I Was Born with the Disease of Addiction…and It Saved My Life.
There’s a sense of rhythm to the traditional addiction narrative. The writer details the sordid places and embarrassing affairs drug abuse or alcoholism took them to. There’s a rock bottom. Sometimes there’s two or three rock bottoms. Then there’s rehab, self-acceptance, and everything is tied up with a nice little bow. Well, my story isn’t like that. Just kidding! My story is basically 100% that. It’s typical in every possible way. If there were a checklist for addiction stories, I’d mark all the boxes. So, at this point, you may be asking yourself why you should continue reading. Why engage with my addiction story if it’s just like all the others? Well, the answer is actually super simple. Because human beings need hope. We thrive on it. It’s more important than oxygen. Okay, well, maybe it isn’t more important than oxygen, but it’s just as important! It’s oxygen for our spirit and, if you’ll allow me a cliché, our souls. So, with that in mind, I’d like to share with you all my story of addiction and recovery. It isn’t remarkable in any one way. It’s mine, though, and it’s the only one I have. I hope you enjoy it.
Before Booze or Drugs Entered the Picture
I always felt different. I remember being nervous a lot as a child, scared of people, places, and things. Social situations? Nope, get me out of them. Sports? I knew I’d be the one to screw any game up. School? It was just so hard. I know now that this was the disease of addiction manifesting well before drugs or alcohol showed up. This was the spiritual malady that recovery literature talks about. It was things like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, isolation, ego, self-pity…the list goes on. These traits made me destined for years of negative behavior. It didn’t have to be drug or alcohol abuse. I could have ended up a gambling addict, a compulsive eater, a self-harmer, or a workaholic. I could have ended up something completely different. The point is that regardless of how these character traits played themselves out, they were going to play themselves out. It doesn’t matter that I had a great childhood. It doesn’t matter that my parents were loving and wonderful providers. It doesn’t matter that I was taken care of in every way a child can be. I was destined for some sort of trouble. At the young age of twelve, I found that trouble. I collided with it head on.
A Teenage Addict
I smoked pot for the first time when I was twelve. I loved it from the very start. Remember all those fears and worries I had? Well, as soon as I lit the pipe and inhaled, they flew out the window. Now, I don’t want it to seem like I was addicted from the first time I smoked. That wasn’t the case at all. Rather, drugs did something for me. They allowed me to feel different. They allowed me a brief freedom from the overwhelming tyranny of my mind. One of my favorite sayings in the rooms of recovery is “drugs and alcohol weren’t my problem – they were my solution. I was my problem.” How true that was for me! Drugs and alcohol offered me relief. They allowed me to interact with other people. They allowed me to look people in the eye. They allowed me to feel good for the first time in my life.
So, my “drug-a-log” goes a little something like this. I smoked at twelve. By the following year, I was drinking, smoking, and taking pharmaceuticals on the weekends. That didn’t last for long. Within a few weeks of turning thirteen, I was off to the races. I abused weed, alcohol, Ambien, codeine, Vicodin, DXM, mushrooms, and inhalants that year. I took whatever was put in front of me. I began to receive consequences pretty quickly. I was put into an outpatient treatment center after one of my classmates overdosed on some pills I sold him. It wasn’t pretty, but, thankfully, he was fine. I, on the other hand, was far from fine. Even being in this outpatient, even watching my grades plummet, even losing friends and straining the relationship with my parents, even through all these negative events, I continued to drink and use.
The Downward Spiral
By fourteen and fifteen, I’d progressed to a daily regiment of cocaine, alcohol, weed, Xanax, and Vicodin. I was a mess in every sense of the word. While drugs had started as my solution, by this time they’d become my problem. I was still bouncing in and out of outpatient drug rehabs. My parents didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t know what to do with myself. At seventeen, I somehow managed to graduate high school. Then I promptly discovered heroin. The rest of my story is a quick downward spiral. I began to get serious consequences. I crashed cars, overdosed, stole from everyone I knew, flunked out of college, and was arrested a number of times. I was doing heroin and weed everyday. I’d stopped abusing other drugs. I’d stopped going out. I’d stopped showering even. I’d stopped living. I existed only for two things – opioids and marijuana. Finally, at their wits end, my parents shipped me off to a treatment center in Florida.
A Teenager in Treatment
I was in a long-term, comprehensive rehab at eighteen years old. I thought my life was over. Little did I know it was just beginning. I learned a lot about myself in that rehab. I met some amazing men and women who are still in my life today (eight years later). I found out that addiction is a disease and, like many other diseases, it’s treatable. I started to work on myself in both therapy and twelve-step fellowships. I graduated the treatment center. I got out and moved to a halfway house. I was free. Left to my own devices, I promptly relapsed on painkillers. Things got very bad very quickly. Remember those consequences I listed above? Well they multiplied and deepened. In the span of nine months, nine short months, my life fell completely apart. I overdosed more times than I can count. I was arrested again. Then again. Then once more. I began to suffer from serious health complications. I became homeless on the sunny streets of South Florida. Thankfully, when I was beat up enough, my parents were willing to give me one more chance. They checked me into a second treatment center on April 17th, 2008. That’s my sobriety date.
The Everlasting Shimmer of Hope
For seven years now, I’ve tried to figure out what made this shot at recovery different than my previous one. Was I more desperate? Was I willing to go to any length for my sobriety? Was I simply done existing and ready to start living? The answer to all is a resounding yes. Still, I was ready to change the first time I went to treatment. What made the second time so different? The only answer I can come up with is that I did the work. I threw myself without reserve into therapy, twelve-step work, and helping others. I took every suggestion I heard. If someone said that standing on my head would help me stay sober, well, you better believe I’d be standing on my head within five minutes. There’s a recovery saying that goes like this – “being sober gives us a life beyond our wildest dreams.” Over the past seven years that simple sentence has played itself out in my life time and time again. The life I live today is so much better than anything I could have ever imagined. See, before I got sober, I thought a life beyond my wildest dreams would include lots of money, lots of women, and lots of power. I thought a life beyond my wildest dreams would be like that movie Scarface, but without the massacre at the end. Today, a life beyond my wildest dreams is much different. It’s about being comfortable in my skin. It’s about graduating college and holding a job. It’s about excelling in that job. It’s about helping others. Today, life is about, more than anything else, believing that human beings are more than the sum of our parts. We’re the spiritual lineage of a God personal to each and every one of us. Through this belief, this deep-rooted truth, I’m able to accomplish remarkable things. Not only am I able to stay sober, but I’m able to be at peace with myself and those around me and be a productive member of society.
So, that’s my story. I hope you liked it. More importantly, though, I hope it helped someone out there. Remember, recovery isn’t only possible, it’s guaranteed if you do the work.