memoir: the great escape
I have never been one to free fall into addiction.
The hook always skimmed close to my head, but it never latched.
So many times, when I was battered and weak.
You would think it would be so easy for me to then reach over an uncrossed line for a bottle or pill.
I have known others who had. I always viewed it as such a sad weakness, a flaw. If only I knew.
For me, it just wasn’t anything I ever needed or wanted.
Sure, I would lay there each night, eyes focused on the dark space above me. Wanting to feel something more than I did. Wanting to shake my bones. Willing the darkness to pull me from my sheets like a giant magnet lifting me into the air and away from the pain. Longing to jump in a car and drive away, anywhere, to not feel what I feel. To not even reach a destination really.
Just me and a long deserted road, the wind in my hair, the stereo thumping in time with my beating heart, proof it worked and I was alive.
I can understand why it eventually happened.
It didn’t hook me in a way I was ready for though. It came along like a slow simmer before it inevitably reached boiling point.
If it wasn’t for my husband, I would have caught a flight to Paris or New York long ago.
The longing for a do over. To be swept up in the busy bustling streets. To forget.
I still sometimes try to convince him, to flee with me in the dead of the night when darkness falls.
I can’t go anywhere though. I am stuck forever in this holding pattern.
So, I decided on pages and pages of books as my drug of choice.
Sad but true. I cannot even manage to pick a much more cooler, rock star addiction.
Just me and my books.
I am free-falling.
Characters trekking through jungles, conquering mountains, flying to Barcelona on a whim. Making love beside oceans and fighting for glory under skies full of stars.
How could I not want more, when I look up from the pages at my own life? I was an overweight, 38-year-old childless woman. Nothing but an empty shell. Going through the motions.
I thought this hapless confession would be a humorous one, how I am too busy for family, for my husband, for running a household, because I tell them I just need to finish one more chapter.
How the 65 books I have ready in 3 weeks have all melded into one.
I get asked often lately what I am reading when I tell someone I am. I stare at them blankly, because I usually have no idea of a title or author or plot point. I just read. Read and breathe. Read and eat. Read and walk. And forget.
I only noticed it was an actual problem in the past few weeks.
I started growing anxious if I was pulled away from my book for too long. I would be out with a friend and feel breathless not having the sensation of being with my pages, knowing they were tucked in my e-book in my handbag and it was too ill-mannered to connect with them at the café table, or while trying on clothes in the department store change room. I would find myself reading a paragraph here or there under the table. Excusing myself to head to the bathroom to read another quick chapter. It was a drug and I needed it hit after hit to feel OK. I would start the lies, telling my husband I was working late, when I was actually parked in the car in a random suburb. Reading.
That I could not meet someone till later because I was busy – busy reading.
If I was out with a friend for more than an hour the shaking and anxiousness would hit, feeling the pull of needing to get back to my comfort, before finally freeing myself to race to my car where I could take a deep breath and open my book and feel safe again.
Numb. No thoughts to think, only pages to flip.
My husband is letting it just happen knowing better than I, that it is a temporary phase right now. He at least sees I am at peace. He sometimes tries to force his way through the wall I have cocooned myself behind, though he never pushes too hard.
I am getting ready to go out tonight with a friend and I am already feeling a pang deep down wondering how I will last without glancing down and reading. I also feel comfort knowing I can be up till 4am if I want to pore over my pages, because tomorrow is Saturday and I can read right through the night until I am safe enough to eventually close my heavy lids and sleep.
My psychologist called it escapism; she says we will work on it over time, but to keep reading for now.
She instead paid more attention to specific traumatic things that happened to me when I was 10, and then 24, and then 35, and then now. She instead focused on all the people I am close to who are suffering with their own stresses and losses and pain, and how it all falls into my head, pushing my own pain so it all somehow fits. Squishy and full. My brain can no longer handle it, so then the books arrived. A mental vacation from life for a while.
I am scared that this has happened and I have had to be so weak and reach for a crutch. It has taught me bottling things up and not taking time for grief and to process events properly, doesn’t ever make them distant or non-existent.
They make them trapped.
I want to be the woman that gets rescued at the end of the story.
I want to dance on the beach beside a bonfire’s glaze.
I want to be the couple with the children playing in the yard as the sun sets and the last chapter is written.
I want to be the brave girl who fearlessly travels the world solo while creating her own spectacular successes.
I want to escape.
I want to not be so empty.
I want something to happen.
Emma Brooker is a writer based in Newcastle, NSW. You can read more of her work here.