Tag Archives: narcotics

Dopefiend, a Recovery Memoir in Twelve Parts

Over twenty years ago, I moved to New York City to kick a heroin habit. I had less than twenty dollars in my pocket and was leaving behind my beautiful three-year-old boy, who had his mother’s straw colored hair and clear blue eyes, exactly the opposite of my own dark countenance. I searched for some recognizable piece of myself in his chipper smiling face but couldn’t find much.

I lived in Steelton, a small-town in south central Pennsylvania. I had tried several times to stop using drugs there, but had found little success. There was a guy in Steelton who had been a heroin addict himself but had been clean for about five years: Scotty G. At the time, it seemed unimaginable to me that anyone who had once used heroin could go so long without the drug. Scotty was stocky with an open, friendly face. He wore his blond hair in a carefully greased crew cut, two slick curbs of hair rising on the receding hairline of his forehead like a McDonald’s sign. To ward off the coming winter, he wore a long pea coat. Scotty liked to wear black Wayfarer sunglasses, a host of gold rings on his fingers, and thick ropes of gold chain around his neck. He had a beautiful girlfriend, a busty redhead who smoked long brown cigarettes. Scotty always drove a new Ford sedan with dealer plates attached by magnets to the trunk. When dopefiends get sober, they invariably do one of two things to make a living: car sales or drug and alcohol counseling. Scotty worked at the big Ford dealership on Paxton and Cameron Streets, but he liked to show up to the 12-step meetings and do a little counseling on the side. We envied his jewelry, his shiny sedan, his pneumatic girlfriend. But his clean time held us in awe. Milling about Scotty during a smoke break at the meeting, we sipped coffee from Styrofoam cups and listened to whatever he had to say.

“There are only two things you need to do to stay sober,” Scotty said.

We all raised our eyebrows. We knew there were at least twelve things required in the meetings, even if we couldn’t articulate exactly what those things were. Yet here was Scotty talking about doing only two. Seemed like a bargain. We all shuffled in a little bit closer.

“First,” Scotty said. “Don’t get high.”

This was an obvious first step and a little chuckle rose up from the seven or eight of us standing there. If you’re not an addict, it may seem like this solves the entire problem. It does not. The list of things that can impose a moratorium on drug use is endless. Someone gets busted somewhere along the distribution chain and suddenly there are no drugs available. You have to stop. Or one day you might not be able to get your money together. And: you can always get busted. Not getting high is as much a part of getting high as being able to poke a vein or get your money together. The trick isn’t to stop using drugs, but to remain abstinent for the long haul.

“Second,” Scotty said.

And here he paused for effect and held up two fingers. This was the money step: the crucial information we needed to stay clean. The signet ring on Scotty’s stubby pinky glittered in the afternoon sun. I didn’t want to seem too eager, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was about to hear something momentous. I leaned in a little closer.

Scotty had a little half smile on his lips as he sipped his coffee and adjusted his coat.

“Boys,” he said. He glanced to his left and then to the right. When he was sure he had our undivided attention, he said: “Change your whole fucking life around.”

He laughed heartily at his own little joke and stroked his tummy. The rest of us stood there in silence. Scotty crushed out his cigarette and grinned. “Come on,” he said, walking past us. “Let’s get back to the meeting.”

Fucking Scotty G.

He was just toying with us then, but I have come to realize that Scotty G.’s little joke wasn’t really all that far from the truth. To successfully stop using drugs, I had to change just about every aspect of my life: I needed a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual makeover of the most sweeping kind.

Of course, I didn’t understand any of this back then. None of us did.

We all groaned and smirked and scowled. Someone shook his head. Another person laughed good-naturedly and said, “Cocksucker.” We were a forlorn little group of recovering addicts, who thought we had stumbled upon a bargain. Instead we had the same old dusty twelve “To Dos” we started with.

We all turned together as one and headed back into the church basement. The only way to get where I wanted to go was to do all twelve.

And it was a good thing I did.

As it turns out, my son grew from a beautiful blonde boy to a strapping hulk of a young man. He towers over me, his eyes still blue, his hair still clipped short. Over the years, he has looked skeptically at my long tresses, my affinity to dress in faded black jeans and combat boots, or my deep and abiding loathing for athleticism of any kind. The one thing we have in common is a penchant for self destruction: This tendency of ours is the most recognizable piece of me that I have ever found in him. The only way I could hope to help him with it, was to first find my own way through the maze.

Here is my story in twelve parts: a part for each step, a step for each part.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In Sickness And In Health

8-30-2009 069 

Two weeks ago Holly got sick.

We thought it was the flu, but it was much worse. I won’t go into the details here, except to say she ended up in the hospital on antibiotics for a the better part of a week. She is home now, and mostly recovered. I was freaking out.

There are some things I do pretty good. At my best, I like to think I set the spiritual tone and cadence for the family. If there are schisms, I can usually work my magic to put things back together. I do this by acting goofy–having a seat on my daughter, as she lays in a snit on the couch. Or pratfalls into Aaron’s arms. I have no problem making an ass of myself, if I think it’ll do some good. When it comes to work, I’ve had a pretty good run. In the last ten years, I’ve only been unemployed once, maybe twice, and never longer than 6 months. Every month, I balance our checkbook to the penny.

But there are somethings I do terribly. Getting up early, for example. Or making breakfast. For middle school, the kids have to be out of the house at 7:20 A.M. With Holly gone, we were getting by on toast and Popsicles. Of course, this all happened a few weeks away from a major deadline at my work, which didn’t help. There is nothing more humbling than not being able to provide for your kids.

We got a lot of support. Holly coordinated from her hospital bed, using her cell phone. Our friends–the Francours and the Becks–pitched in to haul the kids around to various after school activities or feed them dinner. My mother-in-law jumped on a plane and came rushing to our aid.

Somehow we survived.

I took Holly to the ER in the middle of the night, when we first realized things were going sour. She was in pain and eventually the nurse offered her a shot of dillaudid. Holly always turns down the pain medication, which I have known about her for a long time, but it always catches me off gaurd when it happens. Who turns down morphine? I always feel like I have to explain to the nurse and doctors.

Holly, take your narcotics.

Tagged , , , , ,

Blame It on The Wire

wire

After hearing a lot about it on NPR, I just started watching HBO’s, The Wire, on DVD. If you haven’t had the chance, each season focuses on one aspect of life in Baltimore. Season one focused on the West Baltimore drug trade. D’Angelo Barksdale, a fictional lieutenant and the nephew of Baltimore’s drug kingpin, was one of the key players.

Earlier this month I was selling Girl Scout cookies with Kennedy. My role as parent in charge of the sales site was much the same as D’Angelo Barksdale’s role selling crack in the Baltimore projects. I brought a lawn chair and settled discreetly into the background, watching out for theft or any untoward behavior. I also held the cookie money.

I wasn’t really paying attention and when I reached close to $100 in sales I got scared. Wanting to make sure our count was right, I made furious calculations. At one point, it seemed as if we were off by as much as $50! 

Probably a result of watching so much of The Wire, I felt certain one of those nice Safeway shoppers had hoodwinked my girls.

Turns out it’s just much harder to keep track of the money than I expected. As I remember, I was never any good at selling narcotics either.

Tagged , , , , ,

Operation Christmas

junkyxmas.jpg 

I almost had an appendectomy for Christmas! Almost. Instead, I kept my appendix and got injected with a small amount of narcotics.

Starting last Wednesday, I got stomach cramps and low grade fever. I’ve been on a diet, so I thought that might have something to do with it. I hunkered down. Come Friday afternoon, I still felt lousy. I called the doctor at the health club and followed his advice. Didn’t feel any better.

Next day I went to see the on-call doctor at my doctor’s office. He felt pretty strongly it was appendicitis and sent me to the ER. The ER doc said it’s definitely appendicitis and asked me to sign some forms while he talked to the surgeon. The surgeon said he wanted me to get a CAT scan. The CAT scan said my appendix was fine.

So I ended up spending the whole day Saturday in the ER and then I got to go home with my appendix, some stomach cramps, and a small injection of dilaudid.

Not a bad haul.

Tagged , ,

RIP: Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007)

Vonnegut

I haven’t read much Vonnegut, but there is one thing he wrote that has stayed with me for a very long time. It isn’t even from the primary text of one of his books, but from the forward to Slapstick:

This is the closest I will ever come to writing an autobiography. I have called it “Slapstick” because it is grotesque, situational poetry–like the slapstick film comedies, especially those of Laurel and Hardy, of long ago.

It is about what life feels like to me.

There are all these tests of my limited agility and intelligence. They go on and on.

The fundamental joke with Laurel and Hardy, it seems to me, was that they did their best with every test.

They never failed to bargain in good faith with their destinies, and were screamingly adorable and funny on that account.

I first read that in 1986.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: