“Overdosing on Reality TV”

The newest seasons of all the best reality/ dating shows are now playing. What stands out in contrast to previous years is their depiction of life during covid. The cast is jus emerging from quarantine and must comply with a litany of restrictions and precautions, like everyone else.

Moreover, they’re not just traumatized by covid–we all are–but they’re terrified of the disease. They wait for test results anxious and fearful, as if were an aids test and they a gay intravenous drug user. If a test does come back positive, they overreact and worry they’ll die, or effusively apologizing to others, full of shame and guilt, as if the 10 person barbeque they attended was a meth-fueled circuit party (continuing the gay man analogy).

Even though I have to follow the same rules–or else get a ticket–they look silly sometimes, in a different context. Quarantines, masks, social-distancing, god they’re all so fucking depressing. Whats the deal with that clear plastic face guard/ mask that some people wear. What the fuck is that thing called? I see COs wear it sometimes but it can’t possibly be effective unless covid is only spread by someone accidentally spitting in your mouth. Seeing the damage to their psyches instilled by these rules, I realize my experience of the pandemic has vastly differed than the average citizens.

I was basically in a science experiment testing the efficacy of covid restrictions, and souls witness the results. Everyone had to wear masks. Visits and classes were cancelled to limit the number of people coming onto the compound. The whole compound was tested weekly and sometimes an isolated positive result would come back. The person testing positive would be sent to the quarantine wing in the prison hospital across the street; his cubies were isolated in a close contact unit; and the unit itself was quarantined, cut off from any contact on the yard of in the chow hall with other units. After happening in consecutive weeks, one positive in H unit, one in C unit, and then another positive in H unit two weeks later, we all realized these tests had to be inaccurate. What was crazy was that we had been designated an “outbreak site” yet no one was actually sick or showed symptoms.

Months passed like this until 90 inmates from the same unit tested positive in one week. Within three weeks, the whole compound did. The only people who struggled were old or unhealthy, bur usually both. Two people died, one was 80, the other was 60 years old, obese and diabetic. I doubt so many people realized they’ve sacrificed so much so that geriatrics in nursing homes and 300lb diabetics don’t die from covid.

Moreover, I’ve noticed a more troubling trend after watching recent episodes of Summer House and Temptation Island: a surge in overdose deaths. I can’t watch any reality show without a cast member having lost a loved one over the last year to a drug overdose, but no one has lost even a great-grandparent to covid.

But when overdose deaths become an epidemic, that’s an indictment of our society. If life was shitty before the pandemic, it’s gotten so much worse as suicides and drug overdoses have almost doubled.

A drug overdose isn’t a suicide, per se, but a death of despair. A suicide by subconscious, if you will. Any person using heroin is cognizant of the risks, even though no one thinks they’ll be the one to overdose–until they are. No one uses heroin because they’re happy with life and the direction theirs is taking. You don’t bang heroin to celebrate your new job; you do dope because you’re demeaned by your job, if you even have one. Yesterday sucked, today sucked, and the future isn’t looking any better. Relief from this kind of existential despair will be bought at almost any cost.

On Summer House, Carl breaks down at the news of his brother’s overdose, even though they weren’t that close. On Below Deck, Captain Lee dwells on his daughter’s passing from a drug overdose. Normally stoic, he’s compelled to talk about his daughter’s death (and even bonds with a guest whose kid also passed away from an overdose). On Temptation Island, Julie reveals that her brother’s overdose has caused issues in her personal relationships, mainly, she can’t trust or forgive her boyfriend for a past indiscretion 5 years ago.

Personally, it’s hard to watch them break down and cry when they bring it up because of my own history. While I’ve overdosed a half dozen times myself, I’m currently doing time for a delivery causing death charge. I was already confronted with the family’s devastation at sentencing, but these were visceral reminders. In these shows, the pain is all too real, and they’re mourning long after the incident.

When I was fighting the case, I was too often focused on my own well-being. And for good reason, too–the future of my whole life was on the line. I hoped they’d objectively assess my culpability in this situation, setting aside their grief from the equation. I realize now that might’ve been impossible, even if they had read the statement I prepared for sentencing that explained my side of events.

Unless you’re cognizant that someone has a drug problem, their overdose seems like a tragedy that strikes from nowhere, apropos of nothing. Someone MUST be culpable. And so I was held accountable.

Myself, I was just emerging from a drug-induced haze, having spent a literal decade under the influence. (Just like the song, just not as catchy.) I had evaded a similar demise and survived the same affliction their son suffered from, and was nonplussed at being labeled the bad guy in this scenario. There’s a whole host of culpable actors and reasons for why someone overdoses, starting with the user himself.

Still, every death from drugs is a premature tragedy on another level than a death from covid–the latter only seems to happen for those whom death was already on the horizon.

1 Comment

  1. Hey brother, it’s Tim R from your college days.

    I’m sorry about your bum bit. Your first charge might’ve been legit but the second goes against every libertarian bone in my body.

    I’ve done county time for my habit and not a day of it was easy, but at evening lock-up, I discovered after wrestling with my inner demons (sorry for the cliché) that lock-up time simplified my life in a beautiful way.

    Reading was easy again. My time was mine again, and I was no longer running a miserable rat race.

    Sounds like you’ve come to the same realization now that you’re in this situation.

    Sorry for your bullshit charge and stay strong.

    Liked by 1 person

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