I can vividly remember stepping off the plane in Florida and thinking to myself, “what did I just get myself into?” Before I could even let my imagination run wild, I was greeted by someone who worked at the halfway house I was going to be living at. I stepped in his vehicle with all my worldly possessions and we talked about 90s era hip-hop as we drove to what would become my new home. When I pulled up, all I can remember seeing was some girl braiding a white guy’s hair on a picnic table outside of the property’s main office. My level of uneasiness went from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 3 in a matter of seconds. I did my intake, took a drug test and got a quick rundown on all the rules. Then I was sent on my way like a tumbleweed blowing through a vast and barren desert.
The rules were as follows:
Do not get high or drink
Get a job immediately
Be home by 1030 pm on weeknights and midnight on the weekends
Work a 12 step program of recovery
Maintain a tidy and neat living environment
Be present for a mandatory house meeting 10 minutes prior to the meeting time
Pay your rent on time every week
If you have ever seen the movie “Billy Madison,” I would basically describe myself as the puppy who lost his way. The only difference between me and the puppy was that no one was trying to rescue me. I created this mess for myself and I needed to be the one to dig myself out of it; even I knew that. Within a few days I came to the realization that this halfway house was a lot like the island of misfit toys, and once I drew those parallels I felt a little more at ease. I do not say that in a condescending way at all, I say that with love and compassion in my heart. After all, I was one of the misfit toys. These were some of the smartest, funniest, most generous and most caring people I have ever met, but they were all lost in their own way. They had a story and a past just like I did, and somehow 150 men and women managed to coexist in a row of old townhouses in South Florida.
I had a way of finding some connection to everyone at that place and I actually began to enjoy living there. I felt like I was back in my high school days and I was changing my facades as quickly as I needed to so I could fit in. It was like a college dorm for sober people, and we had a lot of fun. Some people butted heads with the staff over the rules but I never had a problem respecting the staff that worked there and doing what they asked. I was pretty well liked and I did my best to fly under the radar in a Boston kind of way - if that is even possible. However, I still did things “Nick’s Way.” Instead of looking for work, I went to the gym a few times a day and spent my afternoons on the beach. I was playing cards and betting on sports constantly, and I convinced myself it was okay because it gave me some type of income while I was looking for work. My parents were willing to pay my rent while I was staying there, and since I was not doing drugs or drinking I really didn’t need much money to survive.
But my unwillingness to work on myself and uncover what was really driving me to use drugs and drink alcohol incessantly was about to rear its ugly head once again.
I was sober for exactly three months and my parents agreed to let me come home for Christmas. I had already spent Thanksgiving away from them, and if you have been reading the previous articles you know how close I am to my family. I flew in to Logan airport and before we even got to my house I was texting and calling my drug dealer to bring me heroin. I had the best of intentions when I boarded the plane, but once I was in Boston I had no mental defense against my obsession for that ever elusive feeling. I felt like someone else was controlling my body and I was just an onlooker stuck in what some might call “the sunken place.”
The drug dealer happened to be right down the street, and at the time I thought it was a sign from God that I was making the right decision. This is how jumbled my mind was at the time. I told my dad I was tired and I wanted to get some rest before the Christmas eve festivities began the next day. I went upstairs and did the heroin in my parents’ bathroom only to wake up laying on the hallway floor with police, firefighters and EMTs huddled over me. Since I was sober for three months my tolerance had dropped tremendously and even though I did less than I usually would it still caused me to overdose. If it wasn’t for my mother’s training as a nurse and my dad’s intuition to come check on me that night I would have been dead. I was turning blue because I had not been breathing for several minutes and my mom was convinced that at the very least I was going to have brain damage from my body’s lack of oxygen. When all was said and done, I ended up spending the night in the hospital with no permanent issues. I had awoken the ghost of Christmas past.
My mother and father still have nightmares from that incident, and I will never be able to completely amend that wrongdoing.
I flew back down to Florida a few days later and never told anyone at the halfway house what happened when I went home. I drank enough water to flush my system for the drug test they administered and I truly felt like I beat the system. But all I was doing was prolonging the inevitable.
I stayed sober for another three months until I decided I no longer needed to live in a sober living environment. I then moved out of the halfway house and into a sublet with my girlfriend. She was also a drug addict and neither one of us were ready to stop using completely. Both sets of parents tried to convince us not to leave the sober living facility but we thought we knew everything. The first night we got into our new house we were drinking wine and smoking weed. A week later we decided to go to Ultra Music Festival in Miami and I partied so hard for three days I couldn’t even stand up straight when the weekend was over. My body wasn’t used to drinking and using drugs in such large quantities so I didn’t rebound as quickly as I usually would. I needed to find a way to make myself feel better.
I can remember parking my car in the ghetto and knocking on a door until someone answered, and needless to say, they were not pleased. I took a shot in the dark by looking for a nice car parked in a bad neighborhood and was willing to assume the risk associated with being out of my element. But when the dust settled and all was said and done, I finessed the situation and met my main heroin dealer. I knew if I had cash in hand everything would run very smoothly and that is exactly how I made this situation work in my favor. Bang! I was off to the races. My girlfriend and I came to the realization that we were not very compatible and it didn’t take long for us to simply become roommates and drug buddies. At the time I think we were both more than okay with that.
A 23 hour car ride on I-95 North and a series of really unfortunate and personal events landed me back in Massachusetts. Just like that - after nearly a year in Florida - I was right back to where I started. I felt like I was running a rat race and everyone was watching me and laughing as I tripped, stumbled and fell time after time. I was empty on options, but full of guilt, shame and remorse. I was rapidly approaching my mid twenties and all I had to show for it was a 2004 Nissan Sentra and an EBT card with a few dollars left on it. I managed for a few weeks up north until the pain got great enough and I had no choice but to check myself into another detox and another treatment program.
Last time it was the Lone Star State of Texas, and this time it was the Garden State of New Jersey. The location didn’t really matter too much because all I knew was if I wasn’t physically removed from society I simply couldn’t stop. Whether I was buying baby food on my EBT card and trading it for heroin, or stealing from friends and family, I always found a way to get that next high. Drug addicts are a very resourceful bunch, and we manage to find a way to adapt and survive until the next opportunity presents itself.
By the time I got to the treatment center it felt like a vacation. At least I knew where I was going to be sleeping every night and I wasn’t concerned with finding something to eat while I was there. Both of those things were steps up from how I was living my life before I arrived, so it wasn’t too difficult to settle right in. But when they asked me to introduce myself to the other clients, I did so by telling everyone I was a hopeless dope head with no chance of staying sober. I wasn’t being dramatic, that is truly how I felt at the time. Not only was I still using drugs, but I was putting myself in even more danger to do so while further torturing those people in my life who still loved me.
No matter how much pain and suffering I caused myself and those around me, I always found a way to tell myself it wasn’t that bad once I started feeling a little better. I was an ego maniac with an inferiority complex, but I’d be dammed if I was going to listen to anyone who had my best interests in mind.
Clearly no one is perfect, and not all people succeed on the first try. Nick's story is one of Failure... Set backs... Wrong Turns... Does all this under mind his current success? NO. From the outside looking in this is a hard read. Hard because "we" (sober people) can't begin to imagine why it's so difficult to kick the habit and move on.
Ok let me throw this out there... Why do people have such a hard time losing weight? You can't say the knowledge isn't available, nor can you say it's not a big lifestyle adjustment. On the back end in order for there to be success there needs to be a support system built up of positive reinforcement, proactive decision making, pre-planning, meal management, consistent activity based on your goals...etc. This isn't entirely different from Nick's battle in this installment. Our clients have set backs, re-lapses and other issues that deter them from perfection.
No one man or woman is perfect, we are all unique and have different experiences with success and failure. Adversity is a common ground in our lives and will always be present, how we adjust is what defines us going forward.
Health and Wellness pertains to Nick as much as it pertains to any of you. It has been his outlet and resource during his battle with addiction.
PS: This is Nick's sixth installment please look back at the others as they set the tone for this post.