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returning from the pharmacy

today i am 9 months sober—not a conscious choice, but one that kind of came with the territory when i ended up in a pasadena psych ward for 8 days & a venice facility for another two months.

i’ve been thinking a lot about dependency during this period. in those first weeks after detox, i was put on a number of medications—one for bipolar ii, another for major depressive disorder. one for panic, another to sleep. these are the new things i depend on to keep my emotional spectrum within a range where i can remain relatively in control of myself & have a better shot at staying sober.

i used to be dependent on alcohol—but that’s a different context. i’m not addicted to any of these pills. they’re such a secondary thought that i need to set alarms on my phone to remember to take them. i can have my pills & put them away without wanting to take every last one in the cabinet.

everything i take a pill for now, i used to manage with alcohol. in aa i hear, drinking works until it doesn’t a lot. that’s basically how it goes—drinking didn’t even feel like a conscious choice; it was a way to balance on the tight-rope i walked in my head. i knew my emotions & how to control them, i could maintain my sleep schedule without a strict routine. i could have the flexible life i wanted. it’s just, eventually, the crutch became a dependency that consumed every other part of my life. it worked until it didn’t.

there’s a trade-off for everything. i don’t get hangovers anymore, but i also don’t feel at home in my own head. i can’t identify emotions—or even if i’m having them. my thoughts haven’t changed from darkness, but my feelings drift between an unfamiliar lull & extended states of quiet sadness. there are no more spiking highs, no anticipation or inspiration. in sobering up, it feels like i both saved my life & lost it at the same time.

then, of course, there are people. i try to be reliable for those i care about, but like everyone i fall short. the term co-dependent has become a catch-all phrase of any sort of negativity in relationships (kind of like toxic), but the fact is people do depend on one another. if a person keeps flaking out on commitments then they’re not dependable. if a friend avoids being there when you need someone to listen, they probably aren’t much of a friend. and in this place, where i am constantly adjusting, how can i blame someone for not wanting to be around me when i don’t even know myself?

dependency is a challenging issue because using something or someone as a crutch can get harmful pretty quick. losing control of the self over time & losing that time to spinning out can catch plenty in an emotional cross-fire. while addiction tends to blind one to the wreckage, depending on this medication to keep me alive feels like i’m just watching a life not my own float by from inside my head. if i could feel anything at all, i wouldn’t know where to start.

the los angeles sun is a double-edged sword—an immediate benefit when moving here, a state of reprieve where the sunshine almost compels a state of happiness. yet when that feeling dissipates, or the opposite sustains, the sun grows to be an enemy. it becomes a guilty conscience—look, the sun is out, why aren’t you happy?—day after day after day.

the streets, strewn with discarded slivers of lives whose stories are unknown but the results the same: left out to die. empty chairs, ripped cushions, broken mirrors, all bathed in the romantic glow of the summer afternoon. the environment pressures one toward ignorance—embracing an outlook that only focuses on the light, keeping the shadows of the city—& thus the world—at bay.

there’s a strange, reflexive horror in snapping from grief & sadness about the state of the world, back to the trials of a personal life to only find unexpected losses.

i suppose to care for anything is a choice. it could be society at large or it could be the person across the room. every choice comes with a risk, and caring about anything—be it an idea or an individual—is risking it all. it’s putting your heart or soul out on the table as collateral. if that care is exploited, rejected, or destroyed, and the collateral torn from your life, the void inside where once it was becomes a wound.

sometimes people ask me why i care so much about things i can’t control—the state, media, the financial industry. it’s because for all that is created, championed, or reported on in this country, none of it signals any hope. the wealthy literally build plans to leave to explore space as the world burns. the police arrest parents & let children die.

the personal trials of life are hard enough to manage. the intangible wounds we carry from the invisible breakage of living one day at a time is enough. my supply of grief & anguish has been drained over the past 14 days. unexpectedly a new personal loss takes the rest & i feel i have nothing left to give to this world. why would i want to? what is there to hope for? when everything from the system to personal support betrays what trust remains, i find my hands ready to reach for a bottle again.

some days it just feels i am covered in scars—that i’ve spent my chips at the table & bet on all the wrong things. that i have borrowed too much just to attempt to go on, yet never learned how to play the game, and now the bank has come to collect.

Colin Smith (b. 1982) works in a form of assembly within and across disciplines, both in digital and analogue formats. Following in the ideas of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, the medium of his work is often dictated by its message—the diversity of projects that result are each an attempt to represent a particular thesis, a certain context.

Educated in graphic design and photojournalism, and self-taught in the visual arts, Smith has additionally worked as an art director, freelance designer or creative consultant for a variety of small businesses and independent clients around the world.

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