Two hours ago, I texted my ex-boyfriend, hoping for some clarity, asking him what the point of all of this is. All of this being sobriety. I get in this space sometimes—a space that tries to convince me I could somehow be a successful drug addict. He texted me back with one word: poetry.
My relationship with writing goes back further than my relationship with drugs. My mother would say it started when I placed regionally at Reading Rainbow in 2002. My high school therapist might claim it began when one of my emo poems, written on a college-ruled piece of paper and folded into a triangle. It circulated into the guidance office. I personally think it really took off in the months that followed quitting heroin.
Summer 2014, I traded my soul for a stamp bag. And an eight ball. And a vile of liquid LSD. I distinctly recall being eight hits deep on acid, lying sideways on a playground roundabout, wondering what they would say about me at my funeral—how I was beautiful, full of light, had so much potential. It was comforting to think that maybe someday somebody would say nice things about me. When I was using, I wanted to die. I was trying to.
As seasons progressed, my alcohol and drug abuse continued getting more reckless and nasty. I became a violent drunk. Blackouts became a habit. Insufflation became a passion. I was always becoming and never being. Who did I want to be? I couldn’t even answer that because vodka and dope became so entangled in my identity.
My journey of steady substance abuse lasted roughly five years. My head was spinning. I depended on a high to get me through every unwanted feeling. When drugs couldn’t get me through the suicidal thoughts, I found myself Googling directions to the highest suspension bridge in England, where I lived at the time. I waved the white flag. I had enough.
This week, I celebrated two milestones: two and a half years sober off heroin and a year off all other mood and mind altering substances. Honestly, I’ve been having weird feelings about these milestones. For one, I never thought this day would come. I genuinely believed I’d be doing drugs for the rest of my life. Additionally, I still question if recovery is really a fate I can accept.
Which is why I texted my ex-boyfriend two hours ago. I needed an objective third party to remind me that I’m doing the right thing. When he said poetry, I felt the last year unravel in my lap. My resolution for 2016 was to write 365 poems within the year. I wrote 366. I started attending and winning slam competitions. My friend and mentor, Megan Falley, suggested I try to collect 100 rejection letters from literary publications. In that attempt, I sent in manuscript submissions to several presses. I was one of the winners for the Where Are You Press 2016 Chapbook Competition. My first full-length poetry collection, The Bird Hours, will be available in May 2017 which is nothing short of wild.
All of this has been achieved within a year. If the average life expectancy of a human being is 79 years, how much more can I accomplish? Personal growth can be so addictive when you realize there’s no limit. I must remind myself of this: there is no limit with writing. There are always words that need to be put together. There is always something to say.
Poetry has been my savior. It has given me a reason to live again. I feel it everywhere I go: overheard chatter on the train, a letter from a friend who’s in jail, sunrises, sunsets, on the phone with my grandmother, even in church basements. My life has been a redemption poem. Whenever I doubt myself and my ability to stay clean, I throw myself into my keyboard and write. Some days, it is all I can do. Every day I don’t use is a good day. Every day I write is a good day.
I often ask myself, why didn’t poetry save me before I did hard drugs? For the same reason that my friends and family couldn’t. I needed to suffer before I could ever fully understand happiness. Now that I am familiar with both pain and success. I beat myself up for lusting after the past so badly. As I write this column, I am thinking of what somebody might say had I died while using. They might say I went to a better place. A better place is on this planet, away from tampon toots and plastic straws and rolled-up dollar bills. A better place, for me, is on a typewriter or laptop or pen on paper. A better place isn’t an afterlife. A better place is during life. I am truly so blessed to have found a creative outlet and therapeutic tool in this weird world.
At my funeral, hopefully decades from now, my wish is that nobody talks about all my lost potential. I want my loved ones to celebrate how much drive I had, how far I came after being so low, and how I changed my life. Isn’t change the most beautiful thing out there anyways? At my funeral, I hope they will read a poem.
Kate Foley is a slam-winning poet based in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her work has been featured Yellow Chair Review, Germ Magazine, the Legendary, Words Dance, and more. Her debut poetry collection, The Bird Hours, will be available with Where Are You Press in May 2017. You can find more of her work at facebook.com/katefoleywriting.