Jason: November 19, 2013

Photos of people in long-term recovery, photos of recovering addicts

“I think everyone knew what was going on, but in reality, what can anyone do for a person like me who’s not willing to look at their own actions?”

My name’s Jason and I’m a person in long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol, specifically heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and I have not found it necessary to indulge in any mood- or mind-altering substances since November 19, 2013. I was sitting with how I always start these out, because I typically try not to say the same thing every time that I speak. The circumstances are always the same, but I feel like the first five minutes is always the hardest part to get through.

I think the thing that I notice the most as of recently is from an early age, [I was] constantly seeking some kind of validation, some kind of comfort or relief through other people, through other people’s personalities, to feed who I felt I was as a person, to validate my feelings as a person. I sought that out through friendships, through food, through video games, through acting out, and that was very apparent from a very early age.

I remember trying to latch onto people that I wanted specific things from, whether it was their personality, whether it was the way that they carried themselves, and this was from a pretty early age, like elementary school. So the people who had confidence, the people who had actual friendships with one another… I followed them with hopes of receiving that.

Prior to this, prior to finding alcohol, prior to finding weed and all that stuff, I loved playing in the woods, escaping, just running away, like physically running away from things. All the underlying fears and insecurities that I’ve now been able to see as the truth behind my actions and what drives me to make impulsive decisions and make decisions on my best interests or what I think my best interest is was pretty apparent also at an early age.

I started drinking alcohol, I think I was maybe eleven, in sixth grade, at my sister’s friend’s party. I drank and smoked weed in a social setting at the same time because I saw other people doing it. People were drinking Zima and someone had made a bong out of a tire pump, and it was just all very new to me. It was exciting. It was ‘dangerous.’ I knew that I shouldn’t be doing it and it was a rush.

I found that and then as I developed as a person, as I was able to start actually branching out and finding groups of friends, I found people who started to act out more as far as… I started hanging out with kids who were hanging out under bridges, smashing bottles, throwing stuff at cars, making napalm, Molotov cocktails, and destructive behavior started to come out.

My friend[‘s] mother had a liquor cabinet that we broke into and we drank and we liked to hang out in his back yard and box each other, so that was my first sense of belonging, having a deep connection, what I thought was a deep connection, with other people. From there, I pretty much stayed in that mindset of a destructive pattern.

I slowly discovered music [and] playing instruments in about eighth grade. Through a music class, I found out that I actually had a knack for it. I could actually carry a beat and someone has described this to me, but I believe that that was my first spiritual experience, the first shift in the way that I thought and I felt and I viewed the world.

With that, I discovered punk music and underground music and slowly, I started delving out, traveling down to Boston and going to shows down there, and my behavior soon started to crave doing illegal things, doing what I’m not supposed to be doing. It was just a constant craving for defiance, I guess you could say.

I definitely experienced the physical craving for alcohol at a pretty early age, and that slowly developed over time. I stayed away from weed for a while mainly because my girlfriend at the time didn’t smoke weed, didn’t want me to smoke weed, so I was like, “Okay, cool. I can do without it.” I continued to seek validation from people. I wanted to portray the fact that I was a dangerous person and I loved fighting and all this stuff, but in reality, I was not capable of doing that. I’ve never actually been in a physical fight with someone, but my ego told me that people needed to see that about me and I needed to show people that.

I learned very quickly how to verbally assault people, I guess you could say. I really fed off of stealing self-esteem from other people by cutting them down in public, and obviously alcohol was very good at fueling that. Soon after that, cocaine came into my life and I would go down to the city on the weekends and there was literally no rules, so a lot of physical destruction to other people’s property, serious financial damage to other people’s things, and I really felt completely entitled to that.

The lifestyle that I submerged myself in was constantly like I was telling myself that I’m oppressed and that society’s constantly trying to keep me down and all this stuff. That was the lie that I told myself to continue to act out in the way that I wanted to, to continue to live the life that I wanted to, because in reality, I’m a white kid from the suburbs, and I honestly have not experienced any true hardship in my life, but I was dedicated to that. That dictated my life.

Fast forward, eventually I break my kneecap at a show at my friend’s apartment on New Year’s Eve. I break my kneecap into three pieces. I’m so drunk that I get brought back down the street and decided that it’s too early to call the night off, so someone gives me a handful of pain killers and I get up and I walk back to the house and continue to walk around all night, walking up stairs, and eventually… I just thought I had pulled my hamstring… I get home and I go to sleep. “Eh, I’m just going to sleep it off.” I wake up the following day and my leg is completely black. I need to have immediate surgery.

I’m on my back for four months with this broken kneecap and one third of it needs to grow back into the bone, so it was a pretty serious thing. At that point, what my drinking was like was, I carried around a funnel with me everywhere I went and would exclusively drink booze, alcohol, hard liquor, out of a funnel, was very comfortable with driving everyone, and was very confident in my ability to function as a binge drinker.

Eventually I resided to the fact that I need to stop, because after that, I was living in the middle of nowhere in Berwick, Maine, with a bunch of people, completely isolated, and would pretty much just drink a handle of whiskey a day and shoot guns off in the middle of nowhere. I feel that I’d developed some pretty serious anxiety, some pretty serious separation issues, and I felt that alcohol was my problem, so I just needed to get away from it.

With that, I had gotten a taste of Percocet and Oxycontin from my injury, and I started to seek that out and the people who I continually played music with were also interested in using whatever it was, and I just seemed to continue to run into the same people who I was looking for. I had gotten to the point where I was physically addicted to painkillers and I realized, or I had this revelation, that the sea coast of New Hampshire is my problem and Percocets are my problem, and I need to get away from here, and the opportunity presented itself and I was offered a job interview in the city, working in Cambridge at a restaurant, getting paid very well.

I had started delving into heroin at that point as well, and that was what really was the driving force behind it, so I was like, “I don’t know anyone who sells heroin in the city, so I just need to get away from that.” Literally the first day that I moved down there, I worked with a guy who had gotten out of a fifteen-year bid for selling heroin and very soon after that, he’s like, “You need a connect?” Like, “Yes, absolutely.”

Consistently, I just continued to meet up with people who are giving me what I need, or I’m finding the stuff that I need. It just shows up, so I’m off. The progression with that looked like constantly putting the roommates that I had in danger with bringing drug dealers over. I was making a pretty large sum of money at my work and I continued to get raises. I continued to get promotions so that continued to fuel my ego, and just told me that I can do this. This is how I’m supposed to live my life.

I had left aside painkillers altogether and was just using heroin and cocaine daily, and eventually, I moved into another apartment and my moral standing started to fall away. I always felt like I was a very loyal person. I was always a very honest person; I thought I was, and I slowly started stealing money from my roommates. I started robbing the safe at my work, and I was completely blind to what my life looked like. I’ve never been an IV heroin user and I was using heroin for about three years, and I was resigned to the fact that because I do have a job and because I’m not shooting heroin, I’m not a heroin addict. I can’t be a junkie, but I have all these behaviors.

Soon after that, fast forward, I’m homeless. I’ve been confronted twice by people who are letting me stay at their house for free, who have completely taken me in, taken me under their wing, confronted about money being stolen from their house and I just, I can’t see the truth. I’m not able to face it yet.

I’m homeless. I’m sneaking into my work at night to try to find a place to sleep, dodging the cleaners, dope sick, trying to sleep on the floor and then 7:00 comes around where I’m supposed to be at work and I’m hanging out on the couch in the front. People are like, “Oh, you sleep here last night?” I’m like, “Yeah. I did.” I think everyone knew what was going on, but in reality, what can anyone do for a person like me who’s not willing to look at their own actions?

The time comes where I’ve been sick for a couple days. I had just stolen a bunch of checks from a girl who let me stay with her. I was trying to pawn items in the middle of the day and I had no real luck with it. I was like, “Okay, either I can rob an old woman in broad daylight, or I can go to the liquor store across the street and buy one nip and hope that someone comes by with $40, and just hands it to me, like, ‘Hey, you look hard out.'”

This overwhelming sense came over me that I should call my sister and reach out to someone because I’d been separated from my family. I had been dodging my family for a long time. That was the first time that I’d reached out for help, and I got it. My family was always there for me. I was just not willing to accept the love that they were trying to give me.

I experienced the first act of honesty that I’ve portrayed in a while, and I tell them what’s actually going on, and they’re like, “Okay, we’re willing to do whatever you need to do.” I don’t think I’ve been sober for over ten years up to this point. I hadn’t even looked at sobriety; I didn’t know what sobriety looked like, never mind recovery.

I get checked into this rehab and I’m like, “Okay, I just need to stay away from heroin and learn how to stay away from heroin, and I can move back to the city where I still have a job.” They’re like, “You can come back here if you want,” but every single bridge in that, not only that job, but in that city had been burnt down. I was like,”Okay, I can move back there. I can still drink. I can still smoke weed. I can still do coke. I can still do everything. I just need to stay away from heroin.”

I had physically detoxed from heroin for about two and a half weeks on my parents’ couch and got checked in, and emotional sobriety hit me when I was there. I started having using dreams. I started losing sleep and my mind would not shut off. Someone [said] to me, “Why don’t you try praying? Have you thought about that yet?” That was a constant thing, because I don’t understand what this concept has anything to do with me not doing heroin, because I’ve always been a very self-supporting person. I’ve always had a very big resentment against organized religion, for no real reason at all. Nothing that I experienced made me feel that way. That was just an opinion that I had, but circumstances made me willing.

I was willing to do what these people asked me, and I tried it, and I didn’t understand it and it was uncomfortable, and I shut the door behind my roommate that I was living with because I didn’t want him to see me, because I thought it was weak, and I got relief. From there, I took suggestions; that was the constant thing, was I was willing to take suggestions from people. I could see that I had no idea what I was doing, so I went to ninety meetings in ninety days. I went to like 200 meetings in ninety days because that’s what they told me [to do].

At three months sober, I was back at where I was at two weeks sober in rehab and emotional sobriety had hit me again. That pink cloud had not only diminished, but it just disappeared out of nowhere and I was just dropped on my ass, and I’m back at the point where I’m losing sleep again. I’m starting to hallucinate. The thought is coming back that going back to the city and trying to build my life up again sounds like a good idea. I think I can do it, and the obsession is starting to come back to me. Heroin sounds like a good idea again, and even more so than that, I can definitely drink.

Thankfully, a man was put in my life that I believe was like a divine intervention, that started taking me to solution-based meetings, started showing me the ropes of what spiritual action looked like, and he introduced me to my sponsor, because I was relying on myself. I didn’t have the power to muster up the courage to walk up and talk to him. I literally needed to be walked over and be like, “Here he is. This is so and so. He needs a sponsor.” From there, this guy sat down with me and he took the time out of his day, out of his schedule, and he was willing to talk to me and share his experience on what trying to get sober looked like and what trying to stay sober looked like on his own power, and how it had completely failed him.

He’d literally tried everything else through maintenance, through just drinking, through therapy, through just going to meetings, and nothing worked, but as a result of meeting with someone who had experience with the twelve steps, he had an awakening from that which changed the way that he thought, the way that he felt, the way that he interacted with people, his view on the world and himself, and it was dramatic and it was revolutionary, and since then he’s not been the same person.

From the small amount of work that I did and the direction that he gave me, I’ve had the same experience directly from the result of that work, and I’ve not been the same person since then. At eight months sober, I find myself able to go out and sponsor people, and what he told me is that a year of sobriety means that you have a year of sobriety. It does not dictate what your recovery looks like, and even more so, he says that getting taken through this process, there’s no qualifier for the amount of time that you need to go and start helping people.

I believe he was a couple months sober where he got taken through the process and he was now sponsoring people. What this area specifically, in Dover, New Hampshire, has latched onto is the earnestness of that and the vigor of getting through this stuff as quick as possible, as fearlessly as possible, and going out and helping people, and not sitting around and waiting for some sort of happiness because I don’t know how to create any type of lasting happiness or peace of mind on my own.

As time goes by, it’s really hard for me to comprehend where my life was almost two years ago, and where I’m currently at now, and the fact that my life is just continuing to bloom and expand, and it’s almost all from building this relationship with this power, this power that I did not believe in, this power that I can’t comprehend, that I can’t explain to people, but I know that the feeling that I have from that specifically is very personal to me and I know that it’s real and I know that it’s the truth, and unfortunately I can’t give it to another person.

I wouldn’t say it’s unfortunate, but there’s only so much I can do for another person. Living by example through my actions, that’s the best thing that I can do, so I try to live my life by a spiritual set of principles and live by taking action because my past life was constantly saying I’m going to do this, being fearful of the outcome, and then regretting it, and just constantly going through that cycle, and like, who the fuck would want to live that life anyway? Who would want to actually be in that existence anyway?

I see why I made such a hard time for myself because of that, but there’s this guy… I guess I’ll just end here… this guy said this in a meeting and it completely… it affected me emotionally. I believe it’s adapted from the Buddhist, the four absolutes. I’m not exempt from illness. There’s a time in my life where I will get sick. I’m not free from sickness. I’m not exempt from old age. I will continue to age. There’s nothing that I can do about it. I’m not exempt from death. My life will end at some point, and then everything in my life that I hold dear to me, the people that I love, the possessions that I feel that I own, the circumstances in my life, will one day be taken away from me. None of those things are constant. None of those things are permanent. The only things that I do own in my own life, he says, that I’m the sole heir of, that I’m the dictator of, are my own words, my own thoughts and my actions, and those are the only things that I have control over.

Today, my life is very full. It’s continuing to expand, and honestly, it’s really incredible how more and more I see that each moment I’m alive is a beautiful thing. It’s really incredible, the fact that I can share this with other people now and I can be present with other people now, and I feel like I have a purpose to be here. I believe that everyone has their own purpose, but I’m grateful that I was able to find it at the time in my life that I did.

Photographs taken at Jason’s home in Dover, New Hampshire. 

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