A long, long time ago, someone once told me, “You have to give it away to keep it . . .”
Early on a Monday morning, I began this project with a stream of different thoughts which acted like voices in my head. And they spoke to me about different doubts and concerns as I walked through the double glass doors at the rear entrance to a one-story brick building. I walked through the first set of doors and passed a man sitting beside a metal detector. He smiled kindly and welcomed me through without search or the need to pass through the detector. Next, I passed through a double wooden door, which is locked shut for security purposes. Heading to the right side of the corridor, I walked into a large open area with system of cubicle desks and isles where a roomful of detectives walked with purpose. Some were typing reports at their stations. Some of the detectives spoke with each other about cases and recent arrests. This was a side of life that I had never seen before.
With a gun holstered at their hip and handcuffs in a case at their belt loop, it was strange for me to be here. It was strange because my last trip into a place like this was less than fortunate. I was on the other side of the line then. This was strange because my last experience in an interrogation room would best be described as unfortunate and uncomfortable. And yet, there I was speaking from a different side of the table. I was a new man in this scenario and on the opposite side of a life I left behind long ago.
I say this was a strange place; however, places like this are not unfamiliar to me at all. Unfortunately, I have seen the inside of rooms like this. I have been escorted down long hallways that echo with the sound of hard shoes that clap against cold-tiled floors. In fact, I have specific memories of a long corridor, lined with cells, and tuned by the chorus of the jingling keys that make a particular sound before turning the lock at a holding cell’s door. This was not the first time I was placed in a small room with a one-way mirror that hung by the door, —there was a table in the room, two chairs, and me waiting for someone to come in and begin with a line of questioning. I was here more times than I’d like to admit. And there are others who are like me. They were here also. Perhaps the number is few but there are those who could imagine this place the same as I do. And if they could imagine this from my description, I suppose they would imagine the familiar smell that lingers behind from the previous guest that reeked from body odor.
I felt an old inaccurate fear that resurfaced; one that left my stomach turning because nothing fun happens in places like this. And to the arrested that sit in places like this it is an “Us against the world,” type thing.
However, to me, when I was alone during the late night hours, sitting in uncomfortable silence while listening to the ringing in my ears because of the absence of sound; when the fear crept in, and when the realization of what had transpired pierced through my mind like a cold rusted shank—it wasn’t an “Us against the world” type of thing at all. No, to me it seemed like it was the world against me.
Back then, I was nothing more than “A body,” to the detectives. I was a body walking through the door and about to be processed. I was a series of reports and paperwork. I was a description more than a name. I was a statistic failure and part of a social disease. But like the old saying goes, That was then and this is now.
When I arrived at the given location to be part of a large sweep that targeted heroin users, it was strange to me to be on this side of the table. In an effort to fight back against the opioid epidemic, the Prosecutor’s office decided to plan a sweep.
And sweeps like this are not a new business. Except this time, the detectives were given different instructions. Instead of arresting and processing the addict, the arrested were brought into a small interrogation room and told to sit tight.
All of them had the same look in their eyes. Some were more seasoned than others, which meant it was easy to tell who had been through the system before. It was easy to see who was sick from withdrawals and who had just fixed themselves before their arrest. And again, rather than arrest and process, the Prosecutor decided to fight this fight from a different angle. Instead of threatening with a sentence, the arrested were offered a chance at treatment. Instead being treated like the pariah or cancer of our society, they were humanized and treated respectfully. They were offered a chance to sit with a recovery specialist or recovery coach. This is where I came in.
I spent an entire week in the Prosecutor’s office. I saw more than 30 people come in and go back out. And I swear, each and every one that I spoke to reminded me of someone I knew. Some reminded me of myself. These were the painfully young ones that were new to the life and sick, as if a terrible virus had pushed in their veins. Regardless to who I met with, I was like them all in one way or another. I was different in many ways but always similar in one.
I am fortunate to say that I left the life when I did. I am lucky. I admit this. I was fortunate to be removed from my surroundings because had this not been the case, I am confident that i would have been added to a long list of tragic, young deaths. I was fortunate that I left before life turned so desperate. No, I was not the one with the needle-marked arms. However, no matter the depth of desperation; it all boils down to the same thing. In comparison, I was fortunate and I say this without apology. I was fortunate; however, I had to work hard to maintain this fortune. I did not have an easy go of it. I just had the right people in my corner and willing to help me when I could not help myself
Sobriety is not an easy thing in the beginning. I had my own bouts to deal with. I struggled with depression and the old familiar awkwardness as well as the insecurities that kept me sick. I never liked the emotional aspect of life. I was afraid to feel. I was always so easily intimidated and worst; I always underestimated my own worth. And this is where addiction feeds. Addiction feeds on the feeling of worthless, useless ideas that for whatever reason, “This is just me. It’s just who I am, and no matter how hard I try, I could never be any better than this.” Addiction spreads through the valueless lies which open the door to temporary relief.
Why I enjoyed the “Dope nod,” was because I considered this to be my soft spot in the sun. I sought this out because I could curl up in my quiet little cocoon and find myself in a warm embrace. I was away from the world, weightless, and untouchable. No one could hate me up here. No one could hurt me. And this made sense to me. “The nod,” I mean. And while outwardly, I looked awful as my body slumped, filthy, eyes shut, mouth hung open and spiraling downward; inside I felt the spoils of a beautiful infections. And if I died, then so what? I would die without pain and submerged in fantastic nod that took on a lofty-like sensational dream. if I died, I wouldn’t have known it.
Same as the body finds a way to compensate; for example, if one does not see well, the other senses of sound of smell tend to pick up where the other is failing. Same as the body tries to compensate; the mind tries this very same thing. We find ways to hide or “Feel better,” so to speak. And that’s all addiction is. Addiction is an imbalance—and when the emotional scales tip too far to the uncomfortable side, the relief comes in to lighten the scale. Unfortunately, this is only temporary. Unfortunately, this only perpetuates the need. And it goes on this way. In order to find balance, we graduate from one thing to another. In order to find the perfect mindset where the world is fine, the concerns are gone, and where all the troubles and the tensions and the mediocre boredom, the feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, or elsewise, all the feelings that keep us in a worthless and valueless mindset, we try to find something that acts as a counterweight. We look for something that voids the crazy gravity which weighs us down. And that’s all addiction is; it’s the constant obsession/compulsion to soothe the imbalance.
I cannot speak for others. I cannot say this is the same for everyone else that struggle with addiction. I can only say this was me. This is how I fixed myself. And though my experience was short lived and by far outnumbered by my years of abstinence, this does not mean my method to understand and help is not effective.
The week I spent at the Prosecutor’s office was the hardest and most rewarding of my life. I spoke with sons of fathers who like mine were frustrated and screaming. I spoke with young kids and grown men. I spoke with them all and instead of trading war stories; I spoke from the heart. I allowed them a view of who I was,. I told them why I chose to sit in a room with them. And I exposed myself. I stepped out of the comforts of anonymity and without fear, I explained who I was and why.
I introduced myself like this. “Hi, my name is Ben and I’m a person in recovery.” Telling someone I this position that, “I’ve been sober for 26 years,” causes a strange response. Not all were impressed and not all cared enough to speak openly. But most did. Most that I met were tired of the life. They were tired of feeling sick. They were tired of their addiction. Most were tired of the constant wheel that spins them around. They were tired of the way they survived and the full time job known as addiction. Most above all were tired of feeling worthless and hopeless, as if nothing, nothing in the world could ever save them so, “Why not get high?”
No one wants it to get like this. No one asks for it. But this is what happens in the life. Somehow, everyone says, “I’ll never let it get that bad.” And they say this because they think they have a choice. But once the sickness starts, it’s too late. It’s impossible to unlearn the feeling of bliss. it’s impossible to forget how it feels to be vaulted above the clouds and wonderfully numb to the world below.
Rather than brag or try to impress someone about who I was, I chose to show them my truth. In some cases, I wept with them and for them. Rather than act tough, I chose to show the meek side. I showed them who I was and how painful the early years of my life had been. And I still have scars. I have pain. I have friends who I love as dearly as family and they’re gone. They’re dead from a disease called drug addiction. I spoke to some of my clients about family and the children they have. Under the advice of my oldest and dearest friend, I showed them a vision of who they are. I gave them a mirror, so to speak, and I let them see their own reflection.
In all, at the end the numbers were astounding to me. More than 50% chose to seek help. Whether this lasts for them; whether they stay the course or whether they took the help just to beat the legal charges is unclear. At least now they have the option. At least now,they know there is a way to get help and with a caseload of 30 clients, at least now they have someone to speak with if they choose to.
When sat down in a room like this, I suppose the arrested thought they were going to be interrogated. Instead, they were met by me. Instead of yelling, I spoke softly. I saw grown men cry. I saw tough men cry as well. They were hard men and hard to reach. Instead of challenge; I had the honor and opportunity to relate.
One of the things I remember is after my first arrest, The Old Man told me, “I wanted them to shoot you.” He told me, “I’m not saying it wouldn’t hurt me if you were dead. But at least I wouldn’t have to watch you kill yourself anymore.”
I always wanted to make this up to him. I always wanted to redeem myself for this somehow. Not sure if this cleared it all but I know I paid back. I know I gave a piece of me and in the scheme of it all; this is the best I can do. In the best or worst of circumstances, I am always responsible for the effort I put in. All I can do is put in the effort because most times; the results are not up to me.
I wished you were here to see this, Pop. Maybe now there’s a father and son out there with a chance to have the relationship we should’ve had.
God, I hope so.