Stepping Up

I relapsed. Again.

A few days after my post “I’m Blake and I’m an Addict”, I relapsed on pills and alcohol. I was kicked out of my recovery house, and back in treatment after only three days. This time, I went to a dual diagnosis rehab center. As I usually do in treatment, I met a lot of good people and made great connections. My first couple weeks in rehab were positive. I was optimistic and ready to get back to doing what I had been in recovery prior to my relapse. In the last week and a half or so of my stay, I started to sink into hopelessness. Another relapse seemed inevitable. 

After 30 days inpatient, I returned to the same recovery house. I was miserable. Some days I felt as if I would never laugh or smile again. After a tumultuous two weeks, I self-harmed one night and had an episode of dissociation the next day that landed me in the ER for evaluation. While I was in the emergency room, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to return to my house due to the escalating mental health issues. I broke down. I returned to my parents’ house and got drunk and high that night. I stayed clean for a day or two, but then found out that I was also kicked out of my day program because they thought that I needed a different level of care. I interpreted all of this as people giving up on me. I lost my house, my treatment providers – people and places that meant so much to me. For the next ten days, I got as messed up as I could on as many things as I could. Booze, pot, cold medicine, pills, and in the last few days, heroin. Faced with how quickly things had fallen apart, I emailed a staff member from the rehab I had left less than a month earlier, and she got me readmitted in the next couple of days. 

I returned to treatment the day after my 22nd birthday. Again, great people, strong connections. I felt defeated and the hopelessness persisted. I restarted the 12 steps with the same staff member that I had emailed (I had been at step 6), and worked on the first three while I was inpatient.

A little over a week ago, I was discharged and moved into a new recovery house in Stewartstown – a tiny town in rural York county near the Maryland line. Due to the relocation, I have had to find a new sponsor and begin to rebuild a sober support network that I can only hope will be like the one I had in Lancaster.

During my stint in rehab, I missed an appointment I had made over a month in advance to start hormone replacement therapy. Pervasive dysphoria haunts me and my interactions every day, and I was crushed to realize that once again my inability to stay sober took away my opportunity to get on testosterone. I was able to reschedule my appointment for September 18th – only three days away from now. My brother is coming back to PA from college in order to take me to finally get my prescription. God willing, on Monday I will be one step closer to being my authentic self, and that chance is the biggest gift that sobriety has given me.

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Donna

My god is tired of my bullshit.

As she sits and exhales slowly,

She looks at me and says

“Kid, get your shit together.”

She has a way with words.

My god is a drag queen.

She performs under the name WhipMe Houston.

And her contouring is always fire.

She lip syncs to Madonna.

And she has the crispest wigs around.

She’s your favorite waitress at Waffle House.

She smokes your grandma’s cigarettes.

She’s late to every appointment.

She watches SVU.

She drinks Mr. Pibb because she roots for the underdog.

Her voice is raspy and harsh, but always drips with love.

Yeah, my god’s tired of my bullshit.

She’s been waiting for quite some time

For me to pull a u-turn.

But I’ve been flooring it south on the interstate

And I miss every single exit.

My god’s favorite color is red like the bandana around her beehive.

My god’s name is Donna.

She came out as a transwoman at age 45.

She has a dog named Jesus.

She chain smokes every evening with a glass of Chardonnay.

She gave me free will because she believes in anarchy.

And she doesn’t have a plan, but she knows what she wants for me.

She guides me in that direction.

She removes my obsession with self.

When I take my will back she gives me the stink eye and blows smoke in my face.

She doesn’t like my taste in music, but she lets me play it in the car.

She talks to me on her smoke break.

She always keeps a pen in her hair even though she’ll never write down your order.

She reads me tarot cards and has named every star.

My god’s tired of my bullshit,

But she always believes in me.

I’m Blake and I’m an Addict

In the last year and a half, I’ve been largely neglecting my blog. The primary reason for my lack of updates has been my increasingly serious problem with drugs and alcohol. 

Since the beginning of 2016, my drug use has spiraled completely out of control, expanding from weed and stimulants to benzos and opiates. I was hospitalized last summer following a bout of depression and insomnia that intensified beyond my control as I came down from tripping on Robitussin. During that hospitalization, my treatment team urged me to go to a rehabilitation center. I adamantly refused, stating repeatedly that I don’t have a drug problem, and that I could easily control my use. 

I was discharged after a month, and returned to abusing pot and pills that same night. Within a week, I was right back to the same pattern that I had found myself in prior to my hospitalization. A month later, I turned 21, and immediately began drinking heavily amidst my constant drug use. I got high or drunk every day, as many times a day as I could. I woke up after ever brief period of sleep shaking violently with my stomach in knots. I wrote each of these instances off as panic attacks, and rationalized my self-medication to relieve my discomfort. 

In September, a series of stressors in my life led to a drunken suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization. Upon my admission, I had to be medicated for dangerous withdrawal from multiple substances. That’s when I realized that the “panic attacks” I woke up in were actually withdrawal symptoms. Again, rehab was recommended to me, and again I refused. This time, I wasn’t discharged from the stabilization unit after a month. Instead, I was transferred to an extended care unit where I remained for four more months. It was during this time that I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings within the hospital. Even amidst others who struggled with similar issues, I strongly resisted identifying myself as either an addict or an alcoholic. Slowly, I started sharing more and more about my habits, eventually evolving my mindset to realize that I had been in denial. I learned about addiction, but held fast to reservations that I was not yet done getting high.

I was discharged from the extended unit with the hope that I would be able to stay clean despite my remaining hesitation towards the idea. Again, I relapsed the same day that I left the hospital. This time, my problem escalated beyond what it ever had been before. I couldn’t do anything if I wasn’t high, and I stayed up and didn’t eat for days on end. I continued to use everything that I had in the past, and I began using cocaine and methamphetamine. I knew that it wasn’t going anywhere good, and I attempted multiple times to sober up on my own. White-knuckling my way through every second, I never lasted more than several hours. 

I started to contemplate rehab more seriously than ever before. A good friend of mine managed to convince me to schedule an intake appointment at an outpatient drug and alcohol facility. I reluctantly agreed and decided that I would clean up in time for my appointment. Of course, that’s not how it happened. I used quite a bit of meth and coke in the couple days before my intake, and I couldn’t hold off on the day of either. I went in to be assessed for treatment high out of my mind on cocaine. They drug tested me, and I peed dirty for a variety of drugs. The staff at the outpatient office recommended that I go to inpatient rehab. I had assumed that that would be their response to my current state, but I had not decided prior to my appointment whether or not I would agree to go. With a bit of persuading from a couple therapists, I caved and signed myself into rehab.

I spent 28 days at an inpatient rehab facility. I went through detox, learned more about the disease of addiction, went to AA meetings, and attended many different therapeutic groups. At the end of my stay, I was faced with the decision of whether or not to return to the house where I grew up and was living before my admission to rehab. After a lot of deliberation, I chose to move into a sober living home once I was discharged. I have been living in the recovery house since, attending drug and alcohol outpatient 5 days a week, and going to AA meetings more nights than not.

Today I am 73 days clean.

Today I am a recovering addict.

Here I Am

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

I can do this.

 

Please listen to me as I lay my soul on the line,

and excuse me for saying it in this cheap, stupid rhyme.

This wretched body is a cage with bars too thick to see

the silent suffering silhouette of the spirit I call me.

I will tear my chest wide open,

watch my heart pour onto the floor,

and break down the closet door.

I can’t live like this anymore.

Since I was just a little child, I hated being a girl.

I wanted to be a little boy more than anything in the world.

The more I slowly grew, and mind and body began to age,

I slowly began to realize that this was more than just a phase.

My only regret is waiting so long to just be me,

But this quick, simple poem is the first step to being free.

 

My name is Blake.

I am a transman.

Here I am.


 

A lot has changed in the last year or so since I last gave a real update. Many major things have gone on in the past year, and the most meaningful and empowering of those things is that I came out as transgender. At first, it was one person who I allowed to peek into my blue, pink, and white painted closet. Very slowly, I have invited more people in. Now, hand in hand with all of them, I am ready to bust out.

I am in the process of requesting those around me to use male pronouns and the name Blake instead of my birth name, Jocelyn. As you read this now, I am humbly asking you to do the same. I have chest binders coming in the mail as I write this, and I will pursue hormone therapy as soon as I am discharged from the long-term treatment facility where I am currently a patient.

I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the fifteenth time in my life on October 1st, 2016 following one of my worst breakdowns. On November 10th, I was transferred to an extended care unit in the same hospital, where I have been staying. Since then, I have been on many eight hour therapeutic leaves from the hospital, as well as unit trips to the public library, which is where I am posting this from now. Within the next month, I should be discharged home, and I am pumped!

Thank you to everyone for your continued support. We’ll get through this together.

Unfounded


I put my earbuds in and pressed shuffle. A song called “The Abandoned” by Memphis May Fire started to pound in my ears. I immediately paused it, not sure if I could handle that particular song today. A few indecisive minutes passed, and I hesitantly clicked the song back on. As a line in the first verse played, I could feel stinging tears begin to sprout in my eyes.

“You will always be my father but I hope you know, it’s your fault that I’ll never know what that means.”

Today is the seven year anniversary of the day that law enforcement and child protective services removed my dad from our home. When I have explained the significance of the date to people in the past, I am often met with “But isn’t that a good thing?” Overall, yes, the intervention was positive in the sense that it helped to free me from his tyrannical parenting and abuse. However, his reign of terror was far from over. 

Insensitive police officers, prying social workers, a million questions I wasn’t ready to answer, disbelief, anger, and invalidation from family members that continues to this day. In a way, the consequences that I faced when the abuse was revealed were almost as traumatizing as the actual events.

My case was ruled “unfounded” not because there was no evidence, but because I couldn’t handle talking to the investigators. I had not planned on opening up about my experiences when I did, so I was completely unprepared for the subsequent barrage of intrusive interrogations. It became clear after the initial interviews that I would not be able to participate in the investigation, so it was suspended and then ruled unfounded after one brief interview with a young social worker, an even briefer interview with a cold male police officer, and one video-taped meeting with a child psychologist that lasted a maximum of five minutes before I broke down and had to leave the room. There were no searches and no medical examinations; only three terrifying, triggering conversations with professionals I had never met before that couldn’t have added up to even an hour total.

The definition of the word “unfounded” is having no basis in fact; groundless; unwarranted. As if three detestably short interviews with desensitized strangers is enough to decide that my experiences never happened. It would be one thing if it was determined that there wasn’t enough information, but to use the word unfounded is heinous. No basis in fact? Who the hell are these law enforcement agencies and child protective services that are rife with corruption to say that the emotional, mental, and physical damage that was inflicted on me for 10+ years is not based in fact? I did not imagine the scars. I did not wish the bruises into being on my skin. I did not concoct the flashbacks that force themselves into my head every day. I did not create this horrific past for myself out of anger or for attention. And yet the legal status of my abuse is unfounded.

I can’t count the number of times that people have asked me the question “Aren’t you worried that he will do it to someone else?” I did not choose to not tell my story. I could not handle the magnitude of the criminal justice world that was unexpectedly thrust into my shoulders at age 13. I collapsed under the weight, and the lack of patience and compassion that I faced in the investigation process did nothing but ensure that I stayed down. Everyday I wake up and I am faced with the reality that my abuser is free and therefor free to abuse again. He is free to ruin more lives than he already has because I could not cope with the responsibility of protecting myself and the world from a monster that I still can’t comprehend.

Yes, today is the anniversary of my escape from the prison that my father built for me with the same hands that tore out my soul, but it is also the anniversary of the start of an investigation that remains one of my greatest failures.

To the Other Half of the Relationship that Almost Killed Me:


We were introduced by a friend. I don’t know what it was about you that drew me in. Perhaps it was the vague promise of something strong, something fun, something intense.

You came with a warning label that I ignored. It did not say enough. No one told me that my relationship with you would become more important than any other relationship I had, that being with you would quickly become my only goal, that you would become my life. Then again, if someone had told me, I would not have believed them.

You were seductive, hot, the ultimate romantic. I couldn’t breathe when your fingers wrapped themselves around my heart and you whispered sweet nothings into my ear. I was in a different world when I was with you – a world just for the two of us.

My friends warned me about you. I was told stories of what you had done to others. I saw things about you online. Red flag after red flag. I couldn’t count the number of times that I heard the words “be careful”. I ignored it all. How could something that felt so safe be as dangerous as everyone was saying?

I forgot about how cold life can be when I was enveloped in your warmth. I forgot about the pain when your scent flooded my room. I forgot about the relationships before you when you held me in bed.

It wasn’t long before the obsession began. You stalked me. You crawled into my head and fed me thoughts that I eagerly gobbled up: I needed you. You wouldn’t let me go anywhere without you, and I didn’t want to. In the rare moments we were apart, all I could think about was you. I counted down the minutes until we would reunite.

You shielded me from reality. You served as a buffer between me and the world that I was too sensitive to handle. I perceived it as protection from others when you were really just trying to keep me to yourself.

Our once innocent love burst into flames, charring and shriveling in the fire. I could hear you yelling at me even when things were calm. You choked me. You made me see things of your own creation as truth. You stripped the values from my soul like the clothes from my body. Honesty, compassion, dignity, humor, conviction, accountability, freedom – all casualties in the war that we fought every day.

I tried to break up with you. I shook and cried and pushed you away as hard as I could. My mind and body cried out for you so hard that I thought I was being ripped in two. I couldn’t imagine a life without you. I ran back to you and you welcomed me back as passionately as you had first reeled me in.

Almost immediately, you reminded me why I had wanted to leave in the first place. I was angry the way you taught me to be. I tore myself apart in your lap and you urged me further. You no longer comforted me when I cried. We were together, but I felt completely alone.

At the same time that I wished for death as a way to escape you, I wished for life so that we could spend more time together. I woke up in the morning with the sole purpose of being with you, and I went to bed at night praying that I would die in my sleep and never have to see you again.

Then you almost killed me. After a night of fighting with you, I woke up in a crumpled heap on the floor with dried blood caked on my skin. I could barely move. It took every ounce of energy I had to pick myself up and all I could do was reach for where you stood over me.

I told my parents what you were doing to me. They told me that I had to leave you, but I couldn’t – you were my everything. We got sneakier. I lied to them about what I was doing during the day and I locked them out of my room at night so that they wouldn’t catch us together. I knew that staying with you would cost me my life, but I couldn’t let go. I didn’t care. I thought that if I died with you, I would die happy.

My parents caught on to us and took me to a hospital where I was held for months trying to recover from the damage that you had done to my body, mind, and spirit. I didn’t sleep most nights because I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I shook uncontrollably in my stiff hospital bed as my stomach ate away at itself and my chest split open, my heart screaming for the only thing it had been beating for: you.

I told my doctor that all I wanted was to be with you again, and he said that going back to you was suicide. I did not respond, but I knew he was right. If we got back together, either you would kill me or I would kill myself. Survival would not be an option. 

I decided during that hospitalization that I was done. I needed you, but the people who actually loved me needed me more. That was over a year ago.

I still think about you. I still miss you. My lips still yearn for your taste. My stomach does somersaults when I go to the places that we went together. I can’t breathe when I smell something that reminds me of you. My chest tightens when I remember what it was like to feel you close to me.

I know that if I want to live, I can never be with you again. I will never feel your peace again. I will never feel your wrath again. 

Synthetic marijuana, I will never bow to you again.

Halloween


I’ve been away for awhile. Not my usual “away” though; I haven’t been in the hospital. I’ve been away from the blogosphere, but I haven’t been completely separated. I’ve been keeping up with others’ posts and checking my dramatically dwindling stats. I’ve been writing more in recent months than I have in a long time, but I haven’t posted anything in over a month, and my last personal entry was at the beginning of February. I don’t have any explanations or excuses for my absence, and I promise that I’ll write an entry soon with all of the important things that went down in the beginning of 2016. Today, however, there is something else on my mind.

It is April 23rd, 2016. For me, that means two things:

1. Yesterday was my step-brother’s birthday.

2. Today marks three and a half years since my best friend’s death.

For my memoir class, I recently wrote a piece that includes both of them, so I figured today would be a good day to share that.

Halloween

Through my childhood and most of my teen years, I loved Halloween despite writing a couple pages on why I hated it in second grade.

I remember a couple costumes that I wore back in the old days: a cow, Nala from The Lion King, Padmé Amidala from Star Wars multiple times, a ninja, Sarah Palin, Kate Gosselin.

It seemed like the older I got, the better Halloween became. My parents cared less and less about how much candy I ate the night of, costumes got more creative, my dad stopped supervising our candy hunt (he was too unfriendly to hand out candy at the house, so that was my mom’s job), and, come middle school, the parties started. I wasn’t in the right friend group or school district for there to be drugs or alcohol at the parties, but they were always a good opportunity to get attention, and boy, did I like attention.

In 2011, I went to one Halloween party as Paula Deen. My costume was complete with a box of butter (salted, of course). I attended with my four friends, who were dressed as a redneck, a demonic pumpkin man, Dr. Oz, and himself. My best friend, Isaiah, was the pumpkin man. He was a few years younger than everyone at the party and didn’t have many friends there aside from his brother and me, so he crawled through the bushes and the parched corn field and jumped out at people. I eventually gave him my wooden cooking utensils and itchy white wig to add to the fun.

The night before, Isaiah and I had gone on a frantic quest to collect as much candy as we could in the final 30 minutes of Strasburg Borough’s allotted trick-or-treat time. I didn’t have time to get all gussied up in my Paula Deen outfit, so I grabbed a stick horse and a smiley face balloon, buttoned my jacket up over my head, and set out as the headless horseman. Isaiah was a scary pumpkin man of course.

Eight days before Halloween of 2012, Isaiah ended his life at age 14. Parties cancelled. On trick-or-treat night, a time I always spent with Isaiah, one of our friends and I handed out candy on the front porch of my house at my mom’s request. I watched as tiny power rangers and My Little Ponies walked over the sidewalk where I had seen my best friend’s body bag get wheeled into a silent ambulance on a stretcher. They were giggling and happy, blissfully unaware of the devastation that had happened there just days before. Halfway through trick-or-treat, Isaiah’s pregnant older sister and his two year old niece that he adored walked up to the porch. My friend immediately began sobbing and we had to go inside.

The next two Octobers were spent with my vices and filled with self-harm, drugs, and alcohol. I don’t remember them specifically because I was too intoxicated by substances and crushing grief.

This past year, I decided to focus outside of Isaiah and myself. Halloween is my step-brother’s favorite day of the year. He calls it “October happy Halloween stah”. Cory is 24 (as of yesterday), but simultaneous mental retardation and autism leave his functionality fluctuating between preschool and elementary level. He likes skeletons, pumpkins, the color orange, and anything edible, so Halloween is the perfect day for him. As soon as my step-dad told me that Cory had never been trick-or-treating, I knew what I had to do.

My parents took Cory and me to Party City, the Halloween Mecca. Despite whether or not he understood the concept, Cory said that he wanted to dress up as Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, who he calls “Bigger Sauron The King”.

I grabbed a large golden crown off of a shelf and held it up to my second oldest sibling that was twice my size, “Look, Cory, Bigger Sauron The King!”

His eyes got wider than I’ve ever seen them. He slowly took the crown out of my hands, lifted it into the light, and uncharacteristically whispered, “The King!”

Come Halloween night, Cory ceremoniously donned the crown, a cape, a sword, and a shield. My girlfriend dressed up as Rainbow Dash with a full face of blue makeup, my friend pieced together a Mother Earth costume, and I gathered as many Adventure Time accessories as I could and declared myself Jake the Dog. And so, an antagonistic wizard, a magic pony, an earth goddess, and a cartoon dog ventured into the autumn night with the goal of giving Cory a Halloween experience besides watching The Nightmare Before Christmas by himself. 

No one expected Cory to make it past a couple of houses, but we went up and down each side of our street. Sure, Cory charged ahead of us on every stretch of sidewalk, sword raised high. Sure, he may have bowled over a toddler or two. Sure, we had to coach him to say “happy Halloween” and “thank you” at every house. And sure, there’s no real way to tell what he thought about the whole ordeal, but I like to tell myself he enjoyed it.

Cory was allowed to have one piece of candy from his Halloween bag before my parents threw it away. He chose a small bag of pretzels. 

As he was tearing into the shiny purple packaging, he made eye contact with my step-dad and exclaimed, “October happy Halloween stah! 12 months!”