This is a picture I took of myself last night, just before the blood began flowing out of my nose. Just a couple of drops at first. I noticed them on the white tile. I looked up and blood was running down my face: a line of red following black.
And it was my fault. I thought, “This is what you get when you try to pull off shenanigans in the middle of detoxing off the pharmaceutical equivalent of heroin.” And just to clarify, I’m making a comparison only of addictive qualities. Benzodiazepines can grab your brain in 4 days. By day 10, you’re addicted. Addicted means that the benzo properties are fading fast and that if you stop taking them, your brain will get angry. You will likely feel like you have the flu. This is if you’re lucky. If you’ve taken them longer or in high doses, you might have heart palpations, anxiety attacks, narrowing of vision, hallucinations, even psychosis. Oh, and then there’s the possibility of a fatal seizure. Benzos work on the brain receptors that regulate at least 75 percent of the body’s processes. The chemistry is still a bit of a mystery, even to the pharmaceutical giants that manufacture them. But they know that they work. Benzos are a monumental hammer to the head if, say, you need a hammer. But they’re dispensed now as quickly as your doc can get you in and out of the office.
Here I am – on my soapbox again. But the blood is running fast and I don’t know how fierce this nosebleed is going to be. On top of the blood is the fact that adrenaline has soaked my cells because I’ve spent the day being an art whore. I read not once, but twice, at the Utah Arts Festival, because I just can’t say no to reading my poetry, my essays, my whatever. All I need is a wink and a little finger beaconing, and I’m there, book in hand, ready to read. And to be perfectly honest, performing and making art is my true soul addiction. Rather, it’s what feeds my soul, so I only joke about the whore thing because I will do it anytime, anywhere. Poetry. Words. Love in the mouth. It’s the line that my soul travels to find its way back home.
So, I read two times yesterday. The first reading was typical: assorted poems and essays. I cried during the last poem. It’s called Mint Leaf for David Foster Wallace and it’s dedicated to my son, who was born with Down Syndrome. He turns four on Saturday. And while he’s in the Terrible Two’s of Down Syndrome, he also is the singular human who has completely reconfigured my heart and my ideas about humanity. I lucked out when he came into my life.
The second reading was a performance piece called The Blue Distance. We were four. Art whores, all of us. We dressed in white, with headpieces and a singular black line down the center of our faces. We read questions to answers that we whispered to individual members of the audience. There was music that made you think of being underwater, when the sound of a whale call moves through your body. We were supposed to have projections that were – blue – and that gave that same sense of water. Of sacred. Of quiet. It was too light, so the projections didn’t show up. Adrenaline. Dump the projections. Show time.
We walked out quietly. I took the mic. Another walked through the crowd, whispering questions. They were tactile: What is a smell that reminds you of your father; What’s the taste and texture of your favorite fruit; Where is the place you go when you need to be alone?
And to remind you, we were at the Arts Festival, so we battled cell phone chatter, rock music bleeding into the air, heat and more heat, the sound of a child crying. But we loved it. We loved the words, the sense of sacred, our attempt to introduce something different.
And then I got home. I’d been wobbly during The Blue Distance performance. Wobbly is one of the lesser symptoms of benzo withdrawal. One of the greater symptoms is the body’s inability to regulate the “hush, baby” and the “go, dog. Go!” parts of the nervous system. I was washed in adrenaline from the heat and the performances and I hadn’t eaten and then I just started bleeding. And the adrenaline, it stayed, unable to wash out. My body’s “hush, baby” didn’t kick in. I was up nearly all night, sweating, pacing, sick to my stomach.
It was a reminder that I still don’t have my brain back. I can write poetry and sing the song of myself and of you and of love, but if I don’t sleep long and hard, if I don’t eat and go slow, I crumble. I’m halfway through my detox. I can’t pretend that I have my brain back, but I’m stunned to tears that I was able to do what my soul loves to do.
Even if I bled a bit. Even if I didn’t sleep.
I did it.
But I think I’ll go slower now. Watch the adrenaline like a thermometer. I’m still battling. Arrows come from behind the chemical veil. But I’m still writing and I’m still reading. And that, beyond anything is a gift. It makes me feel like, when I’m done with this ugly, shredding dependence on the little white pills that my doc gave me with a smile, I’ll be able to do anything.