“I thought I was supposed to get into college and get out and make money. That was it. That’s not what life is about. I almost killed myself in the process.”
My name is Linda Stafford. I was born in Augusta, Georgia. I’m the last of four children. I had a totally normal family. As far as I know, I’m the only alcoholic or addict in the family. Childhood was pretty normal. There was a little bit of compulsive disorders that ran in our family, but they were not substance-related. They were actually eating disorders.
I started hanging out with people who were a little bit ‘cray,’ a little bit crazy, probably in like, sixth grade. I remember the first time I realized that they were a little bit crazy was we were at this birthday party in sixth grade, and this kid chugged Robitussin. His name was Butterball, which should’ve been a sign from the beginning, but I didn’t take it. I kept on hanging out with those people, and then I drank for the first time in eighth grade. The first time I drank, I did kind of get that buzz and everything. Nothing too crazy happened, but I totally remember feeling a sense of like, “I am one with the universe.” Just thinking, “Everybody kind of gets along with me now,” kind of feeling.
I didn’t really use too much in ninth grade. I did really well in school. Tenth grade came along, and that was the first time I ever got into a relationship. Like, a real relationship, and was in love with the person I was with. Didn’t realize at that time, but he was actually a dealer. I didn’t even know that. He had come to where I was living in Augusta because he was trying to get away from his community because he had left such a bad past back there. I was with him for a while. There was a lot of crazy stuff that went on in that relationship, and stuff that I said that I would never do. I think that I used to really look for love outside myself as a way to love myself. What other people thought of me was the way that I would try to prove to myself that I was worth loving.
He ended up cheating on me with my best friend, which was total telltale of that relationship. I smoked weed for the first time with that person, the person he cheated on me with. Even though that was bad, I stayed with him for a while. That person, I was mad at first, but kind of stayed somewhat friends with them. Then, my friends who were friends with both those people were the ones who told me that they had cheated. They had done stuff and I didn’t even know about it.
That was kind of how it was. That happened again in my life later on, but it was me who was doing the cheating. Tenth grade, that’s where I started using a lot. Into eleventh grade, I had been making good grades, then it became where I couldn’t exempt any exams and I started making really bad grades. I didn’t really care; I was smoking a lot of weed. I started having this ‘don’t care’ attitude, and some stuff happened in our family. I felt like I didn’t have the attention that I should have. I was the only person in the house that was a kid, so I felt like I was just existing. The way that I would get my thrill was to go out and do whatever I wanted.
Go into twelfth grade, I almost don’t graduate, which is crazy. I came from a family of… four out of the six are engineers. We’re not a dumb family or anything. My sister also has a master’s in counseling. The one person who didn’t have an [engineering degree], she still had a pretty good degree. That was drilled into us. In trigonometry, I almost made a D or an F, and couldn’t almost graduate, but luckily I got by on the skin of my teeth and graduated.
I was just waiting. It was kind of when I turned sixteen and could drive, I was just waiting to go crazy. I remember when I first turned sixteen, as soon as I got my car and I was able to go out, I took my car out and did doughnuts in the parking lot of the high school. When I graduated, the morning of my graduation, we did shots and stuff like that. It wasn’t even like we could get drunk, it was that feeling of, “I’m going to do whatever I want.”
Then of course comes college. My parents didn’t say I couldn’t go to Atlanta, so I went off to school in Atlanta, which was the farthest school that I could think of to go. I thought that I was going to have fun, and I definitely did it up. There’s a scholarship in Georgia called the Hope Scholarship, where if you make a 3.0 GPA or above, you can have this scholarship, and they’ll pay for your tuition. I lose that in the first semester. Luckily, you can gain it back, but I lost it in the first semester. I totally thought that when you go to college, it was like the John Belushi movie where you get in there and act crazy. Animal House. Chris Farley was like, that was always one of the people I thought was so cool.
I got in there, and that was kind of the trend of who I thought I was. I was going to have a fun time. I got in there and I definitely had fun. I met a lot of people. One of my best friends who actually went to college with me, we had decided not to room together because I didn’t want to be close to anybody. That was a very difficult thing for me to do. She had asked if I would want to be roommates with her, and I was like, “I can’t. We’re not going to do that because what if something happens?” We didn’t room together, and she was probably the closest person that I had in my life up to that time. At all. She knew who the real me was.
Even though she didn’t room with me, she ended up being the room above me exactly on the next floor. I ended up saying, “I’m sorry that I’m being a jerk,” and we ended up hanging out again. There was a lot of nights where she had to wrestle the keys away from me, talk me out of doing some crazy stuff that I thought I really needed to do, like go spend some time with somebody or something like that.
I got pretty distant from my parents in that year. They told me that because it cost so much money where I went to school, that I had to come back home because I didn’t have my scholarship anymore. I came back home for that summer, and they said that I could go to Georgia Southern. Before going to Georgia Southern, I started looking up rugby teams and stuff because I always knew I was gay but I didn’t really know how to come out. In my [high] school, if you were gay, you were going to be ragged on.
I tried to figure out the best way to do it. It came out a little bit when I was in Atlanta, but I really wanted to be one with myself. There wasn’t anybody that I knew there, so I was going to do my own thing. When I got to Georgia Southern, I had actually had a boyfriend from Augusta. It didn’t go well.
I got to Statesboro and he was long distance. He was in Macon, which is across the state. I was going to school. I was actually making pretty good grades. I started playing rugby, and what I didn’t realize was that the rugby team… we’d have games on Saturday, and we probably are going to drink on the weekends. I didn’t realize that you have “Stink and Drink” on Thursdays, which is right after practice. You don’t take a shower at all and you go straight to the bars. That was a thing we did. Kind of getting everybody into the mold. I definitely did that to the best of my ability. Stink and Drink was like, where I lived. That was my whole week. I was so excited about it.
My drinking began as Thursday, Friday, Saturday, instead of just Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Now it’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. We would be so bored in Statesboro that we’d play this one game called the Roundabout Game. You’d picked a car color, and then if that car color came by, you drank. That was the kind of stuff we did. At first I played rugby and I loved it. I was making tons of friends. Then it became, “We’re not going to go practice anymore; we’re just going to drink. We’ll go to the games. Then we’ll get mad if they don’t let us play.”
Started doing that more. During this time, my studying habits were… I was procrastinating a lot. I would drink coffee or something to try to stay awake. First, I started falling asleep on that. Then I started drinking energy drink, and I was like, “Okay, I’m falling asleep on energy drinks.” Right after drinking a giant Monster or giant Red Bull. I’d fall asleep, which is pretty bad, you know? I was trying to read like, the Iliad and stuff, and I’m sitting over here in the library hung over and falling asleep on my Monster.
I was in Anatomy at that time, which is a pretty difficult class as it is, not when you’re trying to do all this other stuff on the side. The social life you think you need to have, you think everybody else has it, but it’s not really true. One night, somebody offered me to take Adderall, and I did so. Soon as I tried it, I loved it. I thought that it evened me out. I thought that it made me better, but really I was just talking a lot, smoking cigarettes, and reading like, two pages, and really knowing those two pages super, super well. I’d look up like, every word on that page in the dictionary, or draw like a diagram of myself. Really I made the same exact grades when I tried the Adderall as I did when I was off of it. I really try to tell people that, kids that I know, because I know it’s rampant on college campuses these days, stimulant use. Especially the prescription drugs that are stimulants, so I try to tell people that.
Also around this time, I was getting mad because of what I thought my parents were going to think about me being gay, which really wasn’t true. That’s kind of going on, I’m also in a relationship that I really probably don’t want to be in. Then I’m also going to Pride, and I ended up cheating on my boyfriend. I got mad at him somehow through this. He says that he doesn’t know if he wants to be with me, and then we end up somehow still being together for a little while, and then we break up.
Then it really starts getting crazy. I wanted to live it up as a gay person and do what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I ended up getting a boyfriend, so I don’t know how that worked out. That didn’t work out very well. I couldn’t live without anybody. I had to have somebody. I thought that this person was perfect. He played for the college football team – or he used to. He got kicked out of school because he was doing bad stuff, but I thought he was perfect.
I thought I had found the answer to everything. I was pretty much just doing whatever I wanted. At this point, I was hanging out with people who were doing really difficult… well, tough drugs, like DMT and acid all the time. We saw one of our friends who tried it, and it was nine hits times what he thought it was. He ended up being tased several times by six police officers, naked, in the middle of his neighborhood that he lived in. We were just like, “That wouldn’t happen to me! That’s exactly why I don’t do that one!” It didn’t change anything else. It didn’t make me scared or anything. I knew not to do that one. That drug.
I started using my friend’s Adderall a lot to the point where she was like, “You need to do something different. Start going to the counselor.” Then I’m trying to convince the counselor that that’s what I need. The counselor tells me, “If you get it through a physician, you can get the prescription easy if you tell your physician your symptoms.” I did so and got the prescription, and I would use that up. Then I would use my friends’ up. At one point, I remember one of my friends was like, “Do you think I’m like, a drug mule? Or do you think I’m your friend?” I’m like, “I don’t care. I’d really honestly like you to give me the drugs at this point.”
I started taking Adderall just for tests, then it was just for tests and papers. Then it was like, “Okay, well, it helps me think better all the time, so I’m going to try it all the time.” As a result, I was taking around 90mg a day. Plus, it got to where that would make me feel jittery, so I’d want to drink on top of that. Then I was drinking on top of that to calm myself down. Trying to be who I thought I was supposed to be in so many different facets. I thought I was supposed to get into college and get out and make money. That was it. That’s not what life is about. I almost killed myself in the process.
Because of all this stuff, I pretty much start losing a lot of friends. I start being the horrible, horrible friend to go out with. Really, I’m not a friend. Just going out with people, [and] when we’d walk home, I’d run in the middle of the street because I had these horrible thoughts of, “I didn’t need to live anymore.” Telling my family stuff that I wanted them to know if I died. I told my dad that he’d always be my hero, and told my mom that she was always there for me and I really appreciated that. Stuff like that. Writing letters to my parents and siblings and everything like that.
This is kind of the last spring break before anything changed. I stayed home, because I thought that that’s what I wanted to do, which was stay at my school apartment. Everybody else was gone, and I thought that that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be able to drink as much as possible, and do so however I wanted. Everybody’s gone, I could do that. That week I wrote suicide notes to my siblings and all that stuff. It was a really low place. I was a pizza delivery driver at this time. I was so caught up with everything else that I decided I couldn’t do that anymore. I stopped going into that. Kept trying to get through, just wanted the school thing to end. I wanted summer to start so I could do more of what I wanted to do, which really wasn’t what I wanted to do in the end.
I talked to my parents, and my parents told me that if I’m not going to have a job, and I’m not going to have a way to pay for my stuff, which my parents had been doing that for that period of time, paying for everything, I was going to have to go home. I went home and I had a job there at a marina in Augusta. I started going to that, but even though that’s such a joyous job–you’re sitting on a gas dock, people are happy as hell coming in there, wanting to get gas for their boats and families, and having fun–I was so paranoid at that point, I didn’t know if I wanted to live anymore. I was working out there [at a] super nice job, making pretty good money, and I would call my sister and my mom every day and tell them how I just didn’t know if I wanted to be there. When people looked at me I was so scared, because I couldn’t look anybody in the eye. I knew all the stuff that I was doing, but I didn’t know how to tell anybody how I was feeling.
One day it kind of came to a head. I was supposed to get everybody lunch, and I ended up not doing that. I had everybody’s card in my car, and then I told my mom that I wasn’t going back, which, I had to. My brother ended up… he helped me out. He picked me up and we brought the cards back to everybody. Their cards and their food and stuff. I kind of word-vomited on my brother and told him everything I was thinking, from hallucinations at nighttime, because I was that bad. Paranoia and what I thought of everybody, everything. All the bad stuff that I’d done and everything. He probably didn’t want to know that.
I did the same thing to my dad and my mom and everybody was there. I just flipped out, telling them how everything was going. Luckily that happened. Had it been on me, I would’ve stayed in Statesboro. I would’ve stayed where I was going to school, and I wouldn’t have come home, and wouldn’t have had to face people. They had told me that I had to, so I came home and I had to face them. I told them all the truth. We decided that I would need to do something, so I started seeing a counselor, and got that scheduled. He gave me this book called Codependency No More by Melody Beattie, so I started reading that, and thought that that was the answer to all my problems.
Then, even still, reading that, I went out a couple of times, I was still using a lot of Adderall. I just thought that I had to. I told him about that, one time, and he was like, “Okay, well, do you have a network of people that you get Adderall from? If you run out of it, do you have a network of people for it?” And I was like, “Yes.” He was like, “If you go out, can you control the amount that you can drink? Do you know what’s going to happen? Can you predict it?” Like, “I predict that it’s going to be unpredictable. That’s pretty much what you could predict.” [He said,] “I think you need to start trying to go in to get recovery. I think your problem is probably substances.”
Luckily, that was what happened. I was convinced that I was bipolar when I started seeing that guy. I was convinced that I needed to get put on an anti-psychotic. I had an appointment to go and meet with this person for the anti-psychotics, but I just didn’t have enough money at that time. Luckily, this is what happened instead of me going and trying to put another drug on top of it. This person saw how much I was using. He probably saved my life, he had a hand in it. It was perfect the way that things worked out.
I started really trying to get into recovery, and had a couple slip-ups, but I realized, “Why am I drinking if I don’t need to?” It was just kind of a weird feeling when I did it. I started seeing how the impact that I always had on my family. I was the typical baby of the family, and I felt like everybody owed me everything. From my teachers to everything. Anybody. I would turn in papers like super late, and be, “You need to give me an A on this, this is golden right now,” because I was all high on Adderall.
Now, today, it’s awesome. It was difficult getting through that first little bit of recovery. I had to learn how to walk and talk again, pretty much. Now I have tons of friends and they’re real friends that I can really talk to. It’s not like, “Okay, I’m trying to use this person or this person’s trying to use me.” I can call them anytime, and we can talk about anything, and I know that. The only thing that’s stopping me from that is myself. I’m really happy for that. I never knew that in the beginning, but that’s the truth, in the beginning. It was only myself. It was my pride, it was my fears, and everything like that that was stopping me in the beginning from doing any of that.
I’m in school here at Savannah State getting a master’s in social work. I’m the Vice President of our student organization, which also makes me planning committee chair. I’m also a part of a group. We have a planning committee we have here in Savannah that’s trying to build up recovery resources here in Savannah. I find that when I do that, when I have a life where I’m helping people, I feel useful because I’m doing useful things. I also have a very meaningful relationship that I’ve been in for almost three years now, which is totally unheard of for me. That’s really cool. I have a dog that I take care of very well. I have another one that I take care of very well, as well. I have two. I have one that I raised ever since, and that has been with me from when I was out there til now. I’m really grateful that she made it through, that we’re both together and stuff. That’s really cool.
I have a wonderful relationship with my mom and dad and my siblings. I think we’re all very grateful for each other, that’s something that I could never see before. I’m able to be there for my family when they need me to be there. I’m able to be there for my girlfriend when she needs me to be there. I just met her parents recently, after three years. That was cool. It was a little scary, but we made it through. It was a great thing. I’m really grateful for that.
I’m also employed. I’ve been employed for [a] solid two years. Almost two and a half. I work at a detox with a lot of responsibility, which is really surprising. It goes really well while I’m doing all this other stuff. I’m happy. I’m happy where I’m at right now, and I’m glad to be able to speak to people about that.
Photographs taken at Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia, where Linda attends graduate school.