I am willing to share personal accounts of my experience with you in hopes you will better understand the thinking of an addict, well at least “this” addict. If my experience can help just one person a day then ultimately it helps me.
I am no college grad. I’m a high school dropout turned father, husband, and union carpenter overnight. At the ripe young age of 17, I found out I was having a daughter. A short 9 months later, I became a home owner, father and full time adult. There were no more clubs, parties, or bars with friends. Who thought that in just two short years I would be shooting heroin, committing crimes, and end up completely alone with an empty shell of a home which housed only memories and unwanted furniture? My drinking had reared its evil head and I was off to what would be a 15 year run.
If you had a chance to read my last article, “A Painful Goodbye,” you know that I grew up with both parents, grandparents, and great grandparents all married till death did them part. So imagine the feeling becoming the first Catholic member of the family to divorce. Imagine sitting in an empty house with pictures of what was once a young family living the “American dream.” Mine was a short-lived dream replaced with domestic violence, infidelity, and the occasional blackouts. Why? Was it because I was too young to take care of a family, was it the fact I went from sitting in history class to fatherhood and marriage? No, that would be the easy way out, the painless way to not take accountability for my drinking. The fact is I found a love like no other, I had arrived to a place of comfort. I used to call it my “Southern Comfort.” A comfort that I alone could feel, as for those around me, well let’s just say comfort was the last feeling on their list.
Years went by, women came into my life long enough for me to push out. The pure shame of my actions only led to more drinking, more drugs, and less me. I completely lost myself. I became a shell of a man, a little boy living in a malnourished body. I was living in a mold-consumed basement of what was once my town house. My life took a drastic turn. The whole time, I was looking for a way out.
I used to always say, “Every time I tell God to go to hell, He stays and I go instead.” I must have cursed Him a thousand times a day. As I was lying on my mold-ridden mattress in this damp, dingy basement I took my last line of cocaine—the line that should have sealed my fate, but the God I cursed had another plan.
The woman of the week was with me. I’m not sure of her name and highly doubt I knew it at the time. She either had money or drugs, there would be no other valid reason I’d have been with her at this point in my life. At the time, I had no idea the severity of my diminishing health. Not that I cared to be honest. I ate three or four meals a week simply because I was force-fed by my “friends.” I was 6’3” and weighed in at a whopping 148 lbs. If you know, the average weight for my height is 195 to 205. So needless to say there were no modeling contracts in my near future.
It must have been early morning, since I could here the responsible adults heading off to work, birds chirping, and that overwhelming feeling of just shit. Who am I, what have I become? I watched my dad every single day for decades get up, take us to school, and go to work. He was a man who took care of his family. Here I lay unemployed, sleeping with a stranger for drugs and ignoring all calls from family. It was at this moment something greater than my frail self pushed pause on my horror show.
My parents walked into the hospital, an hour or so passed and I was rushed to O.R. The doctor—without any remorse—mentioned to my panicked father that his kid was not going to make it. Again God intervened and 7 days later I woke up with several tubes in my throat, my hands strapped to the bed, and two pen marks on my neck drawn up for surgery. You’re probably thinking how scared I was upon waking. How the tears in my father’s eyes affected my thought process? You’re probably thinking I felt so lucky to be alive. Well, my initial thought was pain, seeing those tears in my father’s eyes and hearing my mom cry. Second thought: How do I get more coke and how the hell am I going to use tied up in this bed?
I had zero disregard after that for any family members, or their concerns, feelings, or wishes for me. I did not care that I was awakening from a coma or that I nearly lost my life. It was drugs first, family later.
A few years went by and I found myself alcohol and cocaine free. I lost all desire to drink or sniff another line. The obsession had been lifted! Lifted by the hands of pain killers and heroin. I went from sniffing lines to shooting dope. My daughter was now turning into a young woman—this girl without a single bad bone in her body is now the daughter of a heroin addict. At this point in my life I now have three beautiful kids, three disappointed and angry single mothers and parents on the verge of planning their firstborn’s funeral. I hated the idea of living, I had given up all hope of becoming a father, and I wanted nothing to do with life. I wanted back in that coma, the kind you don’t wake up from.
At this point in my life, I hurt everyone I loved, and I’ve lost trust from all my friends and family. I’m in and out of detoxes and rehabs, I’m living on stranger’s couches and in my car. I see my kids once a month and mostly through pictures. My life had become nothing but a domestic battle with heroin. While the business end of a 9mm or the crisp cold taste of a Remington 12 gauge had no effect on me, neither did the terrified faces of my kids. The countless nights of disappointment and tears, the dozens of missed calls from loved ones. I had reached a point where nothing mattered anymore and death became more attractive than putting a drug in my vein. My chances of making it to heaven was slim to none, but I’ll tell you right now that Hell had nothing on my daily life on earth. I was ready and willing to die.
Offer him help, and he may take it, or he just may take the ride across town and your purse. Now, if I told you this guy was a good person deep down, you would call me crazy. What if I told you that same kid had a full ride to UCLA on a basketball scholarship, he was number two in his graduating class, and the father of a beautiful little girl? What if I told you he volunteered at his local church for years and loved it? What if you took the time to see the disease as insidious and not the person?Most of the world will look at an addict and have zero sympathy. Which I can’t blame them, given the process of self medicating. There are a lot of times I get people writing me with harsh, heart stabbing words like, “you’re a junkie, why don’t you just die, you don’t have a disease, it’s an excuse for the fact you’re just a bad person!” I often come up with these great analogies trying to relate this disease to others. Its very difficult. Honestly, I wish people would stop, drown out the media’s stigma and just think. Drive down to a bad area in your town and look down the street. Do you see that 20-year-old with the hoodie up, hands shaking as he’s holding that sign begging for change? Don’t you feel bad? This kid wanted this life when he was 6 years old. He is right where he dreamed he would be. Now, go up to this young man and offer him some food. Do not be shocked if he denies the food. Trust me, he probably hasn’t eaten anything in a few days: at this point he knows when eating is an option. Again, this man once dreamed of eating twice a week, begging for change in the freezing cold just for one more high.
This is the last disease I wish on anyone. It’s killing thousands of families and yet it’s stigmatized as a generation of junkie deadbeats that flood our streets. No, we are all the same: little kids dreaming of flying to space or becoming doctors, lawyers, and firemen. We are some of the most talented and resourceful individuals on this planet. We are competent and capable of achieving anything with ease. It only takes one time, one hit, one drink, one needle to change your entire course in life. And when that course is set, we take everything down with us.
So what does that leave us with? We have a national epidemic going on—people have a disease, now what? The media likes to show what sells. Violence, death, and terror, among many other facets. The truth is, take the amount of people suffering in active addiction, double that number, and that’s the amount of people living in recovery. No longer in a hopeless state of mind. There are thousands of doctors, lawyers, and successful men and women living with this disease and striving. They have found a solution.
Yes! There is a solution to all of this. As loved ones of addicts we like to force recovery. Force them to get help and stay clean and sober. Not going to happen. This is completely up to them. It is always a good time to plant the seed, but this needs to grown within. Just being empathetic towards another human being may be what changes the stigma. Choose better understanding and education on the disease, not the 6 o’clock news. Know that there is hope and you’re not alone. For example, it took Caitlyn Jenner a lot of courage to get out that dark hell she lived in for years, but she did it, she stopped hiding in shame, now the country has not only accepted her for her but also the LGBTQ community as a whole. We need to do the same with addiction and not be ashamed.
Again this is coming from my personal experience. I’m no therapist or doctor: I’m a person that didn’t die and found a way to not want to, that’s it. Describing my mentality during active addiction may help others realize how serious this disease is. It’s the only disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease.
Let’s set a few things straight. A lot of you may think after reading this, Wow, this guy was a deadbeat, a heartless man. He was selfish by having kids when he couldn’t manage himself. Truth is, I never stopped loving my family. My little Hannah was my world, my everything, the only girl to ever stand by me and never leave. My father was my best friend, my idol, and the man I only wished to be half of. My mother and I fought countless times because she cared about me and was watching her son dying. Point is, I loved them all. I hated me and I loved the way drugs and alcohol made it easier to live in my skin. I have no idea the science behind it—you know, with the opioid receptors and the brain’s activity while using and withdrawing off drugs. No, all I know is my first thought every day was the same. Who am I going to have to hurt today to get high, who will I have to lie to, steal from or manipulate? Literally my first thought every single morning. The moment that drink or drug was ingested I was on the phone calling everyone, filling their hearts and minds with lies.
“Yes Mom, I’m fine, I’m living in a nice sober house in the city.”
“No, Dad I haven’t used drugs in days and work is going great, I promise!”
Meanwhile I’m on the other end, freezing cold in a truck I call home, dope bags scattered through the car and blood stains on the seats from the countless needles. I found myself happy, content, and able once the drug entered my body. There was no task too big and no job I couldn’t do! 15 to 20 minutes later, I was already planning my next victim to vomit lies on. This happened over and over again, every single day. The amount of energy it takes to get and stay high is incredible. The average person would more than likely need a nap midday
My point is, no matter who is in your addiction’s way—your mother, father, wife, kids—the obsession is so strong it consumes the addict. For me, it was as if I saw my family and those closest to me as strangers. People who will always forgive me no matter what. All along, they were my victims. My pawns in the deadliest game of chess known to man. As addicts, we have the option to self-medicate, over-medicate in order to cover our guilt, fears, and actions. Just please know, as soon as someone sobers up, that pain is there. It’s there and it’s deep. All the hurt we have caused, all the crimes we have committed, they are still there. This is why it’s crucial for someone to seek treatment after detox.I’m so grateful for my freedom today.
There is a point when there is little to no clarity. I would have never taken anything in if I first did not have those 60 days with a therapist. Also know and I’m sure many will agree, rehab is but a tiny grain of sand in your recovery’s foundation. It is not and will never be the end-all. To this day, I make sure I stay connected with my peers. I work a program and I help others. This is a process! A far-from-simple, painful, yet so-worth-it process.
I suggest that if you are a parent or loved one who is an addict, please seek support. There are groups and club houses that hold meetings for those in need. It is just as important if not more important that you have your own program. You must grow separately, you must focus on you and your sanity. This all sounds a little selfish to some, but we need to remain selfish until it’s time to be selfless.
For everyone out there that may be going through this, I pray for you and know that millions have found a solution and are living an amazing life. You can too!