J | 11:50

Listen to Story

"For me, addiction started in adolescence"

Addiction Alcohol Marijuana Hallucinogens Heroin Recovery Alcoholics Anonymous Marijuana Anonymous Community Connection Mental Illness Mental Health Feelings Resentment Shame Guilt Fear

Story Transcript

I think any great addiction story starts with, perhaps how you found yourself in that addiction. And I think, really, for me, addiction started in adolescence and was a coping mechanism, although at the time, I probably saw more social activity and primarily was a coping mechanism to deal with my inability to deal with feelings. It really is the best way to describe it. I think fear, anger, love, anything really, specifically with my peer group. There wasn't, you know, we didn't talk about feelings. That wasn't part of the everyday conversation. "Hey, how are you feeling today?" I don't think I even heard that question inside of my peer group, until probably I met a couple of friends in college. But you know, it starts there in adolescence then it progresses into experimenting with things beyond just maybe alcohol and marijuana and becomes about anything I can ingest that's going to change my state of mind, including pills and cocaine and hallucinogenic drugs and ultimately finding myself in a place in my early twenties, for maybe doing the harder drugs a little too frequently on the weekend and partying too much and drinking too much. Though, you know, I transitioned into what I called at the moment "Willie Nelson Cure", which is smoking large quantities of marijuana, not drinking as much, pretty much getting rid of all hard drugs except occasional, hallucinogenic drugs throughout that time also really primarily using them as a coping mechanism for not feeling comfortable with dealing with my feelings.

But then when I entered my twenties, it wasn't just my feelings, it was dealing with my past, dealing with my resentment of the past. And things start to compound, to a point where you're not even aware of why you're doing it anymore, its just an addiction, a habit.

And then you know the interesting thing, too that I think about addiction is that there's, in my opinion, a fallacy that you're really only an addict if your life completely falls apart or if you have, like a really tragic moment that they gives you, what I think people in addiction communities called, a 'wake up call' or you know, a 'moment of clarity' is the expression commonly used. And that could be things like people having horrific car accidents or, maybe they accidentally killed somebody. And, when my friend Gary died of a heroin overdose, it was a wake up call for me and not because I was using heroin, but because I had been using for about the same ammout of time that he had been, that we were present together at the beginning of this process of finding substances to cope with life. We took slightly different paths in the woods, but nevertheless, we both got lost in the same woods. He just happened to die there. And, you know, that's when that moment of clarity, in combination with about another year to year and a half long continuance of using, and the battle and the cognitive dissonance within me that, well, I'm not using those types of substances, so that would be a justification to continue or, you know, my life isn't falling apart, and I don't have people calling meetings with me to check me into rehab.

And I think the most dangerous part about alcohol for some people and marijuana are that these addictions don't lead you there quickly. It's a much slower death in terms of your spiritual death or the death of relationships or, you know, the physical death. In some ways, even in some of these groups of people I would be around, the heroin addicts felt more fortunate because they got there quicker. And it's just interesting, there's this idea, which I battled with too in terms of asking for help, which is "I'm not sick enough to ask for help about my problem." I don't have any problems visible in the outside world. So, there's this disconnect between you are only having a problem, if everybody thinks you're having a problem, which is a denial to yourself, even though you are telling yourself you have a problem. I was fortunate enough that for a lot of bad reasons, or maybe it's wrong to label them that way, but I was fortunate enough to have these experiences and have these relationships with people... both of my fathers, my biological and stepfather–addicts, were alcoholics–interchangeable in my mind in terms of the usage of the words. And my good friend and many of my good friends, who are also addicts, and alcoholics, some of them died, some of them who are continuing to use today. And then I just had a moment, where it was finally enough for me. Many moments like that, but the final one was literally feeling like I was losing my mind. Having breaks from reality, voices in my head, what felt like must be a mental schizopernia – hearing things, seeing things, audio hallucinations and being curled up in a ball on the floor, rocking in the fetal position in front of my wife and saying, I just, whatever it is, I'll try it. I have to go to a room and talk to people? Fine. I'll do that. Because right now, I'm agoraphobic. I can barely leave the house unless I'm high. I can barely talk to anybody unless am high. I don't find anything interesting unless am high. Movies aren't interesting unless I'm high. Food doesn't taste good unless I'm high. Social situations aren't comfortable unless I'm high. I don't value myself at all unless am high. And then when I do get high but have to come down, I completely hate myself.

The roller coaster, the seesaw, the cave, Plato's cave, which was part of my recovery, that metaphor of being trapped in a cave, chained to a rock, facing a wall and believing the shadows that you're seeing are the only reality there is. And I kept getting these glimpses of another reality but being too scared to leave the cave. So I went back into the cave and chained myself back to the rock and looked at the shadows a little bit longer. And eventually I said, I'm not fucking going back in that cave. It's about my ego and just letting go and admitting that I have issues, then I'm gonna admit that I have an issue, so I don't have to get into that cave. I hate that fucking cave.

The recovery and everything that comes after that moment, is the second act. Or I should say, I'm fortunate enough that I have a second act, because so many people don't get it. Not about comparing yourself to those people, but it is about recognizing that people had to pass away before me, for me to see it. I literally don't think I would have seen it unless specifically, Jeff, my father and Gary, my best friend died as a result, or completely were not in my life because of their addictions.

And ultimately, the substance itself isn't the issue. And thats really where the story begins, its not, Oh my God, I had a fucking drug problem and now I don't use drugs. So, end of story I'm all better. It's the beginning of a story because you realize that all of that substance abuse... and these addictions, you know, having other friends and close relationships in my life aren't strictly limited to substance abuse. It's food or lack of food, anything that keeps you from taking time on a compulsive level, to honestly take inventory of what you're feeling. That can be sex, that can be work. It could be anything. Taking that inventory, being brutally honest with myself about some things in my past, facing the things that I'm fearing, doing my best to take ownership of the things that I've done wrong. Slowly, the guilt, the shame, the resentment, the fear was lifted off of me. I wasn't carrying it around anymore. I can recognize these things still, not denial of them, but it is a recognition of them, that was a part of my life that isn't something that defines me. And I'm still living that story right now. I mean, if I don't express what I'm feeling or am in fear of, I get dangerously close to that state of mind again, and it's the "fuck it" state of mind. It's the fuck everything and run, fear state of mind. It's the false evidence appearing real state of mind. And that mind, if not kept in check, is like a terrorist hijacking a plane. And that plane is my brain. And if I let that terrorist hijack that plane, I'm no longer the pilot, and I don't know where the fuck they're gonna go or what they're gonna do inside that plane.

And right now, I'm away from my family for almost going on two weeks and me spending time in isolation, is a trigger to me. So I'm forcing myself to socialize when it's something that I don't like to do. Especially with people you know, taking me a long time now, am six years into this sober life, and it's taking me pretty much this entire time, to, find comfort with being around and socializing with people who are drinking, smoking, even if it's not right in front of me. Even if they're doing it and they're not doing it right in front of me, I've had to adapt, you know? But it's been a beautiful thing. I cannot imagine my life in any other way now. I'm a father now. I get to be present emotionally, not just physically, but I'm emotionally present and aware of my own emotions and aware of other people and their emotions, which to me is the greatest gift. Because when I was fucking high all the time, as much as I could pretend to care, it was really hard for me to feel. And I might have even cared on a psychological level, I care. On an emotional level, I don't know that I was capable of it. And now that I know that I am, I cannot give it up. I will fight for the rest of my life, to have this gift of clarity, equanimity, balance beyond anything I ever expected for myself or thought I deserved. That's at least part of my story.