Snorting Coke in Cocaine Anonymous Meetings
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Snorting Coke in Cocaine Anonymous Meetings
In my 20s, my daily “meds” cost $100—they included a liter of Bacardi rum, a splash of Diet Coke, and one gram of cocaine. Since my early teens, I knew drinking took the edge off, and stimulants took care of my depression. By 15, I’d written in a diary, “I have to stop drinking,” but I knew I’d never be an alcoholic because I was Jewish. Only Native Americans and the Irish were cursed with that sickness, right? (Oy. I really thought that.)
By age 19, I was a proud ex-addict because I’d quit shooting coke. And besides, cocaine wasn’t like heroin—I mean, you couldn’t get addicted to it (uninformed, again). I enjoyed snorting it. It came in a rectangular packet made of glossy white paper. I’d pour the magic powder into an amber-colored glass vial. The screw-on lid had a miniature metal spoon attached. My mood always lifted on the way to my dealer’s. When I arrived, he always gave me a free line and my brain took to the sky.
The best part of the high always wore off quick. Soon I’d get jittery and clench my jaw. That was always a cue to down some rum to hit that sweet spot. I’d relax. After a second drink, it was time for more coke. Each toot of C enabled me to keep drinking without getting the spins.
In 1985, I was 23 and had graduated with a BA from Parsons. When I was high, I blathered about my future art career. Meanwhile, I was working a dead-end job, waitressing at Jimmy Day’s bar on West 4th Street in Greenwich Village. “Why the hell did we pay for college?” my dad said. “You want to be a 50-year-old waitress with varicose veins?” What he didn’t know was one of the perks: drinking all night for free when either of the two wet-brain bartenders were on. They were jovial fellows who just kept pouring. I always kept my vial of coke in my jeans pocket so I’d last through the 10-hour night shifts. They were the best timeslot to make the most money. More dough meant I could buy more coke.
The Jimmy Day’s work crew and a few regular customers often went to an after-hours joint on Houston Street. It didn’t have a name and there was no sign, just a red door. You had to know the special knock to get in. The steps were rickety and steep and hard to navigate but it was worth it. Inside was a pool table, plenty of booze, and lines of free coke sitting on mirrors out in the open.
My hangovers kept getting worse. I was barely eating and smoking way too many cigarettes. I needed a drink in the morning to stop my hands from shaking, and a line of coke for energy to take a shower. One night, sitting on my bed bug-eyed and unable to sleep, a PSA came on the TV. It illustrated the circular logic of coke fiends like me.
I began counseling myself on the way to work, ‘Only two drinks.’ It was best to keep the C vial in my pocket, ‘In case of emergency,’ like if the room started whirling. No matter how wobbly I got, I prided myself on never spilling any drinks from my serving tray. Every morning, I tried to piece together the night before. I’d remembered swearing to myself that I would only have two drinks and not do coke on Sunday nights anymore because I could never stop until the wee hours of the morning, or when the coke ran out—whichever came first. I knew this would happen and I’d sworn to myself, “Nevermore!” But here I was in my bedroom coming out of a particularly bad blackout—no memories for hours. I didn’t know if I walked home from Jimmy Day’s or went out to the after-hours place.
“You know what your problem is?” slurred one Jimmy Day’s regular from his bar stool. “You hafta eead dah peee zah bread before you go out.” So, I tried that. Didn’t work. I told friends, “I can quit any time I want, I just don’t want to.” It became obvious that I couldn’t. I began calling in sick. If I made it to work, I was sloppy, slurry and weaving before my shift even started. One night, too exhausted to stop at the deli on my way home, I took one of the quarts of Pepsi out of the fridge and stuck it in my bag. I didn’t bother to hide it because we were allowed to eat and drink anything we wanted during our shifts, so I figured, no big deal. But the bartender told the boss and I got fired. They were probably just waiting for an excuse.
That night, I sat on my bed, drinking and snorting coke, and watched three back-to-back reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Then a PSA came on. At the end a voice said, “Cocaine, the big lie. Call 1-800-COCAINE.” I started to cry and scrawled the number on a scrap of paper and stuck it under the candle next to my bed.
The next morning, I dialed the number. A gruff voice answered. Fighting back tears, I asked him, “What does a person do if they can’t stop snorting coke?”
“Are you talking about yourself?”
“Yes.” I said, humiliated.
“You go to a Cocaine Anonymous meeting,” he said. “Where do you live?”
“Why?!” I blurted out, suspicious that the guy would show up at my apartment.
“Because there’s probably a meeting right in your neighborhood,” he said. “Within walking distance.”
Feeling really stupid, I thanked the guy for giving me the times and locales of a few meetings and hurried off the phone. I downed a couple of drinks, snorted a hit of C and went to my first CA meeting. When I arrived, I asked the first person I saw—an overweight motorcycle-looking dude with tattoos—where the bathroom was. With my trusty vial secured in my pocket, I headed over to powder my nose. It was such a relief it was a one-seater with a door that locked. I pulled out the vial, unscrewed its lid and dipped the built-in spoon into the white powder. I took a toot in each nostril, put the vial back in my pocket and flushed the toilet in case anybody was listening. Then I ran water to pretend I was washing my hands. When I opened the door, nobody was standing there, nobody was monitoring what I was doing. If I weren’t so uncomfortable I would’ve laughed at my paranoia.
Before taking a seat, I scanned the room and saw clumps of addicts chain-smoking and scarfing down Oreo cookies. Feeling pity I thought, ‘These people are really sick.’ A couple of announcements were made, then a speaker was introduced. The applause sounded overly enthusiastic and I thought of Moonies and Hare Krishnas. My head told me, ‘It’s a cult.’ The speaker talked about how many times she woke up hungover with a guy she didn’t know sleeping in her bed. That happened to me all the time, too, but I wouldn’t tell a whole room about it! My face grew hot with embarrassment for her. But nobody gasped, or seemed surprised. Instead, heads bobbed like silly figurines on a car dashboard. I felt like I was too cool for this corny bullshit. But everyone was surprisingly kind and they seemed a lot happier than I felt so I went back the next night.
My second meeting was much like the first. But I snorted more hits in the bathroom this time, so when I came out my mind was racing and I barely heard anything anyone said. Before I left, I took one of the handouts. The heading was, “Are You a Cocaine Addict?” Then it listed twenty questions. I glanced at a few: Have you tried to cut down on your use of cocaine but found that you could not? Have you used cocaine in the bathroom of a public building?
It was eerie and I felt like someone had spied on me. I peered over my right shoulder to see if anybody was watching me. Even though there didn’t seem to be, I made a dash for the exit. Once back in my apartment, my heart pounding out of my chest, I had a couple of drinks to calm down. I folded the 20 questions flyer in half. Then folded it again. And again, until it was small enough to fit under the candle with no corners peeking out. The next few days were a blur.
Miserable, I pulled out the 20 questions and answered “Yes” to one after another, all the way through number 19. The last question was about a spouse and I didn’t have one. I was so pleased to be able to write “No” for an answer, I smiled. ‘See,’ I thought, ‘I’m not a cocaine addict. I knew it!’ Relieved, I went out to celebrate. After a three-day binge, I woke up feeling so ill, I plummeted into a dark depression.
Time went by. More hangovers, blackouts and self-loathing. Physical and emotional pain made me aware of my advancing age. I’d turned 25. ‘If I keep this up into my 30s,’ I thought, ‘I’ll be one of those pathetic old bar flies.’ Once again, I retrieved the sheet of 20 questions from its hiding spot. Staring at it, I got honest about the slippery way I’d come up with a “No” to that last question.
The CA meeting list was hidden inside the record sleeve of Eric Clapton’s Slow Hand because that album included the song, Cocaine. Off I went, repeating the ritual of having a couple of drinks before I left and then heading to the restroom for a couple of toots. When I got to the main area, I recognized one guy named Ron. He’d shared about being a lawyer who’d lost his license when he’d bottomed out on coke. I walked over and began jabbering the poor fellow’s ear off. He interrupted to ask if I had any questions about CA. The way he looked at me made me afraid he knew I was high. Embarrassed I said, “I need a sponsor.” He said, “Great, come with me and we’ll look at the list.” But I told him, “I want you to be my sponsor.” He explained that women stick with women. “C’mon, I’ll get you some names and numbers.”
My temper flared, “If you won’t sponsor me, I’m leaving.” He relented and said, “Okay, but only until you find a female sponsor.” I began calling him at all hours from bars, wasted. Bless his heart for talking to me anyway. I was such a mess but he never took advantage of me and for that I was grateful. My last cocaine bender kicked my ass so badly, I woke up from a blackout in a rehab. I was 26.
Now, here I sit, nearly three decades later, telling this story to say recovery isn’t always a smooth ride and CA doesn’t suggest snorting coke in the bathroom! But nobody knew, or if they did, they did not judge. By taking my small dysfunctional steps, the seeds to grow were planted and I finally made it out of hell.