My initial exposure to the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was back in 1991 or so as a 28-day guest of a residential treatment center in Memphis, Tennessee; however, as an extremely immature young man a couple of years out of college, my commitment to clean and sober living did not really take. As it turned out, I was not nearly ready to fully admit to what turned out to be a very real powerlessness in my still-blooming relationship with alcohol and drugs.
What had been merely a reservation in my mind during my inpatient stay in Memphis — the idea that I was not like the other guests, that I’d merely been sowing my wild oats and hadn’t finished sowing them — evolved into more than just an idea… it was something I believed to be factual. In my roguish, self-centered, justifying mind, I backed that belief up with a clear memory of being told by some of those real addicts and alcoholics that the regular drinking, pot smoking, and assorted other drug taking that occurred in the years surrounding my college career were not matters for real concern. No, I was not an alcoholic or addict at all, I mused. I was sure of it: I had made a mountain out of a molehill! I was naive, I thought… had bitten too quickly on what turned out to be a commissioned sales pitch by a man in a fancy suit.
In any case, what had transpired up to my early twenties was certainly not enough to produce the sorts of harsh lessons that would follow.
Result: I returned to the apartment I still shared with my drinking and pot-smoking buddies. Within two weeks I was back at it, starting with a joint and soon followed by vodka tonics and Long Island teas.
My twenties began with a roller coaster ride that clattered through promising auditing careers at KPMG (I quit after a lengthy coke and booze binge) and HCA (I was fired after calling in sick for too long), after which I ended up as a computer systems (IT) auditorworking for the state of Tennessee. I settled in for over three years in the relative comfort and anonymity of a government job from which it was far more difficult to be fired than hired. Our frequent out-of-town audits were filled with liquor, hangovers, and mediocre work. I often walked to and from home during my ever-longer lunch breaks to smoke pot and drink. I sold pot and other drugs on the side; I rummaged for pills in all medicine cabinets I encountered, as I would for many more years. My riverside apartment in downtown Nashville was a hangout for many a using comrade those years.
WISHING I WERE DEAD
My twenties ended with a suicide attempt. I had fractured my knee months before in a car accident and was “enjoying” a phase of increasing laziness and lethargy as I dampened reality with pain killers, Xanax®, vodka, and Jack Daniels. Using insurance settlement money, I bought a crotch rocket – a Yamaha FZR600 – upon which my friends and I repeatedly cheated death with so much blackout riding. I quit another promising job – this time it was American Homepatient in Brentwood – so I could wallow in misery fulltime. My depression, the apparent root of all my problems, went from generally tolerable to downright beastly. I thought I’d nothing to live for, so I planned my exit. It was going to be good for everyone, I thought, because I seemed to do nothing for anyone but cause pain, break hearts, and spread disillusionment & an array of other bad vibes. One Sunday afternoon, I collected around 320 one-milligram Xanax pills and a fifth of Jack, left someone a note where my body could be found, and proceeded to one of my favorite hiking spots in Nashville where I got drunk and swallowed fistfuls of those blue benzos. I woke up a couple of days later in Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
After a hellish week of being locked up in Vanderbilt’s VITA ward, my mother took me by my apartment on Edmondson Pike to pick up some things. She bore horrified witness to my first benzo withdrawal seizure. I woke up at Southern Hills Medical Center, a nearby hospital. As it turns out, the doctors at Vanderbilt did not see fit to administer any detox meds during my stay there, and my system revolted eight days after the Xanax overdose.
My head soon cleared and I returned to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was done with drinking and using, I thought. A kind man gave me a shot at a decent computer support job at his printing company in the Melrose area of Nashville. Sometime around the three-month mark, my doubts returned as to whether or not I was truly an addict or alcoholic. One of the few memories I have about that job is an alcohol-fueled out-of-town convention during which several colleagues amusedly pointed out that I had my shoes on backwards. There I went again.
BUYING AND LOSING MY FIRST HOME
Soon thereafter, I was off to the races in Hotlanta. Against all odds, a close friend of mine who ran an Atlanta-area mortgage company hired me on for my computer/network support skills. In six months – soon after I’d bought a used Maxima and a new four-bedroom house north of Marietta – I was laid off (surprisingly, for reasons other than substance abuse). I soon saw the event as a fortuitous time to become legitimately self-employed as a web developer; no selling drugs for me. However, I soon got into the habit of drinking a fifth or so of Skyy vodka most days. (I had even named my dog Sky.) I remember doing a lot of X and getting pills and pot whenever I could. I deemed myself “OK enough” despite having run off my dream girl, Kimberly C., for a third time with my embarrassing drunken antics. I made friends with a number of interesting people but often quit calling them or even frightened them away before long. After a few months, my cousin had moved in with me. A large fellow, I hired him to keep me from drinking. It did not work; when he took my keys and guarded the front door, I simply slipped out the back door and rode my mountain bike to the liquor store.
I soon lost the house in Georgia and wound up in a lousy apartment in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with another old friend I was soon to offend and drive from my life for good. I bounced in and out of the rooms of AA, but by the time my friend William moved away I was mostly out.
Shortly after vacating that sordid Murfreesboro dwelling, I found myself back in Marietta, north of Atlanta. This time, I was going to do self-employment, relationships, and AA correctly – and in that order. I soon became a fan and member of the 8111 group in the Dunwoody area north of Atlanta. I often shared in meetings, developed real friends, and even started chairing meetings. I achieved nearly two years of sobriety, a record for this addict alcoholic – but around that time, my twisted mental gymnastics took over. I soon had a Xanax prescription from a prominent Marietta psychiatrist, then a second script from a general practitioner. Although I took the pills as directed at first, I slowly descended into old behavior and gradually curtailed my Alcoholics Anonymous involvement.
THE ONLINE PHARMACY PHASE
By 2001 or so, I had learned how to put together quality web sites and have them rank very well on Google. Web development, content writing, and SEO had become my thing. With so much practice and a growing passion for all things web, my BestWeb Atlanta website soon ranked among the top three results on the coveted first page for Google searches relating to Atlanta web development and design. In order to help fuel my impassioned webbery, I had a list of reliable online pharmacies around the globe which kept a steady stream of benzos, opiates, muscle relaxers, and stimulants arriving by mail, UPS, and FedEx. I had more work than I could handle, but I was in no way running a sound business. My favorite concoction of hydrocodone, benzos, vodka, and Ritalin washed away my serious inhibitions when it came to selling my web services to prospective clients, both on the phone and face-to-face. I seemed unstoppable, often working in 36-hour shifts. When the drugs were close to running out I would force myself to wean off the benzos and opiates over a few days, staying in bed anywhere from one to three weeks at a time where I watched daytime television and nursed vodka until my supply of pills resumed. Although I knew my drug use was far from normal, my self-diagnosing, self-prescribing, and self-weaning seemed to work for a time.
Around 2005, my Atlanta experience was completely played out. My girlfriend had left me a year before; even worse, I was out of money, drugs, and passion for web work. A deep, dark depression chock full of all-too-familiar suicide ideation had once again overwhelmed me. I moved back to Nashville where I would somehow eek by for another eight years doing odd jobs, web work, bouncing in and out of the rooms all the while. I lived for a short time in a dilapidated, roach-infested house and eventually moved into the large basement of my parents’ home in Green Hills.
SUBOXONE®: JUST WHAT I NEED?
To prevent myself from venturing down the ever-alluring opiate path as I had in Atlanta, I started taking Suboxone®. A friend of mine in hospital management had recommended Suboxone, so I took his advice. I knew the buprenorphine would fill up my opiate receptors and prevent me from going hog wild on pills again. And so it did… sort of. I snorted Adderall® and drank vodka instead.
In July of 2012, after more than five years on Suboxone®/Subutex® and Adderall®/Vyvanse®, my shrink sent me a letter saying he was no longer seeing patients. I may have been the only patient to get such a letter; after all, I’d owed him money for some time. I was later told by my pharmacist, a close friend of my shrink, that they both knew I was full of crap. No surprise there; I knew I wasn’t fooling anyone – it’s just that I no longer cared. In fact, I had quit caring long ago.
I tapered off the Subutex over a period of almost two months; I thought my gradual tapering would make it painless, but it did not. Lacking both health insurance and work ethic, I lapsed into a deeper depression as I’d predicted in a self-fulfilling prophecy upon quitting the prescription drugs. I went to a few AA and NA meetings but did not manage to put together more than a few days clean & sober, usually one or two weeks at most.
LAST LEG OF ALCOHOL-FUELED MISERY
After the buprenorphine ran out, I became even more of a hermit than before – if that were possible. I had almost no friends left and had trained (or frightened) my family into staying out of my increasingly miserable basement dwelling. I was relieved to be left alone; I was becoming ever more agoraphobic. I ventured out of the house only to walk to Bud’s Liquors (a Green Hills liquor store) for whatever amount of cheap vodka I could afford that day, usually a pint or half-pint – almost always paid for with whatever loose change I could pilfer from the house.
The only time I felt reasonably at peace was that space between two and four drinks. I was once again a chronic insomniac whose only escape from reality apart from the vodka consisted of watching movie after movie. What little sleep I did get was plagued with uncomfortable dreams or even nightmares.
I NEED HELP. DRUG REHAB, ANYONE?
In March of 2013, I managed to acquire a handful of Xanax, Klonopin, and Lortab. I stretched the pills out over a few days, during which my mood improved just enough to reach out for help. I emailed Michael B., a close friend of mine who had recently become employed in the drug rehab industry; if anyone could help me find a free or cheap detox, it was him.
I was relieved to learn a few days later that Michael had been talking to family members about getting me some help. An immense weight lifted from my shoulders as something other than another suicide attempt seemed possible in the foreseeable future. He mentioned Discovery Place and gave me the phone number to Admissions, which I was instructed to call as soon as possible. And I did.
April 6, 2013 was the day things started to change. I knew I’d be admitted that afternoon at Discovery Place for what would be my fifth stint in drug rehab, and I had saved a single serving as an eye-opener: an airplane bottle of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky. We had a family meeting later in the morning. Although I was greatly relieved in knowing I was about to get help (yet again), these family meetings by nature are not pleasant, so I remain grateful to my friend Michael for facilitating it.
Although quite a burden had been lifted as soon as I realized I was bound for drug rehab at Discovery Place, I did not feel at home there until a few days had passed. Caught in the midst of my fear of people, my general disgust with life, and my jaded attitude towards twelve-steppery as a whole, I did as little socializing as possible. Fortunately for me, isolating myself socially at Discovery Place — the way I was used to doing at home, at least — would require something akin to sociopathy, so within the first few days of entering the 30-day residential recovery program I was comfortably in the recovery groove. Within two weeks, I was soaking it all in and taking advantage of all the experience, strength, and hope Discovery Place staff and volunteers could offer — especially those I’d come to find were virtual spiritual mystics. Having left the church many moons ago, I was also quite relieved to find tolerance of diverse religious and spiritual views.
By the time I had commenced from the 30-day program and entered the long-term recovery program at Discovery Place, I was sharing about how happy I was to have been reintroduced to recovery, even after having sworn years before that I’d never do the 12-step dance again. Today — six months clean & sober, residing in a sober living house in Dickson, and gainfully employed for the first time in years (at Discovery Place, to boot!) — I am incredibly grateful in knowing that sobriety is the best possible gift I could have received from my family & the Discovery Place staff and volunteers.