(originally posted to Tumblr August 14, 2014)
I began the 1992 fall semester at the NC State College of Design, majoring in graphic design – 60 total students accepted out of almost 3,000 applicants.
When I moved into my dorm, the first thing to appear wasn’t my class schedule, but credit card applications. Close to 10 of them, before I had even used the key to open the mailbox. By the end of my first year in college I would have 4 cards. I was not broke like my fellow “Design-O’s”…I worked 30 hours a week and always made my minimum payments. They gave me power – and they were my first addiction. I used them so frequently that I had to sell the bulk of my CD collection to make minimum payments. I also had to sell the first guitar that my mom had bought me. Despite all this, American Express sent me a Gold Rewards plus card with $1,000,000 in travel insurance. I thought I was hot shit, but riddle me this: what business does any 19-year-old have with a Gold Amex Card?
My senior year in high school I ended up dating a young lady who was a foreign exchange student from Colombia, South America. We dated over the summer, but of course she had to go back to her home country. I made a promise to visit her, so I bought a plane ticket to Colombia. Close to $1,000 in 1992. I emptied my savings account and sold my video game system and all the games to do it. I would not leave until December, so most of my semester was consumed thinking about the trip. I could never keep my mind on where I was – everything I cared about was far away. Not by default – by design. Here was this wonderful person, whom I loved – yet who I knew would eventually be thousands of miles away ebfore we even started dating. Maybe it was unconscious, maybe not. I spent hundreds on long-distance phone calls. Clearly my parents’ divorce had a profound impact on my view of relationships.
I should’ve asked questions about that, but I never knew to ask in the first place. I had never received any treatment or therapy.
That December after my first semester, I flew to visit her in South America and spent close to 3 weeks there. It was one of the most life changing experiences I’d had up to that point. My girlfriend’s family was beyond kind to me, and took me across the country. So much different, so much the same. It was also the second time I would take a drink – “Aguardiente” (“Agua” + “ardiente”) loosely translated “firewater” – which I begged people not to give me. But trying to explain your family background when you’re surrounded by 20,000 people who don’t speak your language, all dancing and celebrating Christmas with …Aguardiente …is difficult. I took a few sips and immediately spit it out. I hated it. She and I decided to end our relationship on good terms, and I came back to the US feeling empty. I also had to face a crazy roommate who ultimately threatened me with physical violence. I moved out of the room quickly while he was at tennis practice, and saw him only one time after that.
I would be in two more long distance relationships after that, one at the end of my sophomore year to a young woman who lived in Virginia and had to go home for the summer, and the other beginning the summer after my junior year. I had begun playing in my first college band toward the end of my junior year, and was introduced to her at a band practice. As with all things, I had my mind set on her. She was attending Cornell, and I spent about a quarter to a third of my semester in Ithaca. She was also the girl I lost my virginity to. When I learned that my father – who had told me for the majority of my life that sex before marriage was a sin – had moved in with my stepmother-to-be prior to getting married, I decided that if he could do it, I could do it. My father and got into a huge fight about it, which of course made our relationship more tenuous.
I had been very involved in church since my freshman year, but many of my opinions and my taste in loud rock and electronic music did not serve me well there. I was frequently ostracized and decided I was done with religion. Now I was free, and all possibilities were open to me.
I also met my first drinking buddy, Yancy, who was just over four feet tall and suffered from a bone condition called O.I., which caused his bones to break easily. He could drink anyone I knew under the table. My third drinking experience took place in his dorm room, and it was the first time I would be drunk, two months before my 21st birthday. I was hungover for almost 24 hours. My head against the toilet bowl, I remember crying “I’m going to turn out just like my mom.”
I graduated college summer of 1996. As with the first 18 years, I’d dealt with a staggering amount of change in a short period of time. I now had a stepmother and step-siblings. The band had broken up. My faith in God had been deeply shaken. I was $8,000 in credit card debt and still working the same job I’d had as a freshman. I had broken up with my last girlfriend, the one I lost my virginity to, after finding out she had cheated on me. Really, what was I expecting? We were both so young, so far apart, and I was still as insecure and jealous as I had been in high school. In addition, I was drinking on a regular basis. Four years and I had learned nothing. The shadow of the divorce, the dissolution of my family and my mother’s alcoholism hung like a cloud over everything.
During recording sessions for our band’s first album, I learned our engineer was as interested in electronic dance music as I was, and he began to teach me audio production. In fact, he had lived in Chicago during the early days of “house music” in the mid-1980s. I had discovered rave parties as a college sophomore in 1994, and though I loved the music I didn’t get the scene. Ironically, I was frightened by the drugs and the drama they brought. I began working my first job as a “computer graphics assistant” at Kinko’s and for 6 months, immersed myself in the rave scene while writing my first solo electronic album. I nearly went broke writing it and was close to 3 months behind on rent before it was finished. I also had my first experiences with ecstasy and marijuana at that time – but never seemed to experience the effects everyone else was. I decided to leave “drugs” behind and stick solely with drinking (clearly not a drug in my mind, because for me it was legal) – for almost nine years.
I finally got a “real” job as a graphic designer for IBM and worked there for 3 years. It was there I learned just how much I truly hated Powerpoint, and took my early steps into basic web design. In April 1998 I finished my first CD and had 1,000 physical copies pressed – we were still in the days before mp3 distribution. I was able to license my music for the first time, for use on MTV’s Real World. The album was called “breakup,” and as I had just begun DJ-ing in earnest, DJ FM became my stage name. So began my struggle between having a job “to pay the bills” and performing music “for the love.” In the process of purchasing new musical equipment, I began to go further into credit card debt and my drinking definitely increased.
By Late 1999 I had begun a new job with a new company in North Carolina, and within a year I had begun yet another long-distance relationship with a young lady in Baltimore. The long drives got to me, and after a year I hurriedly decided to move to Baltimore. I found a job and an apartment, and even though I kept hearing this voice in the back of my mind telling me it was a bad idea, I felt i had no choice but to go through with it.
A side note: one of Janet Woititz’s “13 Characteristics of ACOAs” is as follows:
13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
Clearly, I had fallen right in line with that pattern.
Not surprisingly, within one week of moving there and beginning my job, she ended the relationship. Fortunately, my college friend Yancy was in Maryland as well working for the Navy, so I frequently drove down to visit him – where I drowned my sorrows in alcohol and he was all too happy to join me. Within two months, I had been let go from my job. Unable to pay my credit card debt, I found myself receiving calls from bill collectors day after day after week after month.
And then September 11th happened. Scared about further terrorist attacks, with no money, no job, and crestfallen about the relationship, I decided it was time to head back home. Driving back to my apartment in Baltimore to get the rest of my stuff, I drove past the Pentagon – which was still smoldering.
I lived with my mom for a short time, then managed to get my own apartment – a small room which I lovingly referred to as the Treehouse (part of Little Lake Hill). I took a job in Raleigh, but the boss was abusive and eventually the company went under. Still drinking, I was arrested for my first DUI in January of 2002, and convicted June 26th. I was once again broke, unable to pay rent, had no drivers license and was now $23,000 in credit card debt. One step away from bankruptcy, in desperation I entered credit counseling. This would be my first “come to jesus” moment, as I sat in the counselor’s office and with a pair of scissors, cut up all my credit cards. I also accepted a position in Wilmington, NC and was able to get a provisional license which would allow me to travel to and from work. I had stopped the bleeding for the time being – yet I was still drinking. My father and I got into a huge argument about my drinking and he kicked me out of the house that Christmas 2002, furthering the rift between us. My resentments had a body count.
Sadly, in February of 2003 my friend Yancy was killed in a drunk driving accident. He was returning home from the same bar in Maryland which we had visited time and time again. It truly broke my heart – what his bone condition hadn’t done in 26 years, a drunk driving accident took from him in seconds. Warning signs were all around me but I didn’t heed them. I was too heartbroken to care.
I spent the next 5 years in credit counseling, paying down my massive credit card debt while dodging bankruptcy. My license was reinstated in June of 2003, and moved from Wilmington back to Raleigh at the end of 2003. I spent the next 4 years working for different ad agencies specializing in advertising for the real estate industry, which at the time was flourishing because of the “bubble.” I had partnered with a friend and we began DJ-ing at a new club on Glenwood Avenue, an area of Raleigh which was being gentrified from abandoned warehouses to living spaces, restaurants and clubs. It was high profile. I was still drinking, but my DUI was behind me and I was getting ever closer to paying down my credit card debt. I had been seriously dating someone for close to a year and a half. I also joined a band which I was a part of for over a year. I felt like my life was really starting to pick up.
Then the summer of 2007 happened.
After a disagreement with the lead singer, I quit the band and began DJ-ing more than ever. The young lady I had been dating and I split up, about as amicably as you could – we are still friends. I made my last payment to the credit counseling service, and was no longer knee-deep in debt. I began a new job in nearby Chapel Hill making double the money I had been. I started living with a long-time friend who had been a former co-worker at Kinkos, and also a raver who was plugged in to online drug sources. Between my love of alcohol, and his love for and ability to get drugs, I joked once that we had a cottage industry. I was single, newly employed, out of debt, rich (for me), and DJ-ing everywhere. This was the beginning of the end.
That summer I was reintroduced to ecstasy after a 9-year hiatus from drugs of any kind (save for alcohol), and I was floored. It worked, and it worked in a big way. I finally understood what everyone had been telling me. It was an “ah ha” moment. Ecstasy (MDMA) is essentially a really powerful SSRI – instead of intermittent doses to your frontal cortex, Ecstasy tells your brain “HAVE IT ALL!” I began to realize that there was a level of communication which I’d been missing my entire life. And while the vast majority of my experiences with ecstasy were simply “chasing the dragon” and “pushing the envelope,” I have to say that Ecstasy made me aware of a world of openness and caring that I had been missing – one which I now happily experience without the benefit of substances. But there you have it. Without Ecstasy, I would’ve never known it existed.
I was also introduced to a club drug called GBL – a prodrug of GHB which had first been popularized in the UK. It combined the buzz of alcohol with the body buzz of ecstasy. Of all the substances I have taken in my life, it was my “crack,” my “heroin,” the drug I would have stolen for, lied for…and all I had to do was order it online. Many underground websites in Europe sold it. I would use my credit card, and in two weeks it was at my door. No street dealers, no cops, no nothing. A great buzz delivered via air mail. Like GHB, it was also ridiculously easy to OD on if you weren’t careful when you took it.
My drug use and my alcohol use were beginning to skyrocket in parallel. In February I was introduced to the woman I’d be dating for the next 5 years. She was beautiful, smart as a whip and had a huge heart. Coming from the west coast, she introduced me to Burning Man, the culture of “burns” and the lifestyle. I introduced her to how cheap drugs were on the east coast, and we became partners in crime. Competitive and never to be outdone, she matched me shot for shot, pill for pill, dose for dose. We partied weekend after weekend, and together eventually went to Burning Man in 2008. We agreed when we got home that we would slow our use, but it didn’t happen. It accelerated. And as our “honeymoon” phase wore off, the drugs and our personal and emotional issues took their toll. We were fighting quite often and the only times it seemed we weren’t is when we did ecstasy together.
I began January of 2009 collecting unemployment. I spent 9 months at home. Getting drunk, getting high, still going out night after night. All while my girlfriend was at her job. I sank deeper and deeper into my own little world, and eventually she nagged me into accepting a new job, which I was absolutely not in any shape to take on. I also had one of the worst, most cutting, critical and mean direct supervisors I’d had the pleasure of working with. That, combined with my daily drug and alcohol use made life a nightmare.
September 29, 2009, I was let go from my job. Depressed, I dosed myself on GBL. 3 hours later, I found myself in the parking lot of a convenience store one county over, with 3 police cars behind me. Since I hadn’t been drinking, I blew a zero on the breathalyzer. But they had probably cause to arrest me considering my behavior, and they confiscated my conical of GBL. I spent the afternoon in a holding cell, and missed a couples counseling session with my girlfriend. When I bailed myself out and made it home, she hid the GBL from me. I, of course, found it and began using it again, along with alcohol. A little more than 2 weeks later I ended up overdosing on it at a friend’s house and spent 4 days in the hospital. This friend, the same friend I had lived with during the “salad days” of my using – who had performed CPR on me and kept me alive long enough for the paramedics to show up – was taken into custody and had my drugs pinned on him, even though he was completely innocent of any charges. Unconscious, I could do nothing to speak on his behalf. I found all of this out when I woke up in the emergency room.
All of this took place in less than 3 weeks.
A month later, I was sleeping on his floor, drinking in secret, once again going broke and facing $25,000 in hospital bills – with no health insurance. Even after trying to get individual coverage, BCBS denied me because of “pre-existing conditions.” I was separated from my girlfriend and was doing nothing. He discovered I’d been drinking in secret, and took me to Wake County Alcoholism Treatment Center, where his girlfriend at the time waited with me for close to 5 hours before a bed opened up. She had to fill out the forms for me, as my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t fill them out myself – the early stages of delerium tremens (or the “DT’s”).
This was two days before Thanksgiving, 2009.
This was rock-bottom.
You can read Part One of my story here:
Or, read Part Three: