Collapse & Self-Destruction: How I Handled Frustration When I Was 21


TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains excessive explicit language and references to nicotine and cigarettes. Not recommended for readers trying to quit smoking, or those who have recently quit and want to distance themselves from it.


Returning from Colorado did a number on me.

Just as Mountain Man had years before, I’d fallen in love with the place—at least in a superficial sense. Looking back, I’m pretty sure my perceived “love” for Colorado was more of a “love-by-proxy;” and yet, back in the Bay Area, I spent a week in a state of catatonic depression, yearning to be back in Colorado.

Mountain Man had no sympathy for my devastation—nope, he was under the impression that I had no right to miss Colorado because it was “his place.” This angered me more than he could know—I never told Mountain Man that he was not the first of my romantic partners to get Colorado Fever. My high school sweetheart had fallen victim right after we graduated from high school. He got into one of the universities out there and took off, leaving me to take my gap year alone and grief-stricken. Naturally, from my perspective, I had every right to wallow in Colorado-induced sorrow and longing. But when I was in Mountain Man’s company, I had to keep it to myself.

The unfairness of my situation finally congealed on January 27th, 2016, in the form of the first in a series of self-destructive, desperate decisions. My “diary” entry from that date does the best job of explaining what happened, so, I’ll let it do the talking. Names have been changed, of course, for privacy and obscurity. To set the scene, I had just arrived back at my apartment in Oakland by bicycle from somewhere in Berkeley. It was late at night and I was tired and hungry, and, as you will see, dangerously frustrated.

16 new messages, I noted as I took off my bike shoes and sat down on my floor-bed. I checked them. Most were from Mountain Man. “Shut up,” they said, basically. Because apparently I’m not allowed to complain about missing Colorado. He used to do it all the time, shortly after he left it behind.

The anger from before—when I stopped at the intersection next to his apartment to call him incessantly, to demand that he tell me where his weed was hidden at his apartment—came flaring back up.

“You fucking selfish, narcissistic bitch,” I muttered, slamming a fist down onto my thigh. “Fuck you! I can fucking complain about whatever I want. I’m allowed to miss Colorado too.”

Apparently a lot of people like me miss Colorado because pretty much everyone I enjoy the company of has moved or is going to move to Colorado.

I got off my bed and pulled sweatpants on over my leggings, put my Colorado hoodie on, slipped on my moccasins. I stood for a moment, glued halfway between my door and my bed, thinking of taking a long drag on a spliff, watching the smoke billow out and up into the night air—

“Xannie, dinner,” I instructed myself, but I couldn’t get myself to budge. It’s not like I could even smoke a spliff if I wanted to, I reminded myself. The weed was at Mountain Man’s place, and so was the tobacco. Maybe I could buy my own supplies?

I groaned and plopped back down on my floor-bed, whipped out my laptop and typed in my password. I went to Google and searched “cigarettes near me.” Nothing useful came up, so I searched “liquor stores near me.” That got more results. There was a liquor store a few blocks away.

I sighed angrily, slamming the laptop closed, and went to the kitchen. I set a pan on the stove, turned on the burner, pulled out the butter, opened the fridge—and paused. After a moment of drumming my fingers against the fridge door and staring unseeingly into its white interior, I caught myself daydreaming once again about the comforting red-orange glow and thin, curling smoke at the tip of one of Mountain Man’s tobacco-heavy spliffs. So I shut the door to the fridge and turned off the stove, ran to my room to get my keys and wallet, and took off into the night.

I basically ran to the liquor store. I burst inside, asking, “Do you sell Amsterdam Shag?”

The guy looked at his shelf of tobacco pouches. “We have Bali Shag.”

“Can I see it?”

He pulled it out and held it in front of me. It looked like a rip-off.

“Eh,” I said, “that’s probably not a good idea.” I looked up at the bottom of the shelf, knowing that hundreds of packs of cigarettes were stuffed behind it. “Hm,” I said. “I don’t know if I should do it.”

I noticed there was a lady waiting to buy some booze so I told her to go first and stepped aside.

“I think you should definitely do it,” she said. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

I laughed lightly. “I’m trying to decide whether or not to buy a pack of cigarettes.”

“Oh,” she laughed. “Don’t do it!”

I laughed nervously in return.

“How long have you been off them for?” she asked, handing the guy a twenty.

“Not…long,” I said. “Honestly, I’m sort of just starting out, but also trying not to start out, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh, yep.”

“I’ve been smoking spliffs.”

She laughed again. “Yep!”

“I don’t have weed,” I said. “So. That’s why I’m here.”

She laughed and moved towards the door.

“I don’t know which ones to get,” I blurted, and cringed at the desperation in my words.

Her lips creased into a sad but understanding smirk. “I’d go with either the teal American Spirits, or the black ones.” And then she was gone.

I looked at the guy behind the counter. “How much for the teal ones?”

He looked up. “Oh, I don’t have those,” he said.

“What do you have?”

“Yellow, blue, black—”

“How much for the black?”

“Seven dollars,” he said, looking back at me. “Always seven dollars.”

“Ok, I’ll do it,” I said quickly, extricating a tangled wad of ones from my wallet with trembling fingers.

Walking home, I kept looking at and feeling the plastic film on the outside of the box. I was set, before, on smoking one all by myself; but when I got home, I was so disturbed by the fact that I bought a pack of cigarettes that I didn’t smoke one. Instead, I made dinner and cracked a beer and just sat there, chewing on toast and eggs, staring at the pack, turning it over and over in my hands.

I don’t want a pack of cigarettes, I kept thinking. I just want a spliff.

"Oh God what have I done?"

But there was no going back: I’d bought my first pack of cigarettes. American Spirit blacks are the heftiest, heartiest type of American Spirits you can get, too—their perique blend—and every smoker knows that American Spirits are notoriously strong and nicotine-heavy to begin with. I didn’t smoke one that night, but I eventually caved and smoked my first one and the next thing I knew, I was smoking one or two every day, then three or four, then five or six, and eventually, half a pack to two-thirds of a pack. I couldn’t have done a faster job of getting myself addicted to nicotine.

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