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.

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16 thoughts on “Dopefiend, a Recovery Memoir in Twelve Parts

  1. Holly Huckeba says:

    I’ve heard your story many times, but I still love to read your work. As long as you’re telling stories, I’m listening.

  2. Laurie says:

    Tim, I’m hooked. Can’t wait to read more. (And proud to know ya…)

  3. Tim Elhajj says:

    Hooked! Ha, that’s exactly what I’m looking for, Laurie!

    I really appreciate the support. I’m enjoying all the attention here and on Facebook. And thank you, Holly, I don’t know where I’d be without your encouragement.

  4. Great writing, Tim! Can’t wait to read the rest.

  5. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thank you, Mridu! I appreciate the encouragement.

    In related news, I just received a little good news about this project that has me excited tonight. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high or say too much, but let’s just say it feels good to get a little attention from a potential publisher.

  6. Troy Elhajj says:

    Tim, great job. I love the description and details. Pneumatic girlfriend !! .. that’s great.

    this writing is going to hurtle you to a new level I just know it.

  7. Tim Elhajj says:

    Troy, thanks so much about the work! If you see Mom, tell her I got a little nibble and to put them prayers into overdrive. I have to give you guys a call and find out what’s going on in PA and tell you what we got going.

  8. Beth says:

    Really fine work, Tim. I look forward to reading the whole thing from the pages of my signed copy. 🙂

    Glad to hear your cork is bobbing. Even little nibbles mean a big fish is in the neighborhood. Hope your hook sinks deep into a large mouth bass.

  9. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thank you, Beth. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

    I’m looking forward to signing and sending out a bunch of copies of the book. If it ever gets published, I can’t imagine anyone receiving any other type gift from me for the near future. I’m sure my kids will all be impressed come Christmastime!

  10. Tim says:

    Hey Dad, I am very impressed, You are swinging for the fences with this one, I mean it your good, I enjoy reading your Memoir, I think it is phenomenal how well you remember and then describe your experiences! You got skills Popp! Hahaha Thats a little south central Pennsyalvania for you! Great job! Talk to you soon..

  11. Tim Elhajj says:

    Tim! I am glad you liked it son.

  12. Hey Tim — just got round to this; this really does hit home; even if you abhor athleticism maybe you can stand some of the sports metaphors in your comments. Will look forward to standing in line to get my copy when the memoir comes out!

  13. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thank you, Michelle! I just hope I can find the time to finish writing it.

  14. c(h)ristine says:

    ❤ this. I can't wait to read the rest.

  15. Tim Elhajj says:

    Thanks c(h)ristine! That’s very encouraging -I can’t wait until I can read the first draft from beginning to end myself. I am determined to complete it, with or without a publisher (although I’d much prefer to do it with a publisher and an advance!).

  16. […] I will have more to post as we get closer to launch. For now, use these links back to my site to read more about the project and the first chapter. […]

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