Torture Aficionado


That’s Lingchi, loosely translated into 100 Pieces. Makes me thankful fate plopped me out when it did, where it did. Who wants their body lopped off, piece by piece, cauterised to prolong the agony, and with just enough morphine so the pain doesn’t cause the person to pass out? Not I.

For a brief time when I lived in Florida, at the turn of the century (how old does that line make anyone writing it seem?) I had this fascination with torture throughout history. I have seen Judas’ Chairs (it’s a pyramid and those can’t be comfortable to sit on), all manner of medieval metal works, from  ‘pears’ to ‘street sweeper’s daughters’ (easily summed up as the first expands, the latter squeezes), to just old fashioned making use of what one has. A few cuts and some rats apparently is an effective, unpleasant way to go I am sure.

I think the idea is clear enough, and I didn’t even mention the glass catheter. Oops. All of this stuff would induce cringes, the product of an active, pictorial imagination. Funny, I am not at all a masochist, but touching on the lying aspect of addicts in my last blog, the idea of self-brutalization is another uncomfortable truth. Take the dope sick junky, the definition of desperation, hellbent on easing the pain, the solution just ratchets up the suffering that much more.

I have 12-stepped & rehabbed it enough to know that pretty much crystallizes addiction’s insanity. The idea of what was destroying me was the only thing that could make me well, and no one had better get in my way back then. It seems torture and I really did have something of a long-lasting relationship. My friend told me a story, and as addicts, the kind of hyperbole in the tale serves to give a twisted peace.

A woman we both knew was so dope sick one night, with no money and having been a regular in the local ER, was faced with the dilemma of just how was she going to “fix” the problem. Her very resourceful solution? She decided that the only way she couldn’t be refused at least some sort of opiate at the hospital was if she shot herself in the foot. So that is what she did.

There are always these types of realities, served up to illicit a bit of self-esteem, well, at least I NEVER did THAT! When I would fill in at the pharmacy in a Pittsburgh suburb known as Allentown, I would get a steady stream of patients from a dentist known for being straight out of Marathon Man. Addicts would go and suffer through Civil War era extractions just to get some Vicodin. So many swollen faces, so much sheer insanity.

Knowing all of this, I am amazed that anyone who gets clean could even think of going back into the abyss. Yet so many do, and so did I, repeatedly. In trying to explain these types of behaviors to people that have never suffered with an addiction of any kind, there is often times a disconnect when the obvious truth stares them in the face. Addiction is a wicked, evil disease. Show me an addict who is clean and tells me his/her sole method at remaining that way is will power, and I will show you someone that will most likely relapse.

The land of the “normals” is a difficult place for addicts to function. One reason I finally published my memoir is to show the world that typical junky stereotypes are crap. “Wow Mike, I would have never thought this would have happened to you.” I get that one a lot. Another, from those closer to me, is, “I feel sick that I didn’t even know, that I wasn’t there for you.”

I want to smash the societal stigmas addiction carries around with it. For us, it is a noose with the other end knotted, already around our necks and we wander up and down chasms until we fall and are ‘caught.’ Getting help should be applauded, yet that seems reserved for celebrities. For me, back when I still had not burned through my 3 strikes as a pharmacist, it was a black mark. I had to inform any potential employer that I was in the state’s monitoring program. I might as well have been saying, “I am a temperamental suicidal kleptomaniac arsonist that pays no attention to detail when it comes to prescriptions. Can I get the job?” Say it doesn’t happen? I call you an ostrich.

My past still affects me today. With a federal felony, there is no wiping my slate clean, save a Presidential pardon. When Mike Vick got his “2nd Chance” I have to say I was a little pissed. Not many people with the scarlet F get a job that pays them $ millions, and immediately. I like to think he has done some good in ending the barbaric dog fighting industry, and I hope he really did that out of compassion and atonement rather than obligation. If he were not an incredible athlete, who brought in the fans (by fans, I mean profits), he’d be relegated to third class citizen like the rest of us.

All of this for me meant that I did not want to share any of my life. That when I needed to learn to love myself, and gain some much needed self-esteem, I knew that I would be shunned. If I felt some degree of acceptance, I would always taint it with the idea that most would be watching for me to fall down. Same thing with the felony. It merely slammed doors shut in my face, and when the economy really turned south, all the skills and personality in the world wouldn’t get me chosen over someone without a past like mine.

That perspective did nothing but dig away the dirt under my shaky foundation. Recovery is really fucking difficult, and I don’t care if it is heroin or food or gambling. The animal instincts of rewarded behavior, a million times reinforced, leaves any recovering addict perilously close to reliving all the torture and more that was just escaped.

Sharing my story takes the teeth out of that animal. Where it used to be able to rip my mind open, now it can only gum it. Still, it can grow them back, like some nefarious land shark. When I hear words like “courage” and “inspiration” in regards to my story, I am humbled. I am an average guy, with quite a littered past. I do not want to become some poster child for the face of addiction. I just want to expose the facts, to ease the stigma so people can feel good about getting help, without the current of society’s impression of addiction pulling them back out to sea.

It has to change, and when given all the chances I have been blessed to receive, it is my purpose. People can change. People do change. I am living proof. The man that would wake up in a hospital ER, after a brief flatline, thank God he wasn’t cuffed to the bed, had money in pocket, and go out and buy more of what just killed him, well, that guy doesn’t define me. That defines addiction. It’s been quite a journey, getting to know my true self all over again. Learning that I do have gifts that are meant to be shared.

While it is impossible to sway everyone’s opinion, to foster understanding into just how twisted addictions are, it will never be an excuse for me to not try and change it. Just like I have changed and grown as a human being by fighting tooth and nail, it takes that same determination and absence of fear to affect change in the public’s perception. I do have a lot of debts to repay, and nothing would be more gratifying than sparing one person from becoming a torture scholar. Nothing would be better than to finally get the message through that a problem can never be solved if it can’t be accepted as one.

Addiction is very real. It is in just about every neighborhood. Statistically, if you interact with 8 people today, one of them has a secret. A secret too embarrassing to share, even though that illumination is the very birth of a chance to get well.

“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” ~Confucius

Peace -MFJ

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