This post was originally published on November 7, 2014.
One of the things that you commonly hear from people that do drugs as well as drink is, “I’m not really an alcoholic, I’m an addict.” And I find that many alcoholics who mostly drink booze don’t generally think of themselves as addicts either. While that may be true in some cases, most alcoholics don’t fare very well when they substitute drugs for alcohol, and a lot of addicts find that when they put down the drugs and substitute booze, they’re not actually the social drinkers that they believed they were. Kevin was one of these.
I wasn’t really a blackout drunk when I was a kid, but I did get into a lot of trouble, like for stealing and smashing up a car when I was shitfaced at the age of 15. I always drank, even when I became a heroin addict, but I never thought booze was my problem, despite ample evidence to the contrary. I always thought that if I could just put down the dope and the crack, that I could probably learn to drink like a gentleman.
I began hitting detoxes in my early 20s. It was probably only about a half-dozen total, but I would have hit a lot more if I had insurance. At the end of my using, I would mostly detox myself from the booze and dope on my couch, using Percs or Vicodin to take the edge off. But then I had a few overdoses (two on heroin, one from shooting coke) so I ended up getting admitted a few times to the hospital’s detox unit. Later on, I started going because I didn’t want to feel the way that I felt anymore, and I knew if I kept doing what I was doing, I’d be getting the same results. And I was getting worse.
I guess I wouldn’t say that I had no intention of getting clean when I went to detox; it’s just that I had no intention of doing any work to stay clean when I got out. I never wanted to seek further treatment at a halfway house and I didn’t even want to attend AA, even though my I knew my grandfather had gotten sober that way. Once I went to a Salvation Army program after my counselor in detox suggested it when I was feeling a little desperate, but I only lasted about two weeks before I got kicked out for getting high on heroin. I just wasn’t ready. One of the old timers in my group used to say that guys like me were “resting up between rounds” when they went to detox.
But it’s not like the hospital stays had no effect. I remember that in one of my first detoxes, a counselor had asked me what I was going to do when I left the hospital since I refused to go to further treatment. I told him (with a straight face) that I only intended to drink on occasion and not pick up the drugs again.
“I’m done with that shit,” I said, and I truly believed it.
His response was, “Kevin, we’ve never really met a drug addict who could drink in safety.”
That made no sense to me, because I didn’t really make the connection that when I did one, I’d do the other. I didn’t understand anything about the disease, about the obsession, and the how the compulsion sets in right after I put the first substance in my body.
I always thought that I could just have a few beers, but then the coke light would always go on and I would call my cocaine dealer. And the next thing you know, I would want to start doing heroin. It was always the same, but I could never see the pattern. I would check out of detox and I would have a few beers with my father—not because he wanted to see me relapse, but because he didn’t have any idea, either. We didn’t understand that complete abstinence was the only surefire way for someone like me to not relapse.
When I went into my last detox, I really had no idea what I was going to do when I left. I knew I still didn’t want to go to a halfway house or any further treatment like an IOP (intensive outpatient program), when I left there, but I also didn’t have any resources to continue to get high or even drink. So I decided to move back home to my parents’ house. A guy in my group told me once that if I was living at home when I was 24 and not paying rent or going to school after having lived on my own for a while, I was technically homeless.
I guess the turning point for me was that this time my circumstances were different. I really had nothing left. I had no resources and there was nobody that was going to enable me anymore. So if I was going to get money to get high, I was going to have to resort to crime, which I wasn’t ready to do. I couldn’t see myself doing bank robberies and B & E’s or purse snatching—although I’m not that I’m not saying I wouldn’t have if I had to. It’s just that I had been working in the restaurant business—some high-end places—where there I was paid lots of cash on a daily business, and I couldn’t even do that anymore because I was a wreck. Someone told me once that you get sober when desperation and willingness come together at the same time, and I think that’s what happened to me.
When I got out, I knew where the meetings were and I knew there was some relief in AA because I had experienced that when I was in the Salvation Army since they made you go to meetings to stay there. I also remembered from when I was in detox and people from the program would come in and share. I would hear the message and feel hopeful, so I knew there was something there. I just always chose to not take any of the suggestions.
When I started going to AA this time, I just sat in the back of the hall. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just wanted to listen, and that was fine. People kind of left me alone, nobody harassed me or was on my case to join the group or whatever. What I didn’t know at the time was that everybody knew I was new. Now I know that if you’re new in AA, you might as well have a flashing sign on your head.
At first I didn’t really have any network, but eventually it started to come. I did drink one more time and I did do drugs one more time, but I was starting to get it. I had a tooth pulled and they gave me Vicodin and then I went back for the follow-up and they asked if I needed more, and I said yes even though I didn’t need it. So I took them and later I just adjusted my sobriety date—not because anybody gave me any grief about it but because I knew it wasn’t right.
One day, when the secretary said that if anyone wanted to join the group they should see him at the break—something they do at every meeting—I went up and joined. He asked me if I wanted to go on a detox commitment with the group the next night and I said sure, because it wasn’t like I had anything better to do. The following night I went and it was awful. Getting into a car with a bunch of sober drunks to go on a speaker commitment was excruciating for me the first time, because it’s not what I was comfortable doing. Being social is not my default setting because I’m an isolator, even sometimes now—eight years later. But it was a Saturday and weekends were the hardest for me. But I kept doing it and I got to like it. Within a few months, I had the coffeemaker job, and that’s how I really got integrated with the group. It was like forced integration, but I needed that.
When I was four months sober, my mother died from a methadone overdose about a week before Christmas. It was really hard on the family, but I got through it. By that time I was plugged in just enough. People knew me and had my number and called. A lot. At that point, I had enough time to know enough to do the drill. I really leaned heavily on the group and went to a ton of meetings and eventually it all passed. And I didn’t pick up. People told me that it worked under any and all conditions if I showed up and they were telling me the truth.
The thing about death that probably made it somewhat easier is that it’s pretty final. There’s no questioning or at least there wasn’t in my family’s case. No one was asking if anything could anything have been done differently because the answer was no. Even though it came as a shock, it wasn’t really a big surprise. And that helped me make sense of it. It’s like they say, “Some have to die so others can live,” so it might have been a real wake-up call at the time. It was a hard lesson but this addiction shit is real and it’s not a fucking joke. It’s fatal. God knows I had my fair share of near-death experiences. But I also don’t think it would have gotten me sober if I was still using. I don’t think I would have had that outlook if I was getting high. Like they say, you can’t scare a drunk or a junkie.
I haven’t done everything right, and that includes getting into an ill-advised relationship at about eight months. That was a lot more excruciating than the death to be honest, but I kept doing what was suggested—putting one foot in front of the other and staying clean and sober.
Eight years later, things are good. Compared to the way things were then, they’re pretty spectacular. I never imagined I could have the life I have now. Not just the professional success and the material things, but the relative peace of mind and the ability to deal with things in my life in a fairly rational manner. And I don’t think I’ll ever learn to drink like a gentleman, so I don’t plan to try.