The tricky part about being an addict is that it sneaks up on you just as much as you see it coming. Twelve months ago, as I sat in the detoxification center’s waiting room trying to inhibit my incessant fidgeting in the unforgiving chair, I examined how I got here. My opiate addiction started small, with something insignificant enough that on the average day I was likely to not even notice it, only to come up empty handed some time later.
That first time I took a painkiller in the beginning of the summer 2012, I was completely oblivious to the fact that this one measly night of binge watching The Wire and smoking a few blunts, with a Percocet to top it off, would be my instant initiation into a downward spiral that landed me in this bleak and bottomless cavity in the ground, too dark to see and too deep to get out of, all of which I personally created a spoonful of dirt at a time.
When I took that first pill, I thought what the hell, what kind of damage can one spoon of dirt from the ground do to my footing? I won’t fall, I won’t even stumble. I’ll barely notice the difference, right?
Having already justified it that first time, the second time around became easier. By the third or fourth round there wasn’t much of fight anymore but a quick TKO. But it was fun.
This mindless excavation repeated itself until I shamefully realized I had done a crane-full of damage with a soup spoon; slowly, diligently, and without anyone’s help.
How I got started with these pills was dumb luck. One night, a friend had a few extra Percocets and told me it feels great to take it when you smoke weed. I snorted a few lines of the crushed pill, lit up a dutch, and kicked back in my recliner. I felt incredible. I was happy as a mother fucker. I wasn’t necessarily unhappy with my life at the time in general, I guess I had the generic worry’s of every other twenty five year old I knew, but the opiate gave me a relaxed feeling, a calmness I had never been able to embrace before. All was markedly right in the world. And that was fun. So guess what? I tried it again. And again.
The more often I took them, the more I wanted them. The more I wanted them, the more I took. The more I took, the less they worked. The less they worked, the more I took. The more I took, the bigger my hole got. And that chain of events looped like a broken record player for a long while before anyone ever realized the music’s off.
This viciously insatiable merry go round that tags itself along with substance dependence was horrifying. When I happened to actually be sober I always longed for the opiate high, that plastic feeling of being “okay”, even though I knew it would be short lived. My detrimental yearning created an opening inside of me, with the lid nowhere to be found. To momentarily delude myself that this emotional vacancy didn’t exist, I would scotch tape over that hole by ingesting something foreign chemical to cease feeling the emptiness of that pulsating crater.
When my temporary solution finally settled into my bloodstream and I achieve my desired result of being at ease, pain free, if at least for the moment, I was cognizant of the fact that in the next few hours I was going to come crashing down harder than before, and unknowingly or not, continuing to widen my hole with the same stupid spoon.
The impending avalanche didn’t happen intentionally, just accidentally. As I haphazardly increased my dosage in light of my growing tolerance, my life eventually got to the point where my entire days agenda was thoroughly pill-centric; where am I getting from? How am I paying for this? Where am I going to snort these?
My mind was being used exclusively to get high and I consequently stopped paying attention to other important things, like friends, family, general health and hygiene, paying bills, and just about anything else most normal people worried about. I had become awful at returning calls and e-mail, and overall spent more time as a recluse in my bedroom either actively abusing or intricately plotting how to get more of this synthetic heroin. Anyone I knew who couldn’t hook me up or would want to impede me from getting my high was discarded to the corner, collecting dust and objectified as being useless to my pursuits.
And that insanity can last a while, no matter how strong your family is or how brotherly your friends are, no matter what people will try to do to help you. They all care a lot, but I just cared a lot more about getting my fix. Way, way more. Like, I’d be on the bathroom floor having just vomited whatever little food I’ve eaten that day from taking too many blues, and all I could think about was how and when can I get more.
When my body craved more opiates, my drug finding abilities amplified like a spinach filled Popeye. I became stronger, with a laser focus, stopping at nothing to complete my mission. It’s not like you’re at work and in the mood for a chocolate bar so you decide to stop off next to the subway on your way home from the office in a few hour to pick one up at the bodega. This is like when you want a chocolate bar so damn badly you rush down twenty flights of stairs because the elevator is too slow, scraping together a dollar in mixed coins from the sidewalk to run three blocks in the pouring rain just to buy a bag of M & M’s, and not thinking twice about what the hell you’re even doing. And nobody, no dire financial situation, no loved ones, social obligations, can get in the way of that.
Inevitably, I used all my money on drugs, had missed numerous days of work, strained multiple important relationships, tarnished the trust of the one girl I actually liked in the last half decade, and last but definitely not least, traded away some of my Knicks season tickets for pills. I’m sorry Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook, I can’t see you guys in the World’s Most Famous Arena this year, I need to get my rocks off.Later.
Outside of two activities, the planning to acquire and the subsequent abusing of pain killing pharmaceuticals, there were few things that actually mattered to me. Aside from my die hard fanaticism for the New York Knicks, the only other thing that registered on my radar beyond drugs was this on-again-off-again relationship with a girl I had been hanging out with, who’s archetype has been overly plastered in every form of media. For the sake of this piece here, it was a dysfunctional, temporary relationship with a clear deadline.
Aside from the fact that I couldn’t actively make time for another human being in my life when I spent so much time surgically plotting my toxic behavior, my situation with her at the time was flawed. It was never going to work out, however much I may have liked her. She was smart and beautiful, but I was never sure if I was the one for her, and that uneasiness, and the complexities of that relationship, added another layer of stress for me to ignore, and eventually, numb.
In December of that year, right before my peak of drug use, I went to see a movie with this same girl, and after the movie we walked around Lincoln Center in the refreshing cold. I was surprisingly the most sober I had been in a while, and as I wasn’t used to really feeling anything back then. Within minutes of us walking the streets hand in hand I lost my train of thought and started to cry. She asked me what was wrong, and the only thing I could say was “I think I’m a drug addict”. It just came out quick and easy, and as most things which are quick and easy, without much thought. Something that was so easy to see for everyone else finally became clear to me in an honest moment of feeling connected to someone else.
When it all hit that first point, when it dawned upon me that my pill usage had no longer been recreational and had become a necessary cog in my day to day life, what I then thought was the lowest point of my life, I knew I needed a change. And, as in most things I do, I dove in head first and cut myself off. I had no drugs left in my possession and made a resolution not to buy any more.
The first few days were taxing for me both physically and mentally. My body ached of a pain I have never imagined possible, and my mind felt completely scrambled, like a television set when the cable gets unplugged; static, loud, and incredibly obnoxious. But I stuck with it for that first week. I was proud.
My tenth day was December thirty-first, and I had tickets to see a concert with some friends. As it hit midnight and everyone around me kissed their loved ones like a chemical reaction, I felt distraught that I would never be with this girl I had fallen for, whom I felt comfortable enough to admit my disease, and that simple truth scared and saddened me. In my emotional distress, I quickly reverted to an old practice.
It didn’t take long for things to accelerate after I slipped up. Instead of getting back up on my feet and embracing my quick detour and returning to sobriety, I sank lower than before and ran reckless with my intake.
One night a few weeks after that concert, this same girl asked me to meet up and talk, on the condition that I stayed sober for when she arrived, and I promised her I would. I obviously didn’t, and it was apparent to her within seconds of seeing me. “You know you’re not so handsome when you can’t open your eyes” she said, subtlety making fun of my jokingly high self-esteem and showing deep concern for me at the same time. The hurt on her face for those quick, blurry seconds will forever haunt me. That moment was the first time that I was able to observe with my own eyes how my obsession with damaging myself had caused somebody I cared about an immense amount of pain and disappointment. My actions told her she was not as important as my pills.
I knew that she and I would never be together. It was never in the cards. But to cut somebody deep, someone you know well, someone you have an intimate relationship with, is never something you want to experience. And if you have, I am sorry.
After that debacle of a sit down with my not so girlfriend, I did a poor job of trying to hold myself together. A few days later I stormed out of work in a frenzy, drove three hours away to a friend upstate, and figured to spend the next week in hiding, all while medicating myself with my small-in-stature-but-large-in-impact blue best friends.
I came home after day one of the trip because I finished my stash, and had no access to anymore drugs where I was staying. On that ride home, after I had already picked up my new batch of drugs, I at one point got into a car accident, at some other juncture during the night knocked off the side mirror of my car, and eventually received a ticket for driving through the cash lane on the Triboro Bridge like it was an Ezpass lane. I don’t remember any other details.
When I got to my friends apartment that night it was the first time any of them confronted me about my addiction. Apparently, as they tell the story, I had been paper white and looked like I would pass out at any minute. They were surprised I was able to drive.
The next morning when I saw how they were all looking at me while I was still sober enough to comprehend how they felt, the idea that I had a problem suddenly became more than just an idea in my head and took over like Germany in the 1940’s. That night I realized I lost a lot more than just my grasp on the wheel.
By early February I had been seeing a psychologist for a few months, and after this encounter with my friends I told her I wanted to get serious help. After brainstorming for a bit, she suggested an outpatient detoxification center in Manhattan, and I quickly applied.
I got on the train the next morning and I wasn’t sure what would happen first; would I pee my pants or vomit all over the train out of nervousness. Physically, I felt forcibly withdrawn due to my last minute binging the night before. Emotionally, I was having second thoughts about going through with this program altogether. I wanted to quit opiates but I wasn’t convinced I needed to abstain from marijuana and alcohol, and consequently completely transform my social life. I didn’t want my mishap with one specific thing to define so many others. Would I not be able to attend a friends birthday party in a bar now? I wasn’t sure how I wanted to go about it, or if this place was even willing to hear me out. I didn’t know what to do, so I thought about doing the only thing I knew how to do. Drugs.
Just as I was thinking about hopping off the train to pick up some blues and go off the rails, I got a text from an old friend saying: “Don’t be scared. You got this”, as if he had read my mind, as if he knew exactly what was going through my head, because I was scared as all hell and did not feel in any way, shape, or form, that “I got this”.
I stayed sober for the first few days at this detox center and went to check in with them every day. The cocktail of pills they gave me eased the pains of the withdrawals, knocked me out a bit, and left me feeling mentally obscured. When I brought up my concerns during my visits, the employees at the clinic all warned me that I will most likely relapse to opiates if I ever drink or smoke pot again. The facts and statistics they showed me had me second guessing my original plan.
A few days later, still daily attending the clinic, I woke up with a toothache and went to the dentist. He told me I had to get one of my back teeth taken out right away. The oral surgeon numbed my mouth and took the sucker right out. When I finally came to, the nurse came over to me and handed me a script for Vicodin, to which I quickly said no thank you, and explained my situation openly. My resolution was swift and sincere. I was aware that I would probably be in some significant pain in the coming days stemming from this sewed up gap in my mouth, but coming anywhere near those little blue bad boys was a no-win situation.
I once read in Maimonides’ writing about repentance that true repentance is when you are put in a situation where you have previously failed but this second time around you don’t make the same mistake. Within the timespan of my addiction I had already been to this same dentist once, had a different tooth removed, and subsequently put his entire Vicodin script up my nose. However, this second time around things were different, chiefly because I was different, proving to myself and anyone who strictly adheres to the moral ruling’s of Maimonides, that I was indeed a changed man.
I spent the hour train ride from the dentist to my apartment in the double back corner seat of the B train, half-assedly pressing an ice-pack against my swollen cheek while quietly hiding my tears. I focused on the phrase “Strength in pain”, and those simple words echoed in my head over and over again, ringing truer than ever, enabling me to realize the magnitude of what I had just done, and what kind of statement I was making to myself about how serious I was (and am) about my sobriety. I had finally taken control. I could have easily taken those pills and sold them, taken them for myself, whatever, but I flat out said no without letting the option even have the opportunity to knock on my door.
After that dental incident I realized I can be in total control of my sobriety because I was in total control of it. My definition and format of sobriety may not be the same as yours or of some large organizations, but I know one thing is for sure, this personalized formula works for me, and that’s a fact because it has been working thus far. I feel like a completely different person, and my friends, family, and anyone else who knows me instantly sees the difference on my face as well.
There is a chance that my formula for sobriety is flawed and I will relapse, and heck, there’s even a chance I may be right, but at least I’m the one deciding what I do, and right now I have 365 days of following my intuition and being opiate free proudly standing behind me, reminding me who’s in charge. I’m not perfect. I’m just taking it one Daniel-sized spoonful of sobriety at a time.