tweaker diary II: conditioned place preference

my cut up lips after a binge

dec 6, 2016

for some reason i keep getting wisps of old times behind my eyes and in the back of my throat. like tonight is just like 2015 when i would tweak for a little too long, just to get a buzz on so i’d sweat through my sheets and all through my clothes, alone reading bluelight even though i was already high and avoiding anything productive i could have been doing.

and lately when i pass by my old neighborhood in my car, whatever i’m smoking turns into a marlboro red or whatever i used to smoke, and i get that chemical taste nothing since has matched in that place in the way back of my throat that no other can reach. i have memories of things i’m not sure even happened. the smoke hits my uvula and my cheeks and i feel like it is 10th grade.

i’m back to being 15 and it’s 5:30am and the sun’s not even up yet and i’m waiting for the school bus. or it could be late afternoon and i’m making the trek to the circle k with noah after a heavy rain. or i feel like i’m back on one of my walks again, taking shitty photographs “just for fun” around the neighborhood. i feel like it’s midnight and i’m walking to the park, listening to roman candle, and avoiding the cops that would lurk on my corner.

i can’t tell the difference between all the different years and ages and grades or my life, so they’re all one big “era” to me. when i was 15 and waiting for the bus in the pitch dark morning, so close to highland road i could feel the rush of air when the cars drive by, smoking bummed camel crushes and praying the bus doesn’t show up because i just fucking lit up, i had no idea what larger things were going on. all of these things are immortalized now in the folds of my brain, as neural pathways that serve no purpose other than to tell me how to feel when i drive alone.

i didn’t used to believe in conditioned place preference before just now, but i think it just clicked. the concept is so interesting and of course i’ve read so much on the subject but no matter how hard i tried to force the feeling to connect in my mind and to fit into my own experience, and it didn’t work. but now i am not so sure that i understood what it was.

maybe it’s precisely because i can’t differentiate between certain specific times in my life that this makes sense to me now. the rush of feelings that i get when i think about “that time” in my life, a descriptor which means NOTHING, is conditioned place preference. i feel so far removed from living on sunset, on pollard, that now, when i start to get high all the time, i get a weirdly warm feeling inside of myself. it feels like an aching, like my ragged little body is begging for those memories to be happening now. and i’ve been trying to figure out why i feel this way sometimes for the past few weeks, because looking back, i certainly had no “affinity” for these times when they were happening. but i JUST GOT IT. this is what conditioned place preference looks like.

my mind makes no meaningful distinction between memories of wading through the pasture between pollard estates and southdowns with noah, getting sidetracked by his stories and spending hours in knee high grass with him, and memories of trudging beside him along a muddy highland road to the gas station to buy arizona tea and then standing under the pavilion there, talking about how things would be different when we turned 18. to my mind these two versions of myself, these two versions of noah, and these two versions of my entire life are one in the same.

and because there’s no distinction, there’s no rules. my mind can run free and make whatever associations it wants to. of course i have conditioned place preference; i have done enough speed for long enough to have that and i never doubted that. the problem was that i could never figure out what place my preference was or when it was created. when i think back to how i felt while i was 14, 15, 16, i was miserable. closeted, suicidal, friendless, sleepless, dirty, and feeling so alone. it isn’t like it changed from house to house. where did i smoke in bed for the first time? was it pollard or sunset? thinking back now, though, i really do wish i was still there. it is really like an ache. why?

i hated both of those houses and i felt embarrassed to live in bougie neighborhoods with names like “university acres” and “pollard estates.” i hated that we had no yard on sunset. i thought the fig tree was stupid. i hated that we had wasps on pollard and i talked a lot of shit about our neighbor despite never knowing him well enough to make any kind of judgement about him. i would tell my friends horror stories about the old couple being crushed to death by a falling tree behind my house or the serial killer who used to live a few streets over from my home.

but — and i know i tried hard to make some for how much i complained— i have no bad memories of either place now, and they both still feel like home to me, to the part of myself that exists only in my mind. i learned to drive on sunset. i took so many pictures there. i forged the most important relationship of my life living in pollard estates. of course one might argue i had no way of knowing what would happen or how i would feel years from then.

i went on vacation with my ex girlfriend the summer between freshman and sophomore year, and when i got back my family had moved us from pollard to sunset. my ex’s dad dropped me off in front of my new house and i stumbled up the sloped driveway and collapsed on my bed, feeling the most refreshed yet exhausted i had ever felt in my life, and i don’t know the details but i’d bet a million dollars i had a huge smile on my face and i felt happy. who could have warned me that i’d get hooked on speed in a few months and in turn would come to associate that broad time period with the pleasant thrum of amphetamine high? how could i have known that would happen to me? even if i had the power now to go back and tell myself all about it i would never. how could i spoil such a pure and innocent time? that is why i cannot be angry or mournful at myself.

no matter how much control i really had over this outcome, the years i spent living in both of those houses are now all swirled together and can’t be separated. but it’s okay, both eras, both “places” give me that same strange feeling, so i can reconcile lumping them in together.

but do those times feel special now because my brain thinks i was tweaking the whole time? is it all those romantic pictures i took of myself with the flash on, in my bedroom on sunset in my grey sweatpants from walmart, lips bleeding, showing off a fat handful of sweet blue adderall? did those pictures brand freshman and sophomore year forever? i don’t know… sometimes i think that’s not true when i remember other times before the speed, like when i helped noah do his rebel girl video in 9th grade, and the memory makes me feel the same way.

or maybe it’s not conditioned place preference. maybe i was right when i first decided the phenomenon didn’t apply to me and i should learn to trust myself. maybe i was just having a good time, but i was 15 and too caught up in my mind to notice how beautiful that fig tree really was or how much i loved my haircut, and i took things for granted and the time passed me by, just like i wanted and it makes me feel regret, so i feel grief when i see rouzan. or maybe it’s a little of both, maybe i have always romanticized my past like this. or maybe things feel particularly hopeless right now and it’s all the consolation i can give myself to know that no matter what, i have fond memories to escape to.

or maybe it’s nothing and i’m just spun. it doesn’t really matter what these feelings about the past mean anyway though, or where they come from because what matters right now is how badly they’re choking me.