Hearts and Scars: 10 Human Stories of Addiction
Copyright © 2015 by Jake D. Parent
All rights reserved. This electronic book may be distributed anywhere around the globe provided it is presented in its entirety and for free. The entirety of the book may also be distributed in print form as long as all costs are covered by the distributing entity. Any person or organization wanting to receive direct payment to recuperate reproduction costs must first receive permission to do so from the publisher. Under no circumstances should this work be distributed for profit.
First Printing, 2015
Modern Minimalist Press
General inquiries: [email protected]
Press: [email protected]
Cover art and design by Phillip Du:
Edited by Jake D. Parent:
This book contains works of fiction. In those sections, names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
All non-fiction sections have been printed with the permission of the individual authors.
Modern Minimalist Press takes no responsibility for inaccuracies of the non-fiction accounts made by contributing authors. The facts, people, places, and occurrences within those sections are solely the recollection of the authors and do not reflect any claim to veracity made by the publisher or the editor.
Lastly, this entire work is presented for entertainment purposes only. You should consult a health professional if you need help coming up with a plan to treat any disease or condition.
Table of Contents
– By Jake D. Parent
– By Kelly Fitzgerald
– By Chrystal Comely
– By Chris Aguirre
– By Nicola O’Hanlon
– By Dustin John
In our hearts forever.
In 2014, my 29-year-old cousin Tim overdosed on heroin and died while serving time in county jail on drug related charges. He left behind a baby daughter and all the potential in the world.
When Tim was in high school he suffered a horrible injury in a hunting accident. It almost killed him. While rehabilitating from his injuries, he developed a crippling addiction to opiates, which eventually led to his tragic fate.
He was a good person with a huge heart. In fact, I wish I had his kindness. I wish a lot of people had his kindness. Our world would be a better place.
Sadly, his story is not unique. In fact, we lose more than 350 people every day in the United States to addiction. And that doesn’t include the countless others who die because of disease, suicide, homicide, etc. Nor does it include the millions of people who live in constant pain as they watch the people they love spiral out of control.
The worst part is that all of it is completely preventable.
My own road to recovery, which began in 2006, has taught me the following:
1) Recovery is possible. It happens all the time.
2) Getting there requires new ways of thinking.
3) The best (and perhaps only) way to develop fresh ways of seeing the world is through the power of stories.
The reason stories are so powerful is because they do not (at least the good ones) try to make their point through lecture or logic. Instead, they appeal to our emotions. And when we are able to open our emotional brain – even a little – we can then begin to challenge ourselves to do even those things we previously believed to be impossible.
Life is not logical. It’s full of difficulty, hardship, and pain that doesn’t make any sense.
But it is also full of amazing wonder and beauty.
It is full of things worth living for.
This collection of stories is an attempt to show addiction for the nuanced world that it is – a conflicted struggle that encompasses, not simply broken people, but the human condition that affects us all.
The book consists of two sections. The first is a series of short fictional stories that portray individuals suffering from active addiction. The second is made up of real life tales of recovery, written by the people who experienced the journey themselves.
This project is a beacon of hope, as well as a cry for help.
Far too many of our cousins, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, neighbors, friends, coworkers, and significant others are dying out there. Every day. They need our help. They need us to fight for them – in our lives and in the policy arena.
For those directly affected by this horrible affliction, it’s my hope these stories will help you make sense of your journey, both where you came from as well as where you are going.
For advocates, policy makers, and others with the power to help, my hope is that this collection will help humanize the issue. I hope it will show that, while addiction may be a cunning, baffling disease, it is ultimately one that affects real people.
Only by understanding the humanity within those who suffer from it – as buried as it may sometimes seem to be – can we as a society find the courage and will to finally do what needs to be done to end the suffering.
Each of us involved in this project dreams of such a day.
Jake D. Parent
By Jake D. Parent
A Friend Too Late
Glen’s favorite moment of the week was when he slid his timecard into the old machine that stamped it.
As soon as he heard its familiar click-crunch, his shoulders and back relaxed.
Today felt especially good. It was a three day weekend.
At least, that’s what he thought. It was some holiday. Whichever one came at the end of summer. Really, it didn’t matter. For the next three days Glen was free to do anything he damned well pleased.
And right now, all he wanted to do was drink.
The guy at the liquor store was friendly, as usual.
“Hey Jesse,” Glen said as he walked in through the door, hands clasped on top of his bloated belly.
The guy behind the counter looked up and waved.
Jesse was an Indian guy. A Sikh from the Punjab province, he had told Glen one slow weekday evening.
He’d told Glen once about coming to the U.S. on a student visa. About how he couldn’t afford to stay in school and, instead, took a job at a gas station. For ten years he worked double shifts – seven days a week – and saved every penny he could.
That’s how he bought the store.
And things seemed to be going well.
There were half a dozen people in line.
Glen grabbed an 18 pack of Budweiser cans out of the big cooler before taking his place behind a lady holding a bottle of Gilberts Vodka. She swayed back and forth as she faced the cash register.
Glen stared at the mounds of saggy flesh hidden under her dirty shirt.
He imagined holding one in each hand.
He hadn’t been with a woman in a long time.
It was at least 85 degrees outside. The windows had been closed all day in Glen’s little studio apartment too. It was scorching when he walked in.
Despite the heat, turning on the air conditioning was not the first thing Glen did when he walked through the door. Instead, he sat down on the edge of his ripped lazy boy. Straining to lean over his belly, he broke open the red and white box, digging out a can. He cracked open the tab and a dribble of foam came bubbling up.
Glen leaned forward and slurped the pooled liquid off the top of the can.
He licked his lips and made a sour face of appreciation before tilting the thing back and gulping once . . . gulping twice . . . gulping a third time. The beer tasted warm and metallic.
The liquor store had an old, rundown refrigerator.
Nonetheless, the liquid rushed into his stomach, making his entire body tingle.
His stomach felt like it was smiling. His brain felt relief.
New hope and a fresh beginning.
After a short pause, he drank the second half of the can in similar fashion.
After enjoying the sensation for a moment in the heavy heat, Glen stood up and turned on the air conditioner. It sat in a window and was an old, unreliable piece of junk.
Today, however, the machine kicked on immediately.
Glen leaned forward and let the crisp cool air pour onto his face.
After polishing off his eighth beer, Glen started to get hungry. The heat of the day had turned into a pleasantly warm evening, but he still decided to drive, rather than walk, to Mr. Chows Chinese Fast Food, which was only two blocks away.
Standing in front of the big hot case, Glen watched a pimpled teenager slop heaping portions of Sweet-and-Sour pork, Chow Mein, and fried-rice.
On the way home, the bulging styrofoam container that held the food started leaking out pink sauce all over the inside of the plastic bag, ruining a sizeable stack of napkins.
Before going back up to his apartment, Glen remembered he had left his rolling papers somewhere in the car.
As he dug through the mounds of empty soda cans, old receipts, and other random stuff that covered the floor of his old, beat-up Honda, he heard what sounded like a squeaky engine belt. He reflexively swiped his hand across the ignition to see if the car was on. It wasn’t, and Glen figured that maybe the beers had hit him harder than he thought.
Probably the empty stomach, he thought.
But just when he found the orange packet of Zig Zags, stuffed deep in the glove box, he heard the same noise again. Only this time he realized it wasn’t the car.
The sound was too high-pitched, and it was changing too much to be anything mechanical.
Maybe a bird.
Glen grabbed the bag of Chinese food and closed the driver side door.
The sound came again, this time in a rapid procession of what now sounded like little squeaks.
Whatever it was, the sounds seemed to be coming from a pile of wood left outside after a construction crew had gutted an older unit in the complex.
Glen set the food on the roof of his car and went to investigate.
The sound stopped as he walked near the pile of wood, but started again shortly after. It was definitely some kind of animal. And it sounded like a shriek of terror.
Is it hurt?
He stood there listening, sure that if he pulled back one or two of the boards he would end up looking straight into a pair of little rat eyes, squinting and begging for mercy.
Then he thought it could be some family of possums that had made a nest, and perhaps one of the babies was hungry and trying to get its mom to wake up.
And maybe when I lift up this board, Mom will indeed wake up … and then jump on my face and dig her sharp little claws into my cheeks.
There were a million reasons why Glen could have decided to turn around, scoop up his food, and go back to his apartment and cold beer.
But somehow it felt like whatever was underneath the wood was calling out directly to him. After thinking hard about it for a few more moments, Glen moved toward the pile of wood and lifted off the top layer of boards.
The sound got louder and more desperate.
Glen hurriedly picked up several more boards and tossed them aside.
He lifted another and was suddenly confronted with the sound’s source.
There, lying wedged between two stacked of lumber, was a tiny black kitten.
It was smaller than any Glen had ever seen. Its tiny face was so compact it looked more like a baby hyena than a cat. Its little voice was full of anxiety and panic, as if it realized that this was its only chance at making it out its predicament.
Glen looked around for signs of the mother cat and found none.
The only thing he could figure was that the kitten must have gotten dropped. It looked too small to get lost on its own.
For a split-second he considered the notion of simply putting the boards back over the cat and leaving it be. The idea past quickly.
Glen went to the recycling dumpster and found a discarded shoe box, along with some soft magazine paper, which he ripped out and crumbled to use as bedding. With the crude shelter in hand, he went back to the kitten. It had stopped its noisemaking. It sat now with a patient look, staring straight into Glen’s face.
After another glance around, Glen reached down and pinched the tiny bit of scruff on the back of the kitten’s neck and gently lifted it. The tiny frame gave no resistance.
He held the kitten up for inspection.
It stared at him blankly as it dangled in the air. It was silent. Its flat face looked almost content. It seemed healthy. Everything except its eyes, which seemed to be glassed over with a layer of thin blue tissue.
It appeared to Glen that the kitten was blind.
He put the animal in the box and headed to his apartment. The kitten stayed crouched in the corner it had been set in and didn’t make a sound. It simply held on the best it could.
It wasn’t until Glen was all the way back inside that he realized his dinner was still sitting on the roof of his car. He went to retrieve it, and when he walked back into his place, the kitten was wailing again – screaming in the same desperate way it had when it first sensed Glen’s presence by the wood pile.
For the first time since finding it, Glen reached down and pet the obviously scared creature. It again stopped.
He wanted to give it a name, but was scared to since he didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl.
Maybe I can come up with one that works for both.
The kitten’s black fur made Glen think of outer space.
Coming up with a name frustrated him. He went to get a fresh beer. They had chilled nicely now. He decided to take two.
“Spacecat, what’s your name?” he asked out loud.
The beer calmed him.
He flopped onto the couch and plopped his new friend onto his chest.
The sightless little creature stood there unsure, clinging on to the unfamiliar cloth, seeming to hope for some sign of stability. Glen again pet the cat. It exploded into a new round of mews, but this time they sounded much happier.
“Explosion . . . hey, what about a star explosion? What do they call that, again?”
Glen tried to think of the answer. He knew it was a good word, but had a hard time remembering what it was. It had been quite a while since he had taken Mr. Maxwell’s science class. Thirty-something years. But, he could still remember the old man, with his long white beard and even longer, whiter hair.
Glen remembered being interested when Mr. Maxwell had pulled out a video about how some star in our galaxy – Beetle Juice glen thought, like the movie – was about to explode, or maybe even had exploded. Glen remembered walking outside each night, for weeks, and gazing up at the star to see if it was still there. It always was.
“NOVA!” he said loud enough to startle the kitten.
“Nova,” he repeated with calm gentleness. “That’s your name.”
Glen put Nova back in the box.
As he ate his own dinner and drank several more beers, he realized he had better get the cat something to eat as well.
There was a pet store just a couple of miles away and, despite the fact he had already drank more beers than he could remember, Glen drove.
The first employee he saw in the store took one look at him and the box he was carrying and started shaking his head.
“No way,” the guy started. “We don’t take strays.”
Glen ignored the comment.
“I need something to feed this cat I found.”
The employee eased a little, peering into the box to see the kitten for himself.
Then the guy started making so many ooing-and-awing noises, Glen suddenly felt embarrassed. The feeling got even worse when two other employees came over to look in the box and started doing the same thing.
“Oh my God, she’s so cute!”
“Aw . . . isn’t he precious?”
“What’s its name?”
“Nova,” Glen said with a pride that surprised him.
“Aww, Nova. That’s so pretty. How old is she?”
“No idea. I just found it in a wood pile. Seems really young. I think it’s blind. I don’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl.”
This made the pet store crew take on a more serious tone. One of the employees – a big woman with a bright, cheery smile stepped forward. She picked up the cat with one hand and flipped it over so its little belly was showing.
Nova started the sound of panic.
“Well, it’s a girl,” she said, tickling the bare skinned tummy before flipping the kitten back over. The lady gently slid two fingers around Nova’s body and examined her while the kitten eased, although she continued to make sounds of stress. “I don’t think she’s blind. Of course, I’m no vet and you should take her to one A-SAP, but my guess is she’s only about three weeks old. Her eyes probably just opened. She looks healthy, though. Probably a bit hungry I imagine. Who knows how long she had been sitting there. Why don’t I go get her some special food while Dan helps you get the stuff you need.”
The ‘stuff’ I need? This is going to get expensive quick. Can I even have a cat? I can barely even take care of myself.
The lady handed Nova back to him. The second she was in his hands, the scared mews stopped. She quietly hung onto his shirt with her small sharp claws as he cradled her backside with one hand.
“Ok,” Glen said almost immediately, despite his apprehensions.
The truth was that he was extremely lonely. Sometimes, in fact, he felt so alone sitting there in his little studio that tears would burst through his eyes and pour down his cheeks. Sometimes it got so bad he would even talk to the walls. Afterward he would feel guilty and pathetic, but at least it made him less lonely.
A companion was exactly what he needed.
So, with the help of the fine employees at Argo’s Pet ‘n’ Feed, Glen gathered up a big bag of litter and a box to put it in. He bought some toys made especially for kittens. And, since Nova was so young, he bought special formula and a bottle to feed her with. There were also special drops and wipes to keep her clean, since it would be months before she could do it for herself.
The big, happy woman showed Glen how to use the bottle, spending more than 30 minutes explaining and re-explaining everything from litter box training to grooming and feeding.
Glen was happy for her enthusiasm, but ready to leave and be back at home.
He needed a beer, even though he was still feeling pretty hammered.
On the drive back, Glen realized he felt happier than he had in a long time.
So happy, in fact, he never saw the semi-truck that ran a red light and T-boned him going 50 MPH.
Chris was in his uniform, waiting in line at Taco Bravo.
It was about 7 PM and his shift started in an hour.
There were five or six people in front of him. All shapes and sizes: construction workers, stoners, some lady in a big blue muumuu.
The night already had an electric feel to it, and Chris thought that it was going to be a wild one.
A wild weekend.
The three day holidays always were.
Last year on Labor Day he had removed a knife from the eye socket of a dead Hell’s Angel. The guy had been left hanging from the wall, his feet dangling a couple of inches off the floor. When Chris had pulled the knife, the body fell and made an awful thud – one so devoid of life it made you want to get as far away as possible.
At least, it would make most people feel that way.
Not Chris though.
He always volunteered for the dirty stuff. He enjoyed scenes that would make most people want to find the nearest bush and yack up their dinner.
“Five tacos and an extra-large Diet Coke,” he said to the cashier, a guy with the kind of sucked-in looking face that comes with long-term meth use.
With his bag of tacos and drink in hand, Chris headed back to his car.
He drove to a park around the corner. He turned off the ignition and pulled out a taco. The yellow paper wrapper crinkled in his hands.
The sun had gone down, but there were still plenty of people playing basketball.
Chris walked into the office of American Ambulance Services.
He went to his locker and picked up a radio and his black leather gloves. He checked himself out in the tall mirror, lifting his hands near his nose to smell the leather. He casually smoothed out the thin mustache he had recently grown. He was 27, but it was the first kind of facial hair he’d ever had.
The uniform made him feel ridiculous, like some kind of rent-a-cop.
As he did a thousand times every day, he questioned his sanity for even being there. It’s not like he needed the money. He was raking in plenty with the little arrangement he had at the county jail. The guards there paid top wholesale dollar for the pills Chris brought them. He didn’t even have to do much of anything. Just show up as a volunteer once a week with a roll of plastic-wrapped pills shoved up his ass. Once he was in, it was just a simple trip to the bathroom, and then presto-chango there it was: a thousand bucks.
And the pills were a piece of cake to come by. Chris got them from someone he’d met during EMT training. The guy had ended up becoming a pharmacist and some kind of wild chemist. He knew how to make all kinds of drugs from scratch. A real sort of mad scientist is the way Chris thought of him.
The thought of the pills made him cringe a bit – a tingle in the back of his neck and down his spine. He reached into a secret pocket in his jacket and pulled from it a single blue tablet. He looked at the pill in his hand for a few seconds and then grabbed a second one.
He washed them both down with the last bit of Diet Coke in his giant cup and headed to his ambulance.
Chris turned on his radio as he headed out on patrol. It crackled to life, instantly reverberating with a wave of back-and-forth chatter.
Something big was going on.
He made a U-turn and headed to the scene.
Chris got off the freeway and drove by Oak Hill Cemetery.
He started to feel a little loopy and tired from his first round of pills. Without much thought, he once again reached into his secret pocket and pulled a small tablet. This one was white. He bit it in half and spit the other side back into his hand, stashing it away for later. They were a special concoction of amphetamine from his pharmacist friend, one he’d learned the hard way not to fuck around with. He almost gave himself a heart attack one night when he went big and took two on an empty stomach. That trip had ended with Chris staying up for three straight days straight.
Nah, half was good. At least for now. The night was still young.
Blue and red flashing lights filled the intersection up ahead.
“At least they don’t have far to go,” Chris joked to himself as he inched his ambulance past the thick field of gravestones.
Although, he knew the reality was much different. Dying was a bureaucratic nightmare. Paperwork and fees and transportations and viewings and funerals. It could take weeks and cost tens-of-thousands of dollars.
Everyone involved hated it. Except the funeral people. They raked in big bucks. Not that Chris really cared all that much about that part of his world. He was just there because . . . well, he wasn’t really sure why anymore. Even the rush of seeing the occasional gruesomeness had started to get old. The job was interesting and all, but it wasn’t like he wanted to do it forever.
His band was finally playing again – they were even set to play a gig at some guy’s pool party on Saturday night. Of course, they’d only practiced once in the past month and would probably sound like shit, but at least it was something.
As Chris neared the intersection, he waved to a cop he knew and the guy gestured for him to park. Before stepping out of the ambulance he put on his gloves and flattened his mustache in the rearview mirror.
The dark uniforms the cops wore didn’t look much different from Chris’s own.
It made him feel like part of the action.
He felt himself sway slightly as he walked next to the smashed car.
A covered body had been laid out on the ground. Chris peeked under the blanket and saw that it was bagged.
Feeling disappointed there wasn’t much for him to do, he walked back to find his cop friend, who was directing a light flow of traffic. Most of the cars were now being diverted further down the road.
“Nothing alive?” Chris asked.
“Nah. There was the guy that hit him, but he seems fine. Fire guys checked him out already. Oh, and this.”
The cop walked to his car, opened the door, and pulled out a shoe box.
“The new Jordans?” Chris said. “You shouldn’t have!”
He took the box from his friend and gave it a quick shake. It was definitely not shoes.
“Woah, careful with that thing. Look inside. Hope you can find a home for it.”
“What the . . . oh, hell no!” Chris said as he removed the box’s cover. “Uh-uh. No way am I taking this thing.”
The small cat inside looked calm as she stared up at him. She mewed a single sound.
“Oh, come on, Chris. I’ve seen your place. You could use a little life in that cave.”
Chris was about to object again. But he had actually always kind of wanted a cat.
He once dated a girl that had one. Chris had gotten along with it well. They weren’t like dogs – always up in your business. They kind of kept to themselves. He didn’t like the fact you had to clean up their shit, but he figured maybe he could get the kid from down the hall to do it for him for $10 a week or something.
“Ah, alright. I’ll take the little monster.” He put the lid back on the box and tucked it under his arm. “What else is new? I got some of that crazy speed again. You want some?”
“I can tell. You look gacked, bro. I’m cool on that shit. The last ones you gave me made me want to pull out my eyeballs to see how they worked. Oh fuck, here comes my boss. I’ve got to look like I’m working.”
The cop made his arm movements look more dramatic, despite the fact only a single car was going by.
“Alright man,” Chris said. “Oh, and hey, you should go check out my band tomorrow night. I’ll text you the address.”
“Can’t, bro. Double shifts for the holiday weekend. Next time though.”
Chris turned around and walked back to the ambulance. He left the lid on the box and tossed it onto the seat next to him. As soon as he did the cat began to whine. It immediately stopped when he removed the top.
It sat still, looking ahead.
“OK, partner, where to next?”
A Setting Sun
Friday night chow. Always the same: meatloaf, peas, mashed potatoes, and abnormally red cherry pie.
Rick had been in the Santa Clara County jail since November. He got picked up a couple days before Thanksgiving for possession of a controlled substance. He was carrying a concealed weapon too. Both were a violation of his parole, so it was an automatic year already.
With the new charges, Rick was still looking at 18 months more.
Usually a prisoner with that kind of sentence gets sent to San Quentin, or the Men’s Colony down near San Luis Obispo. But since California currently had twice as many people locked up as it had space in its prisons, a lot of the non-violent guys – men like Rick – serve their time in county jail.
Two years total.
He was still kicking himself for getting picked up.
It had been a gorgeous California morning. Rick had woken up to the silhouette of his wife Lisa glowing in front of their big bedroom window.
The morning sun sparkled off her light brown curls.
She turned toward him and held her naked breasts in her hands. She smiled at him playfully and then crawled under the sheets and on top of him.
After they’d finished, Rick got up and went to the bathroom. He stared into the mirror and examined his stubble-covered face. It looked healthier than it had in years.
That day Rick had been two weeks from celebrating six months of sobriety – the longest stretch he’d put together in his adult life. And in that time, everything had changed. The hair on his head had started to grow back. His skin had cleared up. His teeth were finally white again, or close to it. The one in the back that had been rotten for two years was gone and didn’t bother him at all anymore.
It felt amazing not to fear the pain of every bite.
There was life in his eyes and in his heart. He wasn’t all bells and whistles happiness all the time, but he certainly had regained the desire to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
He was eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast when Lisa came in and, without even sitting down, shouted, “I’M PREGNANT!!”
She stood with her arms spread out and a big uneasy grin on her face.
Rick spit a mouthful of Cheerios back into his bowl.
“That fast?” he asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Nope, from a couple weeks ago, I think.”
She was still waiting for some kind of reaction.
Finally, Rick looked up and offered a half-hearted smile.
The truth was, he hadn’t known what to feel. On one hand, he loved Lisa – there was no questioning that – and, at 29, it wasn’t like he was getting any younger. But he also felt like he could barely take care of himself, much less some helpless creature. Shit, only a year earlier it was a miracle when he made it into a shower more than once a week.
On top of all that, he felt like their marriage was still barely getting going again.
Right before he got sober, Rick had managed to get his hands on enough pills to keep himself loaded for almost three months straight, despite the fact he had planned to sell it.
Things got crazy quick. People started coming over at all hours of the night and would sometimes stay for days at a time.
It had been too much for Lisa. She left to stay at a friend’s. It’s not that she didn’t like to party. Far from it. But she had an off switch Rick didn’t possess. He was all or nothing. A one or a ten. He’d never been good at in between.
Of course, the fantasy eventually turned into a total nightmare. Rick had done so much of his own stash that he was $8,000 in the hole.
There were phone calls that Rick didn’t answer. Then there was a visit.
Rick had pleaded his case poorly to the guy – an old friend actually – but ended up getting beat up pretty bad. Stitches and some cracked ribs. If he hadn’t known the guy for so long, it probably would have been worse.
The experience had turned him around though. He checked into an outpatient rehab place and started going to recovery meetings. It certainly wasn’t the first attempt he’d ever made to get clean, but for some reason this time was different.
He had actually been really excited about being sober.
Lisa was skeptical at first. And he didn’t blame her. But eventually she was able to see for herself the slow awakening Rick was experiencing.
He got a job doing construction and was making pretty good money as a union sheet metal worker. He was only an apprentice, but at $20 an hour he was still making more money than he had doing anything else in his life. Much more.
Rick was able to pay the rent and buy groceries for the entire month, and still had plenty left over to take Lisa out to dinner every Friday night. He told her to keep the money from her bartending job for whatever she wanted.
She had pulled his weight for a long time, and he was going to take care of her now.
The prospect made Rick feel so good he had even gone out and bought a diamond ring for her. Nothing crazy, but it wasn’t small either. One evening shortly thereafter, on the beach in Santa Cruz, Rick bent down on a knee and, in front of a beautiful sunset, he had asked her to marry him.
She was a bit shocked at first, but said yes all the same. They got married a month later in Reno, just the two of them and a minister dressed like Dean Martin.
And now, she was standing there in their apartment kitchen telling him she was pregnant.
“But aren’t you on the pill?” he said, trying to sound as loving as possible.
“Well, I guess it didn’t work!”
“Oh, fuck,” was all he could come up with.
She wasn’t happy. She stormed off into the bedroom and got ready for work.
There was no kiss goodbye before she left.
Rick needed to clear his head and decided to call in sick. He would take a drive to Santa Cruz and walk on the beach. The sound of the waves crashing and the feeling of sand between his toes always made him feel better.
Unfortunately, he never made it.
In the garage, there was an old metal cabinet where they kept the sunscreen and other beach stuff. Several months earlier, in some stupor that had long escaped his memory, Rick had also stashed something else there. Not in a bright orange prescription bottle. No, that would have been too obvious.
It was in the kind of small tin that holds about a dozen mints.
As he’d gathered what he needed for Santa Cruz, Rick’s eyes happened to cross over the container. For a moment, the memories of putting it there were crystal clear. As were its contents.
Four Vicodin and Two Oxys.
Rick tried to pull his eyes away. He glanced at the floor and then back again at the tin. Inside, his mind was a whirlwind of pain and frustration, swirled together with self-loathing, self-pity, self-entitlement, and, most of all, fear.
He needed to unwind his mind. That was the rationalization. He only had these six pills, anyways. In his heaviest days, that was hardly even enough to get him out of bed.
As soon as the two Oxys were in his mouth and swallowed, the feeling of regret began to weigh him down. For a moment he had considered sticking his finger down his throat.
There were still a few minutes before the pills would begin to dissolve.
But he didn’t. He just stood in the dark garage for several minutes and cried.
Then he ate the rest of the pills.
Two weeks later, after passing out in his parked car, Rick had been rolled on by two patrol cars. When they searched him they found 87 Oxys and about 50 Percocet. They had busted him for parole, but eventually added on a sales charge. It was a weak one, and the judge knew it. But that didn’t stop him from giving Rick two years minimum in county.
And that’s where Rick sat now. That’s where he had been for Thanksgiving and for Christmas.
Lisa had only come to see him twice in five months. She said it was just too hard for her. She told him that she couldn’t stand seeing such a good-hearted man so defeated looking in his orange jail uniform. It broke her heart too badly, she said.
She had sent a couple pictures, though, and Rick looked at them as he lay on the top bunk of his otherwise unoccupied cell. You weren’t allowed to hang anything on the wall, so Rick was shuffling through them.
He stopped on one taken of Lisa from the side. You could see the bump of her stomach in the tight blue tank top she was wearing. Rick thought her boobs looked a bit bigger too. Her face was anxious though, or maybe just sad.
The picture was a couple months old and Rick hadn’t gotten any new ones.
Hadn’t gotten anything.
That made him suddenly upset.
The least she could do is write to tell me how she’s doing, he thought. How the pregnancy is going. Anything to break up the monotony of this place.
Grumpy now, Rick decided to go out into the common area. He was in such a low-security section that each inmate had his own key for his cell, which they could use to come and go until lockdown at 10 PM. Most of the people hung out in one big room. There was a TV and a ping pong table on one side, and a bunch of small chrome tables where people played cards or chess or whatever.
When Rick walked in, it looked like about half the block’s population was there. 25 guys or so. The whites were sitting around laughing at some reality TV show and the Latinos were playing blackjack for cigarettes. A small group of black guys had out a couple of domino bags, but no one had started a game yet.
Without hesitation, Rick started toward the TV. Personally, he didn’t give a shit about anyone’s race, but he also had been around the block enough times to know that sometimes you don’t get to make the rules.
Actually, most of the guys in the low-security block were probably thinking the same thing. They didn’t want any trouble. They had fucked up and wanted to do their time and get out. Still, some things were just the way they were.
“What’s up, partner?” A big biker guy said to Rick as he approached. He had a black bandanna folded and wrapped around his forehead like a sweatband. The guy unnecessarily dusted off one of the bare metal chairs. “Have a seat. Have a seat.”
Rick did. They were in the back row. A couple of guys turned over their shoulders and put a hand in the air.
“Thanks, Sonny,” Rick said. “How’s the back?”
The biker’s worn face grimaced. “Not good, pal. Not good.” He winced even more to make his point. Then, with his head down, almost to no one at all, he said, “At least they give me the good stuff though.”
The old biker used one eye to catch Rick’s reaction.
Sonny leaned in close, but made it seem like it was just an effort to see the TV better.
“Got Oxy. Two dozen.”
Rick’s head felt like it had been whiplashed and his brain had slammed into the inside of his skull. He looked into Sonny’s eyes to see how serious he was. There was no doubt the guy was telling the truth, and probably had a lot more than he was saying too.
“How much you want for six?” Rick whispered behind his hands.
Sonny looked up and examined the younger man. He held his eyes on him for a long time and then smiled.
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” Sonny said, louder than before. He sat back in his chair. “I’ll return that book to you before bedtime. Too many big words for me anyways.”
An hour later, about 15 minutes before lights out, Sonny walked down the hall holding his back in one hand and a book in the other. He was whistling some nameless tune in between grimaces that looked more than a little forced.
The old biker stopped at Rick’s open cell.
“Here’s your book, kid. Thanks for letting me borrow it.”
Without stepping into the cell, Sonny tossed the book up to Rick, who was sitting on the top bunk. Rick looked down at the book and saw it was Moby Dick. He laughed trying to picture a grizzled old biker – who could probably barely spell his own name – trying to read such a dense book. He opened the cover and saw there were about six pills worth of white powder, as well as four other pills. Rick recognized them right away as being Xanax.
Sonny finally stepped one foot into the cell and put his hand on the bunk’s metal rail.
“Left you a couple extra treats in there too.”
Rick knew this stuff wasn’t cheap, and he didn’t have much of anything to offer up for it. The few dollars he’d earned washing dishes had gone mostly to cigarettes and stamps.
Sonny seemed to sense Rick’s apprehension and offered a big smile.
“Don’t worry about this stuff, kid. It’s a gift. And an offering so that you know crystal clear who cares about you around this place, OK?”
“Yah, cool man,” Rick said, now wanting to get rid of the guy. He had no interest in any of that bullshit. Right now, all he wanted to do was put his head down and have some peace and quiet.
“Thanks, a lot,” Rick added, offering his own politician smile.
Sonny looked at him for a moment with questioning eyes. And then smiled again.
The old biker walked off, whistling his made up tune.
Rick was already under the covers when he heard the electrical breaker switch. Off went all but the emergency lights.
He stared at the ceiling.
On top of the covers sat the hollowed out copy of Moby Dick. Inside its pages was salvation. A much needed getaway from the hollow loneliness of a jail cell. The chance to forget it all and go somewhere else for a little while.
He picked up the book and put it on top of his chest. With his head propped up, Rick opened the cover and saw the baggy with the powdered Oxy, along with the four Xanax, which were loose in a cellophane cigarette wrapper that had been sealed on one side using a lighter.
Rick ripped open the bag carefully with his teeth and dumped out two of the pills into his hand.
He hesitated for a moment. An image of his pregnant wife popped into his head. He thought about how disappointed she would be in him, knowing he was about to, once again, break almost six months of sobriety.
It’s not the length of the sobriety that matters, Rick thought. It’s that I don’t go on any binges. No runs. This isn’t about getting off the wagon. It’s about survival. If I don’t do something to let my mind escape, I’m going to go fucking crazy.
He popped the two blue pills into his mouth. He washed them down with water from a metal bottle he kept under his pillow.
Well, here we go . . .
An hour later Rick was grinning and feeling great. So good that he took the other two Xanax, thinking they were the small dose kind. But those are actually white. These were blue. The biggest dose there is.
After two, it can be hard to tell.
Rick woke up around 2 AM from a dream that he could barely remember.
He felt afraid and his mind was out of control.
The dream – it had been a nightmare – seemed to taunt him from some dark shadow of his mind. He had been scuba diving underwater, in the ocean, and had wanted to explore an underwater cave.
It was dark, but he had a bright headlamp on.
There was no one else around.
The cave had gotten narrow and Rick had to wiggle his way through an opening. But he became stuck. The cave held him like a sea anemone grabs a hermit crab.
Had he ever actually been scuba diving? He couldn’t remember.
He didn’t want to go back to sleep.
He felt around in the dark for the copy of Moby Dick and, when he found it, pulled out the Oxy powder. He turned over onto his stomach and dumped all of it onto the cover of the book.
A little bit spilled on the bed.
His vision was blurry.
The ID he had to wear at all times was hanging on a lanyard over the bed post. He grabbed it and pulled out the plastic card. The powder was already well chopped, so all he really needed to do was separate out some lines.
Since he didn’t want to make too much noise, he figured probably the best thing to do was just make the lines really big.
So Rick separated out three fat rows of powder. He figured two pills a line would be ok to do. After all, he’d done 15 pills in a day one time.
Using the tube of a pen, Rick snorted one of the thick lines and coughed as the powder swept through his sinus cavity.
The chemical taste dripped into the back of his throat and brought back a million moments of bliss. The world went blank, but Rick couldn’t tell for how long. Everything in his head was a soupy mess.
He pulled his head back and saw the lines. Two of them.
He did both.
A tear formed in the corner of his eye as he struggled to roll onto his back.
His eyes felt tied open, but all he wanted to do was sleep.
His breathing felt weird.
He knew he had taken too much.
“Please . . . I need to live,” he said out loud, in a whisper.
Time for Work
Her pager buzzed.
It had gone off three times in the past ten minutes.
Megan reached toward the nightstand. Her hand plunged straight into an empty wine glass, sending it tumbling into an empty bottle.
It sounded like the glass had cracked, but she hardly reacted.
Instead, she groaned.
Licking her lips in the dark, she could taste the sourness of fermented grapes. The filmy coating seemed hardened on like dried wax. She used her teeth to scrape some of it off.
The last thing Megan remembered was cooking a frozen pizza at 3 AM after coming home from the bar. Her and her roommate, Sarah, had stayed until last call, even though Megan had been adamant that she was only going out for one drink.
When they walked into the Blue Tiger Lounge, however, one glass of wine had turned into cocktails, which had turned into shots, which had turned into lines of coke in the bathroom.
After that, things were a bit fuzzy.
She remembered the pizza and opening some merlot, but little else.
The pager buzzed again.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she said, reaching again for the light.
When she finally found the round knob of the lamp and managed to twist it, a horrible flood of bright yellow horror filled her vision. She immediately pulled her extra pillow over her head and groaned again.
She didn’t feel hung over at all though. In fact, she still felt pretty good.
Just tired. So, so tired.
Picking up the pager she saw there were six messages. All from the same number. Really the only number that ever paged her.
Megan was on call. She was always on call. At least it felt that way. And now she had to get up, get dressed, get in the van, and go pick up a body.
She took a whiff of her own armpits.
I probably should take a shower, she thought.
There was no way it was going to happen though. For one, she didn’t have time. Six pages in a row meant she was already late to wherever it was her boss wanted her to go. Instead of a shower, she put on extra deodorant and six squirts of her Victoria’s Secret vanilla scented body spray.
She headed out the door. The night was still cool.
It would still be a couple of hours until the sun came up, but Megan could sense that the morning had begun to stir. There seemed to be a kind of electricity in the background at that hour, like an old TV warming up before the picture flickered on.
In the van she lit a cigarette. She wasn’t supposed to smoke in it but did anyway. Her boss, Tom, was a heavy chain smoker and didn’t really care.
“I just don’t want any families complaining that their dead relative smells like an ashtray,” he told her once.
She really wanted a drink.
As the engine idled, she took out her cell phone and dialed the office.
He boss answered after half a ring.
“Where the hell are you, Megan?”
“Good morning to you too, asshole. Just tell me where I’m going, Tom. It’s too early for your bullshit.”
There was a brief pause on the other end of the phone, and the sound of a plastic lighter being flicked on.
“Yah, well I’ve got an interesting one for you,” he said finally, holding in his breath and then exhaling. “Some guy bit it at the county jailhouse. They said he’s all puffed up and foamy. Probably an OD. Anyway, they want his ass out of there A-S-A-P, preferably, I assume, before the Mercury News gets a hold of the story. So get your ass over there. They are one of our most important clients.”
Without even a goodbye, Tom hung up the phone.
The moment she put the van in drive and looked at the road, her head started to swirl. That meant it would start throbbing soon. Before she let the car move forward, she dug around the glove box, which was tightly stuffed with all kinds of old papers and pens and random crap.
With her foot on the brake and one hand holding a halfway smoked cigarette and the wheel, Megan twisted her thick body so she could search the pouch behind the passenger seat.
At first she thought that was a waste too, finding only a collection of empty gum wrappers.
Then she felt the sharp edge of a single-dose packet of ibuprofen. As she pulled it out, the ring on her thumb clanked against what felt and sounded like glass.
No way. It can’t be.
Along with the painkiller, she pulled from the pocket an unopen pint bottle of vodka.
Without hesitation, she cracked it open and took a large swish into her mouth. The liquid made her cheeks tingle a bit and felt pleasantly warm on her tongue. She swallowed and quickly rolled down the window when it seemed like the liquid might not stay in her stomach.
To celebrate her success, she took another big pull. This one went down a lot smoother than the first. The warmth pulsed in waves through her stomach, shoulders, and arms.
She lit another cigarette and slipped two pieces of wintergreen gum from a dented package in the center console and into her mouth.
There, That’s better. Now we can go to work.
With eyes slightly squinted and a grin on her face, Megan finally let her foot off the brake, allowing the van to begin a slow roll away from the curb. Her body suddenly felt too hot. She stuck her face near the window. The cool wind felt like jumping in a swimming pool on a hot day.
She felt foggy as she weaved through the apartment and through the back streets toward the main jail. The parked cars seemed close. For a moment, too close, as if the street was closing in so tight the van would be unable to fit through.
I need coffee.
Tom would be pissed at her if she stopped, but it wasn’t really a choice. Between the vodka and her lack of sleep, she was seeing little yellow outlines around everything. She’d been to the main jail enough times to know that no one would as much as give her a second look, but she also knew that the bright lights they had in there were liable to make her pass out if she didn’t get something to steady her brain.
There was a 7-11 about a block away. The young guy who worked graveyard made pretty decent coffee too. And he was hot.
She would be in and out in five minutes.
Megan narrowly avoided running the van into the only other car in the parking lot, something she instantly pictured having to explain to the guy inside.
“Oh yah,” she would say. “Uh, you know how your car is the only one in the parking lot and there is plenty of space to get around it? Well, uh, yah. I kind of just trashed your trunk and rear bumper. Uh, sorry about that. You want a blow job or something to make up for it? I’m totally broke.”
Megan laughed and popped her gum as she climbed out of the van and walked across the dirty parking lot. There were pieces of trash everywhere – mostly empty cardboard beer cases and broken bottles. She thought there also seemed to be quite a few empty bags of Hot Cheetos.
Actually that sounds kind of good right now.
She walked into the store and was disappointed to see the college guy wasn’t there. Instead, a dark skinned man in a turban was loading hot dogs into a display case that doubled as a cooker.
He looked up when the doorbell dinged. Megan thought he seemed almost scared.
“Hello,” she said, heading straight for the coffee. “Got anything fresh brewed?”
When he didn’t respond, she looked at him over her shoulder. He smiled blankly.
“Anything fresh?” she asked again, pointing to her wrist and a watch she didn’t have.
He responded only with the same smile.
“Ok, thanks,” Megan said to herself as she slid a paper cup from its stack and poured from the coffee pot that was the fullest, hoping as she did that it wasn’t going to taste like battery acid. Just in case, she left room for her usual six vanilla creamers.
When the guy pointed to the register screen to tell her how much the coffee cost, she slid her debit card and hoped it would go through.
Dear God, I hope I didn’t spend it all last night. Please tell me that tech-entrepreneur douche bag paid for my drinks.
ACCEPTED appeared on the screen.
“Thanks pal,” she said to smiling man.
Her phone rang in her pocket as she was getting back in the car.
Tom again. Who else would it be at 4 in the morning?
“What?” she asked.
“Did you get the body yet?”
“I’m like two minutes away. If you weren’t bugging me, I would be there already.”
He hung up.
“Jeeze . . .” she said out loud to her phone.
She had a great buzz going from the vodka, and the coffee made her feel halfway normal again. It was a good balance and she felt ready to take on the world. Setting her cup in the center console and lighting another cigarette.
As she pulled out of the parking lot she completely missed a stop sign and almost ran right into a homeless guy who was stumbling across the street.
At the jail she almost drove in through the exit.
If they marked the stupid signs better . . .
Luckily, no one had been coming out. In fact, it was pretty quiet all around. One cop was parked with his lights on outside the front entrance, talking on the phone.
She drove past him and around to a back entrance near the medical building.
“Hey Jack,” she said to the guard as she walked in. “Heard you have a pickup for me.”
“Yah, kid OD’d I guess,” he answered without any emotion. Then he stared right at her with an intense, lustful stare. “How are you?”
Megan thought he looked great in his brown guard’s uniform. It made her feel even warmer inside than she already did. He was older than her. And tall. He was a little big, but so was she. Their bodies would be a perfect fit.
“Oh great,” she said. “Tired as hell, but great. I love getting up at the butt crack of dawn to come see you.”
“Yah? You want to see more?”
It was the worst pick up line ever. But suddenly she didn’t care. The attention made her feel good. Human, even. If only for a second.
Waiting for the Day
Bill jumped out of the way as the van went right through the stop sign.
The world was a blur.
Actually, the outline of the van under the dull yellow lights was clear. Clearer than he liked it at least. Bill had been up since two and had already downed the last half of his bottle of Old Crow. He was starting to shake a little and the car speeding by only made his nerves worse.
His hands tingled all the way to the finger tips. His knees felt like they were going to give out. He forgot to breathe. His body gasped as he managed to finally step onto the curb. There he rested, steadying himself against the stop sign.
It had been something like 10 years on the street. Since he was 50. Although, that age seemed unreal. It felt like he was much older. He was sure the end had to come soon. He never thought it would last this long.
Maybe today is the last day he thought, continuing his way down the sidewalk. For a moment, the jagged cracks in the concrete made him feel like he was going to fall. Then he didn’t.
Around the corner was the creek.
He arrived at a familiar opening in the trees and slid down the ivy.
It always felt better to be off the road.
The water in the Guadalupe Creek barely trickled.
With a couple small splashes through the toe-deep water, he made his way across. He breathed hard as he pulled his way up the other side. Nothing could describe how much he wanted to lay down. To sleep. The only thing he wanted more was to get rid of the hot tingle in his back and neck and shoulders and arms.
The sensation went as deep as what some people called a soul.
In ten years he had managed to be off the sauce for only five days, and that was only because he had to go to the hospital when some guy sliced up his left side for an almost empty package of Drum and a half bottle of Crow.
Bill hated how slow the world moved.
There was hardly a difference anymore between day and night.
Awake and asleep were almost the same.
Crawling underneath a partially rolled-back portion of metal fence, he pulled himself through on his back. Blood rushed to his head, making him feel hot and lightheaded. He stopped there, lying on his back. He looked up and saw the moon.
The big glowing white sphere and its grey little shapes were no more than blurs in eyes that had been without glasses for years.
Still, it reminded him of a time when he was in school. Probably around fourth or fifth grade. The entire class of whatever grade it was went to a kind of space camp down in the mountains near L.A. He couldn’t recall much of anything, except looking through a pair of binoculars and seeing the details of the moon’s surface – its mountains and crevasses and peaks and valleys. As a kid, the sight had made him feel simultaneously large and small. He had felt a part of something – an immense universe. And, at the same time, he had been dwarfed and intimidated by the immensity of it all.
A tear formed in his eye, as it often did when he thought about the past. Although, he didn’t ever cry anymore. Not really. His body didn’t seem to have it in him. Instead, the tears just formed in the corner of his eye and drained down the side of his cheek, like a hose that’s been turned off. Usually only a few. Sometimes more, if he thought about Mary, or the Marines. When he thought about those things his face would almost start to curl as if he were going to ball the same way he did when she’d finally kicked him out for good.
Ten long, agonizing, miserable, never-seeming-to-end years.
He must have fallen asleep for a little while, because the next thing he realized the moon was gone from the small slit of an opening through the trees. It also looked like maybe morning would be around in the next hour or so.
It came out of nowhere sometimes, and he hated that.
He hated the sun even more than he hated the night.
The people who were around at night tended to ignore you rather than wish you dead.
He thought about closing his eyes again. But as soon as the thought entered his mind, the tingle was back. His closest friend and worst enemy. It was the only thing that drove him anymore. If it hadn’t been for the tingle, he would have thrown himself in front of a bus years ago. But the internal fire that consumed him wouldn’t allow for such an easy exit. It would be lost without him, and he without it.
The tingle was the reason the universe was created.
The only reason that mattered.
After he was already down the block, he thought to feel in his pocket to make sure his bulge of coins hadn’t fallen out.
See, you can’t even remember to keep track of your money, he thought.
He used to speak out loud, but now that felt like too much effort. Besides, he’d come to hate the sound of his own voice.
No wonder everyone thinks you’re a FREAK.
Luckily the pocket with the coins had a zipper and no holes. Everything seemed to be there. He looked up at the sky and knew it wasn’t six yet.
Will be soon though.
He took a seat on the bench across the street from Town Liquors. It was the only business on a block that was otherwise made up of houses.
Hopefully it’s not Sunday. God damn it, please don’t let it be Sunday. If it is, I’m going to have to walk down to the other place, even though the guy who runs it treats me like shit. At least he has the common decency to open at six every day of the week.
Soon enough, however, he saw the owner of the liquor store’s familiar teal Jeep pull up to the curb. Out stepped the familiar man with his familiar brown face. His familiar turban. His familiar long beard.
It would be another fifteen minutes until the store actually opened. And soon after that Bill would be back in the quiet and solitude of the creek.
Just having a goal – fifteen minutes – relieved some of the pressure of not having a drink. He even relaxed a little, putting his arms on the bench and leaning his head back.
Maybe today will be a good day. Maybe.
There was the moon again. Lower than it had been, and now losing its glow of importance as the morning came on.
Shortly after space camp had been when Bill had first used substances to change the way he felt. It was just a cigarette in his friend Keith’s backyard, but Bill had loved it. He didn’t smoke again for a couple of years, but it had always been in the back of his mind. And it was like that with everything else too. Alcohol, pot, crack, crank, a little heroin from time to time – something he first tried in a Saigon whore house.
Now it was just booze. Everything else was too expensive. Besides, why would you waste your money on anything else when you could get the whole thing for cheap on just about any corner in America?
With the coins he had scrounged the night before, he could get a decent sized bottle of Crow, and either a beer or something to eat. Right now he felt like it was going to be the beer, but the bottle of Crow would last him the rest of the day, if he sipped it. And with the pain he’d been feeling in his gut, he felt like maybe he should get a can of sausages or some Fritos. Either one would only cost him a buck.
But a buck was a whole tallboy of Steel Reserve.
Bill could already taste the metallic tinge of the malt liquor bubbles tickling his throat.
He watched the lights inside the store flash on.
One by one, the neon signs in the windows flickered and came to life.
Just not the one Bill was waiting for. The curly outline of the letters spelling “OPEN” appeared dead as a desert. He thought about looking through the glass door to see if maybe the sign was broken, but the owner had yelled at him one time for doing it. He was a nice guy though, the owner. A real nice guy. Sometimes he was there from 6 AM until the place closed. He would order food at night and would sometimes give some to Bill if he came in. He was a nice guy.
Bill heard the sound of a car from his left. He didn’t want to move his eyes from the open sign. He remembered being a kid and trying to will things to happen with his mind. He used to always try and turn on the light switch in the room he shared with his little brother. The two hadn’t seen each other in years. Not since the younger man had went to prison for killing some guy who set him up on a drug deal.
Bill’s entire body suddenly shivered as he saw the black hood of a police cruiser.
He didn’t need to take his eyes off the sign to know the cop inside was staring at him. Bill had been shooed along, poked, prodded, and tied up so many times by cops, he knew not to make eye contact.
The second you acknowledge them they seem to feel like they have to do something.
One thing Bill was good at was turning invisible.
Just like he had done all those years back with the light switch, he imagined in his mind the world itself changing around him. He pictured himself in a dark cave. No light at all. His face completely covered in shadow.
The car whirred and sped off down the street. As the engine’s echo began to die, Bill finally looked.
All he saw were two lines of cold automobiles in front of cold houses.
He remembered the store and turned back to see the red OPEN sign glowing like a great beacon from heaven.
If Bill were still capable of smiling he would have.
He touched his lips and remembered.
His face remained stoic.
As he stood, his head whirled in a soup of stars and colors and dizziness. His neck bulged with pressure. He needed to cough but couldn’t. He was falling backwards.
His eyes opened and he was face first on the bench. He could see only dark, blurred shapes. The whole world then cracked and became blood red. There was some kind of pop inside his head, which he felt more than heard: an intense, vibrating ping like a guitar string breaking – he had played so many years ago.
He got the feeling this all should hurt, but it didn’t. It felt strangely good.
Maybe this was it, finally.
But his hopes were, once again, raised and shattered.
The end did not come.
Like the old TV he had as a kid, the picture suddenly zapped back into focus.
The dark greys of early morning returned. His face throbbed where it had slammed into the bench. So did the back of his head. And his shoulder. He must have hit that too.
Pushing himself upright with one hand, he felt his face with the other.
Blood. On his cheek and across his forehead.
Blood didn’t matter. It hadn’t for a long time.
As the sun peeked over the top of the liquor store, Bill walked inside to fulfill his only purpose in the world.
About the Author
Jake D. Parent is a writer and social justice advocate with nine years of sobriety from alcohol. He is the author of , a novel about a young man growing up in poverty and dealing with addiction. He also writes poetry on a wide variety of subjects at . He has used storytelling as a tool for advocacy on several humanitarian projects, most notably his work founding an orphanage and school in Kabul, Afghanistan with Omeid International. He grew up in San Jose, CA but now lives in the Washington, DC area.
The Sober Señorita
I was born in Plantation, Florida and lived there until I was about four years old.
In 1989, my family made a move to New Jersey after my dad got a promotion. There, at the young age of six years old, I learned by watching him that alcoholism ran in my family. This was my first encounter with a disease that I now know intimately. I didn’t actually understand it when I was a child, of course. But as time went on, I would get to know alcoholic behavior well.
Before second grade we moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, where we settled in a suburb called Royersford. My feeling of being different began early. I remember always wanting to fit in with the popular girls at school. I did whatever I could to get noticed by them. I wore what I thought they wanted me to wear. I did what I thought they wanted me to do.
These feelings continued in high school. I begged my sister to let me hang out with her and her friends. I couldn’t wait to party and start drinking. I felt like it would be the key to attaining the attention and popularity I so dearly wanted.
The first few times I drank were pretty uneventful, but I remember I felt pretty, cool, and comfortable, like I was finally fitting in.
When I was 16, I went to a homecoming event with my boyfriend at the time. We partied at his house afterward. I had three Mike’s Hard Lemonades and ended up puking.
Little did I know, this would become a normal part of my drinking habit as the years went by.
It’s almost funny to remember, but I used to be against drugs, always giving my boyfriend shit about smoking weed. Sometime shortly after we broke up, however, I tried it for myself and became obsessed. Between booze and pot, I felt like I had finally found what I was looking for.
During high school I would drink and smoke when I could, but I continued to get good grades and excel at sports.
Still, all the while I felt something empty inside me.
On My Own
I couldn’t wait to go to college.
I went to Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where my binge drinking really took off. Living alone without parental supervision was what I had been waiting for, and I took advantage of it.
When I went out I would drink as much as I could. Blacking out became my new normal.
I finally became “popular,” just as I had always wanted. People knew me as the party girl – the one who was always having fun and had friends in every circle. On campus people always came up to me like we were best friends. Often I had no idea who they were.
I chose my house during my junior and senior years in the party section of off-campus housing, where I hosted some of the biggest ragers around.
I planned everything around my drinking.
One semester I chose all of my five classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, meaning I had the rest of the days off to drink and smoke.
Amazingly, I somehow managed to graduate with two degrees and play four years of NCAA Division II soccer.
Despite my success, college is also when I started having toxic romantic relationships with men. I chose the wrong guys. Or maybe they chose me. Either way, I was in an unhealthy relationship, on-and-off for many years, with my college sweetheart. It was a journey that included lots of yelling, emotional abuse, and borderline physical abuse.
These situations seemed to always occur when alcohol was involved.
I Didn’t Want the Party to End
After college, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. But I knew I wanted to get away from where I was.
After traveling to exotic locations on spring break in 2006 and 2007, I decided to apply for jobs with companies that put together such trips for college kids. I’d seen them in Acapulco and Panama City Beach. It looked like the best job ever.
I applied to as many as I could and was eventually hired.
They sent me to work in Cancun for the spring break season of 2008. I quickly felt right at home in the insane party scene. Work consisted of taking kids out, making sure their spring breaks ran smoothly, and, of course, drinking with them as much as I could.
The job also helped me discover other drugs like ecstasy and cocaine.
After a month and a half, spring break season ended and I headed home. I quickly began plotting my next move. I loved Cancun and how it took me away from everything.
I picked Ocean City, Maryland for my next escape and found roommates to live with for the summer of 2008. I found a job renting out umbrellas and chairs on the beach and thought I was living the dream. There was not one day between May and September of 2008 that I didn’t drink. My sporadic use of cocaine and ecstasy continued, too.
In short, I lived a life that faded in and out of blackouts. And I saw nothing wrong with it.
After the summer ended, I moved back home to Pennsylvania. I immediately knew I wanted to get away again. I wasn’t ready to settle down and had to get out of there. I couldn’t handle real life.
I decided to work in Cancun again for the 2009 spring break season. Unsurprisingly, the company I worked for the year before decided not to rehire me. Another company did, however, and I was on my way to even less work and more partying.
Living and working in Cancun during spring break of 2009 brought on continuous blackouts, dangerous behavior with men, shame, guilt, and regret, all of which worked to keep the cycle going.
I met many foreigners who lived and worked in Cancun. They convinced me it was the perfect place to live full-time. A fellow American girl and I planned on moving back to Cancun in the summer of 2009. We would share a place, work, and continue living the dream all year long.
In May, when I was home after spring break and getting ready to move back, swine flu took Mexico by storm. My girlfriend canceled our plans and I was left to my own devices. I surely wasn’t going to stop my party life because of some flu. So I packed my bags and moved to Mexico by myself.
I was greeted at the airport by a random guy who I’d met on spring break. He had an extra room and let me stay with him. The partying commenced and I made many friends along the way. It was easy to see that Cancun was a place where many expatriates escaped their lives, running away from crimes they had committed, or from other dark secrets. I fit right in.
After dating a steady boyfriend for about five months, I moved in with him when my roommate got arrested and put in a Mexican jail for a crime he committed in the U.S.
(Never a dull moment in Cancun.)
My desire to party continued, eventually becoming a source of tension between my boyfriend and me. He was always left cleaning up my messes, taking care of me when I was drunk, and telling me the stories of what I’d done the night before.
He once said to me, “Kel, if the things that happen to you when you’re drunk happened to me, I would never drink again.”
After having difficulties landing a decent-paying job in Mexico, I moved home in September of 2010 to work and save money. After attempting a long distance relationship, my boyfriend and I eventually broke up.
I wasn’t happy at home. I missed Cancun and being in a place where my partying could flourish, and where I didn’t have to worry about real life. My ex and I continued to talk, and in September of 2011 we decided to get back together.
Next thing I knew, I was on a plane moving back to Cancun.
The problems we had were still present, and so was my drinking. Our relationship only lasted three more months before I called it quits.
I moved out and had a fresh set of male admirers right away.
My Addiction Reached New, Terrifying Heights
I was living with a girlfriend, I was single, and I was going out as much as I could.
Spring break season finally arrived, like some kind of party oasis in a desert of reality. I found new friends who enjoyed drinking and doing drugs as much as I did. We went out every night, staying up until sunrise doing cocaine.
I started calling in sick for work (or just sleeping through it all together).
At the end of March 2012, I met my current boyfriend, Fernando. He was a DJ. I was the drunk girl at the club trying to go home with the DJ. He indulged in the party life, but never to my degree. We became friends right away.
Shortly after I met Fer, I ended up quitting my job. It was a relief I didn’t have to lie about why I was missing work anymore, or go in after being up all night.
I ended up getting a new job writing medical news articles.
Little did I know it would spark my passion for writing!
Fernando and I started hanging out a lot. Our relationship was tumultuous at the beginning. My top priority was drinking and doing drugs, not falling in love. As with most of my past relationships, I tried my best to push Fernando away. I sabotaged a budding romance in hopes that he would just leave me alone with my booze and my drugs.
I couldn’t understand why he was even interested in me.
Why would a nice guy want to date me?
I Felt Like I Was Unworthy of Love
As our relationship progressed over the summer of 2012, we broke up and got back together several times.
We fought. We yelled. It wasn’t healthy.
Then I started to realize I really cared about this man. I tried changing my ways. At least a little. I stopped using cocaine, although I kept drinking. But even that I tried to limit to the weekend.
Things were looking up.
Every time I tried to regulate my drinking, however, it would eventually get out of control again. As soon as I went a few weeks without blacking out, I would somehow convinced myself I had the drinking thing under control.
Fer had taken over the job of being my caretaker when I was drunk – a role he didn’t like.
I took him home to Pennsylvania for Christmas in 2012. We traveled to see my family in Vermont. We went out to a bar with my cousins one night and drank a ton. Everyone was fine, except for me. The next day I had a horrible hangover. We went around town to do touristy things with my parents. I had to stop several times throughout the day and throw up. I couldn’t enjoy my trip. Not even simple things like a tour around Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. All because I had made myself sick.
Drinking had truly lost its fun.
Fer and I returned to Cancun and our lives became a bit more normal. We worked. We didn’t go out all the time. And we didn’t argue as much. When we did fight, it was almost always because I had fallen back in my old patterns of behavior.
We didn’t go out much during Cancun’s spring break of 2013, a huge change for me. Once again, I thought I had finally made it through the storm and could control my drinking.
May 2013 brought a bachelorette party with my best friends from high school, one of whom was getting married in June. We planned a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The trip came as a surprise to Fer and he was not happy. He didn’t want me to go because he knew how I was. He was literally worried for my life – concerned that I would drink myself into oblivion, blackout, and be taken advantage of, or worse. I convinced myself he was being controlling. He wasn’t going to tell me what I could and couldn’t do. I could keep myself under control.
I promised him I would.
Two weeks before the trip, Fer and I went out with another couple. It was supposed to be a low-key night out at a lounge in downtown Cancun. I remember only briefly what happened before going into a full on blackout. Fer and my friends told me the next day that I ended up puking in the middle of the bar. I had to be carried out and taken home. I had done exactly what I promised Fer I wasn’t capable of doing anymore.
This made him even more apprehensive about my upcoming trip. I told him there was no way I could cancel. I even toyed around the idea of not drinking on the trip, but I came up with a stupid excuse: I wouldn’t want my friends to think I was pregnant.
(No, I’m not making that up.)
Little did I know, this trip would be the turning point of my drinking career.
I went to Punta Cana with controlled drinking on the brain. It lasted a day. Then all those promises I made – to Fer and to myself – went right out the window.
We stayed at an all-inclusive (booze too) resort. Day drinking had me blacked out before 5 PM on the second day there. I barely remember getting ready for dinner. My friends explained to me they had to take me back to the room, where I ended up puking all over the bathroom. I didn’t contact Fer at all that day to let him know I was alive and not drunk.
He was furious. He already knew. He knew I’d blacked out and didn’t keep my promise. He knew I didn’t have control. I knew too. I was a mess. I felt like complete shit. Once again I had failed at the games I played with myself. Once again, I let down someone I cared about.
What did I do?
I drank more to get rid of the guilt and shame – the same cycle I had been in for the previous nine years of my life. I attempted to enjoy the rest of the trip, even though inside I felt like my life was worthless.
Sitting in the Punta Cana airport on my way back to Cancun, I felt defeated. I didn’t know what I was doing with myself. I felt disgusting, horrible, guilty, and full of shame and regret.
How could I have let myself get this bad? How could I hurt myself and the people I loved?
This wasn’t normal.
I couldn’t take feeling like that anymore. I was at my bottom. Holding back my tears in the airport, I made a pact with myself and the universe: no more drinking. I had tried every other method in the book except that one. I didn’t know how long I could make it, or even if I could, but I knew I had to try.
May 7, 2013
My sobriety date.
I returned to Cancun and Fer had moved his belongings out of our apartment. I was devastated. I begged for his forgiveness. I told him I decided to stop drinking, promising that this time would be different.
I don’t blame him for not believing me at first.
Thankfully, after about five days, he made the decision to give me another chance and brought his stuff back to our apartment.
My first few weeks of sobriety were tough. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a mess. My body was bloated. I was tired, emotionally drained, and sifting through a whirlwind of feelings that included guilt, shame, regret, and the overwhelming feeling of being lost.
Somehow along the way, as I was celebrating each day like it was the party of the century, my life had gotten away from me.
My brain was flooded with questions.
Who am I? Where am I going? What am I doing? Is my life worth it? Am I worth it?
I still didn’t know what was wrong with me at this point. I still felt like a horrible person with a problem that couldn’t be fixed. I started searching online for more information about being sober, living life without alcohol, and alcoholism. I was still too scared to attend 12 step meetings, although I knew about them. I ended up finding websites and blogs that helped me understand what I was experiencing. I read a lot of books and articles. The information began to make me feel better about my situation. Above all else, I learned I was a person whose body was not meant to ingest alcohol.
I had a disease.
In January of 2014, after being sober for eight months, I started my blog. My sister helped me think of a name that incorporated my new sober life and my love for all things Mexico: The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. It was perfect. I started writing about my life, soon discovering that it was therapeutic.
The first few months my posts were just about living in Cancun and places I traveled to around the area. I continued to stay sober and when my one year mark came up, I knew I wanted to write about everything I had learned in the previous year.
On May 7, 2014, my blog post was sent out into the world. By the next day it was viral. The Huffington Post emailed me and asked if they could publish it. I was completely shocked. I appeared on HuffPost Live, and several other websites and news outlets contacted me asking if they could republish it as well. The piece summed up how much better my life had gotten since I finally decided to put down the bottle. I described that feeling of hopelessness, the cycle of shame and self-hate that went on inside me before I quit drinking, and the uncertainty I felt when I stopped. I talked about dealing with my emotions without the crutch of alcohol and drugs, establishing self-confidence, contributing to a happy and healthy romantic relationship, and realizing how alcohol was involved in nearly every single toxic relationship or bad situation I had been part of during my life.
The overwhelming positive response from my One Year Without Alcohol post showed me that I had the chance to empower others by talking about addiction, alcoholism, and the stigma associated with mental health issues.
With that in mind, I made my blog a vehicle for speaking openly about the trials and tribulations associated with sobriety – something I passionately continue to do to this day.
Most importantly, I see it as a way to pass on the lessons I learned in my early sobriety. I want other people to know they aren’t alone. What they’re feeling isn’t as unusual as they think. They can live a sober, healthy, exciting, and rewarding life.
In June of 2014, Fer and I left Cancun for Cape Coral, Florida to explore better job opportunities, and to establish a future for ourselves and our family. I purchased the and read it front to back. It was a big help, but I was still on the hunt for something more.
Since my blog became popular, I’ve received a steady stream of emails and messages on social media asking me questions, giving me feedback or just telling me thank you.
One day I received an email from a local Cape Coral woman who had read my blog and knew I hadn’t yet attended a 12 step meeting. She said she belonged to a great women’s group and that she also attended meditation classes based on Buddhist teachings locally. She wanted to know if I was interested in going to either of those with her.
I started out with the meditation/Buddhism class.
We met and related on so many levels. I knew she and I would be friends. After a few weeks she brought up going to the 12 step fellowship again. I decided I finally wanted to see what it was all about. She briefed me on what I could expect in a meeting and offered to go with me.
In October, 2014, I attended my first face-to-face 12 step meeting: a women’s group that is now currently one of my two home groups.
The fellowship has given me a community of supportive women and men who understand exactly what I’m going through, and the journey I’ve experienced. It has given me the tools I need to communicate and live life as a healthy, sober, contributing member of society. It has helped me get in touch with my spiritual side, without being an overbearing religious cult.
These 12 step groups have also taught me the importance of self-care. I finally feel like I am a sick person getting well, not a bad person getting good.
As I write this, I am just over two years sober. I can honestly say my life is like a dream. It’s not that I am a millionaire or everything is going my way, but I am finally truly alive and present. I’ve escaped the unhealthy cycle of sickness, shame, and regret. I am finally capable of receiving love and loving others.
I am a good friend, a good daughter, and a good sister.
Every morning as I wake up, a feeling of peace and relief washes over me when I realize I don’t have to piece together the stories from the night before, or worry about feeling sick from a hangover.
Living my life in recovery has given me the skills and tools I need to accept life on life’s terms. For the first time, I know exactly who I am and I feel comfortable in my own skin. I know I don’t have to (and don’t deserve to) live in the chaos of my active addiction.
Of course, I am only 1 of 23 million people in the U.S. who suffers from addiction. This disease doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of all races, genders, ages, and socioeconomic classes.
People can and do recover. I am living proof.
I will continue to write, break the stigma of addiction, and let people know they are not alone.
It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.
About the Author
Kelly Fitzgerald is a sober blogger at . She is also a vocal advocate for speaking out against the stigma of addiction. Today, she lives in Florida and writes about living life as a 20-something sober girl. Her articles have been published across the Web, including on sites like The Huffington Post and Addiction.com. Her dreams include becoming a recovery coach and writing a memoir.
Sobriety My Way
I grew up in an alcoholic family.
They all made drinking look like a natural, essential part of life. Booze was everywhere. It seemed to be the focal point for every event and every non-event.
My family had a longstanding tradition of camping in the woods. My drunken, gun-packing uncles would lead us kids on long, dangerous ATV trips, blazing trails with their chain saws. Amazingly, we all came back in one piece every time – even when my token “idiot” uncle accidentally shot a rifle through the floor of his trailer.
Those nights, camping in my childhood, always ended with a roaring campfire, music, laughter, and extreme drunkenness. All-in-all, those were crazy but happy times for me.
My exposure to the effects of booze wasn’t limited to camping though.
In my early elementary years, I would drive around with my dad. It was a regular thing for him to stop behind the local Bargain Beverage store to take a piss. This, of course, after he purchased his next 40-ounce Budweiser bottle.
It never occurred to me that he was always full of beer. I never thought twice about it.
During the summer we would go to the rodeo. As kids we sat just outside of the beer garden while the adults got hammered inside. They bantered with rodeo clowns and an announcer always recognized and saluted the beer garden crowd.
I couldn’t wait to be old enough to hang out with them. I hated feeling left out.
Christmas was always full of loud voices and commotion everywhere – a drunken, rowdy event that created a glowing illusion of togetherness. It was easy to feel safe amongst the twinkling colored lights, shimmering tinsel on the tree, clinking glasses, and boisterous laughter. No one was arguing, cheating, or withdrawing – we were all there together on a cloud.
I wasn’t consciously aware of it until I sobered up, but there was an ugly side to the drinking.
It weaved through our family’s hearts in dark silence.
Its driving cause was shame.
My brother and I learned to throw away dad’s empty bottles when we found them, becoming an active part of his closet drinking charade. We didn’t talk about it with him, and we hid what we could from our mom, but of course she knew what was going on.
There was a lot of silence and separation between my parents. A bubble of shame surrounded my childhood home, filling it with a strange sense of fear and loneliness.
My dad made attempts to get sober, only to relapse several times. Each time he did, my heart-broken, well-meaning but codependent mom would say something like, “This must not be his rock bottom.”
I always thought that was a bullshit line.
My mom and dad did the best they could and I’ve never faulted either of them. Despite the bad parts, my brother and I knew we were loved tremendously.
Still, being raised by two broken hearts leaves a mark.
Surprisingly though, I was a late bloomer. I didn’t even have my first real drink until I was 17. But from there I really didn’t stand a chance.
I was enamored with alcohol.
Suddenly I had confidence and social skills. It made me feel really good.
By the time I was 19, I realized that, at some point in my future, I would have to completely stop drinking. It was then that I decided to make the most of it and not waste any time. So that’s how my heavy drinking career began.
Lots of Fun, Lots of Regrets
It all seemed pretty normal to me. On the outside, I was just a hot-tempered party girl looking for my next good time, and I believed it really was as simple as that.
I prided myself on my ability to keep up with the boys and carry on my family tradition.
For a long time, the only consequences I experienced were hangovers and regret, both of which I had a no-fail solution for: drink more.
Isn’t that what mimosas and Bloody Marys were for?
Before I met my husband, my dating world consisted entirely of “bad boys.” I was drawn to what I knew: a man who was withdrawn. Someone I had to fight for. Unfortunately, it was a battle that always left me feeling lonely, misunderstood, and unworthy.
In my early twenties I lived by myself and started drinking alone.
It was a warning sign I’d always been aware of, but it’s amazing how much a person can justify with denial. Being alone made me more aware of the anxiety that had always plagued me, so I drank more.
I started to experience regular blackouts, even going as far as to brag about my intention of doing so before the night’s festivities began.
My friends supported my endeavors and often joined in.
Then I began secretly drinking during lunchtime.
I felt like it was the only way to keep my escalating anxiety at bay.
And when alcohol alone wasn’t enough, sometimes the sadness came dressed as rage. I got into a few fights here and there with top notch dudes and even had a signature move, which made me a badass, or so I believed.
My friend once told me some guy was making her uncomfortable while we were at a bar, so I stepped in to end it with some choice words fueled with drunkenness. He splashed his drink in my face, so I threw him down into a head-lock on a table, pulled his hair out and poked his eyes. A normal person may have simply asked the guy to leave her alone in a cordial fashion, or possibly escalated the problem to the bouncer’s attention.
But not me.
I also tried pulling a girl out of her car window by her hair, chased a few guys with a baseball bat, and have a scar on my fist from someone’s tooth after I started a fight at a Pantera concert.
I was angry and fearless – a reckless combination.
Of course, I brushed off my intolerance and anger as feistiness and people bought it.
My alcoholism escalated to another level when I began to verbally abuse my boyfriend (now husband). I always felt guilty, confused, and exhausted the next morning after I delivered a severe tongue-lashing. I often didn’t remember a thing, but I could always see the hurt on his face the next morning letting me know I had done it again.
One morning he called me from out of town.
He said, point blank, “If you have one more drink, we are over.”
Apparently our phone conversation the night before had been ugly. He wouldn’t mention what I’d said, so I knew my words must have been plucked from the blackest parts of my heart. I was embarrassed and filled with regret. I was terrified to leave behind the life that I knew. But somewhere inside me, I was relieved to have the ultimatum.
It was the only solution for my growing misery.
Finally I Had My Chance to Stop
Not everyone is lucky enough to receive an ultimatum or an intervention. Yes, I consider myself lucky, and I wonder if I would have gotten there on my own. I certainly wasn’t anywhere near what I pictured as a rock bottom.
In my experience, it’s an illusion that an alcoholic has to suffer over and over again until they finally break.
It’s not a surprising illusion.
Most of us, in fact, are conditioned by society to believe that our circumstances have to get really bad before we make changes in our lives.
But why wait until we are desperate and drained?
Here’s what I want people to know: it’s really an OK thing to not drink. Recovery isn’t a cake walk, but it’s worth it. Awareness is the key to annihilating the stigma that holds us back. You don’t need labels, powerlessness, or meetings. It doesn’t have to get any worse, and you can own your recovery, your way.
The dramatic misconception that an alcoholic can’t get help before she destroys her life had to have been started by someone suffering from alcoholism. Only someone overcome by perceived “powerlessness” could feel the need to wallow in utter despair and destruction. This “woe is me” predicament for the self-tortured and tormented is certainly not what got me sober.
We all have different levels of tolerance for pain in our lives.
Alcoholism wraps its hideous grip around every race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, and financial status. You wouldn’t notice most alcoholics if you saw them at the grocery store or in the classroom teaching your kids.
While it’s true that many of our major life decisions are prompted by some amount of discomfort before we decide to change, there’s no rule that they have to get worse before they can get better.
Where does it start to seem worth it to completely alter our lives?
I don’t know exactly. But I do know that the people who love us have a lot of power. It may not work for everyone, but an intervention or ultimatum is often the act of love a person needs to change.
Getting sober isn’t easy and it’s not always pleasant. In fact, living sober isn’t always simple. It’s still life, and life is hard.
Thankfully, I’ve learned to allow my recovery to define me, not my alcoholism.
I had little support until I started a blog and joined Twitter. This online world has become an important part of my recovery. I blog about recovering MY WAY, because I want to increase awareness that there’s no cookie cutter way to get sober.
One important truth I’ve learned through this process is that I am the only one who knows what’s best for me, and in many cases that path doesn’t follow the advice most people offer.
And that’s OK with me.
I am privileged to be part of an amazing, brave, remarkable community of recovering addicts. There’s no shame in addiction and no “right” way to get sober and recover.
We must support, celebrate, and encourage people on any path that works for them.
About the Author
Chrystal Comely is a sober blogger from Seattle. You can read her posts at . She uses her raw, honest experiences to help reduce the stigma and shame associated with addiction and promote acceptance toward all forms of sobriety. She’s passionate about her family, animals, food, travel, and the Seattle Seahawks. She’s obsessed with popcorn and bubbly water, and takes way too many pictures of her kids.
How Did It Come To This?
Let’s say I started drinking when I was 17.
That’s different from when I had my first drink. Or when I first got drunk. Or any number of other alcohol-related firsts.
It’s when my personality became inextricably linked to alcohol.
It’s when I became a drinker.
My relative abstinence during junior high and high school was mostly due to the fact I was essentially a “good kid:” a bit of an introverted, socially anxious nerd (some things never change).
Sure, I had a few beers. I was party to the stealthy replacement of vodka with water in a friend’s parents’ stash. (“They never drink it.”) I even once got so sick splitting a bottle (a fifth? a pint? I can’t remember) of some knock-off Jack Daniels with a friend that I swore I would never drink again.
But I wasn’t a drinker per se. Not yet.
It was the night I graduated that my drinking and drugging career began in earnest.
I had graduated as Salutatorian. I had been accepted to a “West Coast Ivy.”
Free? A man?
I’m not sure.
I do know I felt like I’d somehow fulfilled whatever obligations I had to myself and my parents.
I was free to do what I wanted.
That evening at the graduation party, I drank copious amounts of beer from a shiny silver keg, and partook eagerly of the weed being passed around.
It was on.
I would not stop to do any meaningful reflection on my drinking, or myself, for the next 13 years.
Blood, Booze, and Butane
I went to college.
Left to my own devices, however, I did not go to school.
That is, I basically stopped going to class sometime around … whenever.
Instead, I soon ignited the roaring engine that was my alcoholism.
Within my first week at school, I somehow acquired four cases of beer with my roommate, which we proceeded to sell out of our little dorm fridge. I also got falling-down-drunk at least twice. And I smoked more weed than I had ever smoked before.
Within the first month, I’d done cocaine for the first (and second and fifth) time.
By the first break, I’d accomplished the following: drunkenly punched several things (a plate glass window, a wall, the steel underside of the bunk above), cut my knuckles so deeply they needed stitches, held a bong-building contest, and installed a red light in the window to let people know that there was a party to be had in our room.
By the end of the year . . . well . . .
Fueled one late night by alcohol, mescaline, and cocaine, some of us decided it would be a good idea to use a bottle of lighter fluid to “draw” lines of fire in the street, along the sidewalk, and, finally, up and down the dorm’s concrete back steps, over which grew a decades-old bamboo arch.
Needless to say, the bamboo is now gone.
Off-campus police, the Dean, and, it was rumored, the FBI were all involved in hustling me and my accomplices away from the illustrious school, one way or another.
I had been party to what the Dean called (privately in his office to a few of us miscreants), “The worst act of vandalism ever perpetrated on campus.”
Over the next eight years or so, I attended four other well-regarded institutions of higher learning.
In all that time, I failed to accrue enough credits to complete even one year.
Interlude – Not As I Did
When sharing my story, there always comes a point when I get a sense that I’m glamorizing the behaviors I’m recounting.
Let me just say, to that end, that I hold few regrets. I neither celebrate nor condemn, long for nor disavow, these periods of my life.
I embrace them as a part of me.
Make no mistake though, my alcoholism and drug use led me to some very shady places, where I did some very stupid things.
And it taught me a lot about life.
And All the Fish Get Drowned
Between 1984 and 1997, I attended five schools.
I was a jack-of-few-trades and master-of-fewer. I bounced around from Palo Alto to Olympia, to Palo Alto, to Olympia, to (very briefly) Europe, to St. Louis, to Seattle, to St. Louis, to Olympia, to St. Louis, to Paris, to St. Louis, to Chicago, to Houston, to St. Louis.
If you wanted to call it “running,” “hiding,” or both, I would be hard pressed to disagree with you.
Of course, my alcoholism and drug use came with me, easily evolving to my varied circumstances over the years.
Interlude – A (Possibly Incomplete) Chronology of Pharmacology, 1984-1996
Alcohol, 84-97; Marijuana, 84-85, 95; Cocaine, 85, 88-97; Hash, 85; Mushrooms, 85; Mescaline 85; Acid 88-92; Ecstasy, 88-97; Freebase, 90-91.
Back to the Story
Late in the summer of 1996, I returned to St. Louis after three years in Houston, where I’d just finished making a half-assed, fully-intoxicated attempt at being a partner in a small graphic design company.
I arrived with my girlfriend of four years, entangled in a tragically codependent relationship.
(We’d met in Chicago.)
We moved into my father’s rather nice, unoccupied – and soon to be on the market – St. Louis home.
He was on a long-term, out-of-country appointment that was coming to an end, as would his St. Louis residency when he returned to the U.S.
It was then the pillars really started to crumble.
My drinking skyrocketed. My behavior became mentally abusive and my girlfriend soon left, having stuck with me far past the point most people would have.
Shortly thereafter, I lost my job.
Well, “lost” isn’t exactly correct.
After a weekend drinking alone in my now empty house, I woke up hungover Monday morning and decided not to show up for the design job I had gotten at a small firm.
No call or anything.
I promptly began drinking and never went back.
Now that I had time and space, I thought it might be a good idea to get away.
To recoup, recover, rethink.
(Almost every move I made was preceded by this sort of thinking.)
I decided to visit a friend who lived in Florida.
I’d never been and thought, what better place to go revive?
The friend and I made plans to spend time on the beach enjoying each other’s company.
I was blissfully unaware that she was just beginning her own drop into a dark nosedive.
I returned to St. Louis two weeks later a shaken, exhausted mess.
After a couple of days back (and finally detoxed from my lost holiday in Florida), I vowed to “clean up” and “get my shit together.”
It was not yet to be.
Within days of my return, while out at a club, I bumped into an old friend who, in a surprise turn of events, happened to be a small-time coke dealer.
And You Leave On Your Own
I spent the remainder of that spring with my dealer pal (who I’ll call “CD”).
Our friendship was a symbiotic relationship of sorts.
I provided a car and a large, empty house. He provided the cocaine and drove.
(I must mention that, while I did own a car, I did not have a license.)
Days quickly turned into weeks of drinking, snorting cocaine, doing ecstasy, and repeating.
As I slid down the final length of the spiral, I found myself increasingly overcome with a sense of disgust at myself. I was sloppy and gross. A drunk, drugged embarrassment to myself and everyone who encountered me.
One night, after having spent the day lounging on the patio smoking and drinking, CD and I did a bit of blow and set out for the club.
We headed downtown, which was roughly fifteen to twenty minutes from the house. We were drinking our “go cocktails,” and at some point early in the ride we each did a hit of ecstasy. We pulled into the parking spot, my head being slowly covered by a creeping fog of booze, blow, and ecstasy.
I knew I wasn’t going in.
CD’s response was to say, “Well I’m not going to drive you home. What are you going to do, sit out here all night?”
I knew he would be in the club for hours, so I asked him to leave me the keys.
He went in, I’m sure certain he would see me again soon.
I hadn’t driven the car all spring.
Nonetheless, I started it up and headed for home, hoping I could get there before the ecstasy hit too hard.
About half-way there it really started coming on.
My vision was shit.
My reactions were shit.
I didn’t know if I was speeding, crawling, or even in my own lane.
Right then I made a deal, “If I make it home without killing myself, or anyone else, I will stop doing drugs.”
I made it home. I kept my deal.
A few weeks later, my dad came into town for business.
CD and I had mutually put some distance between us.
In relative terms, I was doing better. I was drinking a “normal” amount of too much, as opposed to a staggering amount of too much.
So it was with a respectable, post-brunch mimosa buzz that I found myself with my dad in our favorite, indy bookstore.
I was checking out the staff recommendations and was seized by a title, .
Cool! Someone who loves drinking as much as I do, I thought while buying the book.
Despite my recent quasi-revelation with hard drugs, I still hadn’t put it all together.
(To this day, I’m still amazed at how tenaciously my denial hung on.)
But my fantasy crumbled quickly once I began reading Caroline Knapp’s riveting account of alcoholism and recovery. I had never been exposed to the sort of things she was saying about herself, things that were almost entirely recognizable as being about me.
All the pain. The suffering. It sounded like my life she was describing.
By the end of the book, I had no doubt: I was an alcoholic.
And I desperately needed to get sober.
Drink, Drank, Drunk
This is where I start saying, “circumstances have conspired to allow me a successful and sustained recovery.”
That’s because it is in spite of my ignorance and naïveté regarding (almost) all things “recovery” that I’ve managed to stay alive and sober these 17 years.
I was still in St. Louis, still jobless, and still drinking, with only a couple of months until my dad’s house would be sold.
I needed somewhere to go.
I was fairly certain I needed to get sober, and to do that I knew I needed a plan.
I had no idea where to begin, so I found a therapist specializing in alcoholism.
She gently refused to buy the bullshit of my lingering denial.
After sharing a few stories with her, I said with trepidation, “I think I may be an alcoholic.”
“Me too,” she agreed.
Her understanding, patience, and knowledge were critical in getting me on the right path.
What I decided was to spend the remainder of the summer saying my final goodbyes to alcohol. Then I would end up at my mom and stepdad’s house, where I would proceed to detox and get sober at a rehab of my own creation.
My therapist thought this was a bad idea and kept gently suggesting I start right then.
But, well . . .
I ended up in Olympia, Washington, alone on the shore of Lake St. Claire in mid-August.
The only things keeping me company were a few-dozen beers, a couple of bottles of wine, some port, some champagne, and a final hit of ecstasy to split between me and myself.
Sometime in the final week, I found myself standing on the deck with my mom and stepdad. It was after dinner and we’d all been drinking. I was drunk. I don’t know exactly why I brought it up, but I fought back sobs as I told them that I felt like I was killing my best friend alcohol.
I think I remember going to bed.
I definitely remember waking up in the middle of the night to a sharp, piercing, and unfamiliar pain coming from somewhere in my torso.
I knew enough to know it wasn’t my kidneys, lungs, or heart, and I didn’t think it was my liver.
I suffered through the intense pain as it waxed and waned for almost a week.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I called my doctor.
A couple days later I was in to see him.
At some point in that visit he asked, “Are you a drinker?”
“I was. Until a few days ago.”
He told me to remain sober. I had suffered an acute attack of pancreatitis that, fortunately, hadn’t completely blown out my pancreas. It would recover. I learned that if one damages his pancreas enough, that person more-or-less would immediately become diabetic.
The doctor surmised that I was 2 or 3 drinks away from doing exactly that.
That diagnosis kept me sober during those early days some of the most challenging, as many of you know. Being faced with an immediate and severe physical consequence if I failed made it easier psychologically for me to abstain.
That’s not to say that, in those early days, denial wasn’t still hanging on tight.
I recently found my journals from that period, and the familiar alcoholic reasoning is evident in this entry, made after only two weeks of sobriety:
“I do entertain the idea that I’m not an “alcoholic” per se, but a chronic binger; that if I moderate in the future I’ll be okay?”
– September 15, 1997
Thankfully, the last vestiges of that thinking are now gone.
That’s not to say that life stops being life and that I’ve got a bluebird on my shoulder every morning. But I’m here 17 years later. And, on far more days than not, I’m healthier and happier than I ever thought I could be – full of compassion, empathy, purpose, joy, and love.
About the Author
Chris Aguirre is host of the recovery podcast and a self-styled Recovery Renegade™. He uses the conceptual/graphic design and writing skills he developed in the advertising and branding worlds to support those in recovery from alcohol and other drugs, all while shattering the stigma often associated with having a substance use disorder.
Learning to Be Me
Which comes first, the addict or the person?
Some say there are those born abnormally wired and susceptible to addiction. Others say it’s our environment and personality that creates the problem.
I’ve never been fully sure how to define my issues.
My recovery covers many substances and behaviours. I’ve been labelled an alcoholic, addict, bulimic, depressive, amongst a list of other dysfunctional definitions.
Even after five years in recovery from all of those things, I still don’t really know what to call myself.
I’m not even sure it’s really that important.
I know that I can identify with other people who have had the same issues, so really that’s good enough for me.
However, I am very sure of one thing: my mental and emotional health was never pristine. The truth is, my addictive behaviour was not the cause of my demise.
A Symptom of a Deeper Problem
At fifteen, my doctor diagnosed me with depression and gave me pills.
That same year I ended up in hospital from drinking.
I was also secretly making myself sick after I ate.
And I had a miscarriage, which I told nobody about until I was in my thirties.
My first suicide attempt was at age 16.
I was a lost soul, in desperate need of help and guidance.
My school life was a series of feeble attempts at decent grades. Every day took so much effort to get through, it felt like trying to climb a tall mountain over and over again.
I had an intense desire to do succeed. I wanted to be one of the good girls. A girl who did well at school, who didn’t get in trouble, who had plans for the future, who believed that she could and would make something of her life.
I craved a sense of purpose.
I loved to write, to the point my empathy for the struggle of humanity became overwhelming.
I wanted to help the entire world.
I dreamed of telling stories about overcoming difficulties.
But the pull towards self-destruction was intense.
I couldn’t drag myself away.
The darkness felt much more comfortable than the light.
Still, I put everything I had into the essays I was assigned at school. Yet, all I could ever manage were mediocre grades.
Maybe it was because I wasn’t writing what was expected from a young Irish Catholic girl. A broad mind and strong opinions on certain subjects weren’t exactly qualities that were well-thought-of in my school. Since I figured I would never get above a C anyway, I began to use my essay writing as an opportunity to criticize the hypocritical and bigoted establishment I was forced to attend every day.
Everything seemed so enormous and I felt utterly inferior.
My dreams were distant and unreachable.
A Family Tradition
Alcohol pretty much determined my life experience from birth.
I was born into a family plagued by alcoholism for generations. It’s an all-too-common problem in Irish society, and discussing it is largely taboo.
Often my house was in turmoil.
I spent much of my mental energy trying to figure out what was happening.
I hated myself for feeling sad so often.
Nobody was talking about what was wrong, and I didn’t know how to ask the right questions.
I remember visiting my dad in a treatment centre. It was Easter time in the late 70’s. My sister and I had been told he was having an operation on his shoulder.
Standing outside, looking upwards as I held hands with my mother and little sister, the old grey building seemed intimidating and soulless.
I eyed the place suspiciously.
Suddenly, the idea that I was going to visit my dad after a shoulder operation didn’t sit as comfortably with me as it had on the journey there.
The thing that struck me the most as we entered the building was that it didn’t smell like a hospital.
We walked along the linoleum covered corridor until we reached my dad’s room.
It seemed very empty. No hospital equipment.
And where was my dad’s bandage for his shoulder?
Something wasn’t right. Someone was telling lies, but I wasn’t sure about what or why.
At that moment, I lost trust in every adult in my life.
There was an Easter party that day for the children of the residents. It was held in a large common room. Easter eggs were distributed and games organized.
Someone was dressed as a bunny.
I sat on a chair by the wall, looking at all these other children running around laughing. I wanted to run around too, but I was rooted to the spot by a deep sadness.
None of the other dads look very sick, I thought.
I sat, trying to concentrate on swinging my legs back and forth. Trying to look like I was ok.
Tears welled up, but I couldn’t let myself cry. I didn’t want to make anyone else sad.
My dad came over and caught me by the hand.
“Aren’t you going to play, Nicky?” he asked.
And that was it. The tears came.
But I couldn’t explain why I was crying.
The dysfunction in my home brought with it a constant heaviness. At times, it would get so unbearable for me I would lock myself in the bathroom to cry and cry.
On top of my family life being so unhappy, I was severely ill with a blood disorder called purpura. It was first diagnosed at age four. By age seven I had developed type 1 diabetes.
A World of Isolation
At one point, I believed it was my illness that made everyone so unhappy.
I became almost reclusive, hiding the fact that injecting myself with insulin everyday was terrifying. I felt shame around my diabetes, not wanting other people to know, especially other children.
All this made me feel so alone.
Luckily, I was blessed to grow up in a rural part of Ireland, where I was free to roam for miles in exquisite surroundings. Right across the road from my house was a forest, where I spent hours playing and exploring with my sister.
My other great joy was music. I loved listening to my parents’ collection of vinyl records. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, and the Eagles were amongst my favorites.
Once I found alcohol at 13, it provided the same peace and contentment that music and being in nature had previously provided, but on a far more intense level.
It was quick and effective, and never failed to deliver.
It also sent my life on a downward spiral into complete emptiness.
By the age of 19, I had been hospitalized several times because of alcohol and drugs.
Violent and abusive relationships became a recurring theme in my life.
I had a job in retail at that time, which covered rent and kept my supply of chemicals flowing.
All that mattered to me was partying.
It really didn’t even occur to me that what I was doing was in any way abnormal. After all, everyone I hung out with was doing the same thing. In fact, the clubs were full of people doing what I was doing.
Justifying my lifestyle was effortless.
The only time I felt free was when I was drunk and high.
Everything was perfect. I felt completely in the present moment. My head wasn’t spinning. And that feeling of disconnection with the world around me ceased.
At 22 I met my now ex-husband. While the partying didn’t cease (in fact it increased), he managed to bring a sense of security and calmness into my life.
We moved to another city and both got good jobs, and together we found a nice apartment.
For the first time, I truly felt happy.
We were inseparable.
We married when I was 25 and had our first child the following year.
On the outside everything looked wonderful. But, inside, I was dying. I developed postnatal depression and struggled with all the new changes in our lives. I began to live with an all-or-nothing motto, something that spanned every part of my life, from exercise, food, and even cleaning my house. Everything had to be bigger, better, faster, and shinier. I had the constant feeling that if I just tried a little harder, everything would be better. If I was thinner, prettier, and smiled more, life would improve.
Nothing was ever enough to quench the constant thirst for happiness and contentment. No person, place, or thing could fill the void inside me.
That hole seemed to just get bigger and bigger.
When our daughter was a year old, I ended up in a psychiatric ward diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
At this point, my drinking hit a crisis point.
Of course, I didn’t even consider my alcohol consumption to be abnormal.
I remember telling a psychiatrist that I drank on occasion, but never to excess. I heard myself say those words out loud, and part of me believed it. Yet, there was also an uncomfortable acknowledgement in the pit of my stomach that told me the words were a lie.
I got through those weeks in the psych ward, cushioned by medication.
I convinced myself I was just fine.
My priority was getting home to my young children, whom I missed desperately.
Life would be better now, and I would put this ridiculous phase of my life behind me.
But life was not better. Life was as turbulent as it had always been.
My marriage ended soon after.
We lost our home because of the financial crash.
The kids and I moved into a rented house, and I tried desperately to keep things together.
I knew that my children were suffering because of the upheaval. I was painfully aware that I was unable to support them. I had a job that paid pittance, my mental and physical health was rapidly failing, and my only coping mechanism was alcohol.
I was too ashamed to let anyone know how bad things were.
Alcohol was the solution to every issue. It was so simple to just drink life away. I drank everything away. The good, the bad, and the indifferent.
I got into a series of unhealthy and abusive relationships.
I could barely care for my children or myself.
After yet another beating from a boyfriend, it became obvious, even to me, that I had to do something about the chaos. I needed to start paying attention to that feeling in my stomach every time I took a sip of whatever cheap wine I was drinking. I no longer enjoyed the anticipation of inebriation. I stopped feeling joy from pulling the cork out of a bottle after I’d put the kids to bed. My drinking had become dirty and shameful.
With each drop of alcohol that entered my bloodstream, I detested myself more and more.
But if I didn’t drink, how would I get through the day? What would I look forward to? How would I shield myself from the pain of reality?
The realization that drinking had ceased to be a solution for life’s problems sent me into a panic.
Searching inside myself for what to do next, my mind settled on something I had never realistically considered before.
Maybe I should try to stop drinking.
Maybe I should seek help.
Maybe nobody and nothing can change my life except me.
Maybe I might actually be an alcoholic.
And there was that word . . . alcoholic. A word I had tried all my life to avoid.
But it was too late. The thought had already entered into my consciousness.
And it wouldn’t go away.
If I was going to get well, I knew I would have to label myself with an illness that most people viewed as a moral failing.
The thought of trying to cope without a crutch left me feeling terrified.
Despite all my fear, I stopped drinking and entered the world of recovery.
Right away, I learned that just because I decided chemicals would no longer be a part of my world, life would not automatically reposition itself to be normal and calm.
What kept me going was my two children (my husband and I had had another kid, five years after the first). Both had already been through more than most people deal with in a lifetime.
I wasn’t going to be responsible for them feeling like I did when I was little.
Enough was enough. My family was done with misery.
I had a rough time during my active days, but I can tell you I’ve had an equally tough time in recovery.
There was so much chaos that it was hard to know where to start fixing things.
I called a rehab and started an outpatient program. I also decided to try the 12 step approach.
In recovery I heard other people share similar experiences to mine.
Slowly, very slowly, life took on new meaning.
I faced my issues head on.
I was as relentless with my recovery as I used to be with my chemical dependence.
I took every opportunity for healing and growth that came my way. There are so many avenues to choose from, and I have used most of them.
However, I’ve learned that all of them are useless if I’m not willing to be completely honest with myself.
It is constant, difficult work.
Even though the process is hard and ridiculously painful, I am definitely seeing the results in a way I hadn’t expected. I have found a depth to life that was previously a complete mystery to me. I knew that there existed something more than I could see, but I had stopped believing in the true essence of life.
My meditation teacher says that you know you are making progress when you start to see that every experience is a blessing.
I am making progress.
Without my life experiences, I would never have had the opportunities I have now.
I would never have known how strong I am as a person.
Perhaps the greatest triumph for me is to make decisions and have opinions that come from outside the box I’ve been crouched in for decades.
As an independent, sober woman, being true to myself is as important as not picking up that first drink or drug. I have self-respect and dignity. I don’t view myself as a sexual object who needs a man to take care of her.
I am intelligent, strong, and powerful.
Nobody or nothing defines who I am, except me.
I never expected for my world to change like it has.
Nor did I realize how much courage is needed to remain clean and sober.
But it is attainable for everyone.
I am constructing a manner of living, piece by piece that is finally starting to fit me.
Owning my own story and my own life has been a difficult journey, but not nearly as difficult as constantly running from it.
The Freedom of Being Me
I have a collection of old photos from my childhood and subsequent years into adulthood.
My particular favourite is one of me and my little sister laughing hysterically. We were about three- and four-years-old. We are standing in our grandmother’s garden in the middle of summer. We had obviously been busy picking each and every rose we could find, and while it seemed like an innocent endeavour, we knew that it was probably pretty naughty too.
I can’t help but grin uncontrollably every time I see it.
My heart smiles to remember that level of freedom and zest for life.
It’s a joy that has finally returned to me in the most spectacular fashion.
About the Author
Nicola O’Hanlon is Editor-In-Chief at and has been in recovery since January 23rd 2010. Her work has been published in several recovery magazines, including Recovery Today, In Recovery Magazine, AfterPartyChat.com, Psychology Today and Reach Out Recovery. Already an expert on how not to live life, she is a constant seeker of new and better ways of being. She is a believer in the power of magic, nature, energy healing, crystals and blames the phases of the moon for her multi personalities. You can see a collection of her work at .
Enslavement to Heroin
I had no idea my life was about to be turned upside down.
I was 21, and up to that point things had gone mostly as planned. I had a near-perfect credit score and a home of my own. A happy marriage too.
At least, I thought I did.
All that changed when I discovered my wife was cheating on me.
Everything was in my name. I did all I could to sell our stuff, but our collective bills came faster than I could pay them. The vehicles, utilities, mortgage, and credit card debts totaled more than a hundred thousand dollars.
It became clear within a few months that I had to declare bankruptcy.
My happy start to life quickly mutated into a debt-infused disaster.
Going from being a married man with immaculate credit to a divorcee in the midst of bankruptcy was excruciating. Still, my exterior swagger seemed bulletproof and unharmed. I thought I was handling it with impunity. I even convinced my family that I would come out of the debacle unscathed.
I did not realize how much pain and anger I had suppressed. I never processed what I was going through. I just kept hiding from it, pushing the pain and frustration further away.
Over time, the emotional suppression became toxic.
My Soul Was Full of Poison
I had never evaluated my childhood with objective truth. I never felt like I had any reason to.
Why would my past have anything to do with my present?
Instead, I made up stories about who I was, which I told to both myself and others.
“How was your childhood?” someone would ask.
“It was great! It couldn’t have been better!”
That was always my reply, in one way or another.
I might add (complete with normalizing laugh), “I did get my ass whooped by my father sometimes, but I always deserved it!”
I mention my early childhood because, after many relapses, this has been the one place I had not looked for answers.
So far, I’ve realized I never learned to deal with my problems.
No one ever taught me to examine prior experience constructively. To learn from it.
Children are molded like clay pots, by parents and by society.
Back to the Story
As my divorce trudged forward, so did my addiction.
My moral compass had been shaken off its axis. Going through such a horrible experience at such a young age was devastating to my ego.
It felt like I just didn’t care anymore. I was spending the evenings looking for painkillers and cocaine, instead of talking with others about my problems.
Reaching out for help felt humiliating.
I had smoked marijuana with my wife while we were still together, and I had sniffed a pain pill on occasion, but I had no idea about the evil juggernaut that was coming.
It would paralyze my growth for almost two decades
I was still living in the home I previously shared with my wife. Friends were coming and going at all hours of the night. Some brought beer. Some brought pills, cocaine, or other drugs. I was in a constant fog, sniffing lines of emotion-numbing powder, every single night.
I realized my life had fallen apart.
My foundation had crumbled. Everything had fallen on top of me.
The weight was simply another justification to continue using.
Eventually the drugs became too expensive. I could no longer afford to live in my home. I moved into my brother’s place for a few months, but my addiction to opiates became too much to hide around his family. I eventually moved out and bounced between my parent’s house and homelessness.
I was under the impression I could quit using pills once I got my life back in order.
When I first felt the withdrawal from opiates, I thought I was coming down with the flu.
Looking back, I can’t help but be a little angered.
Why did I not know anything about physical withdrawals?
How could the first two decades of my life go by without a single person having taught me about the reality of drug use?
Anyhow, as I was sitting there experiencing that horrible feeling for the first time, I found an Oxy pill that I forgot about in the pocket of a pair of pants.
I crushed it up into a fine, fluffy powder and inhaled it into my nose.
Within seconds, my body’s aches and pains were gone.
The Damage Done
I had ruined all ties with my family.
I had lied, stolen, and manipulated them so many times.
I was no longer allowed to stay in any of their homes.
I was officially homeless, jobless, addicted to opiates, and without transportation.
To survive on the streets, I started shoplifting and stealing from random homes.
As prescription pain pills became more expensive and harder to come by, I started sniffing and smoking more heroin.
Shooting it, however, violated every last moral boundary I had.
Still, within a month of becoming homeless, I began doing exactly that.
Once that line was crossed, my addiction kicked into hyperdrive. My choice took me to a new low. A darkened, underground existence. A place where only hollow spirits dwell. A meaningless, empty life.
I would be stuck in this hell for almost a decade.
I tried everything to crawl out of that abyss. Everything from music, rehab, classes, rapid detox, 12 steps, drug court, vacationing, new hobbies, jail, geographical relocation, meditation, and religion.
None of it was successful.
Jail would get me sober of course, and I spent a total of about two years locked up over the past 15 years, but I would always relapse following my release.
After months of walking the streets, shooting heroin and cocaine, I was completely frayed – physically and mentally.
My feet were bloody with blisters. My lips chapped and sunburned. The gaunt frame that was my body constantly ached from sleeping on rough terrain.
The intense pain and anguish was debilitating, to the point that I wanted to get sober again. To that end, I devised a plan to move away from all the people I associated with, all of whom were, of course, drug and alcohol users or dealers.
I packed what little belongings I owned and went to the nearest bus station. I traveled as far as I could with what money I’d gathered that day, ending up 250 miles away in a small town just north of Las Vegas.
My goal was to get a hotel room and find a job within a week.
I did well at first. I landed a printing press operator position for the local newspaper. My boss offered to help me get a vehicle. He was even willing to reimburse me for my living expenses.
The good fortune didn’t last. Out of all the hotels in the city, I happened to choose a place well known for its methamphetamine distribution.
Three weeks after arriving in this unknown town, I was snorting and smoking meth, heroin, and cocaine with the town’s entourage of druggies and dealers.
Being desperate to score one day, I tried to take advantage of a group of men who quickly caught on to my deception.
I was violently kidnapped and thrown into the back seat of an old Ford.
It was eerily cold that night. The sky was black with storm clouds, and I had no idea where they were taking me. Eventually the streetlights and random billboards stopped appearing overhead. We came to a home. It was too nice of a place for someone who drove a shabby Escort.
I was ripped from the car and taken into the house, where I was forced to sit on a couch in a dimly lit living room.
Heckling and evil laughter echoed from below ground level as I awaited my ill fate.
[I survived the debacle, obviously. It was one of the worst nights of my live. I’ve written in great detail my entire experience that day in an upcoming memoir, so I’ll refrain from reliving that horrible day again here. Instead, I’ll continue my story following that frightening night.]
The Next Day
I needed to get back to Utah, but had lost my job and my car. I was in trouble in the town I was living in. I didn’t even dare go outside my dingy hotel room. Too many people were hunting me down. I had no help or protection.
My family was unaware of the magnitude of my personal conflicts.
I needed to call home.
Knowing I had completely failed at my fresh start made me hate myself. I became physically sick, puking violently. After I wiped my mouth and cleared the vomit from my nostrils, I staggered to the nightstand and picked up the hotel phone.
I had to lie.
My mom and dad were not happy about the 500 mile round-trip drive to pick up their addicted and defeated son.
Nonetheless, it was a safe feeling being back home. I’m certain I would not be alive if I had stayed in that town. I was grateful and indebted to my parents for bailing me out of a bad situation.
But my need to get high was as strong as ever.
The day I got there I ran into an old friend.
We scored heroin within hours.
I was kicked out of my parent’s home that same evening.
Roaming the cold, unforgiving streets took a lot out of me during this time in my addiction.
My tolerance was at its highest point. If I could come up with enough money to supply my habit, I could go through $150 of heroin in a day.
Finding ways to make cash seemed to get harder and riskier every day.
During the cold months, I spent my nights underneath abandoned diesel trailers, or in a bunker I would build out of old pallets and plywood. If the police found my hideouts and squatting areas, they would either tear them down or force me to leave the area.
This fight for basic shelter made living even more difficult.
I convinced my drug dealer to let me stay in his basement for a while, an arrangement that didn’t last long. After all, he lived with a man who once threatened to kill me, right before trying to cut off my fingers.
I didn’t want to stay there longer than I had to.
Eventually I was arrested at a grocery store for trying to steal a box of fireworks that was bigger than I was. I had been ducking and dodging a stack of warrants over the years. Now that they had me, the police got me on 13 different charges, two of them being felonies.
Jail is extremely brutal for heroin withdrawal, but it does get you sober.
I spent most of the first 30 days curled in a ball, often lying in my own feces.
During my 13 months behind bars, I had a lot of time to think.
This country’s jails are filled with people who use getting arrested as a recovery method. Of course, it’s an approach that does nothing for the source of the problem. It ends up being a tiny bandage on a gaping, untreated wound.
Simply getting clean isn’t enough. Drinking and using drugs is a symptom of a much deeper problem. Coming to this reality was an extremely difficult and painful process.
I had to peel back my entire life, layer by layer.
Because the human mind is so diverse and complex, I don’t believe there is any one way to achieve long-term sobriety. After trying quite a few methods myself, I’ve chosen to take a philosophical approach that includes facts, empirical evidence, objective truth, self-knowledge, and universal ethics.
If I don’t know who I am, how can I understand why I do what I do?
Of course, when I started using a philosophical approach to sobriety, I ran into a problem from the beginning.
Everything I accepted as truth had to be based on facts and evidence.
This got rid of gods, ghosts, and leprechauns.
The leprechauns weren’t too big of an issue, but the god thing was. I was raised in the LDS faith, or what some call Mormonism. I was threatened with eternal hell and fire as a young innocent child, so you can bet your ass I put early childhood rationality aside to make room for my sky-ghost.
Talking to that god felt fake, irrational, and semi-psychotic. Yet, when I didn’t pray, I felt guilty and unworthy. I knew I wanted to stop sticking needles in my arms, but I also knew I never wanted to be considered evil for being human.
Figuring Out How to Live
When I was released, I went directly to a six month inpatient treatment facility. Part of the program was going to 12 step meetings. I met some wonderful and amazing people during that time, some of whom I’m still in contact with today.
After rehab, I was allowed a transition period to help me acclimate back into society. The process went very smooth, considering the amount of wreckage I left in my wake.
With the successful completion of my court appointed program, the felonies were dropped from my record, as well several of the misdemeanors. I’ve never had any violent charges. All my crimes were theft and/or drug related.
Completing drug court and rehab gave me a much-needed boost of self-worth and confidence.
I went from homeless addict to productive proletariat.
I was ready for my life to start again.
I was able to get a job at a printing company near the court I was required to check in with regularly as a part of my probation. I began building a new life, 60 miles away from my family and walking the same streets I used to score my daily heroin on.
Following a few weeks of steady work, a friend from rehab and I decided we should be roommates. We were in similar situations and were both serious about sobriety. After persistent searching and miles of walking, we found a modest but clean two-bedroom apartment.
I wish I could say everything went great after moving into our new place.
A Familiar Song
I made it two-and-a-half years before relapsing.
Why did this keep happening?
Did I really make it so far, only to start over again?
At this point, I started to believe that I was the type of person who would never make it out of my addiction.
I started to believe that I was going to die from heroin.
No matter what I did, I always relapsed and found myself homeless and running from the law.
The majority of people in sobriety circles say that you should be sober at least one year before being romantically involved. I had two years.
What I didn’t have was self-knowledge.
This is where some philosophical principles would have come in handy.
The woman I met was one big stop sign. I was an idiot.
Once the romance started, my priorities fell by the wayside.
Needless to say, I made the same mistakes I’d made in previous relationships.
I was used and exploited, we fought constantly, and we never negotiated through conflict. I stayed in this abusive relationship out of co-dependency and lust.
The pain crushed my ego like a soft grape under a car tire.
I needed to numb the hurt.
I got high.
One Year Later
Irresponsible choices had put me in many bad situations.
Because this is a rather short version of my story, I don’t have space to list them all.
Briefly, I will say that I lost my job in the city and voluntarily threw myself into jail, as a last attempt at sobriety.
I eventually left the bad relationship and relocated closer to my family.
After moving back into my sister’s house, I was able to start a backbreaking job welding and grinding the lock mechanisms on large safes. I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do for long, but it was nice to have a steady income again.
My real hope was that my brother could get me a job with him on the oilrigs.
While living on a foldup cot in my sister’s living room, I started playing Texas Hold’em online.
One night I struck up a chat with a woman who played at the same virtual table.
I didn’t realize that she was from Finland.
Nonetheless, over time I found myself spending lots of time losing poker chips with her. I enjoyed our thought-provoking conversations, and I was in awe of her ability to live life without drugs. I was also enchanted by her beautiful ocean-blue eyes and long blond hair.
After six months, we knew we had to meet in person.
She came to the United States and I took her sightseeing across the west coast.
It was a week of bliss. I felt such companionship while in her presence.
A week was not enough time. When I took her back to the airport for her return flight home, I felt my heart being ripped from my chest.
It was the most painful separation I had ever experienced.
At that point, I knew I was going to marry her. I knew I wanted to grow old with her by my side.
However, I was not in any way able to support this woman. I was sleeping on a cot in my sister’s living room. I knew I had to make some changes in my life.
I relapsed again after her second trip to visit me. The final separation from her proved too difficult for my undeveloped emotional capacity.
My job was extremely difficult and low paying.
I started sniffing painkillers again on a daily basis.
I wasn’t sure how to make the necessary changes in my life.
Two weeks later, the answer came.
My brother’s consistency and pressure on his boss about the oilrig job paid off.
I received a phone call from his employer.
I was actually sniffing a Percocet when his boss called me the first time.
I was scheduled to fly to Alaska and instantly knew that meant I would have to withdrawal over the next two weeks.
I didn’t know if I could do it.
I had failed at voluntary abstinence in the past at a rate of 100%.
I had a gap of four days between my last pill and the test. If I had taken one more dose that final day, I would have failed. As it was, they found tiny traces of Oxycodone in my urine, but luckily it wasn’t enough to show a “positive” test result.
I dodged a massive bullet that day.
One year later, my Finnish companion and I moved into our very own home. We are now happily married and starting our own reptile/pet store.
I have been completely sober since February 1, 2012, and sober from heroin and cocaine for almost seven years.
There is always a choice.
Decide what you want in life and go get it.
You are the only one who can stop you from living the life you want.
About the Author
Dustin John is a 37-year-old writer, blogger, portrait artist, and reptile keeper. For more than a decade, Dustin was often homeless and running from the law due to his powerful addiction to heroin and cocaine. Dustin has been sober from heroin and cocaine for almost seven years and has been completely sober since February 1, 2012. He currently resides in Southern Utah with his wife, two dogs, and a copious number of ball pythons. To read more about Dustin’s life, stories of his addiction, and his soon to be released memoir, go to .
Help Spread the Word
This free story collection was created to empower those suffering from addiction and provide a tool for advocacy.
Here are some ways you can help accomplish these goals:
Write an email to at least five friends telling them why you think the story collection is worth checking out. Make sure to include the free download link.
Share the free download link to your social media feeds.
Leave a review on Amazon or Smashwords to let other people know why you enjoyed the collection.
Invite some friends over for dinner to discuss the story collection, as well as the importance of storytelling generally in addiction recovery and advocacy.
Contact your local, state, and federal lawmakers and share with them the story collection, and let them know you support treating those suffering from addiction like human beings.
Share the story collection with any institutions and organizations you know that assist addicts: hospitals, rehabs, clinics, 12 step groups, churches, schools, jails, juvenile detention centers, and anywhere else you can think of.
Always feel free to contact us at [email protected] for materials or help putting together lesson plans, outreach materials, etc.
Want to Tell Your Recovery Story Too?
We are already planning additional volumes of story collections.
If you want to be included in the next one, please send your recovery story to: [email protected]
A few guidelines:
Submissions should be 3-5k words in length. A little less or a little more is OK.
Tell the truth.
The primary purpose of these stories is to humanize addiction. Make it about more than just how many drugs you did. Help people understand the individual context of your personal journey.
Your story should be primarily (and almost exclusively) about you. Not your family members, friends, loved ones, etc. Respect the anonymity of others by changing names and/or other identifying traits.
This is not a space to sell services.
Keeping with their traditions, when it comes to AA/NA or any other anonymous group, please refer to them generically as “12 step groups.”
Feel free to use the email above to send any questions you might have. If you have any doubts or confusion, it’s highly recommend that you reach out before you begin drafting.
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings:
Narcotics Anonymous meetings:
Online 12 step meetings (AA, NA, Al-Anon, and more):
Find a SMART Recovery Meeting:
Find a drug/alcohol rehabilitation center:
Inpatient: [+ http://www.recovery.org/topics/find-the-best-residential-inpatient-rehab-center+]
Outpatient: [+ http://www.recovery.org/topics/find-the-best-outpatient-rehab-center+]
We lose more than 350 people every day in the United States to addiction. This collection of stories shows how the deadly disease is a conflicted struggle, not simply of broken people, but one that encompasses the human condition that affects us all. The book consists of two sections. The first is a series of short fictional stories that portray individuals suffering from active addiction. The second is made up of real life tales of recovery, written by the people who experienced the journey themselves. For those directly affected by this horrible affliction, these stories will help you make sense of your journey, both where you came from as well as where you are going. For advocates, policy makers, and others with the power to help, this collection will help humanize the issue. Because, while addiction may be a cunning, baffling disease, it is ultimately one that affects real people.