Jodi “J.A.” Wright / How to Grow an Addict (Excerpt)
I still can’t figure it out. How the therapist persuaded me to stay in rehab.
Maybe it was her smile or the way she motioned for me to sit down, or perhaps it was the way she put her hand on my shoulder when she introduced me to the group. Most likely it happened when I saw her wipe a tear from her cheek after I lied to the group about my black eyes and broken nose.
I sat and listened to the others talk about the trouble they were in, the kinds of drugs they used, what they drank, and how they liked to party because I felt I owed her something for making her cry. I also felt like she wanted me to talk, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t like them. I didn’t drink or take pills so I could party all night. I used alcohol and drugs to help me feel okay, to calm me down, to shut off the voice in my head that told me I was nothing. That’s what drugs and alcohol did for me. But I wasn’t about to tell that to them.
I was going to get up and run when I heard one of the guys say, “Hey Teach, how many sad shit stories am I sup-posed to tell you before you sign my court paper and let me out of here?”
“As many as you got,” she replied. “And if you’re thinking some judge is the reason you’re here, you’re dead wrong. Drugs and booze are why you’re here, why you’re all here, and I hap-pen to know a lot about both. I also know things will run a lot smoother if you understand your treatment plan doesn’t include me hearing about your favorite color, your astrological sign, or the TV shows you like to watch. What I want you to talk about are your secrets. How about we start with the three that got you here? Everyone has at least three.”
Only three things? I thought to myself. I have way more than three.
I’d never heard a woman talk like her, and I’d never considered that just three things could be responsible for all the trouble I was in. She was scary, but kind of nice. And I was curious. So I stayed.
I know a lot about trouble.
Mostly about causing it and not much about staying out of it. It all started when I was seven and began taking things. At first it was just money and candy, but as I got older, and better at stealing, I began to take things just for the sake of taking things. I tried to be careful about what I took and who I took it from, and I hardly ever got caught. But every once in a while I made a mistake and took something that caused a problem. Like the time I took my brother Robbie’s backpack from the players’ bench and he had to walk home in the rain from baseball practice because the bus driver wouldn’t let him ride without paying. A few days later he came down with a bad cold and almost died from an asthma attack. I wasn’t there to witness the attack, but I heard about it for years. Mom got all choked up every time she told the story of how Robbie was suffocating right in front of her, and she couldn’t find his inhaler because some school bully had stolen his backpack. She never knew it was me who took it. Because after I got the money out I threw the backpack in a dumpster.
I didn’t mean for Robbie to get sick; I just wanted to buy a cherry Slurpee on the way home from school, and I didn’t have any money. Robbie always had money because Dad gave him some almost every day. Dad never gave me money, said a little kid didn’t need any, and the one time I got mad about it and told him it was unfair he said, “Men need to have a bit of money on them in case they get a chance to buy a girl a drink.”
I thought that was a stupid answer and asked Robbie if he would share his money with me, but he just laughed and said, “You heard what Dad said.” I decided from then on to help myself. At first it felt wrong, but once I got started it was hard to stop, and pretty soon I was taking money from Dad’s wallet or Robbie’s gym bag at least once a week. After a while I began to feel good about it. Mainly because it was unfair that Robbie got money and I didn’t. Not only that, I hated that he didn’t have any chores except mowing the lawn on Saturdays and sometimes helping Mom in the garden. I seemed to have lots of chores, including washing the breakfast dishes, emptying the dishwasher, and starting loads of laundry—all of which had to be done before I left for school. Once, after I read The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, I made a nametag for myself that said “House Slave” and wore it until Dad noticed and made me take it off. “You’re about as far away from being a ‘house slave’ as you are from being a ‘house genius,’” he said.
Dem was the code word we used for our parents when they were fighting, or if one of us could see Dad had been drinking.
We all knew the only “genius” in our family was Robbie. Not only was he smart, he also, as he got older, got better looking and popular. He became a goody-goody, the type of person who could do everything really well. He dressed well, spoke well, wrote well, and looked better than most people. I used to wonder how he got that way and if it would happen to me too.
When I was about five I loved him more than I loved anyone else, and I think he loved me too. Even though he was eight years older than me, he was my best friend. He took care of me and taught me how to do things like make toast, tie my shoelaces, tell time, ride a bike, and hit a tennis ball. He even cut the manufacturer tags out of my shirts and pants because they scratched me. I didn’t just like him; I wanted to be him. I used to sit at the bottom of our front porch stairs and wait for him to get home from school to play catch, or to make macaroni and cheese and watch TV with me.
When I was finally old enough to go to school, Robbie walked me to Bradford Elementary every day. It was about four blocks out of his way to his junior high, and sometimes his friends would walk behind us and tease him about being my babysitter, but he didn’t seem to care. He wanted to make sure I got to school okay. And I know Mom appreciated it because I’d heard her tell people how helpful he was. I thought Robbie and I would live together forever, and he often told me he’d never leave me alone with Dem.
Dem was the code word we used for our parents when they were fighting, or if one of us could see Dad had been drinking. We’d warn each other with a quick Dem to let the other one know to stay away. The way Robbie said Dem was funny. It sounded like he had a mouthful of mud, and it always made me laugh. Just as funny were the times he’d write it out after he huffed on a cold glass window or used his food to spell Dem on his dinner plate.
I had a great time hanging out with Robbie, and I got to do lots of stuff I wasn’t supposed to. Mostly things like climbing trees or shooting BB guns at the neighbor’s fence. And if I was with Robbie no one ever said a word to me about going into a PG-13 movie. I even got to see Poltergeist when I was six because Robbie’s friend worked at the theater and let me in for free. Afterward, Robbie swore he’d never take me to another movie because I insisted on sleeping in a chair next to his bed for almost a week. That’s how long it took until the little girl with long white hair stopped appearing in my head every time I closed my eyes.
Besides being a great brother, Robbie was especially good at baseball, probably because he was tall and thin and could run super fast. I liked to watch him play from the backstop area, just behind the umpire and catcher, because it was a good distance from Dad. Dad always stood on the left field sideline because he said the umpire, coach, and players could hear him best from there. I hated it when Robbie’s friends, or their parents, would look over at Mom or me when Dad was yelling at someone. It made me feel bad and sometimes Mom and I would leave because we were embarrassed.
If Robbie had had his way, Dad would never have been allowed to attend any of his games. Dad thought the coach was a “moron” and that the umpire “didn’t know shit about shit,” and one time he called Robbie’s coach a “fucking pussy” and got into a fight with the umpire, who’d stopped the game and walked over to Dad.
“You’re gonna have to shape up or leave,” he said.
Dad grabbed him by the neck and pushed him to the ground. He was just about to kick him when Robbie’s coach ran over and told Dad to back off. Dad said a few nasty things about the umpire’s wife, and then told Mom and me to follow him to the car. I was happy we were leaving, but instead of getting in the car, Dad got a hunting knife out of the trunk and slashed the coach’s tires. He mumbled something about “showing him” as he got into the driver’s seat, and I heard Mom say, “I don’t understand why you have to ruin things for everyone.”
I didn’t see him slap her, I only heard it and then heard Mom scream. I wanted to get out of the car and run away, but I couldn’t make myself open the car door, so I slid down onto the floor and covered my head with my sweatshirt.
Jodi is an author and poet as well as a professional concert promoter and festival producer. Born and raised in the Seattle area, and clean and sober since February 8, 1985, she penned and published her first novel on the subject of addiction this past November. How to Grow an Addict, a novel is available from all major outlets.
2016 International Book Awards / Winner in Addiction & Recovery
2016 NIEA Awards / Winner in Addiction & Recovery
2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) / Bronze, Literary Fiction
2016 Reader’s Favorite Book Awards / Silver, General Fiction
2016 Kindle Book Awards / Semi-Finalist, Literary Fiction
2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards / Honorable Mention, General Fiction
2015 USA Best Book Awards / Finalist, General Fiction