Before I continue on with my story I would like to mention that I was overcome with anxiety as I was brainstorming this installment in the series. A lot of these memories bring me back to a time in my life that was very dark, very lonely and very confusing. I am not writing this so the reader feels bad for my situation, I am writing this to let you know we all have our fears. Fear is a normal emotion, and in the animal kingdom fear often times keeps those lower on the food chain alive. So in this regard fear is often times a balancing act between the rational and the irrational. I have already survived this part of my life, and it has shaped me into the person I am today. Without the trials and tribulations that I went through I wouldn’t have the insight or qualifications to begin to speak on these topics. So my fear of sharing my secrets with those reading was trumped by the fear of having another person go through a dark part of their life while feeling alone. We are currently in a war with addiction and mental illness, and the only way to combat it is to show the people suffering they are not alone. There are other people that have shared in those feelings and emotions. Once my mind made sense of this, the anxiety was removed and I was overcome with gratitude.
Since we’ve already broached the topic of anxiety, who remembers the feeling just before high school? Who remembers the nervousness of fitting in with all the boys and girls in your city? Will I be popular? Will the girls make fun of me? Yeah, I never had that. I continued my education at an all boys catholic high school, so some of those fears were alleviated almost immediately. The school was a popular choice for a lot of the people in my city, and my brother and most of my friends were already enrolled there. So I strapped up my backpack, laced up my dress shoes and got ready for the next chapter of my life.
The first year of high school was a pretty normal one. I continued to excel at school while playing football and wrestling. I was barely breaking the five foot mark so that year I wrestled in the 103 pound weight class. I cut a decent amount of weight to get there, and I can vividly remember eating just two slices of deli turkey and a clementine for Christmas dinner that first season. Since I was so small, football was put on the back burner and wrestling took over my life. I still wanted to be the best at something, and since there were weight classes I didn’t have to worry about being so outmatched like I was on the football field. Maybe this was finally my chance to stand out amongst the crowd.
My double life was still in full swing, but now that I was in high school it seemed more normal. Everyone around me was either my age or older and other kids my age were starting partake in some of the activities that had gotten me in trouble with my mom in the past. But it always seemed as if I had to take it a step further than the rest of them. By the time the year ended and the summer rolled around, I was so busy traveling the state for open wrestling tournaments that I didn’t really have much time to get into trouble. I drank with my friends at parties and smoked weed constantly, but neither of them took over my life. At this point it really seemed as if my master plan was working. I was playing sports at a high level, I was getting A’s and B’s in school, I was weight lifting with my father and I was using drugs and alcohol when the opportunities presented themselves. I couldn’t believe how easy it seemed to navigate the three different lives I was living.
When Sophomore year rolled around I was so invested in the wrestling team and my coaches that I decided it was best for me to take the year off from football and prepare for the wrestling season year round. I was winning tournaments that summer and I felt like I had the real opportunity to compete at a high level. The season turned out to be a failure as far as I was concerned. I had cut a lot of weight that year to get into the 112 pound weight class and I just didn’t have much energy the entire year. I can remember my mother telling me the teachers were saying I was falling asleep a lot in class, and asking if everything was alright. Some of that exhaustion came from the lack of food and grueling wrestling practices, and some of that stemmed from the fact I was using Xanax on a more regular basis. I had such high hopes for the season and what I was going to accomplish that year, but not many of them came to fruition. It wasn’t from lack of effort or training, it was more from lack of ability and technical skill in the sport. I was longing for this instant gratification. I knew that things took hard work and dedication, and I was more than wiling to put that type of effort in. But when things didn’t materialize as quickly as I wanted them to, I would really beat myself up about it. I was my own worst critic.
At this point the drugs and alcohol were no longer a harmless way to socialize with my friends. They had become a coping mechanism for these feelings that I was going through on a daily basis. I was starting to come to grips with the stark realization that I was going to be good at many different aspects of my life, but I was never going to be the best. That was simply not good enough for me. I knew that when I was drinking and using drugs the feelings of being a failure and a disappointment became indirectly proportional to one another. The more I abused drugs and alcohol the less I felt these overwhelming feelings of disappointment with myself and my life. When I was sober I felt angry, resentful, discontent, restless, irritable, unsure and fearful. These feelings began to overwhelm me on a regular basis and I needed a stronger way to escape them.
Just before that school year ended I found something that would change my life for the next decade. Boston was already going through an Oxycontin epidemic, and the pills were plentiful throughout the city. I knew people that were doing them, but I always felt that they were too dangerous to get involved with. I saw the wreckage they were causing in my city first hand. I finally decided to try one before my 16th birthday and I was instantly hooked. I wasn’t hooked physically from the very beginning, but I was enamored with how they eased all my worldly concerns. I couldn’t understand at the time that my life was so full already, and if I just stopped for a second to enjoy the process I would have felt so much more content with my situation. I had my loving family, good friends, a great brother, I played sports at a high level and got good grades in school with hardly any effort. Why was I so unhappy?
By the time my Junior year started I was completely mentally and physically addicted to Oxycontin. When I did not have it in my system I felt like I had the flu and my mind could only fixate on how I was going to get more. My brother was in the same sinking ship I was in, so we used together. We came up with hustles in order to get the money we needed to continue on this destructive path. I used to walk around with a gas can on the weekends telling people I was from New Hampshire and ran out of gas to get home. We would steal cash out of my mothers purse or sell tools out of our basement that we thought my dad wouldn’t miss. My mind was no longer fixated on feeling like a failure in other aspects of my life, instead it was only concerned with the next high.
Just before that wrestling season started, I can remember this terrible fear of how I would even make it through a practice without drugs in my system. Wrestling practices were hard enough without a physical dependency on pain killers, and now I had to deal with both. I was named team captain that season and I wanted nothing more than to pull all my masks off and come clean with everyone in order to get some relief from the turmoil I was feeling inside. But instead I did what I always do, I took the burden on myself and went about my life as if everything was functioning normally. During one practice after school I can remember my brother coming to find me to ask me how we were going to get high that night. My guess was as good as his.
Two days before Christmas I was wrestling someone who was ranked very highly in the state. At this point I was winning at a very high level and moving up the rankings while hiding my addiction. I was using all the pent up anger and resentment I had in me when I stepped out onto the mat. That morning my mother dropped me off early to get on the vans and I looked at her and said, “no matter what happens I am not going to lose this match.” We were in a 3-2 stalemate going into the second period and my opponent took the top position. I drove my leg into the ground and went to stand up to tie the match. When I did this he lifted as hard as he could and picked me up high into the air and lost control. I fell down hard to the mat and landed directly on my right shoulder, suffering a terrible dislocation. My season was over, but since he used an illegal move, I won the match by disqualification. I told her I wouldn’t lose.
I mention this point in my life because this is where it turned. This is the point where sports and school no longer became of any real importance in my life and all I cared about was getting high. The one thing I was pretty good at was taken away from me and I had no other outlets for escape. I entered into an even darker spot in my mind and felt as if my destiny was just to be another drug addict from Boston. Lord knows we had a lot of them at the time. The drugs were not even working properly any more, I used because I was physically dependent and did not want to go through the withdrawals. I began looking for other ways to escape my mental anguish and I still have the scars and burns on my forearms from cutting myself with razor blades and putting cigarettes out on them. The physical pain reminded me I was still alive and helped to quiet my racing thoughts. But only for a moment.
I wrestled my senior year of high school with a huge brace on my right arm and my shoulder was always in pain. I stayed involved just to keep up appearances, but I had checked out of the sport mentally a long time before. This wasn’t a willing choice, it was out of necessity to continue getting high. I knew that if I did not maintain some appearance of a normal life the rue would have been up and I would have had to stop my charade. Somehow I still made it to the sectional finals that year but lost that match and finished in second place. This only perpetuated the idea that no matter what I did in my life I would always come up a little short. It didn’t bother me any more because I knew that with my addiction I was at a terrible disadvantage out the gate. I was just biding time for the next high.
Before I graduated high school the Oxycontin had gotten much too expensive and I told myself heroin made sense on a financial level. I convinced myself that as long as I didn’t use a needle I wasn’t a real heroin addict. That didn’t last long, and before my 18th birthday I was hanging around heroin addicts in their mid 30s while smoking crack and using needles. I had been constantly drawing lines in the sand while crossing them willingly. First it was managing my double life before I entered high school. Then it became managing what types of drugs I used in order to never become a full blown drug addict. Then it became how I would manage my painkillers in order to function at a decent level while playing sports. Now it was a free for all. Everything seemed to be a go as long as I wasn’t going through the physical withdrawals.
I would go to my “friends” house first thing in the morning and facilitate drug deals in order to get free ones from the dealers. We told people they were $50 each, but we got three for $100; so for every two that we sold we got one to keep. My parents already knew my brother had a raging addiction and all their efforts went into trying to save him from its grips. They could see the signs in me, but I just think they didn’t want to believe that their only two sons had grown up to become drug addicts. I can remember my brother and I had split up one day to try to come up with some money. When we reconvened later in the day, neither of us had enough to end the withdrawals. I remember falling to the floor with tears in my eyes in defeat. All I wanted to do, and all I needed to do was get high, but I couldn’t even do that right.
I was lost. I was living two or three different lives at once and I had no idea how I would ever escape the situation. I wanted so badly to just come clean to everyone around me and try to end the pain and suffering, but I didn't want to let my parents down. My moral compass was completely flipped upside down and I was doing things that I knew were wrong just to feed my addiction. I was stealing from my parents and hanging around people in their mid 30s that had been drug addicts for the better part of their lives. I wasn’t raised like this. I came from a loving home surrounded by a family that cared about me and was always present in my life. How did this happen to both me and my brother?
I was losing weight at an alarming rate from all the drugs I was doing and the gym was merely an afterthought. My high school days were behind me, and I had been on the last sports team I was ever going to be a part of. Now what?
While the students I graduated high school with were planning their college careers and deciding what major they wanted, I was planning how I would get high that day. While they were excited about that summer before college, I was sitting on the floor in a beat up crack house because all the furniture had been sold. I no longer had any sense of what was important in my life and I would avoid mirrors because I couldn’t stand the person I saw looking back at me. The multiple lives I was living were all boiled down into one. They were put into a spoon, drawn back into a syringe and injected directly into my lost and lonely bloodstream.
"The title of this installment ,"Lost in Translation", stems from the outside looking in. I knew Nick in high school, same classes different sports and "clicks" but... never would you know the pain he portrays in this series. As a reader I ask you to reflect on your past, ask yourself how well can you know someone at that age. We all have our story...
United in our uniqueness yet divided on our actions. Strength comes from facing adversity, humility comes from reflection on self. I'm more than thankful for Nick sharing his story present and future, hopefully we can share this to those that can relate with his series to remind them, We are Always Strong. " - Ross Hardaway