Indiscriminate Addiction: Part 1
Addiction touches every group of our society. It has been my experience to walk into a meeting and see a movie star sitting next to a homeless person, sitting next to a single mom, sitting next to a teenager, sitting next to an elderly man, and so on. The common denominator is that we are all afflicted with the same disease, and in search of the same goal, a release from addiction. We belong to different and separate castes, but the moment we cross the threshold we are all the same. The great equalizer is the 12 Step Groups.. At 17, I thought I was far too young to be an alcoholic. But I was. Yet I also believed that there was no way I could ever stay sober for the rest of my life. But I can . Since stepping into that meeting room ,I haven’t found it necessary to pick up a drink or drug for the last 12 years. This is my story.
The question of whether you are born with alcoholism is still hotly debated. For myself, I don’t care what they come back with. I know I was born with this. One of my earliest memories is taking a drink off a table at a party my parents were having when I was maybe 4 years old. An unknown adult took it out of my hand and shooed me away. Like any mischievous child, I waited only until they were distracted before returning and taking another drink. I know now it was alcohol in some form, at the time I only knew it was disgusting. I put it back and wondered why anyone would drink something so putrid on purpose. Not 5 minutes later, something very peculiar happened. I went in search of the cup to have more. It had been moved and I gave up my search in lieu of more interesting activities. But why on earth would I go back to drink something I knew was disgusting? I thought vegetables were disgusting, no force on earth could move me to eat them. I was having my first craving, set off by my allergy to all mind altering substances. It would be many years until I had this experience again, but I point to this moment as proof that my alcoholism is a lifelong struggle.
I will never forget the first time I got high. It was a terrible experience. I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. I smoked weed with some older kids. I lied and said I had gotten high before so that they wouldn’t think I was a loser. I became disoriented, acted like a fool and threw up everywhere. For the next six years I would rarely draw sober breath. When I finally came to recovery, I heard people share about getting drunk behind things such as trauma, resentment and pain. I couldn’t relate. I got high simply because I wanted to. Being high all the time was better than not being high. Looking back with clarity, I see now that I was always uncomfortable; in my body, in my head, in my life. I was restless, irritable and discontented. Getting high and drunk made all that bad stuff go away. But at the time I had no way of knowing that. All I had was a primal drive to stay inebriated in order to stay comfortable. When I was asked why I couldn’t just stop, why in the face of all the wreckage and pain I was causing, I couldn’t just get it together, I didn’t really have an answer. Well I did, and it was the most honest thing I had ever said My answer was a pure, simple “I don’t know”. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to alienate my friends, make my mother cry, fail out of school, be homeless, ruin my health, feel like dying. But I just had to. I had no choice. No matter how badly I wanted to be normal, chaos always followed. I don’t relate to wanting to stop and not being able to; I never tried to stop. Neither did I relate to trying to control and enjoy my using; I never tried to control it. All I knew was 100mph all day, every day. But when you live your life that way, something will bring you to a screeching halt eventually. Jails, institutions, or death. I was about to meet all three.
In my time on the streets, I had gotten into a few scrapes with the law. I never found myself in cuffs or in a cell for too long, and barring one guilty plea, I stayed out of serious trouble. That all changed when I came home in the middle of the day to find parents at home. As they both had full-time jobs, this was strange. It turns out that an old run-in with law enforcement was coming back to bite me in a very serious way. I was being charged with a handful of felonies that totaled 7-10 years in prison. What I did not know at the time was that my parents had been in touch, with and already toured, a treatment facility in Los Angeles and were simply waiting for the opportunity to present it to me. My options were pretty simple: 1) go to this facility for “90 days” and get out of doing prison time; 2) reject any help and try to get out of it on my own – which would certainly result in me being incarcerated; and 3) go on the run like I always did, with serious warrants out for my arrest, while I using – and probably end up dead. I was under the spell of drug-induced psychosis, deluded by selfish perceptions, but I was not stupid. I knew I had only one real choice, so I agreed to go for the 90 days with every intention of lying my way through it and blending in only to bide my time. When I finally darkened the door of New Life House, I had for a rude awakening.
On November 16th 2006, I crossed the threshold of New Life House. I found out very quickly this “90 Day” program was actually 18 months of lock down in a men’s recovery house. I literally had to ask permission to do any and everything for the next year and a half. It felt like my life was over… and it was. The only contact with the outside world I had was through a pay phone and the numbers were dialed by an older trusted member of the house, so I couldn’t call old friends. I participated in five groups a day, attended meetings every night and wrote millions of words whenever I broke the rules. I endured harsh, direct criticisms. I did not want to get clean. I had no interest in staying sober for the rest of my life. I was 17. The rest of my life seemed like a huge vacuum of space and time ahead of me. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what a few months into the future would be like. When I came to the rooms of recovery and heard people say “one day at a time” I thought, well no problem there. I lived my life in 24 hour blocks as it was. I was always only concerned with how I was going to get and stay high that day, and nothing else.
But I was tired. I was tired of keeping the game going. I was tired of the lifestyle. When I sat there, knowing I was going to have to complete this program to stay out prison, a part of me felt very relieved. I was safe, I was being fed, I was sleeping in a bed, I had a roof over my head and people to talk to. I had begun to understand that life as I was living it was not sustainable. It had all finally caught up with me. I had no more cards left to play. I saw young guys who were just like me who seemed to have found some peace and comfort – I wanted that. I saw graduates of the program who had apartments, jobs and cars. These young people seemed happy and they had friends. All of this was very attractive to me – these were things I had always wanted, but felt I’d never have. They told me that if I followed the program, got a sponsor and worked steps, listened to the people who walked ahead of me on the path of recovery, I could have all these things, too. I didn’t know why at the time, but I believed them. And this was all I needed to make a beginning.
This is part one of a two part series. Check in on Dec. 1st to hear the rest of the author’s experience, strength, and hope.