The Air I Breathe

The thing about gas is that it’s invisible. Some you can see but those give you warning. Some of the other ones are hidden, tucked away in the sky like a blanket you can’t see in the dark. Oxygen, one of the most famous gasses, is the one that nobody thinks twice about when it comes to breathing. It’s in the air, it’s what we need to survive, it’s something we breathe in without thinking, and for the longest time, I didn’t know that oxygen slowly kills us too. I’m not well versed in the process but I know that over time, it begins to break us down. Forgive me if I’m wrong. I thought that was so strange, that something could sustain us yet kill us at the same time. We need it, but it destroys us. When you’re in space, diving deep underwater, or in the hospital, oxygen comes in and saves the day because your body doesn’t know how to breathe in space, underwater or when you’re hurt. It’s brought in containers, hooked up to you, run through tubes they put in your nose… it saves your life.

Sometimes, other things in our lives become like oxygen. It can be a hobby, a drug, a drink, any material object, people, and the list can be increased quite a bit I’m sure. These things start out great usually and that’s why we allow them back in our lives. Things like alcohol were one of those things for me. It became my oxygen and I thought I would die without it. Now, I see the solution and am so thankful to be in recovery. I learned to breathe oxygen again. But the thing about gas is that it’s invisible. You never see it coming.

He was like air. He came in slowly and once my body got used to the change, he came in all at once. The oxygen was replaced with him. Before I knew it, my body was doing different things, saying different things, moving and living a different way. He had made up all of me while oxygen hadn’t even made up almost all of me. Somewhere along the way, a rip in my reality happened and a crack appeared. He seeped in unnoticed, undetected, and invisible. We have alarms for different dangerous gasses, but not ones for this kind of gas. We don’t know that we have to. Nobody warned us about the thing that could replace oxygen. There are stories that surface occasionally about how somebody else’s replacement for oxygen had taken them down but we always glance at those and think, That can’t be me. I’m different. I’m special. At least, that’s how I was.

When he had come in and filled up ten percent of my atmosphere, I thought I had seen a change in a cloud drifting by. Had that always been there? I didn’t know, but it was such a small change that it wasn’t worth noting. I continued living in my corner of reality. Ten percent became fifteen percent and I reacted the same way as before, I didn’t note it. When the fifteen got comfortable, more clouds changed all at once the way the clouds begin to gather before a thunderstorm, and he was at thirty percent. Discomfort began as the clouds loomed overhead. I knew now that they weren’t there before and they weren’t welcome; something else had seeped in but I didn’t know what it was. The thing about gas is that it’s invisible. Occasionally, the sun would appear and it’d be warm. Then without warning, the clouds came back and he was at fifty percent. The rain began. It was a light drizzle, the kind that leaves dots all over the top of your drink, your shoulders, and purse but you don’t mind. The clouds broke again and the sun came up, drying almost all of the dots. Almost. When you think you’re dry, the rain comes again and now he’s at seventy-five percent. It’s raining more than it was before and for people who aren’t used to the rain, an umbrella would pop up to shield you from the moisture. Others pulled up a hood. I stood there, confused about why the rain was here when it had been nothing but sunshine before. When did the weather change? Then it was warm. Then it wasn’t. Ninety percent. By now, the clouds are in full force, raining hard on everything. Drops waterfalled off of your shoulders, collected in miniature lakes on the street, and left its trace on every surface it brushed. Where was my shelter? This was my reality, wasn’t it? Who had let the rain in?

All through this time, he had been right there next to me, assuring me that the rain would end. When? I kept imploring, begging him to tell me. He would just assure me and hold his umbrella over me when his arm wasn’t tired. When it was, he got to stay dry, not me. I kept hearing it was going to be okay even though I was beginning to drown and he was standing above me, watching, and doing nothing. He began suggesting ideas for why the rain had come. “Maybe you shouldn’t have done that to me”, “Maybe you shouldn’t have said that”, and “You need to get over it” were phrases that began to run through my mind like a group of military men with their platoon sergeant yelling for them to go faster. I couldn’t see that it was him leading those thoughts. Soon, the thoughts changed. When you mix oxygen with other chemicals, gasses, or whatever substance you can think of, there will probably be a reaction. With ten percent of my oxygen left, the reaction that took place was in his favor. The thoughts changed. “It’s my fault”, “I can’t feel that way”, “He’s not okay with this so I need to change”, and “I deserve to drown” replaced the original men running through my mind. When those thoughts solidified themselves into my mind, reality was one-hundred percent him. My oxygen had been replaced and I hadn’t noticed. My body adapted to this new air that was sustaining me just enough for me to keep going but killing me at a rate faster than oxygen ever could. I wasn’t living anymore, I was surviving, or trying to.

The rain was constant. I quit fighting. I quit wondering who brought this on because I was convinced it was me. I deserved to drown like this so I stopped trying. Through the fog, I could hear some voices of loved ones calling out and sending love through the cracks that made up who I was. They were so faint at first that I turned the other way and ignored it. By the grace of God, they didn’t give up on me. The echoes came louder and more frequent as they watched me drown. Buoys were thrown my way but I was so comfortable soaking wet with my face barely above the water. Drowning was easy, it was “what I do now”, and routine. Humans are creatures of habit and this was one I couldn’t break. Not alone anyway.

Eventually someone reached their arm in to give me some of their oxygen and the air around me changed colors. I saw the unfamiliar swirls of some other gas I hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t mine. I thought I saw them come from him but I would never admit it. It couldn’t be him, he was the one sustaining me. As more buoys came, more love, more support, I got the water out of my eyes just long enough to see that the buoy he had thrown me was nothing but a hula hoop. The floats were slashed and there was plenty of room next to him on shore, but he had never reached out once. I had thought he just couldn’t, he had better things to do, more important things to accomplish rather than stay here with a girl who couldn’t stay above the water. It was my fault so I had to do it myself. Every time I began to try to climb out, his hand would be there to push me down. My head would be under until I screamed and released the rest of the air in my lungs. Only then would I come back up, desperate for the hula hoop. It was safer than being held under. I kept ignoring safety lines for the hula hoop; nothing looked like it could sustain me the way this could. I thought I was lucky to have his help.

One day, I allowed someone to pull the crack back long enough to start letting him out. When he wasn’t at one-hundred percent, I could tell that the air wasn’t mine anymore and it was choking me. I began to look around without water in my eyes; the blurred things came into focus and I looked long enough to finally see. I didn’t know that I could’ve climbed the ladder in front of me all along. At this point, I didn’t want to. Every time I started to try, I kept getting pushed under. Then it happened. I was held down for too long. The oxygen disappeared from my lungs when I screamed, but instead of coming back up, he kept me down. I sank deeper and deeper until I hit the bottom. I opened my eyes and saw the buried treasure sitting at the bottom that had once been above water. That’s where my oxygen went. Instead of waiting to come back up, I bent both legs and pushed with all of my strength left and let my velocity take me to the surface. He never saw me coming. The thing about gas is that it’s invisible. The ladder felt so good in my hands as I gripped the metal. Cold, slippery, but strong. It held me without question. When I came on shore, I stood up and saw for the first time this gas that had leaked into my reality. It was ugly. It was hatred. It was anger. It was everything I had worked so hard to take out of my oxygen. It was enough.

“You can’t be my air anymore.”

I shocked myself. The lightning struck and I knew it was my own. The gas, his poison, began leaking out immediately. I turned my back and thought I was free. When I took a deep breath, I began to feel my oxygen again. As I began to let love resuscitate me, my oxygen expanded, grew, and swirled around me. The love, kindness, forgiveness, gratitude, relationships, and woman that I had been working so hard to become began to appear in the mirror again. When I gasped for air for the first time, I was choking up the rest of his poison, and shivering from the cold of being soaked. With blankets around me, I was carried to the bed with the tubes in my nose, flowing the oxygen that once was me, because I had forgotten how to breathe. All this time, I had been forgetting to breathe, and I didn’t even know it. Soon, I began to inhale, exhale, inhale, and exhale again with the tube.

I ripped the tube and chased the poison once. I felt myself suffocate but didn’t care because it was him. Maybe they’re all wrong, maybe this time it’ll be different, maybe I won’t drown this time. Within days, I was back on the hula hoop wondering how I had gotten there. The clouds had come back in one sweeping motion and down I went, with him more angry than before glaring down at me. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye before I was being resuscitated again by the same people that had saved me the first time.Once again, I was in the bed with the same tubes up my nose. I ripped the tube out again but this time, I didn’t have the energy to run. I just lay there wishing the poison would come find me. I didn’t want the gas to be invisible this time, I wanted the clouds, the rain, the everything to come and get me because I didn’t have the energy to run to him. I believed him when he had said he wouldn’t be poisonous anymore, that he hadn’t known, and that he would come to me. The tube rested by my side when my loved ones weren’t looking and I desperately inhaled, waiting. My heart shattered again and again with each second that passed where he didn’t come.

The next day, I saw a whisper of poison trickle in under the door so faint I thought it was a brief shadow of someone passing by outside. I stared at the mist for what felt like hours. Then I stopped staring. I laid back down and put the tube back in. When I closed my eyes, I couldn’t see the trickle of poison trying to seep back in. The withdrawal was and still is one of the most painful withdrawals I have ever experienced. I would trade this for the pain of stopping alcohol, coming off narcotics after surgery, or the pain of quitting caffeine. The physical pain of those three things were unbelievable, but they only broke the parts of me that were bound to be healed no matter what without me putting in effort. My body fixed itself and made it easy. This withdrawal from the poison, the water, the storm, the drowning, him, was the worst pain of all. It wasn’t any visible part of me that was shattered, no, the poison had made its way through the body, through my mind, cut through my heart, and had found its way deep into the part of me that makes me who I am. The very core of my being, the foundation that was so fragile, and the beliefs that were slowly being replaced weren’t strong enough to get the poison out. Everything was beginning to topple and that fragile foundation was being built on poison. I didn’t even know they had made their way in. The thing about gas is that it’s invisible.

Being resuscitated looked like a loving hand reaching all the way in me and opening vents just long enough to let the poison out before closing it again. It felt and still feels like my very core has been shaken, but shaken free of the things the poison had begun building. There was celebration but extreme pain as that void opened up and nothing could fill it anymore. I had forgotten how to breathe.

Now, as I lay with the tubes in my nose, I refuse to take them out. Even if I see the trickle under my door, I will remember when it did not come for me and keep it shut. Never again will I allow poison to rob me of my oxygen. The pain is getting lighter. I’ve been learning to breathe again for five days now. It has felt like a lifetime. My room has been filled with family in my recovery program, friends from outside the program, and a loving higher power, God in my case, that was waiting for me with open arms. As oxygen continues to flow, I can feel the remaining shell that had built around me fall away. I have felt the blinders being taken off, the cotton out of my ears, the rope out of my mouth, and started to see clearly, hear love, and speak hope. When I peek over my shoulder these days, the pain that once brought me to my knees in despair doesn’t come. Instead, I am filled with disgust, an idea that I had made up, and a vow to never let poison in my life again with just enough pain to remind me how important this new reality is. With time, I have found myself looking less and less. With each peek, the pain continues to lessen and hope begins to rise when I look forward. I don’t know exactly what I see and sometimes I’m scared. When I look inside and watch the work God is doing in me, I learn incredible truths. What I know so far is that I am a woman worth loving, I am a woman worth listening to, I am a woman who deserves joy, peace, and serenity, and I am stronger and more beautiful than I have ever given myself credit for. Even now, I can feel myself coil in fear of his voice, I’m afraid I’m tooting my own horn or someone somewhere will think I’m full of myself but my favorite truth of all is that I simply don’t care. I know where I’ve been, I know what I’ve thought about myself, and I know that I won’t let somebody stop me from loving, appreciating, dreaming, and living my life ever again. I’m overjoyed when I look in the mirror and see hope behind my eyes instead of sadness, joy behind my smile instead of pain, and love for a reflection I had attempted to shatter in the past. This is me. I’m okay with me.

I’m amazed at how much of my life and myself I have gotten back in just five days. I didn’t know I was capable of doing half the things I’m doing, saying half the things I’m saying, or believing half the things I’m clinging to. I didn’t know I could love myself. I didn’t know I deserved to be heard and treated well. I didn’t know I was important. My own oxygen, the life that I have started to build for myself again, the hope, has been seeping into my reality and began building all around me. I see buildings being resurrected once more, streets being swept, and sun shining all around, dancing on the glass windows. I didn’t know that I had that much oxygen ready to sustain me and help me live again. All I have to do is keep learning to breathe. I keep inhaling this oxygen that keeps me going, and exhaling the destruction the poison left until that day that I find that there is no more poison to exhale and I can breathe without the help of a tube. One day, I’ll look around and realize that I am one-hundred percent me again. My oxygen will be the only thing that sustains me. I want to look around at the life all around me and see beauty in each sunset, joy in each smile, and love. Others may have no idea what I’m seeing but that’s the thing about gas, it’s invisible.


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