addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, DJ, Electronic Dance Music, music, Recovery

Why So Serious?

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I have a habit of taking myself way too seriously. You might not know that from this picture.

And no, I don’t have a masterclass. I do, however, have Photoshop, a degree in graphic design, and time on my hands.

I take politics seriously. I haven’t blogged in awhile because our country seems to be coming apart at the seams. As I know from recovery, much of that is beyond my control, but it doesn’t stop me. I tried to write about it elsewhere.

There is probably no better example of how seriously I take things than my music.

The very first album I wrote was called “Breakup” – inspired by every failed relationship I’d ever had. Serious stuff.

I wrote an album while living in an Oxford House my first year in recovery. I was angry, scared, hurt, alone. There wasn’t much to laugh about. See the before and after picture below. It was the guy on the left that wrote “Last Man Standing.”

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This is a problem for a dance music producer.

Dance music has never been particularly political nor serious. Just look up the Chainsmoker’s first hit “#Selfie” on YouTube to see what I’m talking about. For earlier examples, look up “Don’t Laugh” by Josh Wink, or “Ebeneezer Goode” by The Shamen (a play on words about Ecstasy…”E’s are good.”)

So it took me by surprise when my girlfriend and I were Christmas shopping at Kohl’s in 2015, and I came across a toy in the kids section that grabbed my attention. One of those kids toys in which you pull the string and a wheel spins, playing a song about a letter of the alphabet. “J says jump! I love to jump up and down!”

I recorded it for posterity on my iPhone and told my girlfriend that I’d make a song out of it some day. I wasn’t ready then, as we had just moved in together. I was nervous about it because the last time I’d moved in with a girlfriend, I’d developed a pretty horrible drug habit and ended up in the hospital, and rehab, and an Oxford House, where I wrote an album and…you can see where this is going.

But I’m happy now. Happier than Ive been in a long time. I can laugh at myself. I come home from work, look at the life I have, and feel tremendous gratitude for the many bullets I’ve been allowed to dodge. I can take a deep breath and know that in this moment, I am content.

And it shows, even in my music – maybe for the first time ever. Hopefully, it won’t be the last. “J,” after all, “is for jump.”

 

 

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, music, Recovery, Religion

The Codependent Love Songs of the 1970s.

I’ll be getting back to my sober DJ story soon enough, but for my first post of 2017 I wanted to share something a bit different.

Tommy Rosen, the founder of Recovery 2.0, shared a video on his Facebook page after his morning meditation which entailed pop culture, movies, the 1970s…the effect that those things have on children, and relates it to how he became an addict:

At first when he began talking about movies, he kinda lost me. I was thinking, whatever. Then he said something that made my jaw hit the floor. “You know what I grew with in the 1970s, if we’re really gonna be honest? I grew up with the codependent love songs of the 1970s.” Feels. (And doesn’t that sound like the title of one of those Time-Life greatest hits CDs?)

I remember the ballads, especially of the late 1970s/early 1980s. So many songs about unfulfilled and unrequited love. I remember hearing Dan Fogleberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” as a 7 year old and crying…kids know. Kids understand more than you realize. I remember my mom teaching class late one night and not knowing when she would come home, and then hearing “Your Song” by Elton John. Balling. Missing my mom. (I was a sensitive little kid, I’ll admit. Not much has changed.)

I also remember the movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. If you saw the animated movie “Watership Down” as a kid, you know what I’m talking about. The movie “Kramer vs. Kramer” with Dustin Hoffman came out in 1979, and from the clips I saw on HBO it seemed that divorce was an epic event, with a big soundtrack, courtroom drama, parents yelling at one another and at the judge. Anytime I met a kid in elementary school whose parents were divorced, I felt deeply sorry for them. I imagined them in court with their parents, watching it all go down, and then having to take sides.

And then my parents actually divorced. And there was unfulfilled love, and anger, and infidelity and substance use between them. But other than the relatively few fights I saw – bad as they were – it was a very quiet process from my perspective. My dad told me my mom was moving out while I was watching Saturday morning cartoons. I never once set foot in a courtroom, never talked with an attorney. In fact, my mom told me that she had me live with my father because she knew that she was incapable of taking care of a child – that she thought he would’ve been better for me.

Like drunkenness, I learned that divorce too was very, very different from what was portrayed in the media. I accepted my mom’s version of the story for a long time, until I myself found recovery. I saw men and women, young and old, who’d just recently had their children taken away because of alcohol and drugs. I watched them in 12-step meetings claw, and grasp at every straw they could to hang on to sobriety, to get visitation back, to get their kids back, to be in their lives again. These were, by-and-large, people who didn’t have educations, people who simply did the best they could with what they had, some with extensive criminal records. Never in all my life had I seen a parent fight harder for their children.

You see videos of mothers and fathers in war-torn countries being re-united with their children after being separated, after being refugees for a decade, two decades, with no hope of ever seeing them. And a miracle happens and they are reunited. They are falling on the floor in tears, and the children are too. Wailing, weeping as though their lives depended on it.

My mother and father were both highly educated people. If I’m to believe my mother, she was invited to join Mensa at one point. Neither had criminal records. Even with all that, I began to feel once again like I had been “given up,” in early recovery, at age 36 after over 20 years had passed. The feelings stay there. You can’t deal with them until you face them head on.

You have to wonder what kind of force is so powerful that it decimates the instinctual bond between a parent and child. It’s not alcohol, it’s not drugs. Those are just symptomatic. As Tommy is noted for saying (and I agree 100%), the root of addiction is trauma. The trauma that occurred in my mother’s life when she was young, which was in turn a result of trauma that her parents had, and so forth. At no point did anyone put the brakes on it, because our “no crying in baseball” culture doesn’t believe in feelings – talking about them, expressing them or recovering from them. One county in Georgia even banned schools from teaching mindfulness because of the influences of “eastern religion.”

Look at who we elected president, for god’s sake.

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(no, we didn’t elect dan fogelberg)

When you experience divorce, suddenly everything that happened before you see through a new lens. Nothing was right, everything was wrong. Of course the whole thing fell apart. Dan Fogleberg was right. “She’d like to say she loved the man, but she didn’t like to lie.” And any happy song immediately became a lie. Hearing all those old songs made me even more emotional than they had when I was a kid, so my tastes gradually shifted away from even 1980s pop to the angriest, loudest music I could find. It was my only defense mechanism.

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(the loudest, angriest music I could find…)

Alcohol and drugs came much later, because watching my mother did make me afraid of their power for a time. But I was addicted to all sorts of things before that. Credit cards. Relationships. Materialism. Even the anger that I carried with me I was addicted to, in a way, because it was mine. It was something no one could take from me. Like the NIN classic Head Like a Hole, “no you can’t take it, no you can’t take that away from me…head like a hole / black as your soul / I’d rather die than give you control.”

Tommy concludes with observations about the media our kids are seeing today… “I’m not even sure what’s going to happen to our children today…the jury is not in yet, we hope that we can get our kids excited about the magic of life without dooming them to… a life of seeking through the outside world to create some bizarre reality…” The jury is still out. We don’t know.

I agree with what Tommy is saying. I also agree that I am 100% percent responsible for my actions. I can’t blame anyone but myself for what I did in active addiction, and I certainly don’t blame pop culture. What I do believe is that art, music, and media are a lens into our culture, an expression of it’s own reality. It may seem bizarre, and frightening, much like the gangster rap of the early 1990s was to suburban parents. But our art tells a story about us.

And if it’s any indication of what we’re feeling as a culture, I give you a lyric from one of the most popular songs of 2016…by the Chainsmokers:

“I think I’m losing my mind now

It’s in my head, darling I hope

That you’ll be here, when I need you the most

So don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me down”

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, DJ, Electronic Dance Music, Recovery

My (Sober) DJ Story, Part OnePointTwo.

So this isn’t the actual Part Two. I haven’t quite finished writing it yet. Because, lazy.

This is an interlude of sorts.

I’ve spent my life watching technology get smaller and smaller, and more accessible. I owned a walkman as a kid which could play one cassette, had auto-reverse, Dolby-B noise reduction and an AM/FM radio. By contrast, my iPhone 6S – coming in at 1/3 the depth and half the weight – can hold every single song that I’ve ever listened to, in any format, since birth, allow me to access the sum total of human knowledge, help me navigate virtually anywhere on earth and serve as a portable HD television studio.

Oh, and it makes phone calls too. It’s almost quaint that it uses the word “phone” in its name.

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(This was the “phone” we had when i was a kid. Trimline, SON! And it came in more colors than the iPhone!)

With that in mind, I made my first full-length music video over the weekend, using footage I took at various gigs since I first got sober. I used nothing more than my MacBook Air, the same iPhone I mentioned above, iMovie and Adobe After Effects. A $4,000 investment, tops. Not counting what it cost to produce the song, using the same laptop, and other software. Not 15 years ago, these endeavors would’ve required huge studios, crews, hundreds of man-hours. The democratization of technology really allows us to express ourselves in any way we choose.

To any millennials who may be reading this, make no mistake: we live in remarkable times.

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(So meta. A picture of the video I made, with the blog post I’m writing about it – as I write! Dear Apple, I love the walled garden you’ve built.)

In early sobriety, everyone’s expectations for you drop. So every little thing you do sober is much like when a baby takes its first steps.

“Oh look honey, our recovering boy just took his first shit in sobriety! Good job kiddo!”

At first, it feels good – everyone congratulating you on every little thing accomplished. After awhile, for me, it became patronizing. I DJ-ed my first sober gig in a bar and everyone who knew me came up to me to tell I played better than I ever had in my using days – which I found very hard to believe. Again, I knew they meant well, it just seemed a bit much.

Now, 7 years into the process, two rehabs and one relapse later…I have the footage to prove they were actually right. Hours and hours of it.

I find it a little more than coincidental that technology has arrived at the place it is – and my sobriety has brought me to the place where am – that I can write a piece of music while living in a Oxford House and seven years later have the footage to prove I can DJ sober AND use said footage to tell the story.

I truly have been able to “face down” all the demons I’d been holding onto for so long. Enjoy the video.

 

Okay, go read Part Two 😉

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, Consequences, Recovery

My Story, Part Four.

Not. Fucking. Guilty.

I left the courtroom, walked to my car, put my head against the steering wheel and cried. The two biggest obstacles to my recovery (in my mind) – the legal charges and the hospital bill – were now over and done with. A year and a half later.

I called my mom and told her the news. It was over.

I drove back home. My sense of relief was overwhelming.

It was a miracle…

…so I smoked weed with my girlfriend. And that is the truth. Not an hour after the end of my trial.

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Relapse.

They say relapse starts way before you pick up – and I believe them.

My end goal the first time around in the recovery had been to get back to where I had been before, just better. I had achieved all that. Back with the girlfriend, DJ-ing again, money problems overcome, health problems overcome.

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The problem is that where substances are involved, you can’t simply walk back into your old life. You must change your life, and start anew – especially if your circumstances were as desperate as mine. Some people are able to go back to drinking in moderation. Others have been able to kick elicit drugs, yet still drink alcohol with no issues. I don’t begrudge them, because I recognize that addiction is a spectrum.

But that is not me.

Sure, the things that happened to me as a kid were awful, and needed to be addressed. They weren’t. No one had shown me how to manage my own money. No one had shown me effective ways of coping with my anxiety. The people I counted on the most had basically run for the hills to tend to their own wounds. I was left to tend to mine on my own as well. I now deal with that pain, and learn to cope with it one day at a time through a variety of (healthy) means.

But I had destroyed my life. No one did that to me, but me.

For better or worse, once you reach a certain age no one cares about your problems. The assumption is that when you’re an “adult” somehow you’ve figured it out – or can at least fake it well enough to not be a public nuisance. Faking it carries its own set of problems, but jail time is generally not one of them.

My girlfriend had always had marijuana in the house, as well as a small stash of LSD and mushrooms which were left over from Burning Man. Prior to recovery, I wasn’t much of a pot smoker – primarily a drinker who used downers to come down after using hallucinogens. I didn’t smoke daily at first, but we learned that one of her performer friends was a dealer, so we began buying from her. Then I began buying on my own, weekly. All told I spent over $8,000 on weed over the course of a year and a half.

Things on the home front were rough, marijuana notwithstanding. My girlfriend, filling the role of the perfect co-dependent, attempted to control everything I did and every move I made. I had to maintain a spreadsheet of all my expenses and money owed her, to the tune of close to $2,500. She also made me add daily expenses to that spreadsheet, especially anything she bought “for the house” and split those evenly. So even as I paid down my debt to her, the tab was perpetually increasing. There was no hope of getting out from under it.

What began as an amend began to feel like indentured servitude.

I was unable to find steady graphic design work at first, taking every contract position I saw on craigslist and collecting unemployment in between. When I was unemployed, my girlfriend had a list of tasks she expected me to accomplish while she was at work. I would do everything in my power to do them correctly, but no matter what I did, she would find fault and criticize. Eventually, I would do the exact opposite of what she wanted done on purpose simply to piss her off. Then, I would spend whole days getting high, not doing anything, in defiance. In other words, I was using “at” her. I couldn’t make her happy, I thought, so why try?

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She had also assumed the role of stage manager for the DJ event I was helming, and was booking the talent, eventually taking the role of booking the other DJs away from me. My suggestions went unheard. At the end of every night, basking in the afterglow of an amazing gig, I’d have to endure the car ride home where she perpetually bitched about everything that went wrong and why I hadn’t taken better video of her on-stage. Of course, my response was to go home and smoke. I got to the point where I hated going to the gigs. My attempt to give my girlfriend a creative outlet had turned into a personal nightmare. I felt trapped.

At this point, any semblance of a sex life was non-existent. I had stopped going to meetings, stopped calling my old sponsor or anyone in my network. As a fall-back, my girlfriend and I started going to couples counseling sessions, which devolved into her venting about everything wrong with *me.* Our counselors had to split us into separate sessions so that I wouldn’t be made to feel like the “fuck-up.”

The one ray of sunshine I had was the dog we had adopted, Roy – a Jack-Russell/Beagle mix. He was the only dog I had ever owned, and I loved him more than my life. At one point during an argument, my girlfriend accused me of loving the dog more than I loved her. In the beginning, that would’ve been false, but by the end of our relationship it was the absolute truth. I wanted to take him and quite literally run away from her.

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During the summer of 2012, she and I “toured” together…booked to play/perform at several different festivals, one as far away as Pennsylvania in a town not far from where I was born. I had allowed her to book the dates because I didn’t want to argue with her about anything. It was exhausting, physically and emotionally. In fact, on our way back from Pennsylvania I had a nervous breakdown. I had to stop the car and pull over – and she wouldn’t stop nagging me.

Things started looking up in October of 2012, as I took a long-term contract position with a local government agency. They seemed to like me and I did good work. At home, my pot smoking had really taken off. In fact, when I went to a conference in Charlotte to take photographs for a work function, I took a small vial of weed with me to smoke in the hotel room after work was over. I wasn’t caught, and everyone seemed to like the photos. So I didn’t think twice about it.

I had gotten to the point where I hated being at home. For all intents and purposes my girlfriend and I were simply friends living under the same roof, and sleeping in the same bed. My girlfriend had been in 3 different post-doctoral positions and had ended up leaving all of them for various reasons. I was paying the full rent on our apartment, still paying my tab, working, playing DJ gigs, and on the verge of losing my mind with no rest. The only time I had to myself was when my girlfriend would fall asleep, and I could come downstairs to smoke weed.

My mentality had shifted entirely away from recovery, and back into active addiction.

Marijuana had become my coping mechanism, and it was starting not to work anymore. On New Years Eve, my girlfriend had double-booked herself and told me she had taken care of things at our main gig, Revolution. Unfortunately, she hadn’t, and I ended up having to field questions and put out fires because of it. The gig went well, but that was my breaking point. She had asked me to buy a bottle of vanilla vodka for her for the new year (2013), and I did (why anyone would ask a relatively new recovering alcoholic to buy vodka, I’ll never know). She had opened it and taken a swig during a break from one of our sets.

Without her knowledge, I did too. And that is where my full-blown relapse began.

It escalated on February 20th, when again she asked me to go to the ABC store and buy her a bottle of bourbon. I bought one for her, and one for myself. I drank it over the course of two nights, and drank some of hers as well. I then bought another bottle for myself in secret, called in sick to work, and spent the day drinking it. She came home and found me passed out on the couch – and understandably let me have it.

At this point, I had a chance to turn it around…so I took it. I was worried about losing my job, so I went to the local treatment center where I got my Effexor prescription and told them what was happening. My psychiatrist saw how shaky I’d become, but I convinced her that I could taper myself off. So she prescribed me Librium, with a strict 10-day regimen to follow. I took another day off work to get my shakes under control.

She also prescribed me a 50mg dose of Trazodone to help me sleep. I’d had issues with being able to sleep continuously through the night ever since entering treatment. When you’re drinking like I was, and using like I was, you will screw up your sleep cycle. Additionally, being unable to sleep caused me a great deal of anxiety in early recovery. Most people look at you and tell you, “that’s what you get for using!” The tough love approach never really worked for me. Needless suffering is needless suffering, plain and simple. I cannot express how much good this did for me.

I completed the Librium taper and the shakes were done. I also started going to meetings again. I picked up a “start over” chip and got phone numbers.

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If I had been able to navigate the next 30 days, I might’ve been able to stay the course. Unfortunately, my girlfriend took vocal issue with me using Trazodone. Even though it was prescribed to me by a doctor, even though this same doctor had reassured me that it was a tiny dose, my girlfriend the rocket scientist knew better. She started getting angry with me for taking it, making me feel guilty, made me feel like I was using again. I hadn’t been sober a month when I started drinking again. I had no peace, and no escape. I could’ve left the relationship – but I didn’t. My self-esteem was too shot for me to care.

At that point my drinking simply spiraled downward. I began drinking during work hours, sometimes passing out at my desk and coming to after the office (and parking deck) had closed. Watching me scale a wall to get into a locked parking deck was a sight to see, let me tell you. I was also buying marijuana from a different dealer closer to my work, and smoking during working hours. I didn’t want to go home, and yet I did because I didn’t want to leave my poor dog alone. In order to get sleep, I began stealing my girlfriend’s 2-year-old Lunesta pills, her Ambien, and her Xanax.

I was finally fired from my job after my HR manager found me passed out in my car in the parking deck, surrounded by vodka bottles. This began a further month-long downward spiral, where I did everything to avoid going home to my girlfriend. My couch-surfing tour took me as far as Asheville, NC, where I ended up having to be hospitalized with DTs – again. I was able to stay with two very dear friends who helped me over the course of 4 days. I came back to the condo I shared with my girlfriend, and I broke up with her, having been sober for 4 days. I knew it couldn’t continue – I knew I was no good for her, no good for myself.

I went walkabout one last time before voluntarily checking myself into rehab and not telling anyone. I was drunk when I checked myself in to rehab and turned my phone in before I realized I should probably make a few calls. All of the earthly possessions I could fit in my car were, in fact, in my car. I spent a week in treatment with no access to email or phone. As my girlfriend’s area code was not local, I couldn’t call her from the office phone (no long-distance calls). I was in this rehab for one week, and ended up moving into another Oxford House.

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(studio, before relapse)

Upon leaving rehab, my girlfriend took possession of the bulk of my recording studio equipment as payment for the money I owed her – save for my electric guitar, electric bass, my laptop and one speaker. She wouldn’t allow me to enter the house to retrieve my belongings unless I was supervised. It took me four trips to get my things out of the house. I pondered lawyering up to get my music studio back, but didn’t have any money. I had been locked out of my checking account by my bank for missing a loan payment, and was having to use a backup checking account I hadn’t touched in years.

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(studio, after relapse)

My father, who’d been so supportive of me in early recovery the first time around, made it a point to showcase his displeasure with me.

He refused to see me for 3 months, and for my 40th birthday he sent me a card with an enclosed letter explaining in detail that he would no longer be giving me anything. His reason was that I was old enough to take care of myself (fair enough), but his real reason (in my opinion) was to twist the knife. I’d rather he simply said because he didn’t want me spending any of his money on drugs or alcohol. Or, he could just as easily have sent a card telling me how glad he was that I was alive on my 40th birthday, and let that be that. I would’ve been happy with that. Instead, he chose to use it as an opportunity to punch me in the gut. I’m still working out those resentments.

I was able to get contract work out of rehab designing Powerpoint slides, and then landed full-time work as a pre-press person for a print shop. Here I was managed by a scatterbrained boss and her 29-year-old lackey office manager. In February of 2014, she and I both determined that I “was not a fit for that job,” and I left with a severance package that allowed me to exist until finding a new full-time job in April of 2014, one I still have today. I have now been employed with this place longer than any other job I’ve had since graduating from college.

I was able to buy all new DJ equipment, all new PA equipment, and started two bands – Roxaboxen and Born Like This. With the money I’ve earned playing DJ gigs since 2013, I’ve been able to pay for and pay off all the gear I purchased. I helped start Raveclean – an event company that for a time threw clean and sober dance events in North Carolina. We’re currently on hiatus, but again – miracles are always possible.

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(Born Like This)
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(Roxaboxen)

It was at one of the Raveclean events where I met my girlfriend – who is herself a singer, songwriter and pianist. We live in Greensboro with a dog named Boots and a cat named Shadow. It is a better life than I ever could’ve imagined for myself. In my online travels I’ve met a host of wonderful people in the recovery community who’ve strengthened me on my journey. I hope that I’ll know them all for a very long time to come. They will all certainly be welcome wherever I am.

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I don’t know what the future holds for me. I know that there will be good times and there will be trouble. I’ll just keep blogging, keep making music, keep doing all the things I need to do to maintain my recovery, and surround myself with people who support my efforts.

Thanks for reading. Be well and take care of one another. We’re all we’ve got.

jon_julia

Read Part Three here:
https://mylaststand.org/2016/10/24/my-story-part-three/

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, Recovery

My Story, Part Three.

(originally posted to Tumblr November 10, 2014)

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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.

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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.

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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:
https://mylaststand.org/2016/10/21/my-story-part-two/

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addiction, Consequences, Recovery

My Story, Part Two.

(originally posted to Tumblr August 14, 2014)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You can read Part One of my story here:
https://mylaststand.org/2016/10/19/my-story-part-one/

Or, read Part Three:
https://mylaststand.org/2016/10/24/my-story-part-three/

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Recovery

My Story, Part One.

(originally posted on Since Right Now, July 31, 2014)

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I WAS BORN IN DANVILLE, PA ON NOVEMBER 6, 1973, THE SON OF TWO UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS.

I’d grown up on university campuses and around academics for the majority of my early life. My father accepted a job with NC State University in 1976, so we moved – and save for two self-imposed moves on my part (one to Baltimore, MD, and one to Wilmington, NC), I’ve lived and worked in the Triangle area of central NC for most of my life. North Carolina truly is my home.

For the first 12 years, things were pretty typical. While my parents certainly weren’t well off, I never wanted for anything. There was always food to eat, a roof over my head, and I always felt loved. As an only child, I was spooled rotten, and rarely if ever was asked to do chores. As early as I can remember I was anxious, my hands always had a slight tremor, and frequently I would bite my fingernails and wring my hands. I had stage fright which only seemed to worsen as I entered adolescence. I was also terrible at athletics, though my dad desperately tried to teach me baseball and basketball. I was painfully shy and introverted, living most of my life in my own head and imagination. Ultimately, this imagination provided me an escape – writing stories, drawing, listening to tons of music, and making animations on one of the earliest Apple Macintosh computers, which my father purchased in 1985.

I HAD RARELY IF EVER SEEN MY PARENTS DRINK, AND CERTAINLY NEVER SAW MY PARENTS DRUNK. 1986 CHANGED ALL THAT.

My mom had begun teaching at a prestigious private school in Raleigh, which I had the (mis)fortune of being able to attend because I was her son. She began attending faculty functions where alcohol was served, functions which my Dad really didn’t enjoy. So he and I would frequently go see movies whenever my mom went out. On one particular occasion my dad and I came home to find mom’s car parked sideways in the driveway. Scared, we both went inside and found her sitting indian style on the floor, blackout drunk (which I didn’t understand at the time). The only example of a drunk person I’d ever seen was Otis from “The Andy Griffith Show.” This was quite different. The next day my parents sat me down, my mom explained what happened, and that it wouldn’t happen again.

THIS WAS A PROMISE THAT WOULD BE BROKEN OVER AND OVER.

I also became aware during this time that my mom had begun a relationship with one of the other teachers, who happened to be a woman. My parents were fighting quite often, and I couldn’t parse any of it. My mom couldn’t possibly be gay, I thought, because I *existed*. I was “proof,” right? I simply had no understanding, and no one was explaining anything to me. I would frequently sit at the top of the stairs holding the cat, listening to them yell. One Saturday morning, my dad came downstairs as I was watching cartoons and told me mom was moving out. He probably remembers what he said better than I do, and I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been for him. It wasn’t until much later in life that I would understand all of my mom’s struggles. What I know for certain is that within a year of seeing my mom drunk for the first time, my family – such as I had known it – was over. I would never trust or rely on the idea of “family” the same way again.

I began doing things which were very uncharacteristic for me. Back in public school, I came close to failing the 8th grade and to conceal the fact, began forging my dad’s signatures on official school documents so that he wouldn’t find out. I also began shoplifting, mostly CDs and porn magazines. All of this came to my dad’s attention at different times, and while he was very, very angry with me for it he never seemed to take it as a warning sign that something in me was changing, and not for the better. I never saw a therapist, was never told to go to one, and was never made to attend an Alanon meeting. To the best of my knowledge, neither did he. We did, however, start going to church – which I began to immerse myself in as time went on.

I was able to turn things around in high school, got my grades back up to A’s and B’s, and started playing trumpet in the marching band. I was bullied almost daily by a popular upperclassman, which made high school a scary place to be. No matter who I told, no one seemed able or inclined to do anything. But no matter how scared, anxious or hurt I was, I never picked up a drink. Friends would periodically offer them to me, but I turned them down flat. After seeing what had happened with my mom, I wanted no part of it – for the time being. She began reaching out to me, so that we could begin rebuilding our relationship. One day after school, probably in 1990, I’d gone over to her apartment to rest, and sitting on her dining room table were the divorce papers. It had been finalized in 1988, but no one had told me. What I realized at that moment was until I’d seen those papers, there was a tiny part of me that had always hoped my parents would get back together. No longer.

My dad and I also had a strained relationship at times, and no wonder. We were two angry men – one of whom had lost a wife, the other a mother – living in a big, empty house which for my dad probably represented everything he hoped their marriage would be. Now, it was an albatross around his neck. And neither of us were getting any help for our pain, save for church. I was also a latch-key kid, because my father had to teach sometimes until 7pm. By the time he got home he was tired and probably not in the mood to deal with a teenager. Sometimes, I would be the typical smartass adolescent and start arguments, sometimes my dad would just be in a foul mood and lose his temper. So while I kept my grades up and kept quiet, I confided in him less and less as time went by. The only times I knew for certain that we would be okay (i.e.. not arguing) were on Sundays. Church, it seems, brought us together – more for the shared experience of it than the spirituality I think. But my dad always did his best to explain and discuss scripture with me, and we prayed together nightly.

My mom bought me my first guitar at age 16 and I began listening to very loud, angry metal music. It was an ideal release for me and I still play guitar to this day, at least an hour a day. I also met my first girlfriend in high school, which was a transformative experience to say the least. The night I called her up to ask her out, she had been drinking. Her parents allowed her to drink alcohol as long as she and her friends remained in the house. Again, I never partook and was always very clear about it. We broke up at least 3-4 times that I’m aware of – but such is the nature of high school relationships. With all my “mommy issues” I imagine I was an insecure mess to say the least.

The night of my high school graduation, some friends and I went out and snuck into a local pool which, at 10pm, was locked up. So we scaled the fence. They’d brought some vodka and sprite with them, which I broke down and took a few sips of. I don’t recall feeling anything, nor did I really like what I was tasting. My dad found out and the next day and confronted me. He told me the following, unequivocally:

“SOME DAY, YOU’LL BE OLD ENOUGH TO BUY ALCOHOL, AND WHEN THAT DAY COMES YOU’LL HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE. I HOPE YOU WILL CHOOSE NOT TO, BUT IT WILL BE YOUR CHOICE. HOWEVER, GIVEN YOUR FAMILY HISTORY AND YOUR GENETIC MAKE-UP, IF YOU CHOOSE TO DRINK YOU ARE PLAYING WITH FIRE!”

By my senior year I had already tuned out his warning messages, and the messages of my mother. I didn’t trust or care about either of their opinions. In my eyes they could barely keep their own lives and sanity together, and college was my first opportunity to try my own hand at living life. I was a ticking time-bomb: insecure; naïve; self-righteous; and under a *lot* of pressure to perform. I was already adept at lying and stealing – no drugs or alcohol required.

When I moved into my dorm, I snapped a “selfie” on an old Pentax K-1000. This picture would represent the last time either of my parents could reach me.

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