Surviving the Game

There are two reasons why I write about my past and my addiction. The first reason is to raise awareness and bring an understanding to a misunderstood sickness. I write for those who feel they are alone and for those who cannot understand why someone would behave as an addict or alcoholic.
The second reason is so that I see exactly who I was. I write about who I was to detail where I came from. This is important to remember the facts of my story because they not only show the span of my growth; they also value what I stand to lose if I decide to forget myself and give in.
There are many faces of alcoholism and drug addiction. The words I am about to share with you are only one example.

After completing three consecutive stays at three different drug treatment facilities, I came home and forgot myself.
I was good for a while. When asked about my turn in behavior from good to bad, I told people, “I tried to put a halo on my head but the horns I have kept knocking it off.”

At the time, I had more than one year of sobriety. Somehow, I lost my way and failed to follow the basic steps to a simple program. I lost to the emotions I was unable to express, which piled in layers, and eventually turn to levels of anger and aggression.
I was unable to solve the discomfort of insecurity and unable to cure the irritations that come with feeling awkward and different.

At a young age, I missed out on so many things. I was resentful but the problem was created by me. I felt like an outsider. Even in a group of thousands, I felt alone. I felt distant and misunderstood.
I believe the term I heard was, “Terminally unique,” which meant I believed no one could understand me. No one knew what I was going through, and of course, no one could help me.

This is where addiction seeps in.

Since I lost my way, I also lost the ability to properly voice myself. This does not mean I forgot the lessons I learned or what steps I could take to change. However, the voices of my awkwardness and insecurity whispered too loudly. They whispered so loudly, in fact, I began to believe their lies, and the biggest lie of them all is, “I just can’t do it.”

I am often asked, “Why didn’t you just stop doing what you were doing?”
“Why didn’t you talk to somebody?”
But who could I talk to?
I had no faith in anyone.

I was asked, “Why didn’t you walk away when you had the chance?”

My best answer is this: The reflection I saw in the mirror was inaccurate. However, when a person sees themselves as awkward, or unattractive, unwanted, and even undeserving, they believe everyone else sees them the same way. At least, I did.
I saw myself as a string of imperfections and believed the terrible lies that whispered in my brain. This is one reason why they suggest drug addiction is a disease that affects our thought process. As a result, the addict turns to the only thing they know, which is instantly gratifying and familiar.

I used drugs to soften the sharp edges of life on life’s terms. I used because I never believed that someone like me could ever be anything better. So rather than sink,  I evened the playing field by altering my perception.
The lies I told myself are common with addicts and alcoholics. It became so that the only understanding remedy was my fix.

I saw my fix as a way to pacify the continuous thoughts that churned in my head. My fix was a way to withdraw from the constant intensity—and for that moment, however long or brief the time of euphoria may have been, I was able to feel weightless and absent.
This was my way to satisfy the uncomfortable anxieties in crowds and relationships. My fix was my counterweight; however, I could never moderate the wild tips of the scale. I was always too far in one direction and never balanced.

On my last run at the drug spots, I was faced with the dilemma of understanding. My last run was a relapse.
Only, this time I had an understanding of what I did. And what I did was give away all that I earned. I gave away the trust I had worked for. I gave away my clean time and went back to counting the early days of my sobriety.
The feeling of failure was so great that I nearly crumbled. But as I mentioned, this is where addiction seeps in. This is where the lies in my head began to spread like weeds.
Ignorance was no longer an acceptable plea. There was no way I could rationalize what I had become. There was no way I could say, “I didn’t know any better,” because I did.

To explain it best, I felt as if I was losing to life the way water loses to a drain. I use this description often, because to me, it is the most accurate one.

My addiction led me to this:
A relapse

I was halfway through my 28-days at an inpatient treatment center and trying to slip through the counseling sessions by saying the right things at the right times. This place was not new to me. I had been there before.
I knew my way around; I knew the counselors and the staff. I knew when and where my meals were. I knew where to go and what to do. I knew how to get by and how to kill time if I needed. The difference between this trip and the one before is this time I signed myself in.

In truth, I signed myself in because I saw this as a way to escape a legal problem that was coming my way. Also, rehab was easy. I did not sign myself in because I truthfully wanted to be better. I signed in as a form of escape. I had to run and since there was no place for me to go, I chose to go back to inpatient.

I did my best to breeze through my groups and one-on-one counseling sessions. Unfortunately, I hit a snag. Not only did I hit a snag, but I was exposed for my dishonesties and the focus of a group session fell on my shoulders. Each excuse and explanation I used was overturned. I felt naked. I felt angry because my lies were discovered and my scam to find an easier, softer way was spoiled.

The saying goes, “No matter how far you run, you can never get away from yourself.” I ran as fast as I could but I could never seem to shake the feelings that tailed behind me.
As the group continued to confront me, I began to burst inside. I wanted to show them what they did. I wanted to show them what they uncovered—an inner monster. They uncovered a hatred, except there was no way for me to silence the inner voices. I had no way to soothe or soften the pain. I was being forced to face the truth. I was forced to face the lies that I told myself.
This is when the voice of my addiction went into a tirade.

“Don’t listen to them!” the voice said.
“Run away,” the voice told me.
“We’ll take care of this together.”

There was no place for me to go.
In my mind, I had retreated to the last place possible.
There was no way out and nowhere to run.

“But I’ll show them,” I thought.
“They pushed me to do this,” I said to myself.
“They’ll see!”
“It’s all their fault!”
“They did this to me!”

After the group finished, I stormed out of the room. I walked through the main lobby and passed my main counselor.
He stopped me and explained, “You and I have a session now.”
“Just give me a minute,” I said.
“I have to get something in my room.”

The reason I said this and kept walking is because I knew if I spoke with my counselor, I would not be able to go through with my plans.
“Don’t talk to anyone,” said the voice in my head.
“Just keep walking.”
“Don’t stop,” it said.
“We’ll take care if this together.”

I was determined to make everyone see what they had awoken by exposing me. I was determined to kill the pain and create some as well.
I needed to turn weightless and stop the anger.
I needed to kill the insecurity and the failure.
I needed to stop the thoughts that told me I had no choice.
I needed to stop the lie that said,
“This is who I am and this is all I will ever be,”

I had to move fast, otherwise, the better side of my judgement would mettle with my decision. I marched up a set of stairs to where my room was. The facility was once a hotel in the late 70’s and its decoration had not changed since its time of operation.

My room was in the upper level just off the main corridor by the reception desk. I quickly walked up the steps through the hallway, which was white-walled with outdated pictures and blue carpeting. I turned into my room which was the second to last room at the end of the hallway on the right hand side. I went in and checked to make sure I was alone. Then I closed the door behind me.
Next step, I proceeded to take a pair of my jeans into the bathroom. I tied one pant leg around the overhead sprinkler pipe and I wove the other pan leg around my neck.

“Don’t think about it. Just do it,” said the voice in my head.

Back when I was a knucklehead kid, my friends and I used to play this game called knock-out. What that means is a person would bend forward and breathe as hard and as fast as they could until lightheaded. Then that person would stand up and hold their breath while someone else would lean on their chest or neck to keep them from breathing. This results in a loss of consciousness. Hence the name, “Knock-out”

After tying the one leg of the jeans around the overhead sprinkler pipe, I stood up on the toilet with the other leg woven around my neck.

“Don’t stop,” I thought to myself.
“You’re almost there,”
I told myself. “Don’t think!”
“Don’t be a pussy!


Leaning forward, I felt all of my rage flush through my body in an ugly flash of radiant heat. I felt all of my sadness as I began to breathe heavily. I breathed quickly while thinking about the exposure of my lies and the pain of my vulnerability. As I moved closer to lightheadedness, I felt the internal sting of emotional pain.
There was no drug this time. There was no way to soften the blow or smooth the edges. There was no way to temporarily euthanize all the thoughts that spun around in my head. And as I grew lightheaded, I stood up and held my breath. Then I came down from the toilet to slip away from the hurt and reality.

“This is it,” I thought to myself.
“This is goodbye.”

My eyes closed tightly enough to squeeze the tears that rolled down my cheeks. I saw nothing but blackness as I felt myself near the stage of a final unconsciousness. Just like a needle in the vein, I was flushed away into a dream.

The next thing I knew, whether it was dream or real, is that I was someplace else. I was a child in this dream and taken to an old schoolhouse that seemed the from the early 1800’s. There was a swing set and two girls were swinging on the swings. They were both wearing all white dresses with white socks and shiny black shoes—like an outfit for school. The white from their dresses and the white siding from the old schoolhouse was painfully bright and nearly blinding to look at.
There was a little boy too. He was the only one of the children that looked at me. The little boy was also wearing a bright white uniform.
There was someone standing next to me, but I could not see her. And I say her, because whomever it was pointed with an arm appearing like a woman’s. She pointed to the children in the playground, as if to say these are the children you will be with one day.
Next, I was turned around, as if I was being told to go back. I was led away by the unknown and faceless woman, as if I was being sent someplace else. She was happy to see me. Everyone was happy . . . but I was not supposed to stay.
The next thing I knew; I woke up on the floor.

Part of my reaction to the suffocation was my body convulsed and shook. It convulsed to the point where the pant leg I wove around my neck was not tied well enough to hold my weight. This caused the knot to slip and I failed at my attempt

I remember waking up on the bathroom floor. At first, I was unsure of what happened. I was unsure where I was. I was convulsing and the dream had vanished. I was back where I began. A thick red line of irritation burned around my neck from the jeans, which was poorly tightened.
The emotional pain that followed was inconceivable. Not only did I feel as if I failed at life; I failed at taking my own life. In that moment, the better side of my judgement stepped in.
“Get up,” I said to myself.
For the first time in my life, I was ready to give in.
I could not live or feel as I did.
I was beaten
I could not run and I could not hide
I needed help . . .

There are people we meet in our life, and though our meeting may have been brief, my life was changed by one specific meeting.
Steve was a counselor and he knew me well. Steve was there for my first tour through treatment.
He sat me down and said, “I wanna talk to you.”
Steve told me all about himself. He told me things he never shares with other patients.
He said, “But I’m going to share this with you.”

Steve proceeded to explain how it feels to come home and find a loved one hanging from a noose.
“I don’t ever want to see that again,” he told me.

“See, these things you think in your head—you believe that’s just you. But that’s not you. You are a beautiful boy. That shit in your head, that shit you put in your veins and this shit in here, this isn’t you.” Steve told me,
“That shit is your disease talking. That’s your addiction. That shit ain’t you.”

“Do you know how many people I see come through this place,” Steve asked.
“Do you know how many tragedies I see? How many stories I hear of people dying just days after they left because they weren’t ready to give in?”

Steve asked “How long are you going to do this to yourself?”
He told me, “See, I think you’re worth this. I think you’re something special. And you know how I know? This whole place, and I mean everyone in here wept because you wanted to die. Grown men and tough guys came to me, crying, and said, ‘We gotta help this kid,’ because they think you’re special too. But I can’t help you, son. Not unless you let me.”

What I remember most of this conversation is Steve’s explanation of what it means to be institutionalized.
“Do you know what institutionalized means?”
I said, “It means to be in an institution.”
Steve corrected me. “No, it means you are in an institution because you are incapable of functioning and living outside of one. And that’s the direction I see you going towards. Is that what you want?”

Steve asked, “Think about it like this, with all of your loyalty and with all you have given and lost to your addiction, has your addiction been that loyal to you?”

I answered, “No.”
“Is your way working,” he asked me.
“Then I think it’s time you let go and surrender.”

The next day, I was sitting in a meeting with all the other patients. We were given the odds of our success. “Only one of you out of 33 will stay sober.”

Then we were told, “Each one of you in this room have to decide which one you want to be. Do you want to be the one that makes it, or do you want to be like the other 32 that fail.”

I chose to be that one.

Game over

My name is Ben and I am an alcoholic.
I am suicide survivor and I am sober since April1, 1991

If I can do it . . .

I think you can too!

Someone once put their hand on my shoulder and said, “I believe in you.”
I cannot begin to express the generosity of this gift
But because this was given to me, I feel as if I owe
and I always pay what I owe.

I will be here if you need me


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