Listen to an interview with the writer about his addiction and recovery here and at the bottom of this story.
I grew up in a very religious household with strict rules that controlled most aspects of my siblings and my life. Going out, attending school activities, watching television and even the music we listened to was scrutinized heavily by my parents. I remember having to entitle my newly-dubbed Guns N’ Roses album “Elton John” so I could leave it in my room and not have it confiscated by the God police. College seemed more like an escape than it was a place of higher learning.
Higher learning is what it turned out to be. Left to my own devices, I placed scholastics a distant second to all things social. Parties, concerts and women—all were far more important to me than school. I first experimented with marijuana in these early days, followed quickly by my alliance with a hippy-esque group of folks that spoke often about their own restricted, controlled past. This brought around the use of LSD, an experience that I repeated over 100 times in the following years.
My attitude toward drugs had changed greatly—anything man-made was bad: Tylenol, pharmacological medicines, coke and heroin. Alcohol was also included in the “no” column because it created the dumb jocks and date-raping frat-boys that we all so detested.
Eventually my poor grades caught up with me and I was expelled from school. It was no big deal to me. I wanted to get out of school and start working—the real world was far more interesting than this strange college life. I quickly found a job and friends at that job. It was through these friends that at the age of 24 I found myself in my first bar. I loved it. We would drink pitchers of beer, play pool and drink shots. Time and time again I would meet a woman and bring her home or be brought home. I loved it.
As the hippy scene degenerated a new musical/dance opportunity opened up for me—the rave scene. It was cheaper than a concert, and you could dance all night long. It was one of these nights, on LSD, that I decided to try ecstasy. This brought an acceptance of man-made chemicals and a feeling of invincibility.
A few years screamed by and I found myself employed in the local nightclub. This venue was large and some big-name acts would come through—names like Emmylou Harris, George Thorogood, Ben Harper and NOFX. Being in a position that granted me many perks, I was able to use my position to gain others admittance, obtain free drinks at the bar and walk backstage at will and meet the talent of the night.
It seemed I could not pay a bill at many of the bars and restaurants I went to during this time. I had gotten so many people into shows, and so many others wanted to experience this (or continue doing it) that they compensated me by hooking me up at their places of work.
Cocaine found me there. There must have been several dealers operating in this building and sometimes they just gave it to us workers for favors. A year later, I was using multiple times a week. In two years, it grew to daily. I needed it to just finish my work. The amounts I drank skyrocketed. By my fifth year, I was a mess—forgetting things to be done both personal and professional, blacking out repeatedly and starting every morning by casually walking to the bathroom and vomiting.
I had a woman who loved me at that time, and she suggested we move. I wanted nothing more than to get away from the town that I once loved. We left and I stopped using the coke, even when it reared its head in the new town. The drinking, though, only continued. Comments made about how high my tolerance was or how long I could drink made me feel like a badass. My personal life suffered, though: I lost my girlfriend. I subsequently left town to find myself working at a ski resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
During these years (the last five before now) I continued with my drinking, but things began to happen. I began to wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat, shaking uncontrollably. I would close my eyes and I would see disembodied mouths gnashing their teeth and babbling at me. My head would spin. I would see double for hours at a time. The morning vomiting returned.
One night I woke up a sweaty mess, reeling in nausea. I was naked, and I stumbled out of my room and into the hallway bathroom. I felt so sick. I bent forward and threw up a violent, tearing vomit that caused me to gag and choke. I was hit with a huge surge of muscle below my stomach, causing me to puke and defecate all over the wall behind me. I lay on the floor, sobbing in shame, disgust and fear. I could hear myself saying “I don’t want to die” over and over again in my head. I asked God not to kill me. I said that I was sorry.
This pitiful existence continued for several years, always able to pull myself together for my job by having a few airline bottles of whiskey on awaking and several more stashed in my pockets or bag. One night stands were fine, but any relationship suffered. I cannot blame any of them; I would not have liked seeing my partner reel in physical sickness day after day.
I took at trip back to my old seaside town once during this time. Within 20 minutes of being in town, I was drunk and had several bindles of blow in my pocket. By midnight I was in a shady motel with a prostitute and her gigantic, crack-smoking pimp. I did crack with them all night. I was threatened with physical violence by the pimp to supply more and more money, which I did. Finally, when they had retreated to the bathroom, I snuck out and ran. I awoke cold and dirty on the side of a road. I dusted off and walked straight to the bar. About an hour later I was overcome with convulsions and was whisked to a hospital where I sat twitching with an IV in me for hours. I returned home shamed and convinced to do something about it.
My friend dropped me off at a rehab center in Reno. I spent three days in the medical ward having my blood pressure monitored and Valium administered to calm my body. After I stabilized, I began to attend the meetings and exercises that make up a 28 day program. The center was located in an old mental ward. The baby-vomit blue painted walls peeled back with age, and one room locked away from us had old electric fixtures that were once used for electroshock therapy—not the nicest backdrop for recovery in my mind.
The others here were almost all court-ordered, because of repetitious use or child endangerment. The majority of them were speed addicts, and there were some drunks like me and a junkie. Most talked incessantly and constantly disrupted classes with juvenile fits or never-ending nonsensical babble. It was a chore to try and pay attention to hopefully learn something about myself.
Another thing I grew to hate were the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that we had to attend three times a day. I did not like the spiritual attachments that came with AA, and constantly argued with the leaders about my distaste for their system. Eventually, the weeks rolled by and I was released. I walked straight to the casinos downtown and got a shot and a beer.
Within a month of being home, my two cars broke down (both seized engines), I lost my job because of drinking and my dog was killed by a car. I was low. I would see my face in the mirror of the bathroom after vomiting and just think, “Who cares?” I sure didn’t. I had unemployment to pay my bills and buy my bottles. My diet consisted of fast food and TV dinners. My days consisted of waking, puking, drinking, watching TV and maybe eating. I was fat, my skin was waxy, and my personal hygiene was at an all time low. Friends stopped coming by. One’s reason was “because I can’t look at you.” I don’t blame them. I had a disease. It was not my fault.
Then I was given a book by a stranger, entitled The Small Book, a play off of the AA “bible,” The Big Book. As I read this book I began to feel something quiver deep in my mind. This book attacked AA for not being useful for those who don’t want to align themselves with God. It came with a message of rationality. The book stated, quite bluntly, that there was no disease, but rather my own weakness of will and lack of true desire to change. By the time I was halfway done with the book I knew there was something changing very quickly in my attitude towards myself.
I realized that I did care; I did want to treat myself better. And I did. Over the next weeks I began eating better. I stopped drinking and began to put my life back in order. Soon I was seeing the faces of happy friends and getting kissed again. That proved to me that I was valuable not just to myself, but to others. I grew close to my family that I had ignored for a decade, just in time to watch my siblings marry and start families.
Tired of where I lived (being surrounded by many others who heavily drank), and tired of the customer service work I used to do; I transferred my credits from my old school to the University of Nevada, Reno, and was accepted. I began to attend classes, did very well, and after a year I moved here. Now I am perched to finish what was started almost two decades ago, and I could not be more pleased.
The reason I wrote this was not to gain sympathy from anyone, nor is this to show that we can rise above adversity to succeed; rather it is to raise a yellow flag of caution for your eyes to see. I may be pleased with where I am at, but look at the cost of my addiction. I am almost 40 years old. Questions of “Will I have a family?,” haunt me. I wonder if my moods are reflective of the damage I have done to my mind. I look at all of the time squandered over glass tabletops and on cushioned barstools. Were these good times spent at all? Those people I raged with are not my friends. Those band guys don’t remember me. What was so damn cool about it all? There were good times, but to trade the quality of your mind and 90 percent of your time for 10 percent satisfaction is not the best trade.
Watch yourself. Watch your friends. Don’t hesitate to say something if you think it needs to be heard. Don’t think you are a square if you don’t do what everyone else does. Ignore peer pressure; they will all fade away as time rolls by. Above all, don’t waste your time chasing a shallow, temporary high—the future is yours to make, don’t squander the wondrous opportunities you are given. If you are not careful, you could wake up in a pool of blood, sweat and vomit and wonder, “What happened? Where did all the time go?”