“Most people in recovery end up at the same destination but the journey to that destination varies from addict to addict. At the end of the road though, the feelings are often the same; we feel alone, hopeless and desperate for a new existence. We want a life worth living, that is, if we live long enough to experience that desire. My journey to the end of my road in active addiction was nothing short of brutal. I thought I had reached my rock bottom many times, but I always seemed to dig myself deeper. I became a part of the opiate epidemic before I even realized what had happened. I had been using drugs for many years, basically whatever I could get my hands on, but didn’t necessarily have a drug of choice. I was what they call a ‘garbage can.’ I was willing to put any substance in my system.
My home life as a kid was chaotic; domestic violence and an alcoholic father made coming up a little rougher than I would’ve liked. I realized at an early age when I was experimenting with weed and alcohol that if I put a substance in my body, it helped numb the feelings that I couldn’t cope with from my home life. So, whatever came my way I used, and I used in excess. The first time I did an opiate I found what I had been searching for. I literally fell in love with the warm, fuzzy feeling that came from it and the emotional numbness that followed. I had no idea what I was in store for.
I was living in a college town where there was a local pain management doctor selling scrips of Oxycodone for cash. With a steady flow of opiates and the money that came from selling them, life was good. I didn’t have a care in the world. That is, until the day the doctor got arrested and my now drug of choice became scarce – and therefore, more expensive. I had a habit, I was physically dependent and it was becoming harder and harder to stay high or even get well when I would be sick from withdrawal. This is when the morals and values that were still intact started to go out the window.
I started stealing whenever I saw the opportunity. Cash, jewelry, coins or just telling other addicts I could get them drugs, taking their money and not coming back. By this time the people I was using with had already made the switch to heroin. Why not, right? I can get more bang for my buck and it’s more readily available than the pain meds. Fact of the matter is, I was disgusted by myself for making this switch but it didn’t matter at this point. The disease of addiction was in full swing and I was not willing to go through the withdrawal process. It was almost like I didn’t have a choice even though I did. Again, I had no idea what was about to happen.
At this point I’m a full-fledged IV heroin user making daily trips to the west side of Baltimore city to buy dope to bring home to sell and use. That’s what I did to feed my habit, but before long I was my only customer. One day I woke up and the drugs were all gone and so was the money. I was not willing to be dope sick, so I was back to a by-any-means-necessary mentality. My first thought was my mom’s jewelry box – it was the most accessible means I had. Once I had cleared that of all the gold and silver, I started selling my own things. A coin collection my grandmother had given me was the first thing to go. I got $250.00 for it. The money lasted one night. Then my electronics went, before long there was nothing left of mine or my mothers to sell, so I moved onto other family members. I had pawned my nephew’s Christmas presents and stole Christmas money wherever I could.
Once my family realized I was stealing their stuff and stopped letting me come around them, I had to find ways to get more. I became more desperate and more dangerous. I started doing residential and commercial burglaries. Now I’m under investigation because everybody knows what I’m about and the suspicion always lands on me. There’s cops showing up at my mom’s house looking for me. She and I are both hiding behind the couch so they don’t see us, or she would just lie and tell them I wasn’t home. One day she had had enough of dealing with the police. She came to me with all of her jewelry and said, ‘Is there anything you can take and sell so you don’t have to keep doing this dumb sh*t?’ I had to look my mother in the face and tell her there wasn’t anything real left in there. I had already sold it all.
I don’t know how to describe that moment besides saying that was my first rock bottom. My mom ended up curled up in the fetal position having a nervous breakdown on the bathroom floor that day. ‘Where is my son? Will he ever be back? You aren’t the person I raised anymore,’ she asked through tear-filled eyes.
It may not make sense to some but things like that drove me further down the rabbit hole. I’m already so far gone so, ‘why not go all out?,’ was my thought process. I started robbing every drug dealer and drug user I could. I continued to take people’s money and not return. One night I tried to casually get out of someone’s car with drugs I hadn’t paid for. They weren’t going to let that happen so they hit the gas and my door shut. I opened the door again while he’s driving down the street. I got my leg out before he grabbed my arm. I turned and started to punch him in the face as hard as I could until he let go, then jumped out of the moving car. I had to climb into the house through the bedroom window because I didn’t want my mom to see me covered in blood from the road rash I had on my face, hands and knees.
Shortly after that I did a home invasion on a neighborhood drug dealer. It was a female. I broke into her home and waited in the dark for her to come through the front door. When she did, I put her in a choke hold, choked her until she was almost unconscious, took her drugs and money, then ran out the back door. She didn’t know it was me but suspected it. She showed up at my mom’s house ten minutes later. I convinced her it wasn’t me then walked her home and sat with her until her boyfriend got there. A few days later, my mom found the mask and gloves I had worn and pleaded with me to do something to get better. I was so far gone at this point I didn’t think there was any hope I could get better. I fully expected to die alone in a bathroom with a needle in my arm and I was okay with that. At the time I preferred that over getting clean and facing everything I had done.
I am full-on driven by disease at this point, and whoever I was, was completely gone. I have no concern for others or myself. My sister says, ‘I want my little brother back’. My mom says, ‘I want my son back’. My dad sits in front of me with tears rolling down his cheeks pleading me to stop, but I can’t do that. I’m using against my will at this point, I hate doing what I have to do to get high. I hate sticking a needle into whatever vein I can find. I hate what I’ve become but I don’t know a way out. I’ve been to treatment but didn’t think the things they were saying could happen, or were available to me so I didn’t try and I was scared. I was scared that once the drugs were gone everyone would see me for me and hate me the way I hated myself. I had been to jail but I was doing whatever drugs I could in there.
Fortunately, after I got out of a rehab, I did one last robbery. The person I had robbed saw me getting drugs and called the cops on me. I landed back in a holding cell on a bail that nobody would post because they were all tired of my sh*t. I sat in the holding cell for 3 days until I said I would go back to treatment. That’s the only way I could get out. All I was concerned about was getting well because cold turkey jail detox is the worst. I got bailed out, went and got high, and the next morning I was on my way to a rehab. Something happened between that jail cell and the treatment center door. I was exhausted, I didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling, I didn’t have the energy for another scheme, hustle or robbery. I was tired of seeing my family agonize, wondering if I would die. I couldn’t stand to see my mom cry one more time. I was tired of fighting the disease of addiction. I had realized my ways of doing things would not work. I surrendered, I waved my white flag and I asked for help. I got it and again I had no idea what would happen next but I am so thankful for the opportunity I got because a lot of my friends died before they had the chance to do something different.
I walked into this treatment center absolutely terrified, I had been in similar places so many times and it never worked before but I had never actually tried. I started taking responsibility for my recovery. I went to every group, I listened, I took notes and I participated. I set up an after-care plan with my counselor. After ten days in treatment I left the facility with a plan. I went straight to a recovery house from the treatment center so I had some structure and accountability. I set up an assessment at an intense outpatient program or I.O.P. I had a mental health assessment done. There were guys in the recovery house with a couple months clean, which blew my mind. I wanted what they had, so I started doing what they were doing. We went to meetings, we got home groups, we got service commitments, we got sponsors and we started working in steps. All of this was uncomfortable, but necessary.
The two guys I was doing this with and myself are still clean today. They both have over 5 years and I’m 6 days away from my clean date, I’ll also have 5 years. I stayed in the recovery house for 15 months. I wanted to make sure I had a solid foundation before I left. I wish I could say I’ve done everything right, but I got clean — I didn’t get perfect. I’ve made mistakes along the way but I’ve stayed clean no matter what, therefore, I’ve had the chance to correct some behaviors that no longer suited me. Life is hard sometimes, right? I wanted to be prepared for that and I’m glad I did.
In the last year I’ve lost a close friend in a boating accident and I sat at my grandmother’s bedside while she took her last breath. Fortunately, I was clean for these events and was able to show up and play my role. I’ve been able to be a son, a grandson, a brother, an uncle, and a boyfriend. I’ve traveled outside of the country and to a few places in the U.S. I got my license back and bought a car. I’ve had a job for four years where I’m a trusted and respected employee. I’ve been able to surprise my mom with gifts and trips. I’ve been able to be the person my family told me they missed for so long. The person I thought was lost forever.
When I first got clean, they told me I’d live a life beyond my wildest dreams. The first thing I thought was material possessions. I had no idea the life they were talking about would be a life of morals and values, character and integrity, compassion and empathy, love and faith. All the things I thought I was no longer capable of. I write this for the person like me or for the family member of the person like me. I know what it’s like to be in the dark and see no light at the end of the tunnel, no way out. I found a way, a day at a time and so can you, so can your son or daughter. If you haven’t found your way out, keep looking, stop fighting and ask for help. It gets better, we do recover.”
Read more powerful stories of addiction within families:
‘He was my best friend. The last thing he said to me was: ‘I’m ok mom, I love you too.’ That was at 10:20 on Saturday night.’
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