This is What It’s Like to Survive Overdose

It’s International Overdose Awareness Day.


I woke up this morning alive. I finished the book my sister gave me last week, Mastering the Addicted Brain. And I wrote an emotional treatise about the three overdoses – the ones I remember. One, in the dorms, at age 17. I had taken a bunch of various forms of speed and was slurring my words. I thought I was having a heart attack. Maybe I was just really high.

The second landed me in the hospital. I showed up to a party at a friend’s house drunk and high, and proceeded to get more drunk and dangerously high on any number of substances, but mostly cocaine. Those were the days I kept my stash in hollowed out Burt’s Bees lip gloss pallets, or replaced loose eye shadow with it so I could have it in my purse inconspicuously. It’s not lost on me that it was childhood church friends that dragged me to a car and to the hospital. It’s not lost on me that Nita, my mom’s best friend who came immediately to my side, didn’t live long enough to see her daughter get married – and yet, here I am. (Not two days later, I got a ride to my grandparents’ farm to convalesce and be with my mom, who was caring for ailing relatives. I did more cocaine – literally off the front of a Bible – in the car on the way.)

The third overdose was in Brooklyn, a few weeks before I entered long-term recovery. I’d been tripping for days at that point, and mixing hero’s doses of psilocybin with cannabis and cocaine. I had a seizure, and lost control of my legs. I slammed around in the elevator on the way to my apartment. I simply told my flatmate that I’d fainted, and asked for some bread, a cold wash cloth, and water.

It occurs to me again that it’s International Overdose Awareness Day, and somehow I woke up alive. The war stories just don’t matter today.

Some will wear silver to commemorate. Others will visit the grave of their child, brother, or lover who died this tragic, undignified death. (Undignified on face, anyway.) Some don’t know Overdose Awareness Day even exists; they don’t know there’s a worldwide campaign to #EndOverdose. Someone will overdose today and live. Someone will overdose today and die.

All too often, I’m reminded there are those who visit these graves daily, through the unhealed wrench in the heart, or the persistent pit in a stomach. There are parents, children, and siblings that walk the earth as zombies, numbed and hollow from the overdose death of their own. They are living mausoleums to what might have been.

And then, there’s me. Unworthy, unwitting, and unclear on how I survived overdose, time and time again. It’s not fair.

It’s not fair.

I’m alive, and I don’t know why it’s me and not your sister, your girlfriend, or your daughter.

I don’t always feel guilty enough, or #blessed enough, or whole enough to make it fair. All I know to do is to listen to others, offer my energy to help teach people to use drugs safely, advocate for the shift to an evidence-based, harm reduction model of drug policy in the United States, and to go to the mat over and over for those who are suffering from addiction. I don’t let a day – not a minute, really – go by that I’m not grateful for being in recovery. Recovery is all I have. All I know to do is work for a better tomorrow.

This is what it’s like to survive overdose.


Save A Life: Free Online Naloxone Training


1,591 Days

I wasn’t planning to post about this, but I was overtaken with a wave of gratefulness today, as usual, for my life lived in recovery. I had a semi-emergency surgery this week, and can’t imagine how hard this would’ve been if I wasn’t sober and focused on health of mind and body. 

The way I conduct my recovery isn’t for everyone, but I forewent opioid and narcotic pain meds after post-op, though I did have the good stuff in the hospital. There is no nobility in suffering, but I have reconceptualized my pain by stubbornly willing it into a string of silver linings. 

I was supposed to be in Texas this weekend, but my beau flew up here on a moment’s notice, instead. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to recuperate in the beautiful countryside of the Shenandoah Valley, watching fog lift over the river at dawn, and rumbling thunderclaps quiet themselves with a purple sunset. My tribe has been wonderful and abiding, of course, as they so consistently are. And I got to spend the evening with a dear friend joining us briefly in the city, who I would’ve missed seeing otherwise. 

I am reminded further of my good fortune in life’s small details: wearing my I Am Not Anonymous t-shirt, and blindly selecting the matching pen from a drawer as I read Write Who You Are — a book of poetry written by immigrants for a program I am now facilitating. To be able to serve this way without compunction is indeed a dream. Getting caught in a hailstorm and thusly listening and smelling the lingering, sweet summer rain. The conversation inherent in a meaningful silence. 

The point of it all here being: If I can do the hard thing I thought I could not do, you can do the thing you are afraid of. The thing that makes you better, that obliterates your comfort zone, that takes away things before it heaps on rewards. Recovery is this thing for me. I hope that you find yours.