An Addiction Wake-up Call
Two years ago, I died.
At 9 p.m. on March 15, 2015, my years-long drug addiction caught up with me. My body overdosed. With my 5-year-old son watching in confusion, my wife performed CPR on me as I lay on our bedroom floor. I laid in the hospital unconscious with a blood oxygen level of 12 for many hours. After many shots of Narcan and prayers, I woke up and my world had changed forever.
I was 40, and my wife and closest friends and family had no idea of the level of my addiction. They would soon find out though. I had masked my addiction to pills and other drugs.
For the previous 20 years, I was 10-feet-tall and bulletproof. Now I was dying. Over the years, I could always pump up the adrenalin and handle pain or whatever situation I needed. But lying in the hospital, I was terrified. I couldn’t sit up. I wondered why I was there. I thought I was dying. I couldn’t recall what had happened.
I’d been using alcohol and drugs since I was a teenager. But just a few months before my overdose, I’d had shoulder surgery in November 2014. I used the pain medications as warranted and was smoking marijuana as a substitute to heavy narcotics. In March 2015, I ran into a drug addict friend looking to offload some pills.
On March 12, I took Morphine and Opana. The next few days, I took pills, and then my body overdosed. The ingestion of so many strong opioids, after having taken almost none in the previous five months, was too much. Like many addicts, I went back to a threshold that I was at before and I died.
As I was in the hospital, my wife began researching treatment centers. A few days after my release, I checked into the Champion Center for the next 28 days.
How I got to that moment in my life is a 30-year story. My addiction started young, at 13. I grew up in a poor neighborhood, in a dysfunctional home with alcoholics. I was the textbook troubled kid. I went under the radar, smoking pot and drinking. In those days, you could get someone to buy you beer outside 7-11 without them catching a felony.
In high school, I began using LSD and “crank,” I was pretty much high for all four years, using drugs as an escape. These are the moments in an addict’s life that perpetuate the addiction. I was able to stay clean for six years.
But once I got back to my home city, the alcohol picked up right away. Then I had to have knee surgery. Up until then, pain medication was not my predominate drug. It was the first time I had Vicodin. That’s when I found my new mistress, my drug of choice.
I had two more knee surgeries and four shoulder surgeries during the next 20 years. That whole time, I was a heavy drinker and abuser of opiates. Prescriptions were freely written in those days. If you knew how to shave and clean up before you went in, say the right things you could get a prescription every 30 days and at times up to 90 days worth.
I would tell the doctors I was in more pain, and they’d increase the prescription or strength. I never did the “doctor shopping.” I knew, if caught, I’d face a felony charge and be in jail with no drugs, I worked in the IT field at that time. I was clean only a handful of days at a time. It wasn’t a problem until 2003. Then I went from the good guy in IT to taking information to steal identities. I did it for the quick fix boost of income. I thought I was slick and I was not.
I was caught and offered drug court, but I had to have knee and shoulder surgery and could take pain medication the whole time. I graduated successfully but I didn’t get clean.
At that time I was taking 500 milligrams of Vicodin, six or eight times a day for chronic pain. I had a prescription for 90 a month. Those would be gone in a week.
I would talk with the pain management doctors and could manipulate them to get a stronger dose. I was getting 120 “norcos” or a combination of acetaminophen/hydrocodone each month. Those would be gone in 10 days.
Once those were gone, I’d go out on the street and pay $3 or $5 a pill. My tolerance was going up. I was completely dependent on them. I started networking, finding stronger painkillers. Around 2007, I started coming across OxyContin, morphine, and fentanyl. I could consume such a large amount that I’d take fentanyl suckers, which are normally given to Stage 4 cancer patients.
It was never about the pain. I hadn’t been in pain for years. It gave me an excuse to ride the pill train.
I would take two multiple morphine’s before I left my bedroom in the morning and in a couple of hours, I’d take a few more. I’d take fentanyl one or two times a day. All of that was bought on the street. There was a financial crisis every month -- bills not paid, needing to borrow money from family and I was good at floating credit lines among my dealers. My crimes increased over the years and I was robbing drug dealers and selling their drugs, from Seattle to Atlanta.
You could put me in a small town in the Midwest and I’d find that one guy that sells drugs. It was no longer about getting high, it was about maintaining. It was about being able to function, or not get ‘dope sick.’
Then came March 2015. I was in bed for three days after the hospital. The shame and guilt kicked in. My wife was calling treatment centers. We didn’t have insurance. We had a little bit of money. I hemmed and hawed. I was scared out of my mind. I hadn’t been sober or clean much in 30 years.
I walked into the Champion Center broken, destroyed. I cried about everything for three days apologized profusely for everything. I let it all out and it was the most amazing feeling in the world to be free of the burden of all the lies and manipulation.
Champion Center was an integral part of me being alive today. I completed 28 days of treatment. I told myself, shut your mouth and listen because you have no idea how to live free. I took as much as I could from the advice they gave – what to do, learned new coping skills, and how to apply them daily.
I transitioned to attending groups. When I packed my bags, I volunteered for almost a year and three months in hopes of helping others gain the freedom and happiness that I was given.
I’m the first one to tell you, inpatient may not be what you need. Whatever works for you is what counts. Intensive inpatient treatment is what saved my life.
I decided to move out of state with my family. We’ve recovered well as a family. I went back to school to become an alcohol and drug counselor, studying trauma and addiction. My goal is a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree.
My son doesn’t understand what happened. He knows the Champion Center helped dad’s heart and mind. That’s better than ‘Your dad was a scumbag who died on the bedroom floor.’ As soon as he is older I will talk to him about what really happened.
My wife was going to leave me if I did not seek help and I couldn’t blame her. Without her, I would more than likely be dead without her.
I didn’t understand what coping skills were but once I learned those, that helps keeps me in line. I have zero desire to go back to drugs. I gag now if I take so much as a Tylenol. I have a sponsor. I attend meetings and do a live stream online to discuss daily recovery and addiction with others that are suffering like I was.
One of the drawbacks of the long-term abuse of opiates, etc., is I have a foggy memory of everything. My wife can recall events, and I can’t even recall I was there. I must be reminded. I hear stories of things I did in the past and I ask, ‘Is that true?’
It’s my biggest regret – almost 20 years, half of my life, I can’t recall but only a few bits and pieces but now I can create new memories, ones that I can remember.
I’m coping with the stress of life on life’s terms and enjoying all the good that comes now. Is the road to recovery always easy? No, but it is easier than the life of an addict. I have no desire to use drugs or alcohol ever again but I will have to put in the work every day so that I do not return to the old ways. I don’t like to be reminded of where I have been and I only want to move on, but I don’t want to forget. I can never forget.
I now have more than two years clean, a new career and a new outlook on life. And for those who are seeking or thinking of getting help, do it because It can be the life changing event that you deserve. And those that love you deserve to have you back.