How harm reduction saved my life!
Life changes and the only choice we really have is to deal with it. Accept it and deal with it. Sometimes I go with it and it seems as though I have acceptance peace and all that good shit….. and sometimes I fight it all the way, knowing it won’t do a bit of good. When I fight, it is painful and horrible. I fight with all my energy and try so hard not to accept what is happening to me. I close my eyes and ball up my fists and refuse to see the truth, refuse to speak it, refuse to live it. I tell myself I can’t stand it over and over again……I commit to my misery and bask in it. I destroy most of the good things in my life and try to push away anyone who offers to help. Every thought stings and everything feels unbearable. Then life happens, time passes and I am forced to surrender bit by bit. I don’t have the energy to keep up the fight and finally after I am tired and beaten, I realize that I have no choice but to go the way life has been telling me to….to do as the universe commands. I have no choice but to obey the silent, but commanding truth.
I have not had an easy life, but who does. I have struggled with substance misuse, mental health issues, criminal justice issues, economic issues, domestic violence issues, relationship issues, parenting issues, spiritual issues, you name it…I’ve probably had a go at it. Its’ been obvious since I was about 13 that Louise Vincent (that’s me) was gonna have a rough life! Most recently I was the victim of a hit and run. I woke up on the side of the road with a broken ankle, shattered knee, broken pelvis and no memory of what had happened. Everything changed that day. Everything!
That was about 3 year ago. I have not walked since that accident, or not well anyways, and certainly not without pain. I also lost sight in my left eye due to an infection from my leg. So I went from completely able bodied to pretty handicapped in an instant……..when I think about how fast life changes it is scary to me. To lose something so natural…something we do all the time without even thinking about it. I was not okay. I could not accept that I would never run or skip, do cartwheels….not that I did much of that shit anyway, but just in case I wanted to. I don’t think anyone wants to accept that their life has changed….4 real and not in a you just won a million dollars kind a way….in a shitty way! This is difficult to accept. I am not the kind of person that asks others for help. I am impatient and I don’t ask people to do shit for me because they usually don’t do it right and they never do it fast enough. After this accident I was forced to start asking people for help and allowing others to do what I could not. This is very humbling and absolutely one of the most difficult and unpleasant realities of being with disabled. People always say …oh just ask me next time, or Louise, why don’t you just ask…..BECAUSE I DON’t FUCKING WANT TO! That is usually what I am thinking when someone says this, and often what I say!
About 2 months ago I made a decision….it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I agonized over this decision, tried to imagine what the repercussions of this decision were going to be. I drank over this, used as many drugs as I could, contemplated suicide, and finally surrendered to the facts of my life. After 3 years and a couple of months of intense pain and suffering at 39 years old I made the decision to amputate my lower right leg. I could not even say the word amputate for a year or so. In fact, the first time a doctor ever said I might have to amputate my leg, I was all alone. I was in Winston-Salem. No one was with me. The doctor said this and I began crying uncontrollably. He said in a aggrevated voice that I could stay in the room for a minute and pull myself together if I wanted, handed me some tissue …and then he left. I tried to pull it together, I really wanted to pull it together, but I felt as if I might combust, just bust into a million pieces right there in this office….I just wanted to fuckin be gone. If ever I was a danger to myself or others , this was one of those times, surrounded by health care professionals I wheeled myself out to the car, hiccuping and crying…I was crying so hard I could not see, people just stared —-they did not even speak, I guess I looked so crazy. I just cried my way to the car and then put my head on the stearing wheel and cried some more. I screamed, cursed, and wept. I could not breathe….I could not articulate words. I could not deal with this,…..anything but this I thought. Anything. I was so angry. I hated this world. I hated my life. I hated everything. I put the keys in the car and tried to drive. I began to drive like I was going to kill myself in the car….I would just run it off the road, I thought….I would drive into a lake or something. I did not want to be alive…. I could not stand the pain…it hurt so bad…..it hurt so fucking bad. My hands were shaking as I picked up the phone to call home…..”hello, I sobbed, My mother answered and immediately knew I was not okay…she kept saying “slow down, Louise, I cant understand your words”……then she asked me if I was driving….I said yes, she firmly told me to pull over, I did and then put my head on the wheel and wept some more.
I have fought and resisted this as hard as I could for as long as I could. Every time I thought about amputating my leg I imagined how I would look. How people would perceive me and worse, how I would perceive myself. You see, I have bipolar disorder and struggled with my mental health since the age of 13.
I have a nasty narrator. This is my conscious, you know the little voice in your head….your life commentator. Well mine is a nasty, mean bitch. I have had self defeating thoughts my entire adolescent and adult life. So much so that it has crippled me at times, rendering me unable to go on and literally bringing me to the edges of life a number of times. The truth is this, when I am doing well and things are going ok, I am able to ignore my commentator. The hateful words, and the comments that make me question each and every decision I make are just a rumble in my head that I have learned to ignore. When I am tired, and depressed and my mental health is in the toilet….. my mind reals on…”.oh god you are going to be a monster, no one is ever going to love you again”…You are going to be all alone, miserable forever. Look at you…you are already hideous and worthless, you don’t have shit you never will. No you are just going to be a legless ugly monster who is a financial burden on everyone you love. I know this voice and when I am listening to this voice I believe it. I have the evidence that its true…I build a case against myself and anyone else who tries to tell me different.
I have spent much of my life in therapy. So much so that I feel I have a pretty good handle on how I do things, how I handle things….but thinking about cutting off my own leg…..I could not imagine, so when I did try and think about it, I imagined the most horrible, upsetting things. I would think about how I would feel right after I woke up from surgery and my leg would be gone. I would think about the endless stares from well-meaning people and the shrieks from children. I imagined my boyfriend staying with me wishing he could escape or worse…. Maybe he would just leave….Would I stay? I wondered? Fuck, this is not what you want to be contemplating! Here is a quote from my journal about a year after the accident:
One year ago today that was the last time I walked. That was the last time I really had hope for the future. Every day it feels like this dark place is where my life will forever be. I hobble around the house cross with everyone, crying, feeling angry with life, god and anyone else that is around and might be listening. Lonliness has taken over my life. I have never felt like I had good friends and now I especially feel lonely. The only light that is in my life is my daughter Selena, but it seems as if my depression and sadness have scarred her in a irreparable way. I am horrified at what my illness has done to her. If I could make it all go away I would. Maybe, I can…What do I do?
Sometime about 2 years after the accident I decided I had to do something..I made a decision that I wanted to get better instead of drowned in hurt, agony, anger and trying to numb my pain ….emotional and physical. This was a huge decision for me. I had given up and gone to the lowest point emotionally that I have ever been, and thats’ pretty damn low. When I think about this place all I can think of is darkness. I did not have the the will to live, but I did not have the courage to kill myself ,and I hated myself for this. I hate the people I love for this. I hated that I cared if anyone was disturbed about me killing myself. How selfish of them I thought. Damn, to be free of this life. . . .
You see the world throws people like me away. When we are young and self destructive people come running to your aid and try and save you. When we get older …. we are just a burden. Just no good throw aways…… Doctors just thought I did not care, no one reacted to me like I was a person in an intense amount of pain with no idea how to move forward….instead they reacted to me as if I was using drugs to hurt them. They reacted like I deserved punishment and hate. This only exacerbated my anger and unhappiness. I avoided the doctor, I avoided everyone and everything. When I decided I was going to pick up the pieces of this mess and try and live…..it was like it was too late. The world looked at me with disgust, people spoke to me as if I did this to myself or I deserved it. It took doubling down on my commitment to live to get through this terrible time. I had to just deal with the nasty doctors and the shitty comments. I had to just walk through some of the most difficult days with my head down and as medicated as possible without going over the top.
I could not work much, because I could not walk. I had finished my Master’s degree program in public health but I was not able to to be hired at most places. I am a felon on top of everything else. So getting a job with physical disabilities, mental disabilities and being a “criminal”….not likely!
I could just barley walk across the room. I was in agonizing pain and there was not a doctor on the east coast willing to help me deal with the pain. I had to find a way to treat my own pain with out falling back into chaotic use. It was hell just to exist. Expensive too. I had deal with so much just to sit on the couch. And sitting on the couch was killing me….so much time to sit and think and worry and wonder.
Why had I hated myself so much before I would wonder. I would look back at pictures of myself and see a beautiful woman….huh, I always hated that woman too. How could I have taken my life for granted so much.
2 months ago I amputated my leg. I am here, alive, and feeling strong. I have plenty of moments, but I no longer live in the darkness. How did I reawaken? Harm Reduction first and foremost. It has been harm reduction that has accepted me and loved me through every difficult moment I have had. Harm Reduction has trusted me to do the work that I love. Harm Reduction has allowed me the room to figure out what my recovery should look like. Thank God for Harm Reduction. The other reason I am alive and doing well today is PASSION! Being involved in social justice and public health movements….helping others! Without my work with Urban Survivor’s Union and North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition I don’t think I could have gotten off the couch, made a decision to live. Thank you to my Union friends, Thank you to NCHRC, Thank you to my family …..Thank you!