Lovely Trigger

Tristan & Danika - 3


This one is for my husband. Thank you for caring enough to be even more stubborn than I am, when it matters the most.




Physical therapy was hell on earth.  It was pain, futility, and frustration, all with a feeling of hopelessness because I knew that it could only do so much.  But I gave it my all.  I had too much pure stubborn grit inside of me to do anything else.

I was only twenty-one, quickly approaching twenty-two, but I’d never in my life felt young before Tristan.  With him, for a while, I’d felt young and carefree, with my life ahead of me.  A promising life.

As though it had all been a dream, some kind of a spell, that careless joy disappeared from my heart again as quickly as it had come.  I was back to being the oh so responsible woman that I was meant to be.

I never cried a tear of self-pity.  That had never been my poison.  Bitter was my poison, and it took every ounce of character I possessed not to let it consume me.

I missed him.  I couldn’t even lie to myself about that.

I missed him dreadfully.

I convinced myself that it had all been passion, not true love.  True love was a myth, a misdirection from the solid things in life.  What I’d felt for Tristan had been big and all consuming, but I told myself, like a mantra in my head, that it had never been solid.

Even so, every little thing brought him to mind.  We’d had too much together, been through too much, felt too much, and every feeling had a memory.  So many songs, shows, and movies were locked away for me, never to be viewed again.

It was that kind of a breakup.  The ruinous kind.

When the longing got truly unbearable, I fell back on pure survival mode, my mind going into that blank place I’d had to perfect as a sexually abused teenager.  It served me well at those times.  And luckily, those times always passed.

I kept so busy that I had very little time for dwelling, and no time for pining for a thing that was never meant to be.  School, work, and plotting out my dream career was a very involved process.

I could throw my whole life into my ambitious future, in fact that was my only option, now that the possibility of ever having a family of my own had been ripped so violently from the table.

I did not feel whole for a long time, but I told myself, over and over, that I was strong.  Strong enough to go on, with some bits of myself, or, if I was honest, some huge important hunks of myself, missing.

And I did.


“Welcome to the floor,” my counselor told me, the first time I walked into his office.

I thought it was a good way to start things.  I wouldn’t have been able to pour my heart out to him, if he didn’t at least have a good sense of humor.

He was a small man in his fifties.  His hair was long, gray, and unruly.  His glasses always perched right on the tip of his nose as he studied me.

And he didn’t even have a brown leather chaise lounge, as I’d feared.  I got to sit up and talk to him like a normal person, not lie down like in the movies.

I sat in a comfortable chair on the opposite side of his desk, and, over time, told him everything.

“Do you ever blackout?” he asked on our first meeting, his tone idle as he looked down at his chart.  I was a little fixated on that chart of his.

“Excuse me?”

“Blackouts.  Periods where you were still functioning, but you have no memory of it.”

I liked the way he handled things, the way he made me talk without it being a big deal, and never made the tragedies in my life seem too big for a person to handle, with his calm reactions.

“Oh yeah.  I call that the weekend.”

He smiled ruefully, but didn’t look up.  “I assume this has wreaked some havoc on your personal life.”

That was the understatement of a lifetime.

It was the most bitter pill to swallow; how my own rock bottom had impacted her.  I had always been the one to throw myself in front of a punch for my brother, my mother.

And my wife.  My wife.  I’d have done anything to take her pain, to bear her injuries myself.  Instead though, I had caused them.

But I could not go back.  I could not live on what ifs, if I had any hope of living at all.

“Well, yeah.  I suppose that’s why I’m here.”  I tried to make my tone idle, but I nearly choked on those words.  “I have lost every one of the people closest to me.  My brother, my mother, my wife, my unborn child.  All of it was because of addiction.”

“You must be a stubborn one, that it took so much to get you here.”  He grinned ruefully.  “Stubborn is my specialty.  We’ll get along just fine.”

And we did.  Sometimes, though, I hated him, because he gave me the hard truths.

“You can’t ever expect to get her back,” he told me one day, when I’d been talking endlessly about Danika, once again.  “This is something you need prepare yourself to accept.  I can see it will be your biggest challenge, as you venture back into your life outside of rehab.”

I wanted to argue, wanted to fight him.  Instead, I closed my eyes and attempted to accept.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he asked, his tone kind.

“I was thinking about the first step.”

“That’s good.  Tell me what it means to you.”

“I am powerless over my addiction.  My life has become unmanageable.”

“That is the textbook answer, to be sure, but that’s good.  That one takes a while to process.  Now, let’s look at the twelve steps as a whole.  An overview, if you will.  In essence, they teach us that we cannot play God.  There are some things we do not have the power to change, not just as it pertains to using or not using.  This also applies to past mistakes.  You must accept that you cannot change her mind, and find a way to go on with your life and stay clean.  Are you ready yet to accept that?”

“I would just like to talk to her.  If I could just get her to meet with me, get her to see that I’m getting better, I think it would show her that I’ve changed, that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to be in her life.“

“Okay, I see that we still have plenty to work on here.”

And so it went.  Little by little, I began to accept that it really could be over between us.  Not as a break, but as a permanent affliction.

It was a very rough pill to swallow.

It was months before I could open up in group therapy.  Months of hearing other people’s stories.  Some of them didn’t seem too bad, but others were worse than mine were.

One lady, a heroin addict, opened up about neglecting her baby for so long that it died in its crib while she got high.

I processed that story for a while, haunted by the way she told it, as though it had happened to someone else.

Something in her disconnect really got to me.

Had I disconnected that much from my own life?  And if so, how?  How could I have been so selfish, so cruel, as to neglect the things around me for so long?

It was numbness I’d been looking for, what we’d all been looking for, and that numbness had turned us into monsters when we used.

I had to come to terms with the things the monster inside of me had done.  And with the fact that I was that monster.

It was as I began to cope with that realization, to accept it, that I began to open up in group.

“I’m Tristan.  I am an alcoholic and a drug addict.  I’m here because using cost me the love of my life.”

I smiled sadly as I looked down at my hands.  “I think I started falling for her the first time she called me a man-whore.”

It hadn’t been easy to set up the meeting.  She wouldn’t talk to me directly, so everything went through a very slow filter via Jerry.  We constantly met up with complications.

It took months just to get the ball rolling.

She wouldn’t even meet with me alone, as though I was some kind of dangerous criminal.

I tried not to dwell on that.

It messed with me, my sanity, my will to stay sober, but I had to focus on the positive.

I rounded up a few friends I’d met in rehab.

Trinity was a twenty-year-old heroin addict whose parents had already put her through rehab four times.  Her current clean run was the longest she’d been sober since she was fifteen years old.  She was a sweet, funny girl, and I had hopes that this time she’d pull through.

She was a compact girl, and wore a uniform black T-shirt and jeans.  Her short red hair was only long in the front, long enough to cover one eye, but she still managed make good eye contact.

Todd was a twenty-five-year-old tattoo artist and a pain killer addict.  We wound up in the same sober house after rehab.  He was a small guy, skinny, with bleach blond hair and enough tats to make me look like a blank canvas.

I’d made the fastest friends in rehab, but unfortunately, many of them weren’t lasting friends.  Nearly everyone I’d met had relapsed within the last eight months.  The ones that stayed sober with me, though, were like a lifeline, very necessary for my own recovery process.

Trinity and Todd were both still staying clean after rehab, still fighting the good fight, like me.  They were ideal company for me, going through the same things I was, and so they could understand how hard the coming meeting was for me.