Monthly Archives: August 2015

When Flying Doesn’t Suck

man and woman talking across airplane isle

I just recently managed not to die in a plane crash on a round-trip flight to and from Los Angeles.   I don’t mean I survived an actual crash just that I managed to endure a couple of interminably endless legs from here to there.

I really hate flying, or maybe it’s the anticipation of flying that’s worse.  From the moment my tickets are booked, it’s pretty much all I can think about.  That being said, by the time I get on the plane and have a mini-bottle of cheap wine as my Valium chaser, things start to look a little less terrifying.

(For even more context I refer you to https://mylifeinthemiddleages.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/how-to-get-free-booze-or-pilots-as-enablers/)

MANY years ago, probably while I was still a freshman in college, I chatted with some guy while we were waiting to board. I remember him looking a lot like David Crosby.  He handed me a bottle of Afrin and told me to go snort some in the bathroom.  I had never snorted anything in my life and was like, “Okay, thanks!”  It definitely wasn’t Afrin.

In my early thirties on the way back from England to Boston I sat next to a very handsome Israeli man who had been wheeled onto the plane in a wheelchair.  He told me that he had fallen off a ladder and had chronic pain.  This was apparently his cue to pull out several bottles of prescription meds and to shake out some samples into the palm of his hand.  So many pretty colors.

“Try this,” he said, pointing to one.

“Okay!  Thanks!”

I was getting very good at this.

(ps—I ended up dating him for about 6 weeks, a rather passionate fling that he left his girlfriend for.  You can guess how the story ends.)

About 6 years ago, coming back from a friend’s son’s “Hip Hop Bar Mitzvah” in Boca Raton (no lie), I sat next to a lovely young woman.  We didn’t start to chat until the end of the flight but I quickly found out about her life as an art student at a local university.  I assumed that we’d part ways at baggage claim say the requisite “nice-to-meet-yous” and never see each other again.  Less than a week letter I received a postcard in the mail from her, explaining that she had gotten my address from a Vogue magazine I had given her, and since then, we have been in each other’s lives.  What a gift that has been.

On this latest trip I flew through Phoenix to get to LA for a quick visit to my father.  On the first leg (original flying time 4:44 minutes).  I managed to get through two People magazines (my intellect disappears when I’m at a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet), listened to two podcasts and then ran out of things to do.  I chatted a bit with a couple who were on their way home to Hawaii and I’m pretty sure the rather dull husband hated me.  The wife was lovely, showed me pictures of their home on her i-pad when we hit some turbulence (everyone I sit next to on a plane knows within a minute that I hate turbulence) and I was able to breathe my first sigh of relief when we landed.

Having done this cross-country trip many, many times I was accustomed (and always less nervous) to the much shorter flying time that the tailwinds create heading back east.  When the pilot (who incidentally was a 1/2 hour late getting into the cockpit) announced that the flying time would be FOUR HOURS AND 44 MINUTES , the same amount of time it took getting there, my heart sank.  What. The. Fuck?!

I fumbled my way to the window seat, my hips undoubtedly smashing into the faces of the two men already seated.  Despite their very disparate looks I assumed they were a couple based on their easy banter with each other and the quick way the engaged me in conversation.  I very quickly found out that no, they were not a couple, but instead a sort of mentor/mentee.  (The man in the aisle seat is a world-renowned Aikido expert who his mentee insisted on calling “Sensei” and was totally cool with me just calling him John (his actual name, not an alias or anything.)

For four hours and forty-four minutes we didn’t stop talking (add in the gate to gate time and it was closer to five and a half hours).  We talked about everything from my work as a substance abuse counselor, to their dating lives, and the possibility of John becoming a foster parent.  Josh, his “handler” lured me into a game of “Fuck, Marry or Kill,” in which you pick three celebrities and choose among those categories (I was particularly stumped when my choices were Donald Trump, Bill Gates and Hugh Hefner.) John, who had rested his head down for a nap, never quite slept and played along.  It was one of the most fun trips I have ever had.   I will definitely be seeing them again and will pay their airfare in order for them to accompany me on every trip I ever take from now on.

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“Here Son, Try This.”

cocaine

Part of my job as a case manager in a residential program for recovering addicts is conducting an intake within hours of them walking through the front door.  I always apologize for the litany of questions I’m required to go through because I know, as they’ve been shuffled from detox to other residential programs, they’ve been asked the same hundred or so questions upwards of ten, twenty times before.

The first page or two of the intake form consists of fairly standard demographic questions from “What ethnicity are you?,” to “What is your primary language?” to  “Do you have any sources of income?”  Without much of the equivalent of a “transitional” sentence, the questions abruptly move onto a checklist of substance of choice, everything from pot to alcohol, to opiates to crack to “club drugs.”  I record if they’ve ever tried a particular substance on the list, their age at first use, and the frequency of use.   I’ve become so used to hearing that these men have often begun their road to a serious opiate addiction at around the age of 14 or 15, that when they tell me that they first injected heroin at 19 I’m surprised at how late that seems.

Oftentimes the men will be eager to share their back story, the origins of their drug dependence.  Many are somewhat “standard—“ a prescription for pain meds due to a legitimate injury that snowballs into heroin addiction, raiding their parent’s liquor cabinet, flipping a dormant switch into full-on alcohol abuse.  Other stories go something like this:

“In 10th grade I was having a hard time staying awake studying for a history test.  My father came in, saw that I was struggling, left the room for a minute, and came back with a few lines of coke on a mirror and said, “Here son, try this.” He showed me what to do, and the rest is history.”

The first time I heard something equally as appalling was as a volunteer at a local women’s correctional facility.  A woman, clearly beaten down and defeated shared with the class I lead that her mother injected her with heroin when she was 10-years old.  At that time, my daughter was ten.  I felt heartsick for this woman and intense rage against her mother.

The majority of the men I counsel have been surrounded and immersed in a nuclear and extended family of addicts.  There have been their fathers who have murdered their mothers, drunk driving deaths and life sentences for one thing or another.  90% of the time their siblings and parents are all addicts, some with long-term sobriety under their belts, others enduring the same agonizing cycle of detox and relapse.

When I see or hear people who deride and judge those struggling with the enormous monster of addiction, I often feel the need to remind them that no one says, “I want to be a drug addict when I grow up.”  I am surrounded and reminded every day of the anguish and helplessness it creates.  It doesn’t come from nowhere.