Then / Now

Then

My eyelids are heavy and they don’t want to open. Yet the stark light is insistent, telling me that it’s late. I turn away from the window onto my right side. My left temple’s throbbing intensifies, an unwelcome reminder of last night’s overindulgence.  My whole body feels like it’s encased in lead. I want to escape again into sleep, but the incessant stream of thought has already begun to roar between my ears, preventing a relapse into unconsciousness.

Fragments of last night’s activities flash through my mind. My brain tries to digest and absorb the memories and assemble them into a coherent timeline. The first bad decision of the night was to open that fresh bottle of whiskey. I was already a few beers in by that point. This all happened upon the canvas of being perpetually high on pot. That was just normal existence.

My hangover forced me back to the present moment and out of the tangle of my racing thoughts. I open my left eye just enough to see through the slit in my lid the tall glass water bong just out of reach on the bedside table. I sigh and hoist myself up onto my elbow, feeling like I’m ninety, not nineteen. My head reminds me how unhappy it is to be in an upright position by answering in bright, hot stabs of pain. I reach for the bong, and knock it off the table. My coordination is still affected by the alcohol in my blood. Gray bong water splashes onto the carpet. The dank smell causes nausea to bubble up from my stomach. I swallow, tasting the acrid bile on the back of my tongue.

I need to get high, now. Not because of last night, not because of the headache, not because of the rising fear grasping at the edges of my consciousness, a result of almost-memories blackened by alcohol; I need to get high because I need to get high. The other reasons are just excuses to justify why I had to wake up, sit up, and smoke up. Because that’s what I do, that’s how I exist in this reality too painful to bear without the cushion of chemicals I need to function.

Now

The soft light of early morning eases me into wakefulness. I come out of sleep in gentle stages, eyes opening. I’m happy to be awake at this hour. Mornings are my favorite time. They set the mood and the intention for my day. I sit up and stretch, enjoying the feeling of being in my body. I roll out my yoga mat and stand at the top and begin Sun Salutations. I focus on my breath, being present, as I pray the St. Francis Prayer: “Make me a channel of your peace…”

At the end of my yoga practice, I sit on the mat and close my eyes. I imagine the terrain of my body: its cells and organs and systems. As I picture each one, I send love. I place my hand on my heart and breathe in compassion and peace for myself, and then breathe it out for others. I start with those I love, and end with encompassing all of the planet’s inhabitants. Then I chant the mantra that my guru gave me. As I silently repeat it, I picture the last time I saw her, and the love she showered on me. I feel warmth in the center of my chest. In my mind’s eye, I widen the scope of my vision from the room I am in to the entire cosmos, imagining it blanketing all I see in this physical world. I bring my thoughts back, and back, and back, to Now, where I experience the depth of the present moment. I feel profound peace. This is all I wanted; this was all I sought through mood-altering substances, but my search was perverted by looking in the wrong places for the wrong things. Now I can find it within whenever I desire: the pink cloud of peace, connection, consciousness. It envelops me, cradles me, soothes me, and I know all is well.

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