“It’s not the drugs,” Kurt said. “It’s the people you meet because of the drugs.”
He was a heavy user and had been for some time. Like many people, when I first met him, I’d pegged him for an addict. Assumed that his use was as simple as that, biochemical dependency. The ease of flooding his brain with joy.
And I hadn’t judged him. Because in those days, that’s exactly what I was doing. I hadn’t been using for very long, but what I lacked in experience, I was making up for in frequency. I was on the run from a lot emotionally, and at that time in my life, chemical confidence was my favorite mode of creating distance between me and my problems. Of course, it wasn’t ever as effective as I wanted it to be. But at that point it was the best tool I had (arguably the only tool), and so I was using it.
But Kurt had long since lost that rosy view of what drug use could actually accomplish in terms of emotional management. And now it was more about chosen family. Having an easy way to connect with others. Drugs brought down defense mechanisms — other people’s and his own — and allowed him to open up to other people and connect with them in a way that he couldn’t sober.
I’d been living with Kurt for a few months. And despite our myriad apparent differences (including the fact that he was 13 years my senior) and the fact that I hadn’t wanted to date him in the first place and had been more or less manipulated into having a relationship with him, parts of us undeniably matched so well that it was eerie.
I’d long felt like the weirdo in my own family of origin and had a particularly difficult relationship with my mother. Kurt was a fellow abused kid, although his abuse was at the hands of his father, an overworked cop in Indiana. Kurt was really high the first time he told me about this, how he’d hide when his dad’s belt came off.
I never opened up as much with him about my own issues since talking hurt more than pretending it hadn’t happened. Instead, I more talked around my issues in those days. Telling analogous stories, changing the subject when it all got to be too much.
But he read through the lines. And he brought me into the family, of sorts, that he’d created.
A Makeshift Family
I lived with five men in that two-bedroom apartment. Kurt and I slept together in the large bedroom. Two men slept on mattresses on the floor in the other. Another two men took turns sleeping on the living room couch while the other camped out on the floor (each paid Kurt something like $50 a month to do this).
That was a lot of activity in the apartment, just with the residents alone. But people they knew flitted in and out. Buddies and shady business associates. Girls they were trying to bang.
I never knew who exactly I’d see in the living room when I opened the bedroom door and slunk off to the bathroom to go pee.
To be honest, sometimes it was a lot. There were a few visitors I really disliked. One pointed a gun at me one time “as a joke” (I didn’t know it wasn’t loaded, but you never really do, do you?).
Another stole my shoes when she was tripping on acid, having left her sandwich behind as a form of barter. To her, it was a small detail I hadn’t agreed to the trade. And also a small detail that my shoes didn’t actually fit her as my feet are a size 8 and hers were a 6. One of my roommates chased her out onto the street and tackled her to recover the shoes, causing the dress she was wearing at the time to nearly come off over her head (with nothing underneath).
It wasn’t always fun living there. But in other ways, I came to know exactly what Kurt was talking about re: drugs and a sense of kinship. Because there were always people around. And maybe I didn’t get along with all of them, maybe some of them were annoying or exploitative (and occasionally dangerous) — but that happens in every family, right? There are always people you don’t get along with. People who really get to you. Who you wish weren’t there.
And whatever else you could say about it, I realized I was accepted here. I belonged. In a way I’d never experienced up until that point.
Rage and Control
Eventually I’d go on to leave Kurt. I loved him, but love doesn’t fix everything. It was a bad situation, volatile:
His mind operated like a mosaic, his moods fractured and not communicating with one another. In certain moments, he was brilliant. He had taught himself how to build computers. And I’ve never met a person with more business savvy. But he was definitely wounded and had never pulled out the weapon. His flesh had healed around it, and as he moved through life, Kurt would flail and hit situations that would throw him into blind rages.
In those rages, Kurt lost all awareness of who or what he was lashing out at. And as the person closest to him, it was often me.
He spun into a cycle. Rage and control. Control and rage. He’d seesaw back and forth. Some days he was the most romantic partner I’d ever had, warm, attentive. He had a way of making me feel like the most wonderful person in the world. On other days I was a punching bag. We were both actors in some ancient childhood play where he was the hero and everyone else was the villain.
And no matter how much I tried to understand him, I couldn’t do the work he needed to do for him.
Hell, I wasn’t even doing my own work (on a chemically induced lam from it).
And while we did a lot of drugs, we each had a stronger, more dangerous habit of making the other person’s issues worse.
A Very Hard Relationship to Recover From
I had been through breakups before, and none of them had been exactly easy, but the aftermath of leaving Kurt was terrible. First of all, there was the fear to contend with. I spent days awake, unable to sleep, worried that Kurt or one of his friends was going to come after me or people close to me. Either to kidnap me or retaliate. Because Kurt was a powerful person in his own little corner of the underworld, and he wasn’t used to not getting his way.
…Kurt called and called.
“Don’t answer that,” my grandmother would say.
On the fourth day, I got to hear my grandmother threaten a drug dealer. Not something you soon forget.
And apparently not something Kurt forgot either, since he did indeed stop calling after my grandmother read him the riot act.
Abuse Can Sometimes Feel Like Security or Stability
But even after he stopped calling, and as I tried to put the pieces of my life back together, I struggled. I felt empty — since Kurt had been in full control of my life by that point. I didn’t miss the abuse per se, but I missed the certainty that accompanied that abuse. Since he’d told me what to do at a time when I was entirely directionless. Lacking purpose.
In some ways, Kurt’s controlling behavior felt like a kind of security. Of stability.
Even if the core of our relationship wasn’t healthy, it had been central to my life. And now it was gone.
I Missed My Makeshift Family
And shockingly, it wasn’t just Kurt I missed. I also missed having that makeshift family. My former roommates and their many oddball visitors. They weren’t exactly chosen family because I didn’t really choose them. They just kind of showed up, and I had to deal with them. But they’d come to mean a lot to me in the time I’d spent with them. And when they were gone, I missed feeling like I finally belonged somewhere — even if that place was sometimes pretty dangerous.
So I survived. And I moved on. But I drifted for a very long time.
I was eventually set up by friends with the only other single person they knew — an incredibly vanilla man who was straightedge and a late bloomer. Surprising everyone, I ended up marrying him, and as was my custom at the time whenever I’d date someone, I tried to slip into his life just as I had into Kurt’s. To become subsumed by someone else’s social life and hopefully find a new family there, a place where I could belong.
But it didn’t work out that way. I did find a good friend or two, but it never really clicked. I never felt like I belonged in the life I was living.
Discovering the Kink Scene Was a Gamechanger
It wasn’t until eight years into that relationship when we opened our marriage, and I began to make friends on the kink scene (due to a robust crossover between the polyamorous and kinky communities) that I started to catch glimmers of what I once experienced with my former ragtag chosen family.
The kink scene I encountered was a warm, welcoming place. It had just about all of the excitement that I’d experienced while living in that crowded apartment but much less dysfunction. Was there drama sometimes? Dysfunction? Oh yeah.
No family is perfect, not even the Hallmark-looking ones (seriously, if you dig down deep enough, you’re going to find some issues in every family, it just goes with the territory).
But did I feel like I belonged? Yes.
Like I was accepted? Yes.
Like my presence was welcomed and I could be useful to other people? Absolutely.
All of these were new feelings for me.
The People Who Brought Me Back to Life
I started routinely going out to parties (and hosted some in my home) where people were open and honest with each other. Raw and real.
I began to form my own chosen family from the local scene, identifying people who had all of these qualities but could also be kind and empathetic.
Within a year, I was living in a house with two sadists and a switch.
And I had never been happier.
I owe everything to those earliest friends, the first people I met on the kink scene. They’re the people who brought me back to life by making me feel like I belonged at a time when I was utterly convinced that I was someone who should be thrown away.