addiction, Recovery

Three Years, Revisited.

(originally posted to tumblr July 31, 2016)

So this past Thursday I celebrated 3 years sober. The first time around in recovery I always claimed to be “sober” (I hadn’t taken a drink), but had been dabbling again in weed and psychedelics by the end of year two. It was only a matter of time.

This is 3 very real years for me, completely clean and sober. I’m so grateful to be here. I spent the day at the pool with my girlfriend, her sister and little niece. Then we came home, Netflixed and chilled. I didn’t get sunburnt at the pool (if I was any whiter I’d be transparent), I ate well, laughed and was sober another 24.

But I’m going to tell you, I’m tired. I’m fucking tired.

The events of the last 7 years in recovery are catching up with me. Like a person whose adrenaline has spiked, allowing them to perform a feat of superhuman strength in the moment to save a life. They wake up a few days later to feel sore, beaten – alive, well, but exhausted. I could sleep for a week.

For one, I fired my therapist…she and I were simply not gelling. It was a difficult thing for me to do and put me in a weird headspace, but it needed to be done. I’m trying to work out the anger I have towards my father, accept that there are things I will never hear from him, that maybe he simply isn’t the male figure I need in my life. Maybe I need to find someone to fill that role. Not an easy thing for anyone to come to grips with.

Second, third and fourth, I filed trademark paperwork on the DJ FM name, commissioned a new remix for one of my songs, and booked gigs that could last well through October (if successful). I find myself wondering if I’m not “too old for this shit.” If not too old, then too tired. Too tired to lug my PA system all over creation to various gigs and events. Music has always sustained me emotionally – saved me, many times – but never financially. I’ve come close to breaking even a few times.

I’m at that point again in my music life where I find myself saying, “maybe I should just sell all this gear, recoup and be normal.” LOL, normal. I doubt I’ll ever be normal, and I’m okay with that. I just wonder if I have outlived my artistic usefulness.

Music is not an easy path to walk. There is no clear definition of success save for the individual, how you personally feel about what you’ve accomplished. Sure, if you sell a million albums, then you’re “successful” in the business sense. I just wonder sometimes if my desire to be successful in music was fueled in part by some alcoholic/addict “drug planning.” Ego and ambition run riot through the lens of MDMA and vodka. It scares me to think about it, because I know that I do truly love music.

Maybe all this is absurd – simply how I feel at 2am on a Sunday morning after a day in the sun entertaining a 3-year-old. I don’t have a desire to drink or use. But somehow I need to find the energy to push on with my dreams, while at the same time wondering if the tank has been on empty for awhile and I’m simply running on vapors.

Real talk at 2am, LOL. I am grateful for another day. Time to get these dishes done.

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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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Recovery

Exercise.

(originally published to my previous blog April 28, 2015)

During my 6 years in recovery from addiction, I’ve learned that exercise is essential. By “exercise,” I don’t mean a pick up basketball game, 3-4 hours in the gym, or training for the Tour De France. I mean simple, regular, and consistent physical activity.

Every so often I’ll come across some #GenX pundit (I’m Gen-X, by the way) who has some clever reason for “why millenials are fucked up.” No different from what the baby boomers did to Gen-X 20-30 years ago – come on guys, didn’t we learn from this shit already? Invariably one of the reasons they give is that “we had to play outside – not sit inside on our smartphones!”

So, from someone who didn’t play outside, who is a Generation X’er, let me explain what life was like for me between ages 8-18. I was awful at any kind of athletics, in school on otherwise. I was frequently ostracized and bullied because of it, and as a result hated physical activity or playing outside – because playing outside always involved some type of competition. Competition which I almost always lost, and was then berated for.

So I stayed indoors and learned about computers, programming languages, and video games. In 1985 my parents bought me one of the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment Systems. For 3 days, I was locked in my room with very little food, playing Super Mario Brothers incessantly, until I won the damned thing. My path was clear.

At various points in my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. I’d go on jogging binges for months at a time while simultaneously downing enough alcohol to knock down a horse – all the while wondering why I would lose barely 2 tenths of a pound after having gone 5 miles. Of course, I’d give up shortly thereafter. And once drugs other than alcohol entered the picture? Forget it.

In November of 2009 after 15 years of pummeling my body, I went to rehab. Today, I’m almost 6 years removed from that horribly naive, dysfunctional, insecure, overweight and dying mess I had become. And I’ve discovered a few simple things that *anyone* can do to improve their health (and help recovery):

– Walk. It’s not a competition. It requires little to no equipment. You don’t have to have a gym membership, black yoga pants or a pink fleece or an Under Armour shirt or $200 Nike’s to do it. A decent pair of shoes with good insoles to help protect your knees is all you need. And, a favorite place to go walking. (The pic below is a state natural area where I like to go on my lunch break. I took this picture today in fact.) We are surrounded by sidewalks, greenways and trails which will take us to every corner of our country. They are free – some of our tax dollars go to maintaining them. Use them! If you can, try to go walking every day, for at least 30 minutes. Take your favorite music – or not. Take photos! Make it something you enjoy, not a chore.

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– Drink Water. Quit Soda. This one will probably be the toughest. Deal with it. Here’s a hard truth: The ingredients in a 2 Liter Coca-Cola will dissolve the paint from your car and take rust off a nail. You’re putting that into the lining of your stomach daily. According to this video, a 12oz can of soda has the same harmful effects on your liver as a 12oz can of beer – without the buzz! Start by drinking flavored seltzer water – if you choose the lemon flavor, you’re getting the carbonation and citrus kick from soda which should help you transition. Zero calories, zero artificial ingredients. Water, lemon. Arrowhead is a good brand and can be purchased at Wal-Mart. Trader Joes also has several varieties of sparkling water that are flavored.

– Walk away from fast food. You know fast food tastes awesome. You know it’s horrible for you. So you’re going to have to make a very simple, and very difficult choice: are the taste benefits outweighing the damage you’re doing to your health? In the south, we have a fried chicken chain called Bojangles that’s the BOMB. My friends and I used to get it every Sunday after spending the entire weekend eating ecstasy. I used to eat the 3 piece wing dinner daily for lunch at work. The wing dinner alone contained 106% of my daily sodium intake. That’s 106% in that meal alone, every single day. If you eat fast food for breakfast and lunch, you’re probably spending anywhere from $10-15/day. That’s $50-$75/wk, or $200-300 a month you could be saving.

Quitting alcohol and drugs is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. If you can do that, you can also take these 3 simple steps – one day at a time. I promise, you won’t regret it.

jg.

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Recovery

The Amazing Pizza Man.

(originally posted to Tumblr Feb 5, 2014)

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11 days out of rehab in December of 2009, embarrassment came over me again as I started my first job in sobriety: pizza man.

Jobs have always been a strange thing for me. When I was 15 and a half, my dad told me it was time for me to get a summer job. I remember having to go downtown to get a “work permit” which he would have to sign. This allowed me to legally work in certain kinds of jobs, up to a certain number of hours, prior to turning 16. During high school and most of my college years, my first job was working for Toys ‘R’ Us. I worked in the stockroom, occasionally built bikes and Power Wheels cars, sometimes worked as a seasonal cashier, and sometimes on the sales floor. I was proud to have that job.

One weekend, I helped an old man carry a 20′ swingset to his station wagon. He must’ve been around 80 years old, was nicely dressed and very considerate. As he got in his car, he handed me a $50 bill and told me, “Thank you son. Are you in school?”

“Yes sir,” I replied. “I’m starting at _______ in the fall to be an architect!”

“Good on you. Then you have something to look forward to. You know what the point of jobs like this are, don’t you?”

“No sir,” I asked.

“The point of jobs like this is to remind you that you never WANT to work in jobs like this.” He smiled, nodded, and drove away.

I felt deeply ashamed and embarrassed. I was no longer proud of my job. From that moment on, I carried a single lesson in my heart: people judge you based on your job. Always try to have a job that makes you look as important as possible – or at least SOUNDS as important as possible. As the weeks went by, the memory of meeting that man faded. But I never forgot the feeling of embarrassment. As it turns out, I frequently drank and used because of that embarrassment.

Fast forward to 2009, and there I was, a college graduate with 14 years of experience in design and advertising, “reduced” again to minimum wage work – delivering pizzas. I had never worked for a restaurant in my life, save for 3 months at a coffee shop. I was quietly “let go” from that position due to my utter inability to properly make gourmet coffee drinks, and a desire to eat company cookies on the job without paying for them.
I was lucky to get the pizza job. It was 3 days before Christmas, and no one was hiring seasonally anymore. And even though the store was part of a major pizza chain, they happened to still be taking paper applications. Most corporations now only take applications online, and applying for a minimum wage job online is a lot like throwing a penny in a fountain.

At the start I was still going through mild withdrawal symptoms, shakes and such. It was hard to cover up, but I did the best I could. My first week was a trainwreck. During my second or third night delivering, i was so nervous i forgot to put the parking brake up in my car. As i walked proudly to the customers with their pizza, one of them politely informed me that my car was rolling down the hill. Without a moment’s hesitation I turned and ran down the hill towards my car, tripping and falling flat on the pizza (which had landed upside-down). Fortunately the car veered slightly to the right and stopped on the curb. Crestfallen, I returned to the store, brought them their remade pizza and drove back to work. I chuckle now when I think about it, but that night I cried the entire way back.

While working, I was attending outpatient treatment at the same county facility that essentially saved my life. My psychiatrist recommended an SNRI called Effexor to me. 2 days after beginning my regimen, I felt like a new person. The knot in the pit of my stomach which had plagued me for the majority of my life, even prior to adolescence and into early childhood – a knot which, again, I frequently drank and used to drive away – was gone. As were the shakes.

I can’t over-emphasize how this discovery was a VERY lucky break. Most of those suffering from any kind of mental disorder have to try several different medications before landing on the “magic bullet.” And I couldn’t take “benzos” (ie. Benzodiazepines, as I had abused both Xanax and Klonopin in my last months before treatment). From this point on, the job got easier. I had a home in an Oxford House. Bills started to get paid. I was also able to apply for food stamps, and realized something: I wasn’t embarrassed anymore. The old me would’ve been. One thing I came to understand is that these social services, like food assistance and healthcare, are available to anyone in need regardless of race, color, background or circumstance. We all have the potential to end up in the path of the tornado.

During my tenure as a delivery driver, I saw many different sides of drug use and abuse. On New Years Eve, I watched a drunk driver going the wrong way down a major thoroughfare. That same night I delivered pizza to a hotel room where a guy and his girlfriend, both barely clothed and dancing around ran to the door to see me. The gentleman was so stoned me gave me a $20 tip, as he couldn’t count the money in his wallet. I also once delivered pizza to another gentleman in a hotel room. His girlfriend was a waitress at a restaurant next to our store, and bought him pizzas every day with some of her tip money. She had us deliver them to him at the hotel, where he drank and smoked crack. Some part of me is still trying to determine where the symbiosis was in that relationship. He never once tipped me.

I delivered pizza to an older man living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Raleigh. His apartment smelled of urine and feces, and frequently he answered the door having been drunk for days, holding an empty fifth of Seagrams gin in his hand. In another neighborhood not far down the street, I delivered pizza to a father, his girlfriend and 3 daughters. He realized he didn’t have the $28 he needed to pay for the 14″ pizza, wings and drink he ordered. Putting down his drink, he ran across the street to get cash out of the ATM – which was in a grocery store. A store where he could’ve probably purchased 6-7 store brand pizzas and a 3-liter soda for his family for about half the cost.

In contrast, I also delivered to some of the richest neighborhoods in Raleigh. I once brought a “10 pie” (ten pizzas) to a kids’ birthday party. It was 10:30 in the morning and most of the adults had either a beer or a glass of wine in their hands. Honestly, I can’t really say much. I used to dose myself on GBL and take shots of vodka as early as 9am sometimes. As the joke goes, “you can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning.” Little kids love the pizza man, though. You’re their personal hero. You may not have anyone else’s respect, but you have theirs. Their smiles always made it worth it.

Most of the people I worked with at the store were in their late teens/early 20s, all thinking they were invincible and bulletproof. They would often joke about drugs, and brag about how much they could smoke or drink. Frequently I would joke back, and provide a warning: “…but it doesn’t stay that way forever.” I wanted to tell them the truth about me, about what I was facing, but was afraid of losing my job. Everything was so precarious. I wish now that I had done things differently. I’m not proud of that.

I learned a lot along the way. Most importantly, in any station in life you should always give a thing your best effort. Try to care even when those around you don’t. Don’t let their attitude affect yours. As much as my recovery is in my own two hands, so is my life. I might impress my cool, lazy co-worker if I joke about being lazy. But that won’t help me when I’m in the poor house.

I’ve heard the phrase “fake it til you make it” often in recovery. Personally, I don’t believe that for a second. I’ve found that living deliberately is much less dangerous than living life passively for lack of a better option. If you don’t like the food, don’t eat at the restaurant. If you don’t really believe in God, don’t go to the bible study. Putting in face time won’t change your soul. I go to the meetings that I go to because I get something out of it. I have a sponsor because he helps me. I take Effexor because it *works* for me. I work – whether delivering pizzas or sitting at a desk – to earn money and do my best for those I love.

One more day to be grateful 🙂

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