story / Mary Ritch
All of my friends have been raving since 2008 that Breaking bad was the show to watch, but their praise for that show went in one ear and out the other because I was too caught up in the lives of the Real Housewives. This year, however, I started off from the first episode of season one, and like my friends, I’m hooked.
The thing about the show I love so much is the two main characters, have traits that we can all relate to in one way or another (though people may not admit it). Walter is this overqualified school teacher for whom his students show no respect. To make ends meet, he works a second job at a car wash, which causes him further embarrassment as many of his students are his customers. All of Walter’s former college classmates work these high-paying, fulfilling jobs, and he feels left behind; his cancer diagnosis triggers a downward spiral in him to turn into a violent, mass-murdering, life of making meth with his former burnout student Jesse Pinkman.
Jesse is brutally honest about his faults with everyone except himself and a manufacturer of meth because it’s the only thing he feels like he is capable of doing. This ambitionless drug addict feels he has nothing to live for, yet has qualities that could potentially take him far.
This used to be me for a second, minus the meth-cooking and mass-murdering and I found out the same about one of my former bosses.
The first time I broke bad was in 2005 in the back of a Cracker Barrel where I worked as a hostess at the time. To be honest, I was feeling like Walter White in season one. I was done. I was completely over my situation because everything I had done up until that point was someone else’s idea. Everyone I knew was having fun at their big colleges and I was at a private Christian college that I didn’t pick out that reminded me of how awkward and terrible high school was because it was small. I felt like no one listened to me or took me seriously and I was pissed. What set me over the edge was when a high chair had fallen on my face and broke my nose and the managers refused to let me get treatment yet decided to make me work full hours during exams. On top of that, I had some partying I needed to do to self-medicate my untreated bipolar disorder.
This chick, who we’ll call “Susan,” was pretty good friends with me, but she was dating this guy that was supposedly abusing her all the time (according to her accounts). Looking back on it, I think she was so full of it, because who the hell would stay with someone that doesn’t make them happy in all seriousness? He seemed like a nice guy, now that I look back on it. But that’s a story all in itself that I couldn’t care less about.
To make a long story short, I caught them in the back fighting next to the ice machine like they had done at work for months. Raging within, I grabbed the ice pick and deadlocked my eye’s with her boyfriend’s, fully intent on stabbing him. At the time, I thought I had finally hit the peak of liberation. He said, “What are you doing with that?” And I matter-of-factly responded, like in some b-rated slasher movie, “I am going to kill you with it.” Bad-ass, right? Susan immediately bolted out of the room to go get a manager. Her boyfriend was about a foot taller than me and could’ve kicked my ass, but he realized he would not have done so without a fight while getting stabbed with the ice pick in the process. So, instead he slowly backed out of the room, our gaze never breaking, and two days later I was interrogated by a detective for unrelated terroristic threats I made against my college online. I was promptly accused of being the next alleged potential high-profile school attacker (though I honestly don’t think I would’ve sunken down to that level). Luckily for me, the guy never said anything. If he ever did, I’m sure I would currently be in jail or working at Wal-Mart as a greeter due to the length of my felony rap sheet.
It was that moment in which I had never felt more like a Walter White bad-ass in my entire life. I knew there were consequences to my actions, but I didn’t give a damn. The only time I broke bad, like Walter, I was a pushover and no one not even me, took my feelings into consideration. I’m not sure ultimately what I would’ve done with my life had I not had the wake-up call in being arrested. But not dealing with my own issues and never putting my foot down or allowing myself to have good relationships triggered a violent tailspin of psychosis that I’m sure would’ve ruing my life or killed me had I not been stopped.
After my arrest and getting kicked out of a college I moved back home and got my old high school job back at the movie theater. I idolized my boss because she did everything I wanted to do and looked exactly like everything my parents wouldn’t allow me to be because it was the complete opposite of what they stood for.
She looked like this hardcore, punk chick that wore off-the-wall clothes, like Janis Ian off of Mean Girls and acted similar so in this I’ll refer to her as Janis. She was a bit of a Jesse Pinkman herself. I didn’t realize she was a former addict until I wrote a Facebook status asking if “Breaking Bad” was worth getting into and she commented saying “it is as addicting as meth” which spawned the idea for this essay.
I haven’t seen her in seven years because she moved to Canada to kick her own meth addiction. I didn’t have a clue that she was an addict back then, but it makes sense now because I remember seeing her smoking a bowl in her car when I went on a lunch break and she begged me not to say anything. And I haven’t said anything of course until now.
Janis doesn’t want me to use her real name because she doesn’t want to be associated with the stigma in being a former meth addict, but she has some interesting insight.
Why did you start using meth?
Janis: My ex-boyfriend who I lived with and loved got me to try it. I refused at first because I never snorted a drug. I had smoked weed, taken pills, but never had anything up my nose, so I was afraid of doing that. He would stay up all hours of the night hanging out with his friend who also used meth. Well, after months of going to bed by myself, one night I finally asked if I could do meth with them. I wanted to be able to stay awake with them since I had been working at the theatre all day and night, and I wanted to have enough energy to hang out with them at the pool hall. I thought it was a way for us to be closer because I was doing something he enjoyed doing.
What happened next? What was it like?
Janis: I snorted maybe an inch line and was completely energized. I was excited! I felt great! I was hooked after the first time.
Janis: It makes you have confidence and energy and you feel so good about yourself. It makes you feel pretty, because you lose weight and can wear whatever sexy clothes you want and people notice. It’s an instant mood and confidence booster. I can’t explain it any better than that really.
So you were fully functional and capable to work? No one really knew?
Janis: No, none of them knew. I went to work whenever they needed me and that’s all they really cared about. I was functional in a sense of I went to work, made money to pay for bills and drugs and sleep. That was the extent of my life. Managing 20-30 teenagers who were also your friends was the hard part and I had to deal with everyone nagging. I felt that as long as I was still keeping a job, wasn’t homeless, had a car that I wasn’t even really an addict.
Meth sounds like fun!
Janis: Straight up! Oh it’s fun but only initially. You stop when you hit rock bottom. Something horrible has to happen for you to stop though. I’m very lucky that I never got arrested or anything like that. My ma moved me to Canada because there is not meth up here but it’s working its way up here now though. But moving got me clean.
How did you find dealers?
Janis: My ex found the dealers through his friend that got him into it whom he met at Applebee’s. Once I was into the lifestyle and hanging out with people who did it, you meet dealers. Most people, who deal it, use it. I’m not saying I had to have sex for drugs but being an attractive female always helped once my ex and I weren’t together after he cheated on me. They wanted me to hang out with them so they got me high!!
How long were you addicted?
Janis: Four years. But I snorted or smoked it and never injected it because I felt like I would be an addict if I injected it. I told myself I’m using because I wanted to not because I had to but in hindsight I was an addict whether I injected it or not.
So what made you decide to change? Was it that your ex was cheating on you?
Janis: No when he cheated on me, he made me want to get fucked up even more and not feel what I was feeling. I was drinking and doing coke occasionally then I hooked up with this guy and we started dating then I got pregnant with my daughter… that’s when I stopped everything.
And your mom?
Janis: My friend brought my mom into it and she took me to Canada three times. First for a month, and I didn’t do anything for that month and completely stopped meth and everything cold turkey. After that, I went back home and did meth the first night I was back. Months later my ma found me and took me back to Canada and I stopped cold turkey for two months and went back to home and started again. The last time she brought me up here, I got pregnant and as soon as I found out that was my major life change.
So, let’s change the subject a little for a second. So as a former addict why do you find Breaking Bad entertaining? Is it authentic?
Janis: Breaking bad is entertaining because it’s just fucking entertaining and has many plot and character twists. It does show how one could get involved in meth life very quickly but it’s very extreme although relatable by having Walter White in his family setting then his drug life as a secret on the side with no one really knowing. That’s how my regular life and drug life seemed to be. The friends I had that did meth with me—that was our little secret. But I can’t stand shows like Intervention when they have a meth addict on there.
Why do you hate Intervention?
Janis: It mentally brings me back to a time I don’t want to be brought back to. It grosses me out to think I was once like that. It depresses me. But all the other types of drug addicts they show on intervention just interest me. To know what they went through and to read their updates at the end seem like they actually changed like I did.
What do you think of the commercials of meth addicts scratching sores? You know the “not even once” commercials?
Janis: We don’t have the same commercials as y’all and meth isn’t a problem up here yet. I used to do that shit though. I had sores all over my legs but not on my face. Gross either way. Now that I stopped I know I won’t ever start again because I’m grossed out by all of it.
So you don’t miss it at all?
Nope, not one bit. Not when I think about what it did to me.
So now that you’re sober for years? What changes do you notice about yourself? How does a drug like meth turn from being a recreational fun upper used for confidence purposes take over your life entirely.
When I was on drugs, I’d lie and steal money from my ma just to get more drugs. I didn’t care about whether I lived or died. I didn’t want to see or speak to my family. I lived wherever I could and didn’t care. When I was pregnant, I was with a shitty guy (her dad) and I was still trying to get my life together. We slept in our car. We lived in hotel rooms when we had the money for it. I stayed with her dad even though he was abusive. It took me a while to relearn my self-worth. But my ma just kept on emotionally supporting me. Now I have a life worth living and she died proud of me. I have a child, a husband and home. I have another baby on the way now. But I can’t even imagine giving up what I have now to get back into meth. I know that if I were to use again, there’s the possibility that I could instantly be addicted to it again and the fear of losing my children and family doesn’t outweigh the high. Now that my ma is gone, I know there is no support system like there used to be not saying my man doesn’t support me, but no one will ever love me the way she unconditionally did. I don’t remember when it changed from being weekend fun to an everyday need, but that’s what’s scary about it. I just remember one day I was managing the theater and maintaining my life, then the net I was homeless and partying and didn’t care. My ex and I were together when I went to Canada for the first time and when I got back I found out he had cheated on me. We broke up and I had moved in with my sister so she could keep an eye on me but she was young and working and I didn’t come home if I didn’t want to. I know that once my ex and I broke up thinks went downhill rather quickly. He was the first live-in relationship I’d ever had and he wasn’t mentally stable either so it fucked me all up. Then to know he got with this bitch who acted like my friend to my face, then did everything in her power to get with him behind my back finished it off I guess.
In being a badass and talking to Janis about her former meth addiction I learned our former volatile lifestyles were once exhilarating and liberating but served as only a temporary means to a dark end. The truth is we all have dark qualities of ourselves that can consume our entire lives. The fact that tat sentiment is captured on Breaking Bad makes the show so brilliant.
Although it probably won’t end well for Walter White and Jesse Pinkman if the show stays true to its authenticity once can’t help but wonder the possibilities of what would happen if at least one of them saw the light and reformed. To me, that would be a worthwhile ended but I don’t know if it would be as entertaining for everyone else.