“Active addicts don’t form relationships, they take Hostages.” – Herb Stepherson, “Junkbox Diaries~ a Day in the Life of a Heroin Addict”
When I first stated pinning this blog, and ultimately the book, I looked at the whole hostages idea from my own personal viewpoint. But now that some years have separated me from my active addiction, and now that I am currently doing what I do in my profession I see this idea differently still.
The greatest lie that I ever told was that “I was only hurting myself. It’s my body, my choice, and I’ll do drugs if I want to. I am only hurting me.” What a load of bullshit…
I used to think that drug addiction was ‘about’ drugs. I used to think that if a person, myself suffered from addiction, then it meant that they/ I “had a drug problem”. I don’t think that’s the case today. I believe that a person with addiction issues has an “escape/avoidance/coping problem, and a temporary drug ‘solution'”. I’m an addict and my problem is Herb. I use to change the way that I feel- mentally, emotionally, or physically. I use to increase pleasure or decrease pain. Sometimes both. I use to turn it off. I use to run away from any little insignificance or massive tragedy that life throws my way. I use because I don’t know how to deal with or enjoy life as is.
I was on the phone with a family the other day and the topic of “Rock Bottom” came up, and I asked the gentleman if he really believed in Rock Bottom. And that is how the inspiration for this blog entry hit my brain. If a drug addict uses drugs and alcohol to avoid, escape, and run from life and it’s consequences, how can rock bottom be enough to stop us? Isn’t Rock Bottom just a fancy exaggeration of “Negative Consequences”? I Find this topic very interesting. I personally experienced a bottom, yes. A “Physical Bottom” as I often refer to it. But was it Really Rock Bottom? And the answer for me, is no. I know without question that if I pick up today, than it is only a matter of time before things get far worse than they ever were before. The consequences greater and the sickness and things I’m willing to do to feed my action with get more and more extreme. I bottomed out clean. With 6 months laying in a jail cell without access to chemicals to numb the crime scene in my head. I was forced to feel. I was forced to process and experience everything that I had run from for so long. It was horrible, it was brutal, it made me squirm to think of the things I had done to my loved ones. The things I had done to myself, the risks I had taken and the situations I had put myself in. But what makes me squirm even now, as I write this, are the things that I made my Hostages feel and experience, in slow motion, over years and years as they watched the trainwreck of my life unfold one horrible day at a time.
To love a drug addict must be incredibly tough. Especially for the “Normal”, every day, “Good People” who have never done a drug in their lives. You see, although we addicts are destroying our lives with chemicals, one day at a time- we still have this “luxury”, or crutch if you will- of ingesting chemicals by whatever means to deal with the wreckage that were causing. Our Hostages don’t. They have learned to cope and handle and deal with life, as it comes for them. Even if were forcing them through hell on a daily basis.
This is why I have said for years now, that the families, the loved ones of the addicts feel the bottoms ( and yes I say bottoms plural because if you’re an addict or the loved on of an addict you know that it’s not just one horrible debacle, but a series of terrible days and nights as a result of the drug addiction running amuck) WAY before the addict does. Because we have this “Magic Pill”, or powder, or liquid, etc… to just numb the sting of the most recent bottom off of us. It’s a very interesting cycle, and the cycle actually becomes our normal. It becomes our lifestyle. And we get used to it over time. I use to change the way that I feel, bad things happen- Jail, ODs, loss of jobs, car wrecks, etc… and because I have become so habituated to this cycle, the only means of coping that I possess to deal with the pain, shame, embarrassment, etc.. is to run to the very chemical that caused the consequence itself. A therapist I saw for a while referred to it as “trauma repetition”. That because of the Traumas we endure as children, and the trauma we self inflict, we constantly and subconsciously almost pursue the art of being hurt, staying wounded, we chase the pain because it’s what were used to. Very interesting isn’t it? I think so. But our loved ones don’t. Our ‘Hostages’ do not. They do not have the ‘luxury’ of just popping a pill or shooting some dope to make it all go away. They’re typically too busy stressing and worrying themselves sick, too busy praying and calling around about us, too busy enduring our bottoms for us.
Case in point- I had a conversation with a mother that told me that she actually set alarms on her phone for: 12:00, 2:00, 4:00, and 6:00 am EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. And these alarms were set so that she could get up and head to her loved one’s room to check their breathing and make sure they were still alive. I know my parents used to do this as well. Or the parents and siblings of loved ones who reach out to me and tell me all of the horror stories that come along with the nightmare of addiction: The truck wrapped around an Oak Tree, having to drive around the ghettos of Chicago looking for their son or daughter all hours of the night, going to support groups to find ways to cope with their children’s addictions. And one of the saddest things I’ve heard: Hearing an ambulance go by and getting physically sick to their stomachs wondering if their son or daughter were in the back, and then calling the hospitals and morgues looking for their sweet child’s body. I know that my family endured my bottoms for years. Especially my brother and sister in law and my sweet grama. My brother and sister in law once drove all the way up from Georgia while I was in jail for that 53 weeks and awaiting my fate, just to see me in shackles and before the Judge for what? like 8 minutes? Although it meant the world to me at the time, that was so incredibly unfair of me to put them through, but I was a hostage to my addiction and so were they. Its unspoken, its invisible, but it is Shot through every single family of an addicted loved one to one extent or another. The co dependency, the manipulation, the shame, guilt, fear, hope, and sympathy that is convoluted and constantly consuming us. I’m an addict, I’m the ‘sick’ one, but the families often times are the ones that need the treatment too. it blows my mind to think about. And I can do so in the blink of an eye, all the pain, and trauma, and fear and sleepless nights I put my family through while I was out there “only hurting myself.” UGH. it makes me sick to my stomach. I can just hear the panic and hurt in so many families hearts as I write this… I truly believe that every person who has ever been affected by a loved one’s addiction has some form or degree of PTSD. I can’t even imagine the things that come along with loving an addicted person and watching them slowly deteriorate over time as a result of their using. I only know how to step in and stop it. You see, just as we addicts get stuck in our own cycles of use-bottoms-use-repeat, the families do as well. We as people get used to our environments, our “Normals”, we get used to our relationships and we teach others how to treat us, and vice versa. Just as we addicts get hooked on specific cycles, the families get hooked on the codependency, and manipulation that the addicts provide. We are master manipulators and we tend to instinctively use your love against you. Because our life styles are learned behaviors, we take on the defense mechanisms and survival skills to keep our addiction as the cornerstone of our existence. every thought, emotion, reaction, interaction, and relationship is centered around our using. Even when we’re not in the room. It becomes this giant Elephant in the room no matter the circumstances. God I wish I could accurately express this so that you could understand. But I can see it with my minds eye. every time I looked my parents in the eyes, my grama- I could see their gears turning, I could see their speculation. Their fears. Their hopes that THIS time I was telling the truth. They clung on to every hopeful word and promise, and recoiled from every possible Deception that they could. If you had strapped a lie detector test on me when I was spinning a beautiful web of bullshit to family, It would have read that I was telling the truth, because deep down inside I wanted it to be true. I wanted to actually have a Job interview next week, I truly wanted to be going to rehab- Tomorrow. Deep down inside I didn’t want to be a dope fiend, but I didn’t know how to stop. And they didn’t know how to help me, because we were all so stuck together with memories, history, emotions, and love that we were all kind of interwoven to one another. We were all each other’s vulnerabilities. They were vulnerable to their baby boy, and I was addicted to drugs, and hence vulnerable to myself. God, its sick. And on we continued for years. Constantly stuck on this merry go round cycle of manipulation, promises, bargaining, and let downs. I didn’t wake up every day wondering how I could make my Grama cry, or how I could break my mother’s heart, but I wound up doing both on a regular basis, because it was how I survived, these things were as instinctual to me as breathing is to you. When I wake up every day a hostage to my active addiction, so do you.