I’m in Limbo

Last night in my nightmares, I couldn’t breathe properly. I shifted awkwardly between asleep and awake, laying thinking of one memory in particular that haunts me – my mother on that Tuesday night before I dropped her at the hospital on Wednesday morning; my mother sitting at the dining room table after walking from her bedroom to the lounge, just a few meters being enough to leave her out of breath, sitting there panting with her head in her hands. I laid there thinking that, and then shifting back to sleep where I dreamed that I was the one struggling to breathe. Then I woke confused, uncertain if this was a dream or if I really did struggle.

I’ve started wondering if this was really a sensible time to quit cigarettes. My last smoke was quite late on Thursday night, but the craving has been quite intense since then. But it’s not just craving – I’m angry. This anger flares up in response to tiny things that should be insignificant. I don’t remember ever craving meth like this, but I am craving a cigarette. The part of me that wants it begs and pleads, insisting that all I need is one; that I can bum from my neighbour, Mervin downstairs, who normally bums from me. But no! I shut those thoughts down each time, by playing back that mental image of my mother, sitting there with her head in her hands as she struggled to breathe. I hear her voice, as she called me on her last day, a week ago yesterday, to tell me that they would try to drain the fluid from her lung using a needle. I thought I’d see her later that day. They were supposed to help her, not suddenly kill her! That’s why I’m still in shock. And I think of how she died not two hours later, but also that she might have lived much longer if she’d quit smoking sooner. I need to quit and not give in to any cravings, so that I can live longer, for my son.

So I have motivation, but it’s hurting. The more I think about it, the more it hurts.The grief and sense of loss is otherwise not as bad as it was a week ago. It’s still bad, but it’s OK. But the not smoking thing is really fucking me up. Even my sense of the passing of time is different without nicotine. I don’t know how that can be, but some annoying tasks, such as pulling off from a traffic light… seem to take much longer now. The waiting for the lights to change from red to green… seems much longer than it needs to be. I used to take a lot of smoke breaks as well, sometimes before and after doing just about every little thing. Now I have all this extra time and no clue what to do with it.


It’s THAT dreadful day again. 18 years since my father died.

It would have been his 75th birthday today as well. (He died on his 57th.)

I’ll never forget that day. It was a Sunday and I, at 29 years old, was still living with my parents. I hadn’t even bothered learning to drive, because of my crippling anxiety, shyness, and laziness. Dad drove me to work; he would do anything for me.

My brother (two years younger than I and not living there any more) and I had put money together to give Dad a George Foreman Grill and I’d woken up keen to see his reaction to his birthday present, as he loved cooking. I rose excitedly and ran to my parents’ room to wish him a happy birthday, but hardly had the words out of my mouth before my mother urged me not to wish him. “Why?”, I asked. And then I saw something was wrong… He was not well. She’d already called the ambulance more than 45 minutes before. I decided to have a shower; then wait with him.

But before I could get into the shower, Dad asked for my help… He needed to get to the toilet, but couldn’t get up. I had to carry him. It was almost impossible, as he didn’t seem to have any strength in his legs. I asked where the pain was, but his reply was a mumble. I couldn’t understand if he said “nowhere” or “everywhere”. I had never seen my father so weak. I also didn’t know those would be his last words to me. If anyone ever asked what his last words were, that’s all I have. Nothing profound, nothing I could even understand, just a muffled mumble as he tried but failed to describe his pain.

I went to shower. When I got out not five minutes later, I found Dad had somehow managed to walk to the lounge by himself, so that he could sit on the couch and wait for the ambulance. And he was just sitting there. Dead.

I tried to administer CPR, but all that did was lead to a horrible wheezing sound as air escaped from his dead lungs. I sat on the floor, in shock. Later my brother showed up. “It’s too late”, I managed, unable to come up with the words to express anything more. I think he tried CPR too, uselessly. Then maybe an hour later the ambulance showed up. The paramedic took one look and said, “Sorry, we don’t take bodies away.”

After that is a blur. I sent an email to work telling them my father had died, and included the lyrics of The Cure’s All Cats are Grey. This:

I never thought that I would find myself
In bed amongst the stones
The columns are all men
Begging to crush me
No ships sail on the dark deep lakes
And no flags wave me home

In the caves
All cats are grey
In the caves
The texture coats my skin
In the death cell
A single note
Rings on and on and on

The Cure – All Cats are Grey

I remember bits of his funeral. I remember my brother’s girlfriend at that time telling me not to look at her “with those dead eyes”, and I remember Father Tom Nicholson reading my eulogy that I could not, even the words where I asserted that it was not his time and there is no god. I don’t remember what else was in that eulogy, except that it was emotive and used repetition of the word “Daddy” in key places throughout for greater impact, and Father Tom read well enough to pause in all the right places as I intended it to be read.

That night I cried myself to sleep over Dad’s words… he had told my mother, who also didn’t drive, not to worry, that he would still take her to work on the Monday… That’s where he was a better man than I. Everything he did was for us, his family. Unlike me who is selfish… I drew strength from his memory when I quit meth, unlike everybody else who said that they did it for themselves as if they had never done anything for themselves before. When I quit meth, I did so despite loving being on that drug. I quit for others, not myself (and you’d be amazed how often people contradict me when I say this out loud, by the way – as if they know my thoughts better than I do), and used the memory of Dad’s selflessness to inspire me.

I don’t think I was ever the same after that day.

I worry about my son… How will he cope with my death one day? He is far closer to me than I was to Dad, especially since his mother is not in the picture. Josh and I are unusually close, and he is affectionate, unlike me. Every day he tells me he loves me, and wants to be hugged two or three times every day. I do talk about death. Just as I have tried to teach him about the dangers of drugs so that he is prepared and doesn’t repeat my mistakes, I have also tried to prepare him for the inevitability of my death, but one can only do so much. There are some things you can never anticipate until you experience it for yourself. Death of a beloved family member is one of those things.

I struggle to comprehend death

There, I said it. (Wrote it. Whatever.) A couple of days ago (or was it yesterday?)… the futility of existence leaves me wondering if it really matters… an atheist friend wrote a Facebook status about death. This is a subject I think about a lot, probably too much. I commented that I struggle with it, with comprehending the end of my own life and the finality of it, and he replied that he imagines it to be like sleeping, since his mind shuts down when he is asleep.

Well, that comparison doesn’t work for me. I don’t know if my sleep patterns are unusual; I doubt that they are… But when I’m asleep, my brain is active, highly active. Sometimes I lay there thinking about all kinds of things… My problems, my past, problems at work, wonder what I’m going to do about certain things that are on my mind, and so on. I’m an insomniac – this is true… but I don’t only think about those things while I’m awake. I think of them in my sleep as well. Then I wake up, and like dreams, most of those thoughts slip away within seconds, but I’m well aware of how deeply I’ve been thinking in my sleep. My son, and others in the past, have interrupted my sleep to ask me questions… and their amazement is always the same. Even if I have been snoring my head off, I comprehend the questions heard in my slumber, wake up just enough to answer and remember the annoying chat, and continue snoring. Then I might ponder how annoying the interruption was, ponder it even in my sleep, but sleeping I am.

Last night I needed to pee, and thought about it in between my dreams for a while – I don’t know how long… thought about the fact that I needed to wake up and pee; then eventually did at 2:22AM. There’s nothing unusual in this story for me. My brain is especially busy when I’m asleep. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember.

The point is, death is nothing like sleep. It isn’t even like being in a void of eternal darkness. Darkness, even a void, would imply being aware of nothingness. But our brains are the organs in which all our thoughts occur, they are the homes of that abstract thing we call the mind. There is no evidence of anything external to our physical bodies, so when our brains die, our awareness ends. Death is when the individual that I am, when my awareness, which I have both when awake and asleep, comes to an abrupt and final end. There is no void when you are dead. There is not even nothing. You are no longer there to perceive either something or nothing. Death is when you are gone. It’s not like when you are asleep; it’s like the time before you were conceived.

I, and I think everyone else, cannot imagine this. It is human nature, not only to have this overpowering instinct to survive, but to be unable to comprehend the finality of death. So we pretend it isn’t the end. We convince ourselves that after we die, we wake up somewhere else, in some other plane. Call it Heaven. Sorry, but it isn’t so. If you can get past this, understand the harsh reality, even if only intellectually like myself, maybe you can stop believing in bullshit; stop clinging to supernatural, magical fantasies like religion.

Another addict dead

Judging by a Facebook share yesterday, by a counsellor from the rehab I attended in 2010, yet another life has been lost to addiction. It’s different for me this time in that it wasn’t someone from my friends list, so I don’t get to see the RIP posts on their wall… But still.

I won’t see many of those RIP’s anymore. I have almost none of those friends left, and those who remain are stable, I think. But there were two such deaths last year, and quite a few in the years before that, starting the month I left that rehab in March 2010.

And all this happened despite the fact that most of the people I knew from there had already defriended me a long time ago. They didn’t like my atheism posts, and the posts critical of them. I recall one girl in particular, who was a gullible idiot, who had everybody in that rehab anxious because she believed that a schizophrenic man was possessed and was “speaking in demonic tongues”.

That… the belief in the supernatural, is common among them. Ironically every person I know of who died due to their addiction, was a theist who believed not only in god, but also accepted the 12-step plan programs. Every one of them that I know of, who died, was in and out of such a program. I do not know of any other sceptic, from either of the rehabs I attended, not one person who rejected what they were taught there. (The second program I refer to is the outpatient program I attended, as a formality to comply with a court order and get my son back.)

I cannot emphasize enough how glad I am that I did not Facebook friend any of the people I met in the second program; otherwise I’d have a whole new generation of friends who relapse and die.

Anyway, if you are an addict who has had help, whether you believe in the nonsense they teach you in 12 step programs or not, you really need to understand the seriousness of relapse. Every time you go back to active use, you increase the probability of your death. If you’re a heroin addict and don’t stay clean, you will almost certainly die of your addiction. That’s just the way it is. This is your life. It’s the only one you get. Don’t fuck it up.