconds or so trying to avoid the next beep, and miss it.


I’m not sure how long it took me to realize I was depressed. I’d been down for so long that I forgot what not feeling down felt like. The fact that I had a propensity for depression, that depression was in my family, was in my blood, and that depressants like alcohol and cocaine were surely exacerbating that, wasn’t something I could afford to think about. I needed cocaine—and though I told myself I didn’t need alcohol, I had no interest in giving it up, either. I needed cocaine even though it had gotten to the point where I’d buy it, flush it in a fit of shame, and then call my dealer for more. I needed it when it left me living in fear of a beep I couldn’t escape.

It began to dawn on me that my relationship with cocaine was less than healthy. I had, I could admit, an issue with it. I don’t think I was comfortable using the word “addiction.” But I knew that if I had the drug on me, I couldn’t stop ingesting it until the supply was drained and I had the additional problem of not being able to resist calling my dealer to replenish. I knew what had to be done.

I understood that drugs and alcohol were doing this to me but I was certain I couldn’t live without them.

I quit cocaine. It wasn’t easy but I did it.

Of course, I needed some comfort through this deprivation, so I allowed myself to drink. And, in fact, I drank quite a bit because my alcohol consumption had increased with all the cocaine use—only because I needed it to come down—and what with giving up coke and everything, I didn’t see why I should make myself suffer needlessly by trying to tone down the drinking.

A month passed. And I reasoned that no one who has an issue with cocaine gives up the drug for an entire 30 days.

And so I went back to using it.

I did the quitting-for-a-month thing a few more times. The experiments had variations: during one, a guy I was dating, a pill popper, told me he thought I had a problem so I asked another guy to take me to a 12-step meeting. God, I hated it. The people I met there all insisted that there was no way I could have an issue with cocaine but not with alcohol, even when I tried explaining how little I enjoyed drinking anymore. But, I reasoned, I could go along with their program. I could be sober.

I made it 10 days.

Ten days where I was regularly taking the Vicodin that my then-boyfriend agreed to share. After 10 days, I’d had enough. Fuck sobriety, I said, really believing I’d been sober.


The very last time I quit cocaine but continued to drink, I wanted to die. And not just in the passive way I’d been wanting to die the previous few years. I was really there. I understood that drugs and alcohol were doing this to me but I was certain I couldn’t live without them. I didn’t have the courage to go get razors or swallow pills so I considered driving my car into oncoming traffic. I never considered the fact that if I drove my car into oncoming traffic, I could hurt or kill someone else.

Then it occurred to me that getting sober might be better than dying. I figured it probably wasn’t but reasoned that I could give the sobriety thing a try and if it turned out I was right—that it, in fact, was worse—I could always reconsider the whole dying thing. 

That was over 11 years ago and I haven’t reconsidered it yet. The 12-step program I hated so much at first glance has come to save my life. This doesn’t mean that I now see sunshine and rainbows where I once only saw darkness and jittery nights. I still experience depression—just not nearly as often as I used to and I almost always understand that it’s going to pass. Essentially, I have a real life—one filled with pain and hope and panic and peace and, at times, the instant pain relief and euphoria that alcohol and then cocaine once gave me. I’m still a writer, but now I actually do it. My fingers don’t hover over the keyboard, unable to move.

I haven’t heard The Beep in over a decade. Luckily, I still remember exactly how it sounds.

This essay appears in the anthology Writers On The Edge: 22 Writers Speak About Addiction and Dependency, edited by Diana M. Raab and James Brown. Reprinted with permission by the publisher. Anna David is the Executive Editor of The Fix and the author of the books Party Girl, BoughtReality Matters and Falling For MeShe's written about sex addiction and gambling addiction, among other topics, for The Fix.

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