Chris’s transformational journey from being an addict… to his eventually recovery.
Chris was a nice church-going youth when he took his first drink at 18. It wouldn’t be long before he found himself in a downward spiral of substance abuse, just a few years later.
Right from the start, Chris’s father was an angry dad. Far too many times, Chris and his brother took the brunt of his anger with his bullying and physical abuse. Complaining of their aches and pains, it was common for Chris to see his parents going for the pain pills to take away their misery. But after years of neglect and abuse at the hands of his father, Chris had his own suffering to relieve.
Chris moved quickly through the drugs; trying whatever was available to him at the time. To spite his parents, he departed from the straight and narrow life they had planned for him. He was on crank by the time he was 20. He liked the speedy feeling it gave him. Sometimes, needing a quick fix that he was unable to get other places, Chris dared to sneak some of his parent’s pills, or his grandparents pills; popping Lortab and snorting Oxycontin. By the time Chris was 23, he was addicted to meth. High on meth, he would go 3 to 4 days without sleep. He took drugs because he didn’t like who he was while sober. Whatever he used, he always used it with alcohol. Time would eventually reveal that no matter what substances were involved, alcohol was his true drug of choice!
By the time Chris was 27, he needed pain pills and alcohol all the time and magically enough, he had easy access to them. Working at a gas station, a meth cook approached Chris offering him meth for free stuff from the store. Seeing that this trade was amicable to his addiction, Chris gladly obliged. This went on for a while until one day Chris decided to take the weekend’s deposits from the store; keeping the cash and tossing the checks. By the time Monday rolled around and Chris showed up for work, he was accused of taking 3 days of deposits. Of course, he lied to get out of it. An investigation was launched. A lie detector test was given… which Chris failed, and Chris got arrested. But strangely, even with his transgressions now known, Chris’s boss really liked him as the store manager and wanted to keep him on. An arrangement was worked out for Chris to work at the gas station in the daytime and go back to jail at night. This went on for two months. And although Chris wasn’t trading food for meth anymore, he would occasionally steal cigarettes and beer for himself.
Chris recalls driving around while high on meth with his young son in his car-seat. This went on for a span lasting 3 to 5 years. Also during that time, Chris took his son, Jaden, swimming. Chris, high of Meth again, stopped paying attention to his son on the steps of the apartment swimming pool. When Chris finally looked down at his four-year-old son, Jaden was struggling in the water; with face looking up and his small arms flailing around trying to save himself. After Chris pulled him out of the water, Jaden was very angry. “Dad! You are never supposed to take your eyes off me!”
Crushing his dad’s cigarettes and throwing them in the trash, Jaden, would say, “Stop! It’s bad for you!” Sadly, even at the tender age of four, Chris thought Jaden was more of a parent to him than he was to his son. When Chris finally gained enough awareness into what he was doing, Chris began to feel a lot of guilt and shame for being an irresponsible parent. He wanted to change but didn’t know how.
Jaden was 7 or 8 years old when his dad finally quit meth, but still drank alcohol. Chris worked a graveyard shift, getting off at 7 am. This was just in time for him to drive home 10 miles to carpool the neighborhood kids to school for the day. And every day, on the car ride to pick them up, without fail, Chris drank a six-pack of beer with no breakfast… right before taking them.
It wasn’t until, Jaden was 13, that an embarrassing moment occurred causing Chris to ponder his actions once again. As the car full of kids stopped at the school that day, cans of beer rolled out from under the front seat for everyone to see! “That’s my Dad!”, Jaden said. Although Chris was extremely embarrassed at the time, it wasn’t enough to make him quit.
Later, Chris had a rude awakening when his wife, Natalie, got really mad at him… ONCE AGAIN. Only after totaling up bank transactions and grocery receipts, did Natalie finally realize that Chris was spending $500-$600 on beer per week. You see, after his graveyard shift, Chris would unwind from his job with anywhere from an18 to 30 pack of beer in the morning, right before bed! “It was Natural Lite, the low calorie beer”, he adds, humorously implying he was watching his physique! He laughs while telling me he was living on a beer diet with a few nibbles of food here and there.
Considering the trouble he was in, Chris agreed to slow down. Naturally, being addicted to alcohol, Chris decided to hide his beer. He found hiding places around the house and in the yard. One of Chris’s favorite tricks was to nurse a cold beer from the garage fridge stash. When he had almost finished, he would excuse himself to smoke a cigarette. While outside, he could reach into his truck or the sprinkler box to grab a warm beer from his hidden stash. And just in case Natalie was counting the cold beer in the fridge, (SHE WAS), she could feel satisfied in her trust for him, for surely Chris would never stoop so low as to drink a warm, if not, hot beer- would he?
He hid the empty cans in the ground, many times forgetting where he buried them. Sometimes, years later, he would find them while tilling the yard.
Eventually, Chris got back on pain pills again without his wife’s knowledge, but looking at the doctor bills and putting 2 plus 2 together, Natalie threatened to kick him out unless he changed. Afraid of losing everything he had, Chris checked into a Drug Rehabilitation Center in 2010. Although Chris did become sober, he was not clean. He did not take care of himself. His thoughts and actions were still that of a drug user- not using. Chris made many attempts to quit the many substances he was dependent on and finally, he was successful. Chris has been sober for four years now, but he will tell you that the want never goes away. Even in his physical pain, he still fights that urge to medicate. It’s just too risky. Some days are good and some days are still bad. Sometimes he wakes up and still has the anxiety he remembers while coming down off drugs, even though drug-free. When asked why he chooses being sober over self-medication, even when life’s hard, he mentions clarity. He is clear. Not in a haze all of the time. He used to live minute by minute, never thinking of anything outside the moment or about anyone else. This doesn’t work when you are not being responsible for yourself and your relationships. Now, he can see a future, although it is scary as hell sometimes. But, he would rather be scared and in physical pain, than in the hell he was in, fighting with his wife four years ago.
Most importantly, Chris says, he can smile and mean it. And the next day, and the days that follow, he can still remember why he smiled in the first place.
Commentary- Chris came from a long line of pill poppers. It was not unnatural for him to grow up seeing his elder’s dependency on substances. Unfortunately, it became way to easy for him to fall into the same routine, especially with the abuse trauma that was inflicted on him throughout his childhood.
When Jaden scolded his father for not paying attention to him in the swimming pool, Chris mentions that his four year-old was more of the adult than he was. And… another co-dependent is born. Commonly, the child of a substance abuser, not only has to fend for him/herself because of the care-givers neglect and even, recklessness, but find themselves being the actual care-taker of the adult. For example; putting the parent to bed after a long night of drinking. The children of addicts/alcoholics are forced to grow up way to fast.
Because of the guilt and shame involved with being so irresponsible, many can not be bothered to care. Denial sets in. The problem with dependency is either caring way too much, or not caring at all. “Balanced” is not a word usually used to describe an addict/alcoholic.
From all the years of self-medicating, when Chris quit, he experienced an emotional freeze. Once clean and sober, it takes time for old stuck (frozen) feelings to thaw, flow and be dealt with again. It takes time for new coping skills to leaned, relearned, remembered and applied. And, once old wounds are discovered, rediscovered, and exposed, it takes more time for them to heal. But, in order to move on, the past has to be acknowledged and reconciled in a way that promotes proper healing. For sure, old dredged up feelings and emotions can be painful to feel, but perhaps even more painful are our own thoughts about actually feeling them, for even the thought of pain can hurt.
During this emotional defrosting process, if you can allow the emotions to freely flow through you (your heart), without any self-judgment, they have less chance of getting stuck in your head… where the real pain resides. This may take some practice as most people have learned to feel pain conceptually, in order to not feel any pain at all. However, this is all backwards. Conceptual pain is much worse, as you can’t think your pain away. It only causes stress and torment with the rehashing of it again and again. Your pain becomes a past that will not allow you to be in the present moment and offers no redemption for you or anyone else. Allowing yourself to feel with your heart wide open (although it seems to be counter-intuitive), allows the energy of the pain to be acknowledged and experienced enough that it is allowed to freely flow right through you. This flowing energy leads to eventual healing. Having said all this, it’s completely possible that this occurs as a new skill to learn. With a little practice of moving from your head into your heart, it quickly becomes second nature. Actually, it is more like it’s the most natural way to be, for the person we really are, underneath all of our wounds.
As far as the “emotional freeze” that many former substance abusers experience when they come off substances, what takes non-users many years to grow up emotionally, naturally, a substance abuser with stunted growth, but on the right track, has to catch up rather quickly. After the thaw, it can be experienced like a dam of emotions breaking loose and pouring forth. It can seem daunting, but that’s part of the fun. There’s nothing to be afraid of… they are just emotions. Think of it as a challenge presented to you where strength and courage are involved. Think of the possibility of being the victor by conquering that part of yourself you want to transform.
Many things had to happen before it got bad enough for Chris to stop his dysfunctional behaviors. He nearly lost everything he had. In other words, his reasons for stopping substance abuse became more powerful and important than his reason for continuing.
Chris has been sober for years now. He is coping with his new life; trying to figure it all out. Although it’s not always easy for him, it’s nothing personal. Life is hard for everyone at times. The ease and non-ease of living is just a part of this life we live. You can’t get around that part of being human. This is why we learn coping skills and adopt tools that will support us in our success.
Although Chris and his father had a rough relationship in the past, today they are very close. Chris hopes that his 18 year-old son, Jaden, won’t follow in his footsteps concerning addiction; for that was one hell of a bad time. But, it’s too late for that. Jaden is an adult and he will do what he does. Now, Chris just needs to be there to love him right through whatever he chooses.
When I read this post to Chris for his approval on accuracy, he had a sad look on his face. He had accomplished so much in transforming his life, but still, the guilt and shame of his past mistakes dogged him. He had regrets about his careless behavior with the people he loved. Seeing this reminded me to add an important message. Take the lessons learned from the mistakes you’ve made and leave the rest behind you. That means leave the self-judgment, “would of, could of, should of’s”, and the shit in the past. Forgive yourself. You did the best you could at the time and it didn’t work out so well. This path you’ve taken does not make you bad. So, give yourself a break.
Quitting any substance IS possible. You just have to find your way to it and you will be strengthened in the process. Wherever your path takes you in life, be kind to yourself, be fearless, get the help you need to achieve your goals, do the work, feel the feelings, and trust the process of recovery. It is possible for you to have a whole new life through this metamorphosis.