It’s not easy being an addict or alcoholic – active or in recovery – during a hurricane. There were long lines outside the methadone clinic before Hurricane Irma ripped through south Florida. Addicts OD’d in shelters.
For those of us in recovery, the anxiety and enormous manual and emotion labor required to prepare and ride out a hurricane is exhausting. Every three hours NOAA posted updates on Irma’s path. I waited at my kitchen table, banging on the refresh button and freaking out as my little house was ground-zero at 8 am and then a frog’s hair out of the cone at 11 am.
To distract myself, I went through hundreds of old photos, Christmas ornaments and Mother’s Day cards that my daughter had made me. I carefully placed them in a box that I would try to keep safe. If I lost everything else, at least I would have my box.
Then comes the manual labor: heavy metal panels and wing nuts. Bring all the patio furniture in the house. Every clay pot in the garden. The garbage can, the recycle bins – everything must be taken into the house or shed. The heat index is over 100-degrees.
I can’t stand it. I just want a hit off a joint. One hit, just to take the edge off. I was drowning in anxiety. I didn’t want a drink. I just wanted one hit. I romanticized it – imagine the smoke filling my lungs, closing my eyes, throwing my head back and slowly exhaling the smoke.
STOP IT! STOP IT! I told myself – but no one else.
Fortunately – or unfortunately – my work distracted me. As a newspaper reporter I cover hurricanes from start to finish, working around the clock. I listened to the screaming gusts from the safety of an emergency operations center, where I was embedded to cover the storm. I was safe but only being able to hear and not see what was going on was maddening.
Then came the aftermath. Opening the door and seeing the wreckage. I call it botanical Darwinism. Gone were my favorite trees at the park. Streets I traveled everyday were impassable. Gas was impossible to find. Grocery store shelves empty for days. Curfews and no electricity in the sweltering heat.
As I laid sweating on a chaise lounge in the backyard in the middle of the night, trying to get some sleep despite my neighbor’s deafening generator, I thought how wonderful an ice cold Corona would taste. A lime stuck in the long neck of clear glass. I could feel my lips closing around the top of the bottle, my head back, gulping – gulping – gulping.
STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT! I told myself – but no one else.
Somehow, I fell asleep. In the morning I went back to unscrewing wing nuts and taking down panels. Then back to work.
Irma was my fourth hurricane in sobriety – or maybe fifth. I can’t keep track. No matter how long I am sober, I seem to have the same reaction: A joint and a Corona.
What’s different this time is I am telling you. I have never divulged these secret desires, which is very, very dangerous for an alcoholic or addict. It is important – vital – for addicts and alcoholics to reach out for help when they have a craving.
And so now you know.