Blitzed on Bliss

James O'Brien

Today I call from a place of no worldly vexation, a place where peace comes not from meditation or music but from a little white pill inscribed with a big V. I've been taking Vicodin for four weeks now, since breaking some ribs playing basketball the day after my birthday. I promptly drove my aching ass to Urgent Care. Before X-rays, the nurse asked, "Do you have any diagnosed psychological disorders?"

"Well...not diagnosed," I assured her, my family history of alcoholism and mental illness flashing before me like fish jumping out of a stream. A little later the doctor warned me about painkiller abuse and sent me across the hall with a prescription for a bottle of Vicodin. The pharmacist gave me the same warning.

The first I heard of Vicodin was in 1999, when I read Tom Chiarella's Esquire piece, "A Tale of Sweet Entanglement." I was immediately intrigued. I've drank and smoked a little pot, but when I read Chiarella's description of the calm he felt when "talking into the Vike," I heard the sound of a long-sought friend whispering to me.

"There on the [prescription warning sheet], directly following DIFFICULTY URINATING and DIZZINESS," wrote Chiarella, who was addicted to the Vike for a year and a half after a bad car accident, "sits the single, somewhat musical word describing the one side effect that has given me the most trouble: EUPHORIA. Plain and simple. Giddiness, happiness, comfort, joy. Take enough Vicodin and you start to feel that you deserve euphoria on a daily basis, that you are ready for it by early afternoon or in the morning after coffee when the workday starts to wobble under the weight of your pain."

Sounded like my kind of drug. I tried it once a few years ago, when my friend Kate gave me half a pill at a Weezer concert, but it just made me sleepy. So I checked it off my list of Over-Hyped Shit to Try and moved on. Turns out I wasn't taking enough. Now the pain spasms in my ribs were so bad, I couldn't sleep or move much, so the first day I took three, one every six hours, just like the bottle said. The pain in my ribs remained, like an echo, but my mind told my ribs not to worry 'bout a thing. I wasn't stoned, or hallucinating. I was thoroughly present; in the moment, but not of it. I felt like Ted Williams's frozen head.

The first night, I lay on the couch and watched TV news. Normally, the world's problems glom onto me with a sadness I can't always shake, but with the Vike, I knew--not hoped, knew--that everything was cool. The war in Iraq, school closings, car bombings, conservative crusades, and kidnappings all entered my consciousness, but ultimately stayed outside my conscience thanks to the newfound knowledge that someone else was taking care of it. I didn't realize how much metaphysical grace had come over me, exactly, until I went to bed. Lying there, my ribs stabbing me like brass knuckles and my soul infused with sweet, sweet love, I had wakeful dreams about playing the perfect basketball game. I was all about laser passes, beautifully rotating jump shots, flawless rhythm, and (this is when I knew I was high) not a single turnover.

The next day, I wanted to tell everyone about my great new drug. From my bliss bunker, I e-mailed my family. My brother asked how I broke my ribs and who cut my legs out from under me and if I could put a bowl of Vike out for him, to stave off the long winter. I wrote:

"Dude I was skying between two big giants--Mark Hagberg and Pat this dude who works for Habitat for Humanity and who I scratched on the way down, grabbing him like Kong going down the Empire State Building. My tongue ballooned up and I made/make animal noises. Glad my legs still work. Dude, yeah. Come get your Vicodin. Told Westerberg to come over and we'd watch his Faces tape with a few. I'm gonna go count snowflakes."

And so on.

I got confessional about it. I told everyone, because I wanted everyone to know why I felt so good and because I wanted everyone to feel so good. Music, poetry, and love were all that mattered. Writing was like swimming in wet cement. When my wife and kids left the house, I ambled around, pressed my nose up to the window, watched the ice dams on my neighbor's house melt, listened to music, thought about writing an essay about the virtues of sloth. I had everything figured out.

I was also more than a little late to the party. Musicians reacted to my epiphany with a shrug. "Where have you been? It's the candy of the millennium," said one. "It's standard issue on the tour bus now," said another. "Got any extra?" said almost everyone. "Can I come over?" said the desperate. "Mix it with a beer," said the vets; "Take two at a time," suggested the party people, a cocktail I haven't tried. Yet.

It wasn't just musicians. Lawyers, basketball coaches, architects, and young moms casually talked about their Vike stash. Of course, with the ecstasy came the warnings. Friends cited the cautionary tales of Vicodin addicts Matthew Perry and Brett Favre. Others said it was what brought down Rush Limbaugh, which made me wonder how a guy so intimately acquainted with the sleek hug of the Vike could be so angry about so much. "Watch that stuff," said a former professional athlete, with a knowing look.

I listened. After a week, I cut back to two a day and did some reading. Vicodin is one of the most popular street drugs out there. Addicts crave it like heroin and morphine, and side effects include depression, confusion, and severe impairment in judgment. It was all very sobering--so much so that I was moved to take another Vike.

After two foggy weeks, I cut down drastically, from two tabs a day to one-half. My ribs were still killing me, but I felt like I was living in a cave. Coming down, I got the shakes and spent the weekend in my office, listening to music. My kids looked at me like I was lamer than usual. My wife was worried. My brother checked in on me. I re-upped my dosage to one a day.

As of this writing, I'm sleepy all the time. I'm down to one a day, cut in half. I take one half in the morning, the other at night. The half I took this morning is wearing off as we speak. I've got two more in my refill bottle. They sit on top of the refrigerator, next to the healthy but boring multiple vitamins and the kids' Band-Aids and lunch snacks. My ribs still hurt, but it's time to cold-turkey my way back into the world of war and strife, and to start looking for peace in all the wrong places again. The only thing that gets me through the night is the knowledge that my last Vikes are there, saved for some two-at-a-time rainy day.


Jim Walsh can be reached at [email protected] or 612.372.3775.

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