You asked me, “What happened?”
It would be dishonest to say there were no signs of my upcoming downfall. My relapse came in stages, and above all lessons; I know this one to be true.
Every step I take either puts me one step closer to becoming healthy—or it takes me one step further away.
I knew something was coming towards me. I knew because listening to my old thoughts was as comfortable as putting on an old familiar shirt. There was no surprise in my collapse and my relapse was certainly not an accident.
It was a decision.
I have heard people like myself say, “I slipped.”
But a slip is an unintentional action.
As for me, my actions were intentional. I did not accidentally slip on the floor and end up driving a minivan with stolen equipment. It was not by chance that I found myself on Rockaway Parkway, and no, I did not find a glass pipe accidentally planted in my mouth.
The truth is I knew something was going to happen. It was only a matter of time before I gave in. I knew this because I began to forfeit my discipline. I forgave my laziness, and I overlooked the warning signs.
So in fact, my relapse began far before the night I picked up
It is said the devil knows us better than we know ourselves, which is why his temptation is extraordinary. My addiction is no different. My addiction, in a sense, is its own person. My addiction has its own voice and opinion.
What my addiction lacks in physical body is easily made up in mental strength.
Some call it, “The monkey on my back.”
Some call it, “The devil on my shoulder.”
I call my addiction, “The beast.” And my beast can be as pretty as the sunset or as evil as the darkest room in the darkest house.
What happened is I gave in.
But this was no surprise.
I have spoken with others, who like me, have lost their sobriety to bad decisions.
Many times, I have heard people say, “I don’t know how it happened.”
But I do not think this is true.
It begins with excuses. And then the beast replies “See? I told you so.”
Next, the feelings change and so does the dedication.
This is when the beast is strongest.
“Who cares? Let’s just go,” he says.
Then the beast exposes doubt. He exploits insecurity, and he questions everything. The inner monologue changes and the beast begins to take shape.
He agrees with anger and argues success. My beast spoke so well that it was hard to differentiate his voice with my own better judgment.
When he finally pulled off his trick, I found myself traveling through the streets of Brooklyn with white burn marks on my lips from smoking a glass pipe. My jaw was clenched tight and grinding back and forth.
White powder rushed through my blood, and it was as though I never stopped. All that I had worked for; all the trust I had earned, and all the work I had done was destroyed.
But, a slip?
A slip would imply my trip into Brooklyn was an accident.
A slip would imply that I was not responsible for my string of poor choices.
But I did not slip.
I gave in . . .
Tommy walked down the stairs at the 34th Street entrance to Penn Station. He was wearing a long black coat with a gray t-shirt tucked into a pair of bleach-stained paints and there was a pair of old Converse sneakers on his feet.
His long reddish-brown hair dangled beneath a black hat and swayed over the back of his ears. His hair was almost straw-like, and far from the young strands they used to be. His face had aged and his eyes fell inward with dark rings beneath them.
Years of methadone had taken Tommy away and all that remained was a tall, thin man, with a slowed voice, and an even slower reaction to the life as we know it.
“It’s not like you to stare,” he said to me
“It’s been a long time,” I answered. “I almost didn’t recognize you.”
Tommy was never beautiful, but he had character. He was charismatic and his sense of humor was enough to earn him attention.
His first real girlfriend left him during his cocaine phase. The second left when she found needle marks in Tommy’s arm, and Tommy’s third long-term girlfriend lost her battle to an overdose.
“You look good.” Tommy said.
He grabbed my arm. “You finally put on some weight.”
“You were the skinniest kid I ever met,” he told me, “Even for a crack-head.”
“But look at you now,” he bragged.
“I remember when you were this scrawny little kid, running around the city with a nickel-plated.357 in your coat, and trying to act tough.”
“You still sober,” he asked.
“You’re a good kid, Ben Kimmel. I always knew you were a good kid.”
That was the last time I saw Tommy.
We knew each other between the times of innocence and consequences.
The only thing that separated us was the steps we chose to take.
Tommy was sober once. When I asked him what happened, Tommy shrugged his shoulders and curled the left corner of his upper lip.
“I slipped,” he said.
As if it was an accident.
I knew Kenny before my arrest. He was much older than me and he had been in the game longer than I had been alive. He was a well-trained mechanic, which was why my father liked him.
I had never seen The Old Man so generous with someone like Kenny. The Old Man knew about Kenny’s past; he knew that Kenny struggled with addiction, but yet, The Old Man had a soft spot for him.
At the time, my hair was long. Kenny liked that. I was in the early stages of my addiction, but to someone like Kenny—I was nothing more than a punk kid.
Kenny slipped up one morning. He found himself on the wrong end of a needle and never showed up for work.
But the following day, Kenny arrived with his cap in his hand.
He apologized to The Old Man and explained what happened.
Kenny told The Old Man, “I slipped.”
My father listened, and at the time, I was envious.
The Old Man never took the time to listen to my excuses.
But he listened to Kenny’s.
Kenny was thin. His head was slightly balding on top, but the hair on the sides and back were shoulder-length, black, and curly.
He wore a beard and he had blue eyes. To the Old Man, Kenny was one of the best mechanics—when he was sober.
But when the heroin spoke, Kenny listened, and The Old Man eventually let him go.
Kenny understood this.
I know he did because he told me so.
After my arrest, and months into my term at treatment, I received a letter from my mother. She began with the usual opening. Then she explained, “I received a letter from Kenny.”
After The Old Man let Kenny go, Kenny found himself at his bottom. He was finally clean and free from withdrawal. Like me, Kenny was living in long term treatment center.
But sadly, Kenny contracted the AIDS virus . . .
He wrote in his letter, “Tell Ben I think he’s doing a good thing. Tell him I’m proud of what he’s doing and that my hair is shorter than ever. That should make him laugh.
Tell him I think he should stay straight and live a good life. He’s a good kid and he deserves it.
Oh, and tell him I know he doesn’t want to listen to what they have to say . . . . but he should.
Tell him it took me finding out I was dying to understand what it means to be alive. ”
Kenny passed away before I completed my treatment.
I admit my addiction has its own voice and personality.
But so does my sobriety.
The key is understanding the difference between the two