How I Learned One Day at a Time
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How I Learned One Day at a Time

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How I Learned One Day at a Time(This post was originally published in July of 2013).

My mind has a way of illuminating certain moments in time and elevating them above others. Usually it takes years for me to realize why. These memories replay in my head like scenes in a movie. They are my “act breaks,” where the direction of everything changes.

I remember standing at 14th and First Avenue with my then-husband and my dog Soprano in the mid-80s. I was saying something about wishing we could afford two apartments so I’d have somewhere to go to write (which he heard as “I don’t want to live with you anymore”). Years later, when this footage rolled before my eyes, I realized that it was at this very moment that he emotionally exited the marriage. He left for real a few months later.

We’d been living on Ludlow Street when I learned our $700 apartment had been $170 before we moved in. I was outraged and indignant. The fact that we were illegal aliens with no rights, had an extension chord running into our apartment off of our neighbor’s electricity and all our collective money was going into my arm didn’t matter. I wanted to screw over the landlord by banning the tenants together. Instead, when human shadows began appearing at our fire escape window in the middle of the night and death threats came by way of the phone, we did a midnight move.

A cab driver sublet us his uncle’s apartment in the projects below Grand Street by the river. We arrived with our stuff and discovered the uncle hadn’t begun to pack. In silence, we watched the cab driver throw every object inside that apartment into a dumpster before handing us keys. For the next month, we would wake up with a very drunk 70-old Puerto Rican man crying in our kitchen.

A call came in offering my husband his first art show in Europe. As he packed, I knew we would never live together again. Another call came in. It was my friend Cindy in Toronto. She was saying something about trying to hang herself in the shower and how the curtain fell. She joked that she couldn’t even kill herself right and asked what was new with me. My marriage was crumbling, I had a crying old man banging on the door all day long, our former landlord continued to threaten me on our new number, my heroin habit was out of control, and Area, the nightclub we’d worked at, had closed. I was too fucked to take her suicide attempt seriously. Besides, I had a ticket to visit Christmas day and wanted to surprise her.

Frenchie had been a poet during the ‘68 Paris riots, a Krishna in India, and played in the No Wave band The Contortions before dealing dope on East 2nd Street. On his way home from jail, he swung by the new apartment and found me living alone. “Patty, when you are caught in the gusts of the tornado, it’s exciting,” he said. “But once you get sucked into its eye, all you can do is watch everything disappear.” I didn’t know it then, but I was about to get sucked in.

In 1980, after a couple strung out years, I returned to Toronto to get my shit together and go to school. I found three very cute young Yugoslavian coke dealers to get my mind off heroin. Without thinking, I hurt the one I was dating by going to Montreal with his brother. When I ran into him at a club, he tried to make me jealous by introducing me to Cindy. An hour later, we left him at the bar and she moved in with me. We were now six years older, both of our marriages had failed but we still had each other.

After Cindy left her husband, she moved in with a rich yuppie coke dealer. “Patty, I wish you’d told her you were coming,” he told me when I arrived. “I don’t know when they are letting visitors in.” The previous evening they’d had a party. Cindy had calmly gotten off the sofa, walked to the balcony, and jumped six floors. She was in a coma.

The hospital floor was filled with people who thought they would get free coke by supporting the grieving boyfriend. I stepped off the elevator and saw someone doing lines in the waiting room. I was disgusted. Cindy was 24 and beautiful. She could have been sleeping if it hadn’t been for all the tubes and machines surrounding the bed. The scene was too surreal and numbing. I was withdrawing from dope as I always did when I went home for a visit but even that didn’t seem to have any effect on me. I couldn’t cry.

Cindy died in February. My husband had never returned to New York.

In the early spring, I was walking up Avenue B next to the park. It was sunny and birds were chirping. The season seemed to renew my optimism. I carried a notebook and was trying to write something other than bad slit-your-wrist poetry. I wanted to write a novel. I had plans to move to LA. Surely a new city would make anything possible.

I was standing between 7th and 8th street when one of those illuminated moments struck me. I suddenly understood that all my plans for the future, how I thought everything was going to be all right one day, how I would do this and that and get my shit together—that these things were not real. I thought of Cindy and had this realization: the only thing that mattered was what we share of ourselves with another human being. What I shared with Cindy was real and all of this—the birds, the baby leaves opening, the blue sky—this was real. The noise in my head, the endless fantasizing and planning about the life I would have one day only stopped me from living in the moment.

I jotted into my notebook, Life is made up of moments like this and the people who touch me. Everything else is bullshit.

Little did I know that two years later I would get clean striving to live “one day at a time,” a concept that I’d discovered through Cindy’s death yet had never been able to implement into my own life.

When I’d gotten the news that she’d jumped that morning, I’d understood how she felt; high on coke, believing there was no way out except through death. We’d never heard of recovery. We didn’t know anyone who’d ever gotten clean.

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About Author

Patty Powers is a sober coach, writer, and public speaker on addiction and recovery. She was featured on the A&E mini-series Relapse in 2011 and is currently writing a recovery book. She lives in New York.

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