What takes a normal person and turns them into a lying, cheating, shell of their former self, drug addict? Scientists and Doctors agree that we addicts have a genetic disposition that causes us to enjoy substances that make us feel good way more than the average person. I tend to agree with this diagnosis but at the same time, there has to be something more. A catalyst, something that makes us want to hide from the rest of world, something that tells us that conventional means such as counseling will not work. In my opinion, the disease of addiction can be likened to a sleeping lion, doesn’t cause many issues when it is in slumber, but as soon as that lion wakes up, hungry as hell; you better watch out! This “awakening” can be caused by any number of things. Any experience that causes us pain, heartache or confusion is perfect for waking up our addiction. My experience is just like thousands of others, but unlike most people that enter a rehab facility, I have managed to stay clean. Statistics say that only 2% of all people who enter rehab will not relapse ever again. In some cases that number is greater, but in most, that percentage is amazingly low. I tell this story because when I first tried to get clean, the feeling that I was alone cause me to relapse a great many times, and if I can show one person that they are indeed supported, than this will have been worth it.
I was adopted from Calcutta, India when I about 3 months old. The orphanage found me in a ditch somewhere in the city and they took me in. At that time I weighed approximately 2.2 pounds. I almost died twice before my parents took me away from a place that probably would have caused my untimely demise.
My mom and dad are two of the strongest people I know, and they did their best to raise me to become a law-obeying, god fearing, Christian. For a while it worked and I spent my time with my two best friends, Eric and Mike, and we had more fun and made more memories than most of the people I know. I played a lot of sports growing up, soccer, basketball, football, street hockey, baseball. Etc. Etc.
With sports come a certain amount of injury and for whatever reason, I became injury prone. I always seemed to be getting hurt in one way or another, as a matter of fact; my parents had a separate insurance policy to help them pay for all my medical bills. I was a fairly normal kid, somewhat goofy and awkward, but I knew the value of having true friends and the fact that I got made fun of a lot in junior high didn’t bother me. But as with all 15 year old kids, there is an innate need to experiment with illicit substances in order to feel like you are up with the goings on at the time. I was the first to jump on the bandwagon. It started with porn, and I found myself creating accounts using names of people like my elementary school principal. This particular incident, I used my parents’ checkbook to set up my account and being 15, I failed to realize that the following month; those charges would register with the bank. Needless to say, my parents were less than thrilled, and from then on, I still looked at porn, but only the free stuff. If my folks had known what they were going to endure because of me, porn wouldn’t have seemed so bad.
As a family, we had the privilege of traveling a lot; my dad was an attorney who did quite well for himself, so trips to Mexico and road trips across the country were not uncommon. I always enjoyed our trips to Mexico, the sun, sand, surf and those women who wore practically nothing. It was amazing! Our trip when I was 15 however, was different. Another distraction, alcohol, thrust itself in my face. Being 15, it was not accepted to consume adult beverages around my parents, so I drank when I knew they weren’t around. The entire trip consisted of me drinking my little heart out. When we got home, I was hooked. Drinking was all I could think about and I would regularly steal alcohol from my parents liquor cabinet. This continued on fairly unnoticed until my freshman year, when I was caught drinking in school. One of my buddies brought some rum into school in a coke bottle, and being the “cool kid” that I was; there was no question about whether I would partake.
When I drank, I felt the reason to tell other people; I guess I thought it was cool or something. I made the mistake of telling my little sister, who immediately ran to my mother who was working at the school that day. She smelled the rum on my breath from a mile away, and hauled my ass off to the principal’s office. I was suspended for a day, not a huge lesson in my opinion.
The drinking slowed down for a long time, I drank occasionally through my sophomore year, nothing crazy and I made sure that I never got caught. In my, junior year, I started running with a new group of friends, all of whom smoked weed and drank. Back to my old ways I went. I had a lot of fun, that year was one of the best of my life. We never got in trouble and had a blast drinking, smoking pot and chasing my friend’s chickens around his backyard trying to choke them. Senior year started the way junior year ended, a lot of booze and partying. About December, my life changed dramatically. I was speaking in a geography class about my trip to India, and I met this girl, Jessica. In my eyes, she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen, and she was the only one who seemed genuinely interested in hearing about my trip. Needless to say, I found her after class and asked her out. For whatever reason, she felt the same way I did and said yes. So begins the most tumultuous period in my life. Jessica was an amazing person with more issues that most people you would ever meet. Her parents are divorced, with her dad living in Durango, and her mom living in Fort Collins. Her mother was the type of person who thought it was more important to figure out who her next date was going to be with, than what she was going to do to feed her daughter. For someone with such a dysfunctional family, Jess was amazingly centered. (At least to the casual observer) In March of my senior year, my drinking had gotten so bad that my parents kicked me out of their house. I moved in with my friend Rich, who was more of an alcoholic than I was. Not a good combination. All we did was go to school and drink afterwards. Jess tolerated this for awhile, until my drinking started affecting our relationship and then she put her foot down. One would figure that I would have stopped or at least curbed my drinking for her, considering we were talking about getting married. Negative, I loved Jess with every breath I had, but I was under the impression that she should understand that if I wanted to drink I was going to, and if she loved me there would be no complaints. I found out that life does not work that way. We must have broken up and gotten back together five or six times, and each time we got back together there was more damage to repair on my end. Jessica was my heart, and I ruined the best thing that had ever happened to me.
In August, I went off to the Navy. Jess and I had decided we were going to try and make our relationship work while I was away. Leaving my family and Jess was the hardest thing I had ever done, and I cried like a baby the first night I was away from her. There was not a lot of time for tears however, because I had been thrust into a world of fear and discipline. I had to grow up fast. Boot camp saved my life and I realized that I couldn’t be a successful sailor if I acted the way I had my senior year. I graduated a navy sailor and a changed man. My alcoholism didn’t reappear for at least the first 4 months or so. I went through culinary school in San Antonio, Texas without a hitch. No drinking, no issues. My next station of duty was in Groton, Connecticut. I was there in the middle of winter and it was cold!!! I made some new friends, all of whom drank. I found myself lying to Jess and telling her that I was going to bed and then turning my phone off and going out to the clubs in Providence, Rhode Island. I drank and screwed and had a good old time. She never found out about my escapades out there, but I have a feeling that she had a hunch something was going on. After Groton, I went to my final duty station, Naval Base Kitsap Bangor; In Silverdale, Washington. I was stationed on the USS Henry M. Jackson, SSBN 730. By this time, my relationship with Jess had grown very strained, and I was beginning to hear rumors of her spending time with this guy I graduated with. I did not react well, and as far as I’m concerned, those first few months in WA killed my relationship with Jess.
I started playing soccer for my boat, I was the best player they had and it helped keep my mind off the shit going on back home. One day, we were playing a USMC team, and I went in for a slide tackle on this guy and he stepped on the inside of my knee, tearing my meniscus. This was my first extended experience with pain medication. I loved it, I had an unlimited supply and I could take to Vicodin and escape from all my troubles. My knee issues eventually got me removed from my command, they thought I was going to need surgery, and you cannot serve on a sub with stuff like that going on. All of a sudden I had a lot more time on my hand, so when I was on duty, I was enjoying my pain pills, or hanging out with my friends and drinking. It was the life; I was getting paid to do practically nothing and I got to do drugs all I wanted courtesy of the United States Navy.
I had a group of friends that I spent all my time with; we were inseparable and did everything together. One night, we went to a party at the house of a mutual friend. We were having a lot of fun, drinking alcohol and just enjoying ourselves. I was the first to get tired and pass out, and I went to the first place I could find, the couch in this guys living room. I had been asleep for a few hours, and then I woke up with the feeling that something was horribly wrong. First off, my pants were off and I had this funny pain in my behind. When the fog cleared I realized that the owner of the house had seen me asleep, and taken my clothes off. I woke up in the middle of him raping me. This guy outweighed my by about 120 lbs and even thought I fought as hard as I could, I couldn’t get away. I had no choice but to lay there and take it. I closed my eyes tried to imagine myself back home, lying in Jessica’s arms. When he was done, he got up and went into his room and passed out. I got up and ran into my friend’s room, screaming at her to wake up. She jumped out of bed trying to figure out what was going on, it was at about this time she noticed that I was covered in blood. I told her what happened and she ran downstairs and got the rest of our crew and we got out of there as fast as we could. One of my friends heard what had happened as we were walking out and ran to his car to grab a golf club; I told him to forget it, because I just wanted to leave. We sped off as fast as we could, straight back to the barracks. I wanted to go into my room and take a shower; all I wanted to do was forget the horror I had just been through. My friends wouldn’t let me; they said that I needed to come with them to the hospital. It took all of them to get me to go, I was so ashamed at what I had happened, I wanted to die. We got to the hospital and those next few hours are very blurry. I remember at least 2 or 3 different law enforcement groups coming in to my room, along with a group of doctors and nurses. My friends called my parents, I didn’t have the energy or the composure to tell them what happened. The rest of the day went by in a blur, and the only things I remember are what people have told me. The next day, the following night’s incident was in the news and the entire base had heard about what had happened. For the next few weeks, I was afraid of my own shadow. I slept on the floor of my friends’ room and wouldn’t let anyone touch me. Thank god I still had my pain pill supply, because I never would have done as well as I did without them. I burned through my meds as fast as I could get them and could always get more when I needed them. A month after all this happened; I was discharged from the United States Navy. I went back home angry and confused. I know that I probably should have handled myself better but I subsequently fell into a deep depression. Jessica and I broke up for the final time, and as much I wanted her to see that I was a changed person, we both new that the pain I had caused her could never be undone. My love of pain medication increased and I raided my parents’ house and found every bottle they had and consumed them all.
The first six months after I came home consisted of me sitting on my parents couch all day, playing video games. They finally got fed up with it and began encouraging me to try and find employment. I found a job with a fast food chain, but it didn’t last very long. I was still so raw from what happened that I would have flashbacks during work and then I just stopped showing up. About the same time I lost that job, I realized that I had a snowballs chance in hell of getting back together with Jess, and I tried to commit suicide. I took a half bottle of over the counter sleeping pills. I spent the night at a friends house, he stayed up and watched me the entire night to make sure I didn't die. This scared the hell out of my parents and they didn’t want to watch me do that to myself again. After the attempt to end my life, I realized that committing suicide over someone else is really not worth it.
Things briefly turned around, and I found another job. I was hired on at a car dealership on the south end of town. I loved it; it was like I finally found something that could help me keep my mind off of Jess and everything else. About a month in, I found out that my receptionist had an unlimited supply of Oxycodone, and she was more than willing to give me as many as I wanted; she didn’t like them anyway. When her supply ran out, I found someone else who could get me them and so on and so forth. My abuse got worse when I got my health insurance; I discovered the wonder of doctor shopping. In my mind, I was in pain and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I would say that I went through about 1800 pills in the next 6 months and everyone noticed it but me. My friends saw what I was doing to myself and it worried them. I also started doing cocaine, which was so cool because after I did a bunch of coke, I would take a bunch of vicodin and I wouldn’t have cravings. As a direct result of my drug use, my job performance started slipping and I February, a year and a month after I started, I quit my job because I had run out of pills and I was too depressed to continue.
Two weeks after I quit my job, I underwent knee surgery. This took away my excuse to see the doctor but also gave me a very large supply of vicodin for a while. It was awesome and since I was living with my parents at the time, my day consisted of taking my pills and lounging around the house. Three weeks later, I had my gallbladder removed, I had been experiencing some stomach pains and so they admitted me. I spent ten days in a bed hooked up to a 24/7 I.V. supply of the strongest pain medicine on the market. While I was laid up, my parents decided that they would be nice and clean out my car. They found 60 or so bottles of various narcotics in my car, but neglected to tell me until I got out. When I was discharged from the hospital, my parents informed me that they knew what I had been doing and told me they wanted me to get help. The very next day, I checked myself in to a drug treatment facility here in town. Basically all I did was detox and learn how addiction is a disease and it’s not my fault. It didn’t sink in and I relapsed the same day I got out.
I did manage to get another sales job during all this and I was really excited about it because most of the people there were in recovery. Even though I was still using, it felt good to be around people who weren't. I managed to keep my drug use away from my folks for a few weeks but eventually they found out and promptly kicked me out of their house. I slept in my car for a few days before I found a place, I ended up moving in with one of the guys I worked with who was also in the program. My using picked up again, but at the same time, I was determined to show my parents that I could change; I decided to start a methadone maintenance treatment plan. I really didn’t care that it was keeping my from using other stuff, it got me high and that’s all I cared about. The first few days I spent more time throwing up than I did enjoying myself. After 4 months or so, I decided that I didn’t like what the methadone was doing to me, I slept all the time and basically disconnected myself from the world. I took myself off of it, thinking that I could go back to using pills again with no problems. It was a problem, none of the stuff I took worked, and I went in to a terrible withdrawal that I could not stop.
I tried to go to one of my friends to get him to take me to the hospital, he refused and said that if I wanted to kill myself, that was ok with him but he loves me and is not going to help me do it. For whatever reason, his words had more of an impact on me than anything previously, and it was light someone had pulled the hood off my head and I immediately realized that I needed to get help. I called my parents and my sponsor and told them what was going on, and they both said that if I was serious that they would support me in whatever I did.
The process of looking for a rehab center is tedious and irritating at times, I called 16 or so facilities and got calls back from two or three. I finally came to the decision that I wanted to go to a rehab in Florida; Spencer Recovery Centers. My parents helped me pay for it and the day after I talked to them, I was on a plane. The next 28 days saved my life, I realized what I was doing to myself and my family and made a conscious decision that I would never use again, no matter what. I got to spend time learning about myself and not have to worry about all the stuff going on back home, and when I wasn’t learning, I was fishing or surfing or spending time with my new, clean friends. I came home a changed person, and some people noticed it immediately. For others, like my parents, it was a process. I started taking things seriously, working the steps and spending time with my sponsor. It was a hard transition, but I knew that I was fighting for my life and if I ever gave up, it was over.
It has been 3 years since I walked into Spencer Recover Centers. I cannot tell you that everything instantly became easier, fighting an addiction is a tough battle, but I finally had the tools to do it the right way. It is an ongoing fight, if I let my guard down just once, I could be back where I started. This disease is progressive and it would be like I had never stopped. Staying clean is not easy, but it is very simple. All anyone needs is the desire to quit using and everything else would be shown to them, and it was; I saw that there are others out there like me and I am never truly alone. Its an interesting concept, I’m in this for myself but I’m never in it by myself; its amazing how many people don’t get that, we never have to be alone, ever again!!
This brings me back to my question at the beginning of this story, what takes a normal human being and turns them into an addict? There are many things that contribute to it and no one who hasn’t been through will ever truly understand what goes on in the mind of an addict. But, even if you don’t understand, the last thing you need to do is distance yourself from an addict loved one simply because you don’t understand what they are going through. All we need are support and love, believe me, knowing that the people you love the most still care about you after everything you did to them, is crucial. You don't have to agree with what they have done, nor do you have to put up with it, but stand behind them and show them love. I cannot impress upon you the impact this will have. If you are an addict reading this, please remember, you are not alone and you never will be! There are millions of people out there just like you. If you are the loved ones, stay strong, it gets better. It might seem like this is the end, but for a lot of people, including me, this is just the beginning.
© Copyright 2017 Alex Arsenau. All rights reserved.
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