Part Three: Companions
We don’t really have ‘functioning addict’ as part of our cultural vocabulary. That would make it all a bit too difficult, and — god forbid — defy the sanctity of AA. Which, by the way, has been disproven as the miracle cure we’re promised so long as you stick to the steps. It’s an oldie now, but we still want our addicts to be junkies as per Trainspotting. Larger-than-life whirlwinds like Burroughs and their ilk. While fabulous in its own fucked up way, this representation is also misleading. Such framing erases the fact that some of the most terrifying moments are not movie magic — they’re the bits that get edited out. It’s the times I couldn’t do my job. As in, I quite literally could not go to work and fulfill the capitalist dream of being able to pay rent because I felt so sad I was throwing up while sobbing. Or, alternatively, that the idea of continued existence seemed so absurd all I could do was sleep. That shit can set off a spiral of self-loathing something shocking. But it isn’t glamorous; televisions tend to remain unsmashed. Instead, my body itches intensely with undirected desperation, unwelcome voices. It’s often quiet, but if you must howl it’s to the moon with no one around for miles. Calling friends you know are busy. This is generally where self-harm features, though I am getting better at controlling that.
All the stats about addiction and mental illness are easily accessible as we now wield the mighty power of Google. There’s nothing new I can tell you on that front. Navigating the continuum between dependency and functioning, the intersectionality between different diagnoses, that’s what we don’t seem to account for. Is the fact that BPD is such an amorphous label a positive or negative thing? I think it depends — especially on how each individual feels about labels and whether they’re chosen or externally allocated. BPD does seem to equate to: we have no idea what exactly is wrong with you. It also seems to shadow traits we would normally file under ‘character’. Again: ‘without which not’.
While some years have definitely been better than others, the constant companions have remained the same. Specifically, drinking heavily and often (eventually daily), keeping my relationships unconventional (double down by being both queer and poly), and chainsmoking ’til fingertips turn yellow. I know two of these three cornerstones aren’t good, but they remain important. Not in an ‘I smoke Champion Ruby and so should you, mmm cancer’ sort of way. They just help to approximate happiness, however short lived. Plenty of people have a glass or three of wine with dinner, and you can trust that I’m a much happier poly-gal than ever could be mono. However, I rarely feel (what I identify as) ‘like myself’ until two beers in. Working in hospitality is an excellent cover for this, often even encouraged. In over four years I have never worked somewhere you couldn’t drink on shift, and well into the night afterwards.
Benzodiazepines also help. They stop my chest clenching, though this vice-grip is also linked to a strange relationship with food — depression will do that. Originally, the Valium prescription was in response to panic attacks. This is another common uniting factor in BPD. For me, anxiety in general — and panic attacks in particular — are like those Helping Hands in Labyrinth. The feeling is physical, invasive and personal. ‘She chose down’. At that moment of the movie I am one of the first to yell ‘no, up! Go up, you fool!’ Seriously, Jennifer Connelly, why the fuck would you choose down? But, of course, it doesn’t work like that. So Valium is a preventative measure that works sometimes, though mostly these days it’s simply part of my system. It stops the shakes and warms the blood. It’s cheaper than booze and socially acceptable at any time of the day. Easier on the liver; slows racing heartbeats.
It is often said that people are their actions. Even if this can be pretty harsh, I do dig this approach to judging people (an important pastime), though it’s also not cut-and-dry in its damnation. For example, if you do something shitty then apologise properly for it and don’t do that shitty thing again, that’s the action that defines you. Makes you a generally decent human being and whatever, which is lovely. However, what happens when our mental illness or dependency issues cause us to lose a critical level of agency? What I mean by this is well beyond the lame ‘I was drunk man, didn’t actually mean it’ line. It’s an extreme loss of agency — not weakness — that gives us the most dramatic tales. Those closest to me have had to accept many, many apologies, knowing the trigger for my objectively shitty behaviour is something that’s not going to change in the foreseeable future.
So my coping mechanisms for the last decade have been varying levels of dubious. However, they are also a significant part of me. What happens when you take that away? Many of my highest highs have been against the doctor’s orders. Many of my dearest friends were made drinking ’til close or bonding over non-neurotypical glitches. I guess it’s not that surprising I feel the ground open up when a medical professional suggests I cut down or quit booze. Fun fact: most anti-depressants are cancelled out after more than two standard drinks — less than two beers. This would have been something I’d have liked to know sooner. A ‘less than two beers’ lifestyle would have also fundamentally changed the person I am. But despite the depression and anxiety and psychosis, plus the drain that alcohol and cigarettes have on my bank account, I do sometimes like myself (more on that later). In any case, my current mess of behaviours is better than the imagined alternatives. The forerunner being: the very real possibility of not having gotten this far at all.