"I Was 38 When I Became Addicted To Cocaine"

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At about 2:00 p.m. one Friday, I rushed into my office at a law firm high above Times Square to call in my cocaine order for the weekend. I needed to beat the rush. I locked my office door behind me and whipped out my phone. My heart pounded with fear that one of the partners I worked with would call or come by before I could get to my dealer and get out of the office. If I caught a cab on Broadway before the real traffic started, I could be downtown in 20 minutes. There is nothing worse for a drug addict than running dry without knowing more is on the way. Now.

My brain was twisted. It told me that because I would be working through the weekend, I needed drugs. I was writing a proposal for work from a major bank that could earn the firm millions in fees if we were selected. A draft had to be circulated by Monday. With cocaine, I would have the focus of a laser pointer to get this done.

I was 38 when I became addicted to cocaine. Booze, my first true love, had turned on me, threatening to take away my ability to hold down my job. Constantly hungover and no longer able to wait until after work for cocktails, I would slip out of the office at lunch to drink at bars. Upon my return, I would hide in my office for the rest of the afternoon, pretending to be hard at work.

Morning drinking became the norm when it was the only way to stop the full-body tremors and sweats that woke me up each morning. I kept a glass of cheap red wine or vodka on my nightstand to slam down quickly while rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

Instead of deciding to get help for what I painfully knew to be a catastrophic problem, I turned to cocaine. I did not view alcohol treatment as an option, in part because I feared being stigmatized at work as weak or unreliable. I had no tangible proof of this stigma, but I pictured a law firm partner considering two associates for staffing on a multi-billion dollar transaction. If the only differentiator was that one had been to rehab and one had not, whom would the partner choose?

That Friday, I called my most reliable dealer, listened for the beep, and then punched in my number for callback. I set the phone down in the middle of the papers on my desk and stared at it, willing it to ring. Buying drugs anywhere in Manhattan was as easy as ordering a pizza, but I couldn’t relax until I got that call.

Buying drugs anywhere in Manhattan was as easy as ordering a pizza

In fewer than five minutes, my cell rang, skittering across my desk as it vibrated. I melted into my ergonomically correct office chair with relief. Before speaking, I sat up straight and cleared my throat as if that would help me sound less desperate. “Hi,” I said, “It’s Lisa on 20th Street.”

“Oh hey, Lisa.” It was the usual female voice I heard on these calls. She sounded like she could be my age, maybe the woman in front of me getting coffee this morning. “It’ll be about an hour or two. That okay, hon?” She would pass my message to Henry, one of the service’s runners. He knew the address well, given the increasing frequency of my calls.

Henry was a good-looking, half-Greek, half-Cuban kid in his early 20s with wavy black hair, full red lips, and scruffy stubble. A part-time business student and a full-time drug dealer, Henry was a smart kid just stupid enough to convince himself that dealing was a good way to pay for school. He looked like any NYU or Fordham student on the street, which is why I never worried about my neighbors being suspicious of who he was when he delivered. He would almost always show up at my door with the New York Post in hand, complaining about Mayor Bloomberg’s administration.

“Hey, Lisa, what’s going on?” Henry brushed past me into the apartment. He instinctively craned his neck all around to make sure I was the only one home, and I stood back to let him perform his inspection. This happened every time.

“Not much,” I replied. “You busy today?” It was a rhetorical question, but I asked it every time. There aren’t exactly etiquette rules for conversing with your drug dealer.

“Always busy, always busy,” Henry mumbled as he made himself comfortable on the couch and unzipped his backpack. I could never get a clear look at the full contents of that thing, although I did catch glimpses of a book or two.

Not knowing exactly what Henry was dealing helped me block out the fact that he could be handing someone their fatal dose that night. I just needed my cocaine. Addiction had made me apathetic to strangers and family members alike. I missed celebrating the birth of my niece because, while I was riding in a Town Car to the hospital in New Jersey, Henry finally responded to a call I’d put in earlier that day. The driver looked confused when I asked him to return to my apartment, but I didn’t feel I owed anyone an explanation.

“Can I get an eight ball?” I asked. I handed him the beer and yanked together the heavy living room curtains. I had heard that if you could see the Empire State Building from your apartment, the government could spy on you. I could faintly make out the top of the building from my window, so I wasn’t taking chances.

“Sure, sure. No problem,” he said, pulling out seven miniature plastic bags that each held about a half gram of cocaine, some of it already crushed into a powder. I put $250 on the coffee table, and he counted it. Coming up with the money was never an issue. I made a great salary, lived in a rent-stabilized apartment, and had stopped spending on “extravagances” such as new clothes and vacations. There was also the money I saved by no longer contributing to my firm’s 401(k) retirement plan. I assumed I’d be dead by age 40, so I didn’t need a nest egg.

I couldn’t wait a second longer to open a bag of coke. “Do you want a bump?” I asked him as I spilled about half the contents of one bag onto the mirror I had taken down from the wall.

“Sure, just a quick one, though. I need to roll,” he said. I cut a few lines on the mirror with my American Express Gold Card and handed Henry a cut-off straw. Guests should go first, I thought, although my palms were sweating in anticipation and my knee bounced up and down. He sniffed two quick lines off the mirror and chugged his beer.

Before he could finish his cigarette, Henry’s cell phone was buzzing with his next call. “Gotta go,” he said. He zipped up his backpack, slung it over his shoulder, and headed for the door.

“Thanks so much for coming,” I said, as if I had hosted a fancy dinner party.

“Yeah, yeah. See you next time.” He was staring at his phone as he walked out. As soon as he cleared the doorway, I triple-locked the door and let out a long sigh of relief. It would be more than 60 hours before I ventured out of my apartment, ate a full meal, or even took a shower. On Monday morning, I had a debilitating headache, a stomach about to retch, and a glass of vodka sitting on my nightstand. I also had a winning business proposal.

Excerpted from Girl Walks Out Of A Bar: A Memoir.

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