Read an excerpt from Looking For A Cliff, the forthcoming memoir by Madelyn Bennett Edwards.
I was looking for a cliff—a very tall cliff with a steep fall. Every time I found one I would throw a rock off the side and count—one-two-three-four—until I heard it hit the valley below. Not enough time, I’d think and run off in search of another, steeper ravine. It was a fruitless search. I needed to be able to count to ten, at least—enough time to sail into the air and gain the speed I needed between the edge of the cliff and the rocks and fallen trees in the dry creek bed below. I wanted my body to dissipate when it hit the bottom, to disintegrate, to become part of the landscape. I didn’t want to be found, certainly not identified.
I awoke from my search in a sweat and sat on the side of my bed. Everything hurt. My eyelashes and fingernails, the hair on my arms, my tongue. The tops of my toes hurt so bad I felt like there were sharp objects skewered beneath my nails, and a clamp on each toe pressing the spikes into the skin.
My heart was beating so hard I thought it would come blowing out of my chest any second—and, I couldn’t breathe. I sat with my head in my hands. Where my elbows rested on my knees huge bruises started to form and I could almost feel them turning a deeper purple as my pointed bones stabbed deeper into the flesh.
Confused with sleep, I wondered: Where was all this pain coming from? I could count every joint, nerve and sinew, every ligament and tendon of my body because they were on fire, throbbing, screaming for relief.
Then I remembered. Withdrawal.
I’ve heard it said that being in withdrawal is like having the flu. I would have welcomed the flu’s joint and muscle aches over the burning, hot pain on the bottoms of my feet, my palms, my eyelids and my back. When I tried to walk, the stabbing pain, the knives in my ankles and knees was only topped by the fire in my chest—like a dragon had come to live inside my body and breathed fire into every inch of my inner being.
That’s why I was looking for a cliff. Even in my waking hours I vaccinated among different options—quit this nonsense and remain an addict, jump off a steep cliff, or continue the path I’d chosen to rid myself of fourteen years of intrathecal Dilaudid.
I stood slowly. As soon as my body weight shift towards the floor, fire radiated from the bottoms of my feet. I gasped. My breath intake tasted like lemon yogurt, sour and fermented. I remembered reading that sour foods cleanse the tissues. If that taste in my mouth meant they were being cleansed—it was happening too rapidly.
I shuffled to the sliding doors that lead from my bedroom to the veranda across the back of our house. I was bent over and felt like I was one-hundred-years-old—shoulders slumped, bare feet sliding a few inches at a time to propel my body forward at snail-speed, a frown causing deep age lines along my face, and vision so blurred it was as if my eyes were filled with cataracts.
With burning fingertips, I slid the door sideways and stared at the hot tub, high up on its perch, just outside my door. The set of steps needed to climb up-and-over the sides into the swirling hot water seemed oversized and deformed. I knew I couldn’t climb the measly, little planks to slide into the swirling water. Even if I could lift my feet off the ground high enough to reach the steps, the water would scald my already burning insides, the fire in me so hot I felt that if I touched something it would ignite.
It was February and cold in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. The grey sky was a sure sign it was snowing in the upper elevations and coming towards our river valley. We are only 2100 feet above sea level, but it seemed very high-in-the-sky compared to where I grew up South Louisiana and the elevation averages right at sea level, or below. The fresh mountain air outside my bedroom door helped dissipate the sour taste in my mouth so I sucked it in as hard as I could.
I couldn’t pull the door shut; it was too heavy. So I stood like a statue and let the 20-degree air wrap around me and, through my half-closed eyes I saw a few snowflakes begin to flutter towards the patio’s brick floor.
I smiled. I love snow.
But I also love spring and knew that by April everything would begin to turn vivid green, the birds would sing and I’d hear lawnmowers and smell fresh-cut grass. By that time I’d either have given up on this quest, be deeper into withdrawal, or dead.
I latched onto the vision of a warm spring rain, the sound of birds chirping, and the smells of azaleas blooming as I slowly shuffled back to my bed where I alternated between hot flashes that flushed from the inside of my body-out, to chills that made the bed shake and creep across the carpeted floor.
How had I gotten here? Was I a drug addict? I certainly felt like one as I spent the next two weeks writhing in pain, sweating, freezing and scratching at my skin until it bled.
On the news every evening there was a report about the opioid epidemic sweeping our country. Was I part of that pestilence?