Title art by L.H. Grey
Prelude by Keeper
Grey requested that I write the piece of literature you are about to read on her behalf as the journey undertaken was tackled hand-in-hand the whole way. Our unique connection allows us to, not just channel one another effortlessly, but also share every last stab of pain or feeling of satisfaction the other does, without exception. Make no mistake, the words you are about to read originated directly from her deepest soul and, for anyone unfamiliar with the bond we share, it’s worth noting that not one solitary alteration needed to be made to the text once the assignment was complete. It is imperative to both of us that those who aren’t afflicted first-hand but provide support are able to glean a greater understanding of their own role in overcoming such a formidable opponent as the one she is about to detail. We trust you will find it enlightening.
We never really know what is going on in the lives of others at any given moment. Everything may appear well on the surface, but that is not to say that we’re not going through sheer bloody hell on the inside. This is one reason why judgement has never appealed to me in the slightest as it is all too easy for us to cast assumptions over the character or intentions of another without the facts at our disposal and this often leads to all kinds of misunderstanding and, ultimately, fractured allegiances. If someone is less socially inclined than normal, we have a habit of chalking this down to ignorance on their part or taking it personally. And, by doing so, we are failing the other party in question when, in our minds, it is they who fail us.
It may not have escaped your attention that my presence on social networks has been decidedly lacking for over a month now and it is this which I am looking to address today. This is not geared towards condoning for my extended absence, as it has been absolutely necessary, but in the hope that my words will resonate with just one person who has needed to undertake a similar sabbatical for the sake of their health and emotional well-being. If we are lucky, we have a select few who we can count on implicitly while we roll up our sleeves and tackle the elephant in the room. If not, then it can prove an agonizingly long and lonely path. I consider myself infinitely blessed to fall into the former category but, while a handful of loved ones have proved incalculable over the past five weeks of my life, they are not ultimately the reason I am sat here now, about to share with you what I am.
This has to be for me. After all, this is my life story being shared or a significant piece of me at the very least. And those I cherish will fully appreciate how vital it is right now that I do this. Any artist unwilling to paint their heart and soul onto blank canvas or parchment is denying themselves the chance to ever be seen or locate their true inner voice. More often than not, we choose artistic expression as a way of revealing ourselves to our audience but, every now and then, it is important to remind them that, chosen art aside, we’re really not that different. We all hurt, we all bleed, and we all have the capacity to heal. Whether we choose to share this is another matter entirely. Today I do as I have recently overcome a significant obstacle in my life and have learned more about my true self in the process then I have since childhood.
I suffer from severe PTSD and it would be fair to say that I have lived the life of a recluse for the past few years. You could go as far as suggesting I’m borderline agoraphobic and I’d nod my approval from behind my bedroom curtain. Social situations make me incredibly anxious, to the point where I can feel my will to live gradually seeping away, and my art enables me to avoid such instances and remain in a far less stifling and oppressive environment – my sanctuary. Given that I am an only child and therefore incredibly self-sufficient, this is the one place on earth I can feel in absolute control of my state of mind. There’s something about having endured what you would consider a pretty hard life that makes the easy life an even more alluring proposition. And what lends itself to a hassle-free existence more than the following words – me, myself and I.
The three of us have gotten on decidedly well for the most part but there has been another party omnipresent at any “me time” and it may as well possess a social security number for the part it plays in the lives of so many Americans alone. Should the name Adderall be familiar with you, then you should already be aware of how persistent a visitor this widely prescribed stimulant can be. What you may not be so aware of is that this amphetamine-based combination drug represents one of the most potent risks to the population and weaves a trail of destruction like no other non-outlawed medication in circulation. Ever-unscrupulous pharmaceutical firms peddle it like cough candy, we suck these lozenges with best intentions because we’re assured it will assist the clouds in passing, and before we know it – Shazam! It has us just where it bloody well wants us.
Like any narcotic, legal or otherwise, it knows precisely how to lull us into a false sense of security. Staking its claim on our brain’s receptors in a manner never less than persuasive, it learns its subject in no time and then goes about making itself utterly indispensable. We are promised boundless riches, shown sights we’re assured aren’t accessible without the next fix, and it all seems like a win-win situation. At the offset. There is plenty romantic about its inclination as it declares its undying loyalty to our cause in the manner that a chloroform-soaked rag would declare itself a nightcap. But this is nothing to what it has tucked up its sleeve for the next trick. Mindful that we are ultimately chasing that elusive first buzz, its effects start to diminish, until which point as our only available option is to up the dose and meet in the middle for well-earned commendation. Meanwhile, it sinks its grubby nails deep into our cerebral crust and with no intention whatsoever of massaging the gray matter.
Without it we are lost now. We can barely lift our weary heads from the pillow without a sweet kiss to set us off and the most rudimentary of operations cannot be achieved until such time as the drug has worked its way through our bloodstream sufficiently. Then there is the small matter of the exclusive superpowers it mischievously endorses. Under its dubious influence, our minds can truly be free. We can create the best art, reach deeper within ourselves than we ever dreamed, and learn every last one of the greatest mysteries within us. Naturally, there will be instances when our creativity and euphoria dries up, but this is nothing another dose won’t fix. We tend to remember each high on command, all the while leaning increasingly towards the customary lows which stimulants present us. As cycles go, there are few more vicious. And there are few carousels more troublesome to dismount.
Perhaps most startling is the manner in which your entire reality starts to shift before your eyes, all the while reassuring you that your old reality was a tired one in dire need of a face lift and that it is doing you a favor by performing a little “housekeeping”. Given that Adderall is a stimulant, it should come as no great surprise to learn that it subscribes to the whole “sleep when you’re dead” school of thought. Should you be a dark artist or general creature of nocturne as I am, then it will cajole you into believing nighttime to be your most productive period. The amphetamine content offers a quick fix solution here as it pretty much forbids your head from dropping until your body starts to threaten precautionary shutdown. This moment has been known to arrive in excess of 48 hours down the line, dependant on whether or not you have been permitted the creativity to power through any subsequent lulls. And, trust me, there are lulls. Gods, are there lulls.
More often than not, these materialize in the form of lengthy incubation periods as your body decides enough is quite enough and your exhausted psyche corroborates this. We view this as a necessary part of the process and willingly accept this penance as it enables us to regroup and prepare to launch our next attack. Meanwhile, we completely surrender any real concept of time and days get away from us in a manner most disheartening. Any menial tasks yield intense aggravation as these unwelcome distractions pull us away from doing the one thing it encourages us to do – precisely what it wants us to do and not a solitary thing besides. Before we know it, our sanctuaries have become overly cluttered and are in desperate need of TLC, which is hardly conducive to creation for those afflicted with anal retention. However, our feelings are utterly irrelevant in the narrow scheme of things as we have essentially become vessels for this drug to get its kicks through.
Anyone looking to talk a little sense into us are woefully out of their depth as we are convinced we know better than anyone else and backed up by the impurities coursing relentlessly through our systems. We listen to their well-meaning suggestions, pick up on each condescension, and decide they don’t know us quite so well after all. And perhaps they don’t. After all, it’s hard for another to know you when you no longer recognize yourself. You certainly think you do as stimulants are all about the self-deception. But ignorance is blissful for the most part. The simplest of social interactions begin to grate, anxiety looms large over each interaction, and those unchecked notifications now represent fresh mountains to climb. This inadvertently plays into the hands of our passive aggressor as it wants us all for itself and won’t stop until it has what it came for. Parading beneath the seductive veil of chemical romance, it knows how to charm us, how we wish to be charmed, and could never be accused of falling short on the intimacy front. Of its numerous selling points, smooth operation is right up there with the secret desire to claim you as its perennial drudge.
So what do we do to tip the scales back in our favor? Well, generally and regrettably, not a tremendous deal. In the same way that searching for a job represents a gargantuan task when already in employment, taking a long and hard enough look at yourself to want to change your situation is no small feat when it has had you ever since hello and has absolutely no intention of letting go. It seems easiest for both parties concerned if we simply continue to ride the carousel and ignore the red flags appearing amongst the blur of fading lights at a rate which would be considered alarming if anything really alarmed us anymore. Fast becoming desensitized to life itself, we begin to relinquish the reins on reality and slip further into the new flesh it has fashioned for us. Perhaps corset would be more fitting in this case, given how tightly we are strapped in. Maximum security prison would be another.
Eventually one of two eventualities is bound to play out. Either you remain under its spell until which time as little of your former self remains or, should you begin to spot the deception, then you figure out a way to politely decline its advances. A little willpower can go a long way but this is no mere “bad habit” we are talking of here. A drug as commanding as Adderall soon becomes a fully fledged lifestyle choice, albeit one which encourages against free will and opts for a far more strong-arm approach to earning your unwitting allegiance. Consult your doctor and they will likely remind you of the numerous potential hazards of coming off it suddenly. Just to be clear, this is pretty sage advice. But some of us have our own ideas about weaning off that don’t entail long drawn out goodbyes and we’ll meet agains. When you know, you just know. And I reached that exact point just over a month back now, following a period of my life which has revealed to me just who and what is truly vital to me.
One of the things I pride myself on most is my possession of the courage in every last one of my convictions. Once I have reached the point of realization that something is poisoning my being, I’m done with it, even if that requires an inhuman level of application on my part. No second thinking myself, half measures, or half-baked excuses for putting things off until a more convenient time, I will do whatever is necessary to rid myself of whatever cross I have been bearing and never look back. Needless to say, I will do whatever research is necessary to arm myself for the road ahead as it is imperative to know one’s enemy well prior to engagement. And let’s just say this particular page-turner didn’t make for the lightest bedtime reading. However, the goal was crystal clear to me. To taper off the meds gradually and make a significant dent in defeating this demon once-and-for-all.
And so battle commenced. Much as I would love to report that the Adderall surrendered quietly, it did no such thing. We’re talking severe fatigue, muscular pain, mood swings, wholly depleted enthusiasm, intense agitation, attention deficit, irrational appetite, the constant feeling of being strung-out and waterboarded, not to mention overwhelming anxiety and a complete and total inability to deal with the simplest of social scenarios. Each of these side-effects conspired against me and the first couple of days rendered me practically null and void. Having now revealed my intentions to my adversary, it predictably set out to make my life an absolute living hell. However, while many return to the drug within these testing first few days, I chose to do precisely the opposite and exceeded my own expectations in the process.
Now I’m not suggesting that anyone attempting to tame this titan should follow my footsteps without their doctor’s supervision. Each of us is different and I’m just fortunate enough not to be afflicted with an addictive personality. Thus, the very moment I began to notice the benefits of sobriety, I dug in all the deeper and pushed myself farther than even I suspected was possible. To my astonishment, the storm clouds began parting in no time. Let’s not bandage the ax wound, I still felt like death reheated and my will was sorely tested at every available kink in the road. And the Adderall constructed a reasonably sturdy case for taking the edge off with a swift hit just to preserve sanity. But the court was no longer in session.
Once you have a few days of abstinence under your belt, things begin to grow a little more manageable. My select support network had me covered with regards to celebrating each small victory and recognizing how far I had come thus far. And I wasn’t foolish enough to snub the drug completely as there were days where my most valiant efforts simply weren’t sufficient. So I took a vastly decreased dose when absolutely necessary and not a second before; justifying each decision by continuing to make significant progress on the days when I felt better equipped to resist the boisterous voices in my head. A week came and passed, all personal projections had been soundly smashed, and the worst of it appeared to now be squarely in my slipstream. Battle won then you’d suspect. Perhaps, but the war was evidently far from over here and my Spartan blood was about to be tested a second time.
Had I not pressed on with my meticulous and measured research into the long-term effects of abstinence, then I would have been none the wiser to the whole secondary withdrawal deal and have remained wide open to the stage two sneak attack. Secondary withdrawal ordinarily muscles in a few weeks down the line, once your brain chemistry begins to stabilize. We may display fewer physical symptoms than previously, but emotionally and psychologically, it’s straight back to the front line for mind games and skull cracks. This feels like decidedly rough justice, given what has been overcome up until this point, and unrest within the ranks is precisely what the opponent is banking on. But resilience just so happens to be one of my key attributes. And I had not come this far to surrender to any post-bell sucker punches.
Consequently, it has been five weeks now since I have left any real social footprint and the time has come to step forth from the shadows and name and shame Adderall publicly, not to gloat over my rousing victory, but to help educate those who travel in the same vicious circles and hopefully save them some of the legwork. Recovery is an ongoing process and the dreaded relapse has been known to remain a very real threat for years afterwards. In certain cases, this period of extended withdrawal can last for as long as the drug was active in the system before blitzkrieg ensued. But this is where self-care becomes vital. There will invariably be good days, bad days, and downright shocking days, but if you grant yourself permission to celebrate each natural high and refuse to lose sight of the journey you have undertaken, then it can be done with a little thing called resilience and another named patience.
The upsides are truly fathomless. I would liken the feeling to that of gradually waking from a state of perpetual hypnosis and, as symptoms fade, so life starts to become manageable once again. Better yet, we are now afforded the opportunity to feel every last thing, as opposed to existing in a state of constant immobility. Be that an overwhelming sense of enlightenment or uncomfortable reenactment, it just feels damn good to breathe after so long in choke-hold. Creativity may have hit a temporary slump during intermission, but it doesn’t take too long to suss out that our true tool set is still very much within as always. The meds just like to take credit for anything which results in personal achievement. When, in actual fact, natural stimulants are all that is required to locate the true inner artist and unleash this sleeping giant.
Right now I am taking each day as it comes and this appears the best course of action, no question. That being said, where previously my vision only extended to the end of the daily hopscotch, suddenly I see the path ahead in 20/20 and feel more than equipped to venture towards a future which is mapping out exquisitely before me. Granted, it has been a tough damn slog, one which has threatened to buckle my knees at a vast number of potential vanishing points, but I have taken each rough on the chin, drank down the smooth, and have never once seen or felt so seen since childhood. And all it took to achieve this state of Zen was to grant myself permission to return to paradise with a fresh set of eyes and continue to thank the universe every single night for the beautiful blessings it has bequeathed me.
To close, I wish to reiterate my opening statement – we never really know what is going on in the lives of others at any given moment. Hopefully today’s exercise will serve as a reminder to us all that there is more to every last one of us than meets the eye. There are reasons for behaviour, be that seemingly erratic or, in my case, critically preservative. Whether or not we are able to pass over snap judgement on others depends largely on our ability to appreciate that we have no right whatsoever to play god. In a perfect world, understanding would be commonplace, but then it would be a somewhat sterile venue with precious little to get het up over. Right now I understand, those nearest and dearest to me understand, and by reading this now, you are all in a position to understand the person laying her bones bare for you this day. And that seems as good a starting place as any.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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