Contributed by Rob Roberge
Note from Jennifer Haupt: I was deeply moved by Rob Roberge’s memoir, Liar. After being diagnosed with a progressive memory-eroding disease from years of hard living, drugs, and frequent concussions, he became terrified of losing not just his memories but his identity. This book is his attempt to record the most formative moments of his life, from the murder of his childhood girlfriend, to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, to moments of losing himself in the joy of playing guitar with his band, to his struggles to stay sane and sober. Here are Seven Lies that Rob told himself about his addiction:
Lie #1: Maybe the biggest lie that I told myself was that I wasn’t an addict and had it under control. I only told this lie for a while—as it soon became clear that I wasn’t just a social drinker or drug user. But, at first, it was a comforting lie. One of the problems with developing a serious addiction is that the drugs work at first. They take away your problems (or at least mask them heavily), and by the time addiction has its hooks in you, it’s too late to do anything about it yourself. Or, myself, at any rate.
Lie #2: I told myself that drugs were cool, and I never wanted to live like a “normal” person. That the straight life was for losers and chumps, and that being loaded all the time was somehow a romantic life. All of my heroes—Keith Richards, Charlie Parker, Hank Williams, Johnny Thunders—all of them were drunks and junkies. It somehow never occurred to me that it had ruined each and every one of their lives.
Lie #3: A comforting lie was that my drugs were better than the drugs that I was put on for my bipolar illness that is accompanied at times by psychotic episodes. In my early twenties, when I was first diagnosed as bipolar and was prescribed heavy anti-psychotics that made my head feel like it was wrapped in a cold gauze. It may have controlled the episodic swings, but it felt like someone had wiped a grey mop over my brain. I was told—with a history of self-medicating like mine—that I wasn’t to use any recreational drugs (or drink) while I was medicated. Of course, this didn’t stop me, and the drugs didn’t really have a full chance to work, even if they might have. But the lie I told myself was that my drugs were better than their drugs, and their drugs got left in their bottles in the medicine cabinet when I moved out of that apartment.
Lie #4: There were the lies I told my parents because I was so ashamed of having a mental illness. I would often asked them for help with rent when, in fact, I needed money for medication (that I would later try again) that I couldn’t afford because I had no health care. There was also the lie that I wasn’t a junkie—because my father was a narcotics officer and there was a tremendous amount of shame on my part that our chosen paths diverged so wildly and that I would be more than a minor disappointment to him. I would drink in front of my parents, but always use in secret.
Lie #5: After fifteen years sober, I told myself that I had beaten my addiction and that it was a thing of my past. I quit opiates at twenty-six and alcohol at twenty-seven after years of not planning on living to thirty. Then, my thirties were relatively uneventful. My bipolar seemed under control. I wasn’t drinking or using. I was under the impression that my past was a thing of the past.
After fifteen years, I relapsed on pain pills and spent nearly a year on the verge of killing myself with the dosages I was taking and the crushing associated shame about lying to people that I was still clean. I lied to myself that I was pulling it off. That no one knew. When, in fact, almost everyone knew. My friends in recovery, my band mates, my doctors. I was fooling nobody, really. And when a formerly clean addict is using again, just saying hello to a person is a lie. And it’s one of the hardest ones to live with—the gap between who you know you’re capable of being, and who you actually are.
Lie #6: After my relapse, a destructive lie I told myself was that had nowhere to turn. I’d tried to quit several times during my relapse. Going through cleaning up for a few days, enduring crushing dope-sickness, only to start using again. I couldn’t face the shame of taking a newcomer chip at some meeting.
And it’s a lie I’ve heard a lot of relapsed addicts talk about: that once you’ve gone out, there’s no coming back. That you’ve failed and all that’s left are jails, institutions, or death. And I was very close to choosing the last. Suicide—an overdose in my case—seemed like the better option than asking for help from anyone because of my enormous shame. I came closer than I like to think about now. But something—I’m still not sure what—kept me from that day of reckoning, and made me go back to a meeting and start the process of getting clean again.
Lie #7: A lie that I still tell myself sometimes is that I don’t have another recovery left in me. That if I started to use again, I wouldn’t be able to ever get clean again. It may be a way to help trick myself into staying clean, or it may be some lie I’m just telling myself. But I often fall into a pit of thinking that if I relapsed again, the only choice would be to kill myself. When, in fact, there’s always another chance at help. Another shot at redemption.
Rob Roberge is the author of four novels, most recently The Cost of Living. He is a core faculty member at UCR/Palm Desert’s MFA program and has taught at several universities, including the University of California’s MFA programs at the main campuses of Riverside, Antioch, and Los Angeles, and the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. His work has been featured in Penthouse, The Rumpus, and The Nervous Breakdown, and his stories have been widely anthologized.