Christmas Eve, 2013. At 27 years old I thought my life was over. The past several years had been a whirlwind of destruction, chaos, illness, and hurt that I wanted to shut the door on but just couldn’t muster the strength to do so. I had alienated everyone who cared about me, used them up, and burned every bridge. All in the desperate pursuit of oblivion through drugs, a quietude of my incessant, buzzing mind that had lit up with maddening, pinging thoughts and emotions during puberty. I was a hollow, broken young man, reduced to petty theft on the streets of central Phoenix to support my nagging physical dependency on IV heroin and methamphetamine. I was completely alone. The money and resources I had manipulated from my parents were long gone. The invitations to stay on friends’ couches who took pity on me had dried up, once they realized I couldn’t be trusted near their medicine cabinets and valuables. I was a leech on others’ emotional and financial good will. My condition had left me riddled with disease, mental and physical illness. Hepatitis. Valley Fever. Swollen abscesses. Infection. Pneumonia. Depression. Anxiety. A wellspring of trudging misery had enveloped me whole, all attributed to my relentless pursuit of chemical relief, my attempt to escape my hell of a reality by any means necessary. Over the holiday season of 2013, I was stuck in a perpetual loop of shacking up with drug dealers, using friends, staying in detoxes, institutions, halfway houses and hospitals. Essentially anywhere I could stay, I would. This particular Christmas found me back in the hospital with bilateral pneumonia, a side effect of my unhygienic, unhealthy lifestyle. How I ended up in such dire straits, and how those very same situations became my salvation began 12 years prior, at the age of 16.
Looking back, I was never a casual user of drugs or alcohol. I firmly believe, sitting here today on the other side, that I was born with the disease of addiction. Nothing in my upbringing would have suggested the dark sequence of events that would come to be. I grew up in a solid Christian household with loving, law-abiding parents who provided for me. I did not want. I never worried about there being food on the table or being abused. But as far back as I can remember, I just couldn’t reconcile how I felt inside regarding myself. I felt uneasy in social situations. I felt an enduring darkness that permeated my thoughts, a kind of evil that lurked in the vast recesses of my mind, filled with negative self-talk and poor self-esteem. An emotional distance or disconnect with others. This combined with a pervasive selfishness, a calamity of thought processes that surrounded my own well-being, my own grandiose desires for my life, what I wanted, my hopes and dreams of celebrity or stardom, of being someone important. I found myself reaching, reaching for validation outside of myself. For gratification from others. Escaping through the fantasy of books, music, and film. Lost in worlds of imagination. I just wanted to be someone other than myself. This type of mindset combined with chemicals is a deadly combination. My first encounter with alcohol involved chugging a beer in 10 seconds flat at the age of 15 or 16. I had no interest in the taste or experience; I was strictly interested in the effect of intoxication. I experienced drunkenness and understood why people sought out the sensation but wasn’t floored by it. At approximately age 16, I took a single Percocet, given to me by a friend. I had heard from others that they produced an intoxicating effect and instantly a desire to try this new substance had anchored firmly in my brain. Within 15 minutes of swallowing that pill, I had the first spiritual experience of my life. All the negative, encumbering thoughts of being less than others, the maddening speed at which my thoughts flew, the anxious worrying and complete lack of self-confidence were replaced with a warm, numbing, emerging glow of peace. Without a second of forethought, of what I may be getting myself into, I told myself that I would take this substance every day for the rest of my life. This was my solution to living. This was my answer to the human condition. My freedom from the bondage of self that I had so fruitlessly attempted to cast off before. The chains that bound me were broken that day and I felt as close to true happiness as a person could feel.
The rest, as they say, is history. What began as a consequence free endeavor of escape very quickly transformed into a nightmare of dependence. As I grew older, I learned about physical addiction—the hard way. I learned what detoxing from opiates was like. I learned that this was to be avoided at all costs. I learned that meant stealing money from my parents. It meant raiding my friends’ parents’ medicine cabinets during parties. It meant stealing from big box stores and participating in return scams. It meant buying pills in bulk and selling them at a premium to other people. It meant basically, taking anything that wasn’t nailed down to the floor and attempting to monetize it, and transform it into a pill. Somehow, I graduated high school. It was always expected that I’d go to college, but that fell by the wayside quickly. It was expected then, that I would work for a living, but that too was discarded in favor of the pursuit of better living through chemicals. I found family, friends, work, and social situations all tended to impede by preferred mode of operation which strictly involved the acquisition and use of drugs. My parents were beside themselves. They received calls from concerned parents of friends of mine—calls where they shared their son or daughter had to carry me, almost unconscious, out of a restaurant after I had eaten too many muscle relaxers. This was par for the course. There were confrontations. There was shrugging them off on my part. There was the confusion among all parties on what, exactly should be done.
Eventually this all came to a head when, more often than not, I found myself detoxing as opposed to being intoxicated and finally admitted to my parents that I had a problem. Enter suboxone maintenance and an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). I had little interest in being sober. In fact, I probably had no interest in being sober. I just didn’t want to experience the pain of withdrawal symptoms on such a regular basis. I flunked out of IOP after three sessions. I got a call during my first week from a friend who had acquired a fresh supply of Morphine pills and off to the races I went. I had zero thought or regard for the fact that I had agreed on a course of treatment for myself with my family and had entered a program. After it all came out in the open that I was no longer participating in treatment, someone recommended suboxone maintenance. I was evaluated by an addiction doctor and titrated onto the medication. Again, with little to no interest in being sober or living a life of recovery. I couldn’t have told you what recovery even meant at that point. But suboxone maintenance it was not. I abused the medication any way I could and proceeded to party with other drugs like marijuana, alcohol, ecstasy, and speed in short order. This, of course, led to more pain and frustration among my family and friends, as our home together became nothing more than a hotel to me, a place to take a break or get some sleep before my next “adventure”. After I got tired of the suboxone “not working” I switched to methadone. My physical condition deteriorated rapidly. My life consisted of sometimes showing up to work, smoking marijuana, hanging out with my girlfriend, watching the clock until it was time for me to get my next dose at the clinic and gaining weight. It was around this time that my parents had enough and asked me to leave the house. I had begun experimenting with bath salts which had recently hit the smoke shops. My behavior had become increasingly erratic through my use of a deadly combination of that wretched chemical, Xanax, methadone, and beer. I frequently was stealing or begging for money, wrecking the house, and selling family property. I moved in with my girlfriend, essentially destroyed her peaceful life at that time, causing her to lose her roommate and apartment. We moved in with her good-natured parents, but this situation was unmanageable as well. I was unmanageable. Through my ever-increasing cocktail of substances, I was an incoherent wreck, an absolute burden, a cross to bear for anyone who had the displeasure of being involved. After the continued theft and reckless behavior on my part, plus the increasing frequency with which I found myself detoxing yet again it was back to rehab.
This was my first experience with real recovery. I was introduced to the 12 Step Program. I participated in family programming. I went to groups. I learned how to make my bed. I learned about the disease of addiction. I learned about why I used drugs. I learned how chemicals had highjacked my brain’s reward and pleasure system and skewed it so horribly awry. All in all, it was a good experience, but again, unfortunately, my whole, authentic heart was still shrouded in the black depths of my disease, and a part of me had serious reservations on using chemicals for relief at a future time and date. Still, I played the part of the good patient, followed instructions, and discharged after 30 days to sober living. Unfortunately, I was about to learn the lesson that relapse can be a part of recovery and things would only go from bad to worse.
Part II will appear in next month’s newsletter.
Sean – In Recovery
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