Paradise Lost, Living, Dying and living again in Paradise
I have heard it said that I might not have been born an addict but an addict was born the first time I used drugs. That is something that I can definitely relate to. I was born and raised in the country woods in Northwest New Jersey. Lived on a dirt road, had a pretty good life.
My dad split when I was four and I lived with my mom and my grandparents. I wanted for little and needed for nothing. When I was ten my mom remarried and to my dismay he was an ethanol addict. Life as I knew it had come to an end. Over the years I learned that no matter where an addict is or where he/she travels to, if they want to get high they can and will. I didn’t know it at the time but that was my first initiation into the fact that geographic changes mean nothing to us.
Up till the day that I got clean I never acquired a taste for alcohol, but it was a tool that I readily used. It was a means to an end. It helped me escape reality because for me reality was too hard to look at. I was the fat kid in school and among all my other problems I had some self esteem issues. I just wanted to be accepted. Unfortunately for me the ‘cool’ kids that did accept me hung out in the pool hall, and were always getting into trouble.
Looking back a lot of that might have something to do with the fact that they had someone who wanted that acceptance bad enough that he could easily be coerced into doing something for them no matter how wrong it might be. Looking back on this time in my life I am reminded of something that I had in common with my first sponsor. He has said that his first addiction was stealing. I now understand that it was the same for me. That thrill that tightens up your sphincter, that gives you that rush of adrenaline and in the wrong crowd adds to that acceptance.
I wandered through life finding out how different kinds of high worked, and how far I could escape reality. I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s and grew up in a time that drugs and no money would get you through better than money and no drugs. That was a mantra that we lived by for a long time.
All my friends would slowly slide away if they were not willing to go to the lengths that I did to accomplish my escape plans. This left me with only some hangers on that figured what they could get from me would help them by. In 1976 I got arrested for the first of many times. What for does not matter, every arrest that I had could be tied to my use and abuse. I was strong though and did not snitch out anyone else.
That time in jail was an eye opener if in no other way that I knew I did not want to go back. I got smarter and figured out how not to get caught again for the same things. The biggest problem was that jail did not scare me enough and I could still get high. So for me it was just another geographical change. This one even came with free food. I will never forget that night when I got called for a visit.
I could not figure out who it could be since I was hiding the fact from my family that I had been arrested. I looked through that glass at my grandparents and it broke my heart. I know it broke theirs as well. But it still was not enough for me to give up my way of life. I would just find another way to cover things up, do what I knew best, and keep on my life of deciept and continue that slow spiral downward.
In 1979 I found myself in Key West Florida. I had gone to work for a couple months and ended up staying for 15 years. Wow this was paradise. You could walk down the sidewalk smoking a joint and nobody cared, the drugs were plentiful and good and I could make extra money in the trade as well. This is where I like to say that I got on the rocket ship to hell. Even today people look at me when I tell them I got clean in Key West and they go HOW? The same as everyone else no matter where they are. Many more trips to jail, more time hiding from the police, running dope, thinking once again that I had it all figured out I was bulletproof.
Then one night in 1988 I hit the last part of my trifecta. Our literature tells us that this disease has three ends. Jails, Institutions and Death. I died in a dope house surrounded by other addicts. Something that I had trouble understanding in the beginning was insanity. Insanity is described as doing the same thing and expecting different results (Albert Einstein). They brought me back to life and I went right back to that same dope house to try again. I had chased the dragon for 20 years and when I finally caught it, I died. But I remembered that high just before I died.
It was like that first one that I had been chasing for the last 20 years. It was not long after that when I met my angel because of the other fellowship. I had been living in a storage room at the warehouse I worked at, and used all my money to get high. I also was smuggling for the guy that I worked for and used that up as well. I was in bad shape to say the least. I became acquainted with a man in Key West who gave me a place to stay. He worked at night, I worked during the day it was great. I would abuse his trust and his house and get high all night and make sure it was cleaned up before he got home. Then one day I needed some extra cash.
I took a keyboard that he had under his bed and didn’t use much. Took it to the pawn shop planning on getting it out before he missed it. But like so many other plans that addicts make I didn’t get it out in time. He happened to be walking past the window one day and saw it on display. He thought wow I have one just like that at home, I might get it and have two of them.
Well it turned out closer than he thought. It was his. But unlike everyone else in my life, he did not turn on me. He did not go to the police. He practiced what his program had taught him and made a 12 step call to my office that afternoon. I will never forget looking across the desk at him with my boss sitting by his side and him telling me that I had a problem. If I could not get help then I needed to be institutionalized.
I quickly told him to go F himself that nobody was institutionalizing me again. He calmly talked to me about Narcotics Anonymous and told me that there was a meeting that night at the Old Stone Church in Key West. He would meet me there if I would agree to meet him. I would have agreed to wrestle a bear at that point if it would keep me out of jail. I full well intended to go to that meeting and go back to my life the next day. That was Thursday September 29 1988. I went to that meeting high as a kite. I pulled up and he was leaning against the fender of his firebird waiting for me.
I thought I had some idea of what to expect since when I was a teen, and my parents were trying to find out how to deal with my ‘issues’ I had gone to some meetings of AA with my stepfather who had attempted to get clean. Those people were old and had nothing I wanted to hear. I had this under control. How wrong could I be? I was about to find out. I walked into that smoke filled room and it was filled with other hard core junkies who had gotten clean. I sat in the back and listened. I took the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth and found something that I needed and wanted.
I met my first sponsor there (RIP Pete) and met some other people that I will always remember as helping me to live again. I came back the next night and the night after that and kept coming back. Today I have my original key string with that old white tag on it. I remember we used chips cause they were cheaper but when I had about 30 days clean I switched over to key tags and wore them proudly on my belt loop. My best friend and running partner had left and gotten clean then came back. He helped me stay alive till I found the rooms and has been an integral part of my recovery since that day.
We still talk regularly today. Just the other day we were discussing people that we knew who were no longer with us and the fact that neither one of us should be here period. But God had other plans for me. I soon became a member of the No Name Group that met at the Anchors Aweigh club in Key West. That clubhouse was a place that was run by addicts of all types and both fellowships met there. It was open 24/7 and you could go hang out and drink coffee, hit a meeting, go to the lounge and watch a movie, sit in the patio out back. It was a life ring for many suffering addicts and I am grateful that it exists still today. I was fortunate to get to the last Last Resort Convention held at the Casa Marina Resort.
I had a couple of weeks under my belt and was suddenly surrounded by all kinds of addicts, from all walks of life and they shared so much esh that it was like being on that proverbial pink cloud. I will always remember that I knew the food and beverage manager at the resort, and we were talking in the hall, and she said, ‘I don’t understand, the hotel is full, the bar is empty and I can’t keep any coffee in the place’ that was pretty funny to me.
In those early days many of us practiced ‘Asphalt Recovery’ we regularly drove up the keys to support other groups. I went to meetings in Big Pine Key, Marathon, Tavernier and all over Key West. Sometimes we would take the big journey to the mainland and go to a meeting in Miami. I remember the Clean Conchs having a convention in Tavernier and going up there for that. What an experience that was as well. I remember going to my first FRCNA. There are a lot of great memories from the old days.
Somewhere along the way that pink cloud bursts for everyone. I was working H & I and was moderating a meeting at the treatment center on Stock Island for the adolescents. I was sitting in a room with kids that were not even born when I started getting high. It was a scary thing to see but at the same time a strange kind of gratitude that they had someplace to go.
I remember having just over 30 days clean and watching my former boss dying of AIDS. Later I had to watch a girlfriend die of the same thing. Consequences of our actions sometimes catch up with us later but always want payment. There is an old saying, Welcome to Key West, arrive on vacation leave on probation, return on violation. I had just over 5 years clean and my probation officer violated me on some technicality.
The judge gave me 5 years in the department of corrections but for the first time in 20 years I would be off paper of any kind. I figured that was cool, they were giving away gain time like Halloween candy and I would be out in about 6 months. Well my HP whom I choose to call God had a different plan for me. My program was about to be tested. I remember going back to my cell after sentencing and this thought went through my mind. You don’t have to pee in a bottle any longer. You can get high. What was that? I had not thought about dope in years. But that monkey was on my back doing pushups.
So I went to prison and went to meetings, worked my program, stayed in touch with my sponsor. I was given a date for release and it was a year later. A month before I was to get out, I was notified that the state had taken away all those dates. I was going to be a guest of theirs for just over another year. But my program and my HP held strong. They sent me to medical and fixed a heart problem that my use had caused and then sent me to work release where I spent a year. I got to start a narcotics anonymous meeting at the work release center, got to build some new bridges with my family. I stayed clean.
Through my time in recovery I have held various service positions. I have been GSR, ASR, Activities Chair, served on the H & I and Phoneline committees, and worked PI. Through it all I have held fast to some simple things. A grateful addict will not get high. I work my steps daily, the first three for me are maintenance steps. I speak with other addicts regularly, speak with my sponsor, and sponsor people myself.
I still go to meetings and do what I can to carry the message and fulfill the primary purpose. I have been fortunate enough in my time here to meet people that humble me. My predecessors have done so much to make sure that this addict would still be able to get clean and live this new life. I feel that if what I have lived through and what I am able to share with others keeps one person from following my path then it was all worth it.
Today I have the love of my family again. They do not take inventory when I leave from a visit. They used to though. I have the love of a wonderful woman and a wonderful 16 year old step daughter. I have nieces, grand nephews and a grand niece. I am paying some of the dues of my years of abuse and find myself disabled for now. I am going to college to get my degree in psychology with an emphasis on substance abuse. I guess I have the required background for that.
I have been an over the road truck driver for a long time and have been to meetings all over this country. I have met some wonderful people in this fellowship that have done what it takes to regain their lives and are now productive members of society. Today with the broken barriers because of the internet, I have a couple of long distance sponsees who make me bust my buttons with pride and my support network has spread worldwide.
I have been able to meet so many others that are brothers and sisters in arms through this medium and realize the benefit that we have, that our predecessors could only dream of. Today I don’t hide in the shadows any longer or watch people walk across the street so they don’t have to talk to me or so they won’t be seen with me. I am proud of who I am, and have no problem stepping up and letting someone who needs it know that there is someone near that understands, and that if nobody else tells them today God loves them and so do I.