addiction, Consequences, Recovery

High Bottom, Hard Luck, Low Life.

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A near death experience will humble you.

I didn’t choose to overdose. I simply ingested the amount of drugs I thought would sufficiently anesthetize me from the emotions I was feeling in the moment.

I spent four days in the hospital. Multiple doctors asked me afterward if I had done it on purpose, if I was having suicidal thoughts. I assured them all I did not, because it was true. I had a chance to bounce back, but I kept on drinking and using as soon as I had been released. I had no respect for the chemicals I was putting in my body. I had no inkling of how close I’d come to death’s door. I didn’t care.

My experience of alcohol, drugs, misuse, abuse, addiction and physical dependence has always revolved around catastrophe and desperation. An innocent good time gone horribly wrong. A party at one person’s house suddenly transformed into a 3-day vacation from life resulting in panic and chaos afterwards. And no matter how bad things got, a complete unwillingness to stop. There were no in-betweens or burning bush experiences for me. I rocked it until the wheels fell off and kept going.

By contrast, sobriety seems to be the new “movement du jour” these days – and I welcome it. What I don’t welcome is the blanket assertion of some within the movement that because they chose to stop (as in, their biology had not yet betrayed them), everyone should be able to do likewise. You are powerful! Simply follow my 5 step plan to a new you!

It’s classic human nature. Experience X was like this for me, therefore it must be like this for everyone else. In the context of recovery, I’ve seen 12-steppers do it to newcomers, saying things like “you may as well just go get drunk right now if you don’t follow this program!” A sort-of twisted reverse psychology wrapped in a backhanded insult that suggests their own way of life is threatened. New school sobriety’s response is just equal and opposite.

And there is no middle ground. You are either utterly desperate and destitute and you better do work (or else), or you’re an appropriately dressed uptown someone who found enlightenment and walked away from “Substance D” cold turkey.

Being of sound mind and body at last, I get it. I feel like the sky is the limit some days and love the life I have today. But I also remember that at one point in time I had become a slave to the brutal changes I’d wrought in my own biology. Addiction is biological. Once your midbrain is hijacked to the point where self-preservation is disregarded, you are no longer in control. You are not powerful. It’s terrifying to me to think of it, and has made me cautious in a way that I’ve never been.

I did not simply wake up one morning and say to my mirror image, “Dear god these bags under my eyes make me look ten years older.” I didn’t roll over in bed and realize I was hungover (again) and say “Goddamn it, I’m late for work. Time for a change!” Being a musician and DJ certainly didn’t help. You’re surrounded constantly by enablers of all kinds.

Some people were able to do that, however – stop themselves before it was too late and right the ship. I hold no resentment toward such people, and wish I could’ve been one of them. In meetings, they are derogatorily referred to as “high-bottom addicts.” A kind of caste system within recovery. The new school sobriety movement adds yet another caste, one that seemingly looks down on anyone who applies the word “recovery” or “sobriety” to themselves – simply because they’d been able to hold onto their dignity and some of their social status after giving up their vices.

We desperately want to keep up appearances in this country. Our clothes must be “fabulous” – not so dressy that we appear uptight (“Today was a jeans and t-shirt day!”), not so casual that we couldn’t run the board meeting. Thanks to the democratization of technology, our selfies can and must be flawless. But not too flawless. Sterile like a pharmaceutical commercial but not so much that you can’t have a slight inkling of hipster chic. I’m edgy, dammit! *Snap!* Lord knows the power of dysfunction and codependence in American families have long lent themselves to secrecy and denial.

But addiction – the kind I dealt with in my own life – is messy. It is ugly and hard to Photoshop away, especially when you pass out drunk standing at a bus stop (this guy). For its part, the recovery community does itself no favors by forcing the “school of hard knocks” approach, an outdated idea of anonymity as social bullwark, and a rejection of 80 years of scientific method. As long as we continue to shoegaze, we’ll continue suffering from terminal uniqueness and miss the world turning.

When I was living in an Oxford House my first few months in recovery, I came home one day and began to pontificate on all my difficulties as newcomers sometimes do. Somewhere in the discussion I referred to myself as a “hard luck case,” which a housemate took issue with. “Jon G,” he said, “you a good dude, and I know that you been through some pretty bad shit from your view. But you ain’t no hard-luck case. I’ve seen hard luck cases, people with nothing, people running in the streets with no clothes and no food. You ain’t no hard-luck case.” So even my experience wasn’t the be-all end-all of rock-bottom. I had unconsciously created a caste for myself, and was judging everyone I thought was beneath me. It was a hard pill to swallow.

Addiction is a broad spectrum, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. For me, addiction will always be a desperate matter. My behavior took me to extremes that by any metric were beyond the pale. Quantifiably, measurably, there will never be a good justification for me to put drugs and alcohol in my body again. Sure, it’s still technically a “choice” for me to do so – in the way that it’s a “choice” for me to drive my car off a bridge.

Some people had a choice in when they gave up their vices. But having a choice doesn’t mean you have power. True power is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and then honestly building on that framework. True power is also being humbled enough to understand that judging someone else’s experience through the lens of your own is futile.

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addiction, Consequences, Recovery

Catastrophe.

(originally posted to my old blog, February 2, 2014)

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“My life had become a catastrophe. I had no idea how to turn it around. My band had broken up. I had almost lost my family. My whole life had devolved into a disaster. I believe that the police officer who stopped me at three a.m. that morning saved my life.”
– Trey Anastasio, lead singer/guitarist, Phish

Much of what I write here is about my experiences in early recovery from substance abuse, as well as prior to. I think it is crucial that those in early recovery know that no matter how happy or content those with long-term sobriety may appear, we had many difficulties to overcome. Mine had been a slow burn over the course of more than a decade. Once drugs other than alcohol entered the picture, my fate was sealed and my journey to rock bottom was accelerated exponentially.

It came to a head on Tuesday, September 29, 2009.

On the evening of Monday, September 28, I received a very terse email from my boss. Not the usual “hey let’s have lunch and talk” kind of email, but the kind that left you with a sinking feeling in your stomach. Somewhat like Bill Lumberg coming by my desk and saying, “Ummmm, yeaaahhhh…Jon, I’m gonna need to have a little talk with you, mmmmkay?”  I knew something bad was in store for me. I had this sinking feeling I was going to be fired, so I packed up my company computer, the books they’d bought for me and some of my paperwork. I put them in my car the night beforehand.

By this point, my anxiety was out of control. I was abusing my Clonipin prescription, in addition to my old standard alcohol and GBL (an analogue of GHB and a depressant, first popularized in the UK – a so-called “legal high”). The script called for me to take two 1mg doses, one in the morning, and one at night. I was easily taking 3-4 a day, and that would eventually go up to 5 a day, in addition to everything else. So as you can imagine, my work performance was “wanting” at best.

Now, let’s talk biology here for a second. That’s three GABA agonists at once: liquor, benzos, and G. What’s GABA, you say? GABA is Gamma-aminobutyric acid, a natural inhibitory neurotransmitter which reduces excessive brain activity and promotes a state of calm. In essence, it assuages some of your anxiety. So a “GABA agonist” is a substance that hijacks your body’s natural process for calming itself – hence, why many people use alcohol in situations that provoke social anxiety.

For a normal person, who doesn’t drink to excess (or at all) and doesn’t abuse other substances, a single dose of Clonipin (even 0.25mg) would probably be more than enough to alleviate some of the day’s stress. The point of taking a prescribed pharmaceutical isn’t to feel “buzzed” – it’s to feel “normal,” like a deep breath on a clear spring day. For someone like me, however, who was drinking a half gallon of vodka every two days and taking in somewhere between 20-30mL of GBL a day (a 1mL dose every hour or so), 0.25mg isn’t even a blip on the radar. Even 5mg wasn’t a blip on the radar for me. My body was simply too numb to feel the effects any more.

The real kicker though, is what happens when you try to *stop* taking all those substances. It’s bad enough when it’s *just* alcohol, or *just* benzos, or *just* GBL/GHB/BD. You become “tolerized”, meaning the receptors in your brain get used to those chemicals pumping through your system. Your body begins to rely on these outside chemicals to function properly. It’s not god punishing you or a failure of your spiritual condition. It’s simply your body doing what it does naturally: evolve and adapt. What’s worse is that if you try to come off any one of these substances without medical supervision, it leaves your central nervous system in a hyper-excitable state, which can ultimately lead to excitotoxicity (your brain cells begin to die of overstimulation). This is the beginning of what is known as Delerium Tremens, or the “DT’s.”  And without close medical supervision, you *will* die from it.

I woke up that morning terrified, literally shaking so badly that I could barely put on clothes. By that point in my addiction I was sneaking shots of vodka and G in the morning while my girlfriend was upstairs showering. Ostensibly I was supposed to be making us breakfast (two protein shakes), so I simply added the GBL and vodka to my protein shake. I know, that’s pretty nasty. 1mg Clonipin, followed by shot of vodka and 1.5mL of GBL mixed in a protein shake. Breakfast of champions. The anxiety went away within 3-5 minutes, and I felt that warm, buzzed sensation pass through my body. I was back to my old, indignant, irresponsible and omniscient self – at least for a little while. I got in my car, high as a kite, and drove to work.

In my altered state, I began to formulate all possible end results for what might happen when I got to the office. My pride began to well up within me. I had been with this company for all of 45 days. In the 5 minutes it took me to drive to work I realized something which was, in fact, true: even without all the drugs – which somewhere in the depths of my mind, I knew were bad for me – the experience of working there was just too much. I was both a useless employee, *and* the personalities of the people I was working with clashed.

So I quit. I resigned. It was the only active choice I’d made in months, if not years. I couldn’t handle my direct boss, and was using drugs to drive away the pain. I had taken care of one problem, but not the other.

(Note: Until now, I’ve told everyone the story that I was fired, assuming everyone would think I was too useless to effectively hold a job anyway. In my delusional state I thought it was easier to explain it that way. Everyone expected me to be the “fuck up” by that point.)

As I walked to my car, having returned my computer and reference books, I felt free. Of course, I had more GBL in my car and proceeded to get high, because inside I felt like a failure.

All I had to do then was make it home, a 10 minute trip.

The next two and a half hours were a blur. I recall fleeting moments where I “came to” behind the wheel of the car, driving into oncoming traffic on a small, 2-lane country road. Horns honking at me. I think at one point I even stopped on the side of the road. What possessed me to keep driving – if I wasn’t imagining all this – I have no idea. The next thing I remember, I was in the parking lot of a convenience store in another county, with 3 police cars behind me.

The officers could tell that I was clearly altered on something, but were completely perplexed when they gave me a roadside breathalyzer and I blew a 0.0 – thank god I’d only had *one* shot of vodka that morning. However, I had done poorly on the roadside tests and was clearly out of it. In addition, I had one of my prescription bottles with me in the car as well as the “conical” and transfer pipette I used for the G. They arrested me, then took me to the local hospital where they did a blood test, and finally to jail.

To make matters worse, I was supposed to attend a couples counseling session with my girlfriend that afternoon. A session which I missed, because I was locked up.

For me, this was only the beginning of rock bottom.

It’s almost 5 years later, and here I stand proud. Clear-headed, making more sense than I’ve ever made in my life, humbled by what life has shown me both bad AND good. I’m grateful for this moment.

You see, we all have that chaos, that “catastrophe” in our pasts. As the promises tell us, we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. I need the experience of my past to help me remember what happens when I go down that road. I need it to keep me humble.

I need it to show myself and others what we can overcome when we make the next sober decision.

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