My story of addiction
Smoke drifted through the stinking sunlight filtered through shut blinds and it was either morning or afternoon. The coffee table was covered in empty beer cans, ash and foil–the smell like old chemicals left long in the sun. My knees were raw from searching the floor for the last piece, nearby a stack of yellow tickets from my latest arrest, unanswered phone calls—and my shame everywhere.
Ten years earlier told a different story. Voted class athlete, a student of top marks, an altar boy, called a “good kid” by adults and raised to a loving family; I knew right from wrong. There were no harbingers for what was to come. I do not know why the path of addiction was set before me, only that it seemed predetermined, unavoidable. I would try so many times to veer from the path to no avail. I had to walk it.
When I took my first drink of alcohol at the age of 17 it was as if I’d found something missing. The dull unsettling uneasiness and low self-esteem that defined my adolescence evaporated and was replaced with a new freedom. I could suddenly talk to girls, attend parties and forget my feelings of less than. I was able to forget myself. Drinking suddenly became my solution to the multitude, became my savior, and I clung to it’s soaring promises as if being chased by something.
I do not know why the path of addiction was set before me, only that it seemed predetermined, unavoidable. I would try so many times to veer from the path to no avail. I had to walk it. tweet
Calamity began soon enough. By the age of 22 I had survived multiple car accidents, once narrowly avoiding a 60-foot ravine by striking a solitary telephone pole in the way. I had flunked three universities due to lack of attendance. My hands shook and I suffered night terrors, panic attacks and spent long hours in my car napping in fast food parking lots, nauseous by greasy food and hiding from social interaction. I was 22 and felt my life had been wasted. The shame was so heavy even then. Why was all this happening to me? Why could I not stop? I must be a failure, I assumed. Self-pity kept pace.
With the support of my family I put myself in rehab then. A seed was planted, but no lasting sobriety sprung. Instead of changing myself, I made a geographic change, moved to upstate New York with the excitement of bright lights and grand adventure. But what came was something else, an ever-quickening downward spiral into an abyss of loathing and self-destruction.
My life became this: Living alone, I would wake at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, stumble with baggy eyes to the bathroom and brush foul taste from my mouth while gagging on an empty stomach. Because I had lost my driving privileges, I walked four blocks to work the late shift. At midnight I walked home, stopping for beer on the way. Then I watched movies alone until dawn, passed out, and waking at 4 all this would begin again, day after day the same, for over a year. Rarely did I leave these four blocks, never seeing the bright lights of New York City. My adventure was a never-ending nightmare. I had built my own prison.
My sole desire was for human connection, and yet it was also my greatest fear. I was a scared little boy. tweet
Some nights I walked to the neighborhood bar and tried to find the courage to have a conversation, make a new friend, but I could no longer get drunk enough. Relationships were out of the question; such intimacy was impossible, couldn’t even take my shirt off in front of a woman. And certainly, I thought, no one would be interested in speaking to someone like me. I had nothing to share with the world. I was shit. My sole desire was for human connection, and yet it was also my greatest fear. I was a scared little boy.
So I began inviting strangers into my home to smoke crack cocaine—convicts and homeless addicts, people I would once have ran from. Following these nights, in despair and remorse, I vowed never to do such things again. But within days the unresolved emotions of a decade would overwhelm me, and with no other solution, would be drunk and associating again with dangerous people. Many nights I wedged my couch against the front door in fear they might return and harm me. Several times I felt my heart flutter as I inhaled, tempted overdose. Twice I woke from blackout in the emergency room, having fallen face-first onto pavement somewhere in the darkness. I had become an empty shell, in regret of yesterday and in dread of tomorrow. There was no hope of ever changing. I thought myself bad luck and hated all of me. No one knew my predicament. I was too ashamed to share… Most of us do not survive these times. One in a thousand, maybe.
And then, on a crisp, shining day in my 28th year, it all ended.
I can’t say why it was that day and not another thousand days just like it. Certainly I had tried countless times to stop, had suffered greater threats. There was no big lesson learned. Once a disbeliever and spiritual critic, looking back now, I wonder at a divine consciousness at play. One man once described this moment as “either something was broken or fixed within me, I don’t know which.” And so it was with me. I had come to a jumping off place, a place of surrender. I simply gave up. My will fell upon the floor and my ego was shattered. I have not had a drink since.
Such beautiful people—my story pales in comparison to their own tales of tragedies overcome. Hearing their stories I know human potential to be limitless. Certainly I am not special in my recovery. tweet
I became willing to go to any lengths to not pick up a drink, determined to be honest. This was a challenging time. I still had the emotional maturity of a teenager. All my unresolved emotions came to the surface; felt naked and raw as if a bandage had been ripped from my skin. My great fear of being seen by others left me shaking in social situations. I stared at my shoes, wore a ball cap to cover my eyes. To be vulnerable was hard.
A fellowship of men and women saved my life. A group who had found a solution welcomed me with unconditional love and showed me a better way through their own examples. Such beautiful people—my story pales in comparison to their own tales of tragedies overcome. Hearing their stories I know human potential to be limitless. Certainly I am not special in my recovery.
I could tell you a great many things about my first year in recovery. I made lifelong friends. I met a man who took me under his care and mirrored my truths so I could see. With his guidance I dissected every momentous event in my life and saw how my actions turned the wheels of others’ actions. I discovered that the inner causes the outer, and that only by changing myself first, could I change my world. We tore the masks off all my fears one by one and revealed their falsehoods. I found forgiveness for myself and others through the art of compassion and sincere empathy. I came to see every tragedy or tribulation as an opportunity for personal growth, thus, as the alchemists do, turning mud into gold. My idea of love was redefined. We practiced giving to others, and I realized the awesome potential for transcendence in selflessness. So many wonderful awakenings came. More I could say. However, we all walk our own paths and personal realizations must come in their own time. Alcoholic or not, I believe the work I’ve done would benefit any person walking this planet.
Two years after I became sober, I stood atop a 110-foot private ship and watched islands float by off the coast of Croatia. As the Adriatic Sea glimmered blue and golden at sunset, I began to laugh softly. Only two years earlier my life had been four blocks and darkness. Now I had a passport and saw the world. Soon I would move to London, and later, live a year in India. I was in a healthy, loving relationship. My brother had asked me to be his best man at his wedding. I could look people in the eye and tell my father I loved him. So many other rewards had come, too many to list and still they come today, but beyond all that, standing on that top deck, it was the peace I felt within that most chuckled me.
Death isn’t necessary to see hell, and you needn’t wait for heaven either. tweet
Today I know death isn’t necessary to see hell, and you needn’t wait for heaven either. Regret left me long ago. Instead I am grateful for that suffering; it made me wiser, kinder and more generous. And the suffering that comes, as it will come because this is life, offers similar benefit. When we shake in fear and are defeated, we must only attempt to do the next right thing, be vulnerable and speak from the heart. We will learn to accept our imperfections as perfect. We will become little vessels of outpouring love. We will smile and laugh and our eyes will shine. Finally we will know our purpose. Today my eyes look inwards and my stride is genuine.
I hear your pain, you needn’t say a word. But let me whisper to you now, something true—there is help and hope! You can change your world, I promise you. There is a place in you untouched, unravaged, unbroken. The walls mean nothing. This life is beautiful, and lest you forget, yours is beautiful too. You need not walk alone. Our best days wait unimagined by us.
(If ever you wish to reach out, ask any questions, or just pass the time, I’m always here for you. Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll write you back.)