(originally posted to Tumblr November 10, 2014)
November 22nd, 2009. I was holed up at what was known as the Larry B. Zieverink Alcoholism Treatment Center (or ATC for short). Larry B. Zieverink Sr. served as a Wake County, NC commissioner from 1980 until 1988. Zieverink, who battled alcoholism for several years, helped to establish the Center, which originally opened in 1977. Almost 10 years after it opened, my mom would receive treatment for her alcoholism.
20 years later, I was there to carry on the fine tradition.
I remember spending Thanksgiving Day in detox, eating pre-processed turkey, something that resembled mashed potatoes and peas out of a shrink-wrapped tray. The company that provided meals to the treatment center was called Canteen, the same company that provided meals to Central Prison. I had no windows, but there was a back room where I could go watch movies on an old TV/VHS combo. The two movies I watched were Apollo 13 and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I was in detox for 5 days. Coming off 3 different GABA receptor agonists simultaneously (Alcohol, GBL, and Klonipin) is no joke.
After detox, I spent 2 weeks in inpatient treatment. Here, we had windows, and for 30 minutes a day could go outside (mostly so people could smoke). I cherished that 30 minutes. I had a counselor named Ed, an older African-American gentleman whose words of advice to me, perpetually, were “don’t worry about it!” I was an anxious mess and hardly slept a wink. I remember also making my 15 minutes worth of phone calls each day. My friends on the outside were all playing the “blame game” and “who gets Jon’s stuff.” It was frustrating to not be able to do anything about it.
Of primary concern were all the difficulties I had created for myself:
1) No job
2) Nowhere to live
3) Almost $25,000 in hospital bills from the overdose in October
4) 2 misdemeanor charges in a different county
5) $1300 I owed the IRS, apropos of nothing (just bad timing)
6) My car was stuck in my friend’s garage, with two bent rims/flat tires on the right hand side of the car. So, no transportation.
All I could think about in treatment was “how am I going to get a job this close to Christmas!? They’ve GOT to let me out of here so I can start looking!” This coming from a guy who only a few days earlier couldn’t even hold a pen. I was not in my right mind. I didn’t even have a home to go back to. I couldn’t live with my g/f (we were in limbo at that point, and she was still drinking/using), nor could I go back to the friend I had been couch-surfing with. My dad certainly wouldn’t have taken me in, and my mom was in Colorado. My last option was an Oxford House. I was terrified of the idea. Is it like jail? How will I pay $100 a week in rent with no job?
I interviewed at two Oxford Houses – one was young guys like myself, mostly opiate addicts, no alcoholics (though I wasn’t strictly an alcoholic either). Felt like a recovery frat house. Bunch of “bro’s.” The other house I interviewed in was all older African American men – all at least 10 years older than me, and all either recovering alcoholics or crack cocaine addicts. I chose the latter. They all seemed way more serious about their recovery, and I knew I could learn a lot from them. A weight had been lifted – I now had a home and a bed. And 30 days to be able to get caught up with my rent.
Next order of business? Get my car on the road again. To do that, I’d have to call a junk yard and get two new rims, and two crappy used tires. But I couldn’t do that until I got to the Oxford House. After two weeks in ATC, I had a little “graduation” ceremony and then was picked up by one of my new housemates, who shuttled me to the house to drop my stuff off, then to my couch-surfing buddy to see the status of my car. I called a junkyard, found some rims and was able to get yet another friend to take me 15 miles out of town to buy the rims, and then to yet another store where I could drop my car off, have the new rims and tires put on. Close to $300, probably my last $300 on the one credit card that I had.
By the time I made it back to my house, it was 7:30pm. I now had a functioning car, my laptop, a home, and an internet connection. I also had a pile of medical bills and credit card statements staring me down. I turned on the TV (I had a TV in my room, with cable – something most addicts just don’t have in early recovery). On TV was some damned diamond commercial, a couple skating around an ice rink with an acoustic cover of “I Got You Babe” playing. All I could think about was my girlfriend, my life, failure, guilt. I cried like a baby. I had never before been so heartbroken. It was a week and a half before Christmas.
And through all of it, I absolutely, positively could NOT take a drink or use a drug – the only coping mechanism I’d had for 14+ years.
The first 30 days had been a “gimme.” I was cut off from the outside world, safe, secure. Now I could make choices. I could drive (though I had hardly any money for gas). If there was a dangerous time for me, this was it.
My job search was turning out to be fruitless. I had to be out of the house from 9-4 every day (house rules) to fill out applications with potential employers. The difficulty/paradox was that all their applications were now online. I could’ve filled them out on my laptop from the house, but had to be driving around to fill out paper applications that were no longer relevant. And, I was wasting precious gas to do it. I ended up borrowing money from my girlfriend against the value of my DJ equipment, so that I could pay rent at the Oxford House and eat in the short term. Though it seemed like a good idea at the time, it was to be my first mistake. From that point forward, she made me keep an online spreadsheet (thanks Google docs) of the remaining money I owed her, down to the penny. My guilty conscience saw it as an amend, but it was to become an albatross around my neck.
I ended up having to go to social services to sign up for food stamps. I was dirt broke and had no real support coming from anywhere, so it was definitely necessary. It was also humbling. As I sat in the waiting area for close to 6 hours – waiting just to *speak* to someone who *might* be able to help me – I became all-too-aware of just how far I’d fallen. When I finally did speak with someone at social services, I was informed it would take another month for me to receive my EBT card. I kept wondering to myself “how in the HELL would someone without the resources I had be able to make it? How could they possibly navigate this?”
Of course, there was the matter of the massive hospital bills as well. Each came under separate cover, and three of them had gone into collections while I was in rehab. The hospital had a section of their website where I could fill out an application for financial assistance – fortunately for me I had a laptop and two decades of experience with the internet. I printed out the forms, filled them out, xeroxed the receipts, and mailed them off. Again, I wondered to myself how anyone without the resources I had could possibly navigate this system. Those in poverty, those without an education, those without access to or an understanding of technology. In the end, the hospital determined that my past earning potential did not entitle me to assistance. But they did defer the debt for 6 months, and told me I could re-apply once that six-month period had expired.
In addition, my friend who had saved my life after the overdose – the one who had introduced me to every drug I had ever done, the one who I had couch-surfed with after leaving my girlfriend – was facing attempted murder (as in, my murder) and drug charges which he was completely innocent of. I spoke to the assistant district attorney and explained the situation to him, and had to be present at his trial to give my account of what had happened, the truth. I would’ve rather spent the rest of my life in jail than see my friend go down for a crime he was innocent of. They gave him 6 months probation, and that was that. There may be an order to the steps in AA (“making amends” is Step 9), but life doesn’t always wait for steps. I had done the right thing, but was emotionally exhausted and still had no job.
Finally, I found a chain pizza delivery service that was taking paper applications. I filled out the application in the store, talked to the manager right there, and my first day on the job was December 22nd. Because I’d be getting tips, I’d have cash in-hand to be able to pay my rent at the house (money orders only, no checks, no cash). The only other job I could’ve done to get cash in-hand that quickly would be as a server in a restaurant, or a drug dealer. And i can assure you I’d have made a *much* better drug dealer.
So another small victory had been won. While delivering pizzas on New Years Eve, I got to witness first-hand what I probably looked like while in active addiction. House parties, college parties, and a hotel party where a guy offered me a joint and his topless girlfriend gave me a $50 tip because she was too high to count the money. True story. Maybe I should’ve said something. Nope. I also watched police chase a drunk driver who was going the wrong way on a major thoroughfare. My re-education had begun.
I was attending outpatient treatment sessions at ATC with a counselor, who periodically would write me recommendation letters to give to my attorney for my 2 misdemeanor charges – a case which would end up being continued close to 12 times in a year and a half. He, like other counselors, had asked me (in regards to my childhood), “so, when your parents divorced and you’d gone through all those things – did either of your parents ever bother to put you in any kind of therapy?” The more I got asked the question, the more resentful I became. I was what they called “dual diagnosis” – meaning, I had clear anxiety and emotional issues which pre-dated my substance abuse by many years, issues that fueled my addictions. Issues which should’ve been dealt with much sooner. I was asked the question at least 4 times, by four different counselors over a 3 year period, and had no better answer to give them. All I felt like doing was smashing both of my parents’ heads into a cinderblock wall.
During my time in outpatient at ATC, I discovered a medication which I’d done research on that I thought might help – an SNRI called Effexor. I had never in my life taken an anti-depressant. But I knew that my anxiety and the symptoms of it were too severe to simply “pray away.” I tried Effexor, and within one week the trembling hands and the butterflies in my stomach which I’d known for most of my life were all but gone. I was now able to read and speak in meetings. I had more confidence now that I was no longer cowering under the weight of anxiety at every turn. And, as a side effect of the Effexor, I began losing weight like crazy.
Of course I was also an active member of AA. I had a sponsor who was exactly what I needed at the time. Kind, intelligent, and very hands-off. I guess he knew me well enough to know that in some regards I was going to keep my own counsel – or that I was just stubborn and would have to learn for myself. He and I worked the steps together, and he even allowed me to help him paint his house unsupervised (which he paid me for). He is probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had, certainly one of the strongest male figures in my life, and without question taught me the skills I would need to save myself from myself. If there is one person I can credit with helping me begin dealing with my resentments toward my parents, it was him.
This was just the first 5 months.
There was one moment in that five months when I seriously contemplated suicide – I had been delivering pizzas during an unusually heavy snowstorm in Raleigh (unusual for Raleigh, anyway), my car was stuck, the person I had delivered to hadn’t tipped. I saw a steep overhang into a ditch. I thought about “gunning it” and making my final curtain call. Life was simply not worth living in that moment. Too many problems, too much pain, so much anger and rage towards so many. So much failure. Before that moment, I had never once ideated the end of my life. For some reason I chose to push my car out of the snow and drive back to the store.
I now had some of my things from my girlfriend’s place in my room at the Oxford House…mainly, my MacPro tower, my CD inkjet printer and my guitars. I began thinking about music, and getting back to DJ-ing and producing. I had all these songs which had been languishing on a hard drive – half-finished shells of ideas, hooks, riffs with no direction. I now had a direction, and a passion. I began working on an entire album, one which would eventually come to be known as “Last Man Standing” – which from beginning to end is about virtually every emotion I experienced in recovery. It would take me another 3 years to put finishing touches on it and release it to the world…you can read about that here.
I also auditioned for a DJ gig, at the encouragement of my housemates. Electronic Dance Music, or EDM for short (what we used to call “house music“ or “rave music” when I was coming up), had finally started to hit the mainstream – and local venues were ready to embrace it. The event was called Revolution, and though it was horribly mismanaged, it ended up being the flagship EDM event in the area, which others would attempt to replicate. On average we had close to 500 attendees anytime we did an event. I had gone from near-death and broke to being resident DJ for what was certainly the biggest regular EDM event I had ever participated in. And I would play every single event stone-cold sober. No alcohol, no drugs. I even had a group of about 8-10 sober regulars who would come support me. My girlfriend had also auditioned as a dancer and stage performer and became one of the regulars. She would go on to become stage manager for the event – mistake number 2 on my part.
In July I re-applied for financial assistance through the hospital after my 6-month deferment of my medical expenses had run out. I received a letter in which the balance of my hospital bill had been reduced to zero. It was a miracle. There is no other way I can characterize it. I remember opening the letter and weeping in my car. One of my difficulties had been surmounted. That August, I finally landed a job in my field and said goodbye to the pizza business. Things were turning around.
Then during one of our Sunday “house meetings” at the Oxford House, two of my housemates (both 50-year-old “grown ass men”) began exchanging words and got into a fistfight. One of them pulled a kitchen knife on the other and began slashing at him. They were promptly ejected from the house and arrested. My safe place was now in jeopardy, so in haste my girlfriend and I decided we might as well try living together again. I loved her so much and wanted to make up for all the pain I had caused her. I clearly thought myself the villain, and happily accepted the challenge. However, I unknowingly brought something with me from the Oxford House that I did not expect.
Bed bugs. If you have never experienced them, you do not want to. Especially not in early recovery.
So from day one, my move back in with my girlfriend was plagued with problems. It would be two months and close to $2000 to take care of the bed bugs. More stress, more money I owed and more charges to go on my “running tab” she was making me keep.
There was one last obstacle to clear: my DUI arrest and possession charge for the GBL from September 2009. The case had been continued over and over again. Then, at 4pm on December 14th, 2010, at the Alamance County Courthouse, my lawyer decided to go ahead with the trial. The Assistant DA was ready to proceed also. I ended up having to take the stand (to my horror). My lawyer coached me on what to say and what not to say. During the middle of my cross-examination, the ADA rolled out a TV and VCR, and played back what the cops saw the day I had been arrested, the video recording from their dash cam. There was the old version of me, from a year and a half ago, staring me squarely in the face. The ADA would rewind and playback certain sections, over and over again. It was torture. I was on my own episode of COPS.
Fortunately, two things were in my favor. First, the police had exaggerated on their report, saying that I was weaving wildly on the road while the videotaped evidence showed nothing of the sort. Second, the blood test found no mind-altering substance in my system, save for trace amounts of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) which wouldn’t have been smoked that day. GBL – the drug I had actually taken that day – is in and out your liver in minutes, immediately metabolized to GHB which (this is your curious fact for the day) all human beings produce naturally. It’s one of the compounds involved in our sleep cycles and also present in some red wine. So there’s no real way to say whether a person is high on it, or simply has elevated levels. Two huge technicalities, which allowed the judge to utter words I’d been waiting a year and a half to hear:
Not. Fucking. Guilty.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Go back and read Part Two Here: