I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, an only child, feeling different, and that I never had enough. My parents were both immigrants to this country; my mother is from Seoul, Korea and my father from Heidelberg, Germany. Growing up I was a straight “A” student and was told that B’s were for bums. I was held to an ideal of perfection, and this unrealistic expectation became ingrained from childhood. As an adolescent growing up and in school I can remember feeling different and getting teased because my eyes were not as round as yours.
I have no brothers or sisters and grew up in an upper middle class family and never wanted for anything materially. I can remember being alone a lot and not having my emotional needs met by my peers or my parents. My parents witnessed this and over-compensated by buying me anything and everything that I wanted. No matter how many toys I had it was never enough. I stole toys from other children in the neighborhood if they had something that I wanted or did not have. I had established a sense of entitlement from very early on. I was developing all of the traits of the King Baby personality (Hazelden, 1986.) “His majesty, the Baby” was first introduced to drugs at the age of seven. I wanted to be accepted by my peers in the neighborhood, and they were in junior high, and smoking Marijuana.
This was my first introduction to drugs, and the feeling I remember more than anything else was acceptance. I was finally a part of, I liked it and I sought out approval seeking behaviors and became a people pleaser. I had become a daily drug user in early adolescence and crippled myself emotionally. I never learned how to feel or to deal with difficult emotions. I learned from very early on that if I use this, life does not look or feel so bad. Drugs had become my solution from a very early age and I needed them to make me feel better. So, I had to learn how to have them at all times and I started selling Marijuana. Once engaged in this behavior, people treated me differently again. They were nice to me because I had something they wanted, I once again felt accepted. Character defects like power, control, and manipulation really took hold and were given an opportunity to thrive.
This behavior continued until the age of sixteen when I was arrested for the first of many felony possessions of Marijuana charges. My parents stepped in hired the best attorney money could buy, because I was entitled to that, and I went to rehab for the first of six treatment episodes. At fifteen, I was introduced to recovery from the disease of addiction. I first heard the message of hope in a Hospitals and Institutions presentation and started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings when I graduated treatment.
As part of my after-care plan I went to an adolescent Psychologist for years. I was diagnosed obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic, and conduct disorder; or should I say I was misdiagnosed and just really an addict with untreated addiction? I was told that my drug problem was a result or reaction to my underlying mental health problems. Either way, I worked through many issues from my childhood with this wonderful, caring, empathetic woman. She did not believe in labels because they can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy and stripped the harmful label of “addict” from my vocabulary. I was now normal and pretty well adjusted and should be able to use the way others do. That began a sixteen year run, of what started out as a party, became a living nightmare, and ultimately slavery.
For the next sixteen years, in my active addiction, I tried real hard to use socially. After all, I believed I was not an addict; I just had a problem with specific drugs. Every time my use became unmanageable with one I would put it down and pick up the next one. My drug of choice really depended on what era of my life you are talking about because in the end, I used and abused them all. The common denominator in all of them was me. My true drug of choice is “more.” I started out smoking Marijuana, to benzodiazepines, to psychedelics, to amphetamines, to snorting cocaine, back to benzodiazepines, to smoking cocaine, to Ecstacy, to prescription opioids and benzodiazepines, to methamphetamines, to finally, heroin. In the end, I became and complete and utter to slave to my addiction.
I understood first-hand the progressive nature of addiction, and “…the bitter ends – jails, institutions or death…” (Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text, pg. 84) After a decade of pain, suffering and loss I still could not stop. I went to residential treatment centers, outpatient, intensive-outpatient, detoxification, and incarceration, nothing worked. The disease claimed many lives of those closest to me. My childhood friend, Jay, at the age of ten was shot and killed, my best friend, Scott, at sixteen, hung himself. My good friend Ian, at twenty-six found dead of an overdose, my girlfriend, Lucie, found dead in an abandoned building at the age of thirty. My wife, Amy, at twenty-seven died in my arms of an overdose, and I still could not stop using. Drugs were my coping mechanism and I used because I hated myself and I hated the way I felt, I was trapped. I resided myself to a place of complete and total hopelessness. I wanted to die because in my mind then I could reunite with my wife. I did not believe addicts like me got better, I believed addicts like me, overdose and die. I believed I was going to be found dead in a bathroom and that was fine with me.
I was on a mission to end the pain that I could not escape in life. I started a downward spiral without any concern for anything anymore. I was arrested again for trafficking heroin, possession of cocaine, and VOP. I believed I was going to prison for quite a while and I did not want to sit in a cage and have to feel. I called my parents; they bonded me out and took me home. They told me that they could not help me anymore because I was causing them too much pain. We arrived at my house and I went in the bathroom to fix and then I came back into the living room to talk to my parents. I was crying and I told them I was sorry for all the pain that I had ever caused them and that I would not hurt them anymore. I gave them both a hug and a kiss and told them goodbye, and closed my front door.
I then proceeded to take my life. “Any hope of getting better disappeared. Helplessness, emptiness, and fear became our way of life.” (Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text, pg. 15) I woke up several hours later, confused, angry, disoriented and astonished that I was breathing. I was desperate, I did not know what to do, my solution to life no longer worked, and I was hopeless, broken and lost. Somewhere in the back of my mind, something remembered Narcotics Anonymous and I had an inkling of hope. I recalled other people who said they used and felt like I did, sharing about their lives getting better. My mind told me that, I had tried that before and I didn’t work for me, and I was different. In the same thought, I was able to be honest with myself and know that I never really surrendered to the program. I knew, deep down that it hadn’t worked because I did it my way, not the way it was suggested to me.
So, I called detox, and restarted my journey of self-discovery. While there, I once again heard the message of hope in an H&I presentation in that detox facility. I was in detox for ten days and during a group, I heard them read, We Do Recover, and I identified. “When at the end of the road we find that we can no longer function as a human being, either with or without drugs, we all face the same dilemma. What is there left to do? There seems to be this alternative: either go on as best we can to the bitter ends – jails, institutions, or death – or find a new way to live…” (Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text, pg. 84)
For the first time, I did not feel alone and I understood what the reading was saying. I was at the end of the road, I could not function with drugs, I fixed 5 to 7 times a day to not be sick, and I could not function without drugs because I could not stand the way I felt. When I woke up from my intentional overdose, I uttered the words, what the hell am I going to do now? The literature is clear, either go on as best we can to the bitter ends – jails, institutions, or death – or find a new way to live. I’ve been incarcerated, I’ve been to treatment, and I’ve overdosed countless times. The only thing I hadn’t tried yet is to find a new way to live. So that is what I sought out to do. After detox, I went into residential treatment for 28 days where I really started my recovery.
I met my first sponsor, while in treatment at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and I began doing step work. I told him that I was familiar with recovery because I had done it before. He asked me how that worked for me, and he told me, “If you want what I have, do what I’ve done.” So I did, I read every day and started writing the assignments he gave me. I always asked, “Why do I have to do this? How is this going to keep me clean?” He told me, “Children ask why, men ask how?” In hindsight, I received the answers to my questions every time I finished an assignment and I was starting to learn about principles. More importantly, he asked me to talk to other recovering addicts and ask them, “How do you apply this step in your life? How do you apply this principle in everyday situations?” The application of principles into an unprincipled life has been the hardest but most rewarding thing I have ever done.
“It is only through understanding and application that they work.” (Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text, pg. 58) Step work was the last thing I tried and the first thing that worked. In steps 1 – 3, I learned about honesty, hope, and faith. I accepted that I have the disease of addiction, let go of my reservations to God, and tried to stop manipulating every area of my life. In steps 4 -7, I learned about courage, integrity, willingness, and humility. I became more okay with myself. I learned that I am not a bad person, that I made bad decisions, and that I am not unique. I have strengths, weaknesses, and liabilities like everyone else.
This is where I started to stop looking through the eyes of judgment and began looking through the eyes of empathy. In steps, 8 – 9, I learned about brotherly love and justice. I slowly became okay with all of you and found a deeper level of self-worth. I no longer had to hold my head down in shame, I found freedom through making my wrongs right. In steps, 10 – 12, I learned about perseverance, spiritual awareness, and selfless-service. That is how I stay okay with God, myself, and all of you. This is where I am learning to have more foresight in my daily affairs. Through vigilance, opposite action, asking for help, and promptly making amends I have changed who I am, the way I look at the world, the way I react to the world, and how I feel about the world in which we live. “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and practice these principles in all of our affairs.” (Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text, pg. 48)
I am very grateful for my brothers and sisters who came before me, without them I would not have made it. They taught me to carry the message and that membership implies responsibility. My responsibility is to teach, to serve, and to carry the message of hope to the addict that still suffers. I do my best today, to live in God’s will and not my own. My will is self-seeking and I believe God’s will for me today is to just help one addict. The problem is I do not know who that one addict is. So, I help anyone that asks. ILS…Rob R
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