Celebrating my 23rd birthday was crazier than my 21st. Plans started a month before. Which bar would we go to? What would be my drink of choice? What kind of lovely gifts would my friends get me? My birthday was just another reason to go balls to the wall. I knew no other way. I can’t remember why we picked Macky’s on the bay, but it was probably because we knew the bartenders, could get some free drinks, and it wouldn’t be overcrowded with tourists. On my 23rd birthday, I was living in Ocean City, Maryland for the summer - a hot spot beach town and a haven for partiers like myself.
I was drunk before I even got there. I vaguely remember picking out my outfit and hopping in a cab with my roomies. We got a table outside in the back overlooking the bay and that’s when the lights in my head faded to black. That was basically all I remembered of my 23rd birthday, save a few spotty details from the next morning, and other things my friends told me when I attempted to piece my night together.
When I woke up or in this case, came to, I was in my bed in my apartment, still in my complete outfit from the night before. My mouth tasted disgusting and my hair was stuck to my face. Why was my hair stuck to my face? I rolled over and it was there in my blue and green palm tree bed sheets that I saw a huge wet spot. It was red. Was that? Yes, it was my vomit. Uff. My head throbbed and my mind started racing. My purse was nearby so that was a win, but I had no clue how I got home the night before. The fact that I woke up in my bed, alive and with my belongings was a miracle.
I found my roommate Allie and started pummeling her with questions. What happened? How did I get home? Why did you leave me? Then I had the flashbacks. A police officer. The bench in front of Macky’s. I was alone.
My 23rd birthday was one of many times in my life when I’ve had to accept not knowing what happened to me. I believe a police officer took me home that night, but I don’t know why. I don’t know why he found me on the bench alone outside the bar. I don’t know how I got separated from my friends. I don’t know why he didn’t take me to a hospital. I don’t know if I was violated or touched in an inappropriate way. I do know that I was so intoxicated that night that I threw up in my sleep, an event that can kill you.
I didn’t know it then, but what I was experiencing that night was an alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning. I am extremely lucky I didn’t choke on my vomit. I’m sure that even if someone tried to wake me up that wasn’t happening. Waking up that day was a gift.
There is so much stigma around the word overdose and the act of overdosing. People assume that an overdose only happens to people who are addicted to intravenous drugs like heroin, fentanyl, meth, or other opioids. They hear overdose and they think “dirty, bad, gross, horrible, irresponsible, disgusting.” Stigma tells us that overdose is something we do to ourselves because we have fucked up morals and make bad choices. Stigma tells us that people deserve to die if they overdose. Stigma tells us we’re enabling drug users by saving their lives with tools like Narcan.
We are in the middle of an addiction epidemic. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Prescription opioids are the driving factor in this epidemic. We are at the point where we need to do everything we can to save lives. No one deserves to die.
This is why it’s so important to humanize our stories, to talk about how addiction and overdose have affected each one of us personally. We need to stop dehumanizing overdose and dehumanizing addiction. I look at each and every person who has suffered an overdose as someone who did not have the chance to find and sustain recovery. I look at each of them and think, she could have been me.
On this Overdose Awareness Day, let us remember that overdose does not discriminate. Overdose isn’t an ugly word we can keep at arm’s length. It affects ALL of us, regardless of the drugs we use, whether we’re addicted or not, if we drink or use once, or a million times.
Everyone should have the chance to find recovery.
If you care about the well-being of humans, you should care about this.
Find more information on how to get involved here.