Happy Sunday, world!
In my last post, When It's Over, It's Over, I talked a lot about how hard it was to accept that my father would rather have gone back to drinking and drugging than spend time with his own children. I suppose what made it a bit easier to swallow was that he wasn't in my life a whole lot. So there I was, an eighth grader coming off a very troubled year, and watching my dad walk away to his eventual death.
On the bright side, I had started hanging out with more of the "cool" kids, and began to play organized sports for the first time. I played baseball that summer and was a three-sport athlete my ninth grade year. I always had a strong desire to play sports and it turned out I was pretty good at most of them. Life started to feel a lot more like life was supposed to - fun, joyful, and full of belonging and acceptance.
I suffered a very scary injury in just my second game of football ever, left broken and paralyzed on the football field after a helmet to the back. I spent some time in the hospital and was told by doctors it was probably best to give contact sports up for good. If you knew me during my high school years or after, or know anything about me now, you know that didn't happen. You see, I was born with this competitiveness and developed, over time, the need to show the world I could do the things no one believed I could or should.
I kept playing sports and excelled the most in football. By the time I was in the tenth grade, I had a high school sweetheart, was playing three sports and had all the friends I could handle. Everything that little boy ever wanted was in my lap. I was living the American dream. Just like the TV shows and movies, the star football player with the cheerleader girlfriend and so much more. But there was a problem. Actually, there were several. When I speak, I always tell the men and women in attendance that I, like so many others that battle addiction, have the BEST forgetter in the world. I couldn't seem to remember, in the most crucial times, that I was just a few years removed from wishing I had everything I had. Insert greed and ego. It was never good enough, and was never going to be.
I lived that dream life for a couple years. In my eleventh grade year, I was overcome by that greed, ego and the lack of ability to understand and appreciate the life I had. I left that high school sweetheart for what occurred to me as better. And I lost it all. My friends began to fade away, watching the decisions I made that seemed so heartless and selfish. I can tell you with certainty today that the sickness that is addiction goes so far beyond drugs and alcohol. It destroyed my personality, my thoughtfulness and my care for anything in the world besides myself and my need for more.
Life was tough. I had it all, and lost it all. Just a few months later, my father passed away. At the most inopportune time, weeks after his death, I discover methamphetamine for the first time. Any chance I had to recover from the loss of so many friends and good times was gone. I didn't sleep or eat for days at a time, sometimes weeks. Addiction had me. I don't know when that line was crossed, but I know by the end of my eleventh grade year, there was no turning back.
I didn't get along with my mom and moved out to stay with friends that summer. I went back to school that fall only to play football. I'd planned to go to school through football season. I have a suspicion football was one of the many things along my path that saved my life. It kept me in school and happy about something other than drugs and alcohol, and gave me something to look forward to. After football, I did indeed drop out and continued to stay where I could. 17 years old, living on the streets, sometimes literally, and drinking and drugging my life away. It never really occurred to me that something was wrong. Only addiction can have a 17 year old dropout living on the streets, stealing vodka and drugs, scrounging up nickels for bags of Ramen noodles, without a car, without a job, without income, without friends, without a purpose, somehow thinking life was okay.
I was sick; very, very sick. Life was only about getting drunk and high as often as possible. I lived in pity and sadness for all the things I threw away. There was no life here for me. It was at 17 years old that I accepted my life was going to be short-lived. I had a strong feeling I wouldn't see 18. And I didn't want to. My only goal was to minimize the pain and maximize the fun on my unstoppable journey to the grave. It's hard to believe I went on for another half dozen years at or below that state of existence, progressing faster and further than I ever thought possible.
That's what addiction is - unbelievable, baffling, scary, horrific and sooooo confusing and misunderstood. What comes next in my story is not for the squeamish. Addiction is not easy to share or hear. But it's necessary; necessary for those who struggle to have a chance at any kind of life free from drugs and alcohol. There's no hope in addiction and no honest thought of escape anywhere outside of hearing about another's experience of redemption. So, the story will go on. Stay tuned..
Be grateful, everyone, and remember that the life you have today is either one you always dreamed of having, or one someone else currently dreams of having, no matter how bad it shows up for you. Believe me and my experience, please.