Two Years Ago….
It’s dark out as we pull off the West Baltimore highway into the McDonald’s parking lot. It’s Tuesday, around 10 p.m., but the time doesn’t matter so much. It’s early in that sweet spot between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., when the day’s responsibilities are over and the next day’s begin. We’ve driven an hour to a suburban neighborhood lined with two-story brick houses. We’ve parked in the driveway, chatted in the garage with our dope guy, and even said hello to a little girl in her PJs wandering out to say, “Daddy?”
Two worlds collided in that moment—the double life we were all living came into clear focus.
There’s not so much talk on the ride home. My boyfriend turns on a playlist of songs by the 1975 and we cruise the seemingly endless roads, hitting the same red lights at the same intersections we do every few nights. I’m on a mission, and rummage through the center console past his spoon and orange-capped rigs to my DVD case and 4-inch straw. I meticulously unfold the stamp bags of heroine we just picked up, carefully line up the contents with my DUI-suspended license, and rub the sides of the wax paper together to get every last piece of powder. I see my boyfriend’s side eye glance and roll my eyes saying, “F*** off. It’s only two. I bought this week.”
Then we’re in that McDonalds parking lot that would soon become a loop in my nightmares. We’re not there to eat; my boyfriend can’t wait to get home to try a bite of the cake I’ve dipped into right in front of him. I don’t like to watch his routine so I stroll to the strip mall next door. The bright red “24 HOURS” is like a beacon in the dark night sky and brings a smile to my face. I go into the liquor store and stop at the cheapest vodka. I’d been trying to quit drinking, telling myself just smoking weed and snorting heroin might tide me over. I didn’t shoot it, after all. It’s really not that bad, I’d tell myself. Plus, it didn’t seem to impair my judgment the way that alcohol does, and deep down, I know I’m an alcoholic, not an addict. But I think “Fuck it” to myself as I buy a pint. It’s only a pint, and I have all the way til 8 a.m. tomorrow until I have to see anyone else. I’ve shown up to work drunk before and can’t take my chances with that anymore. Buying small amounts—now that’s self-control in my book.
I walk back to the car with an extra spring in my step. I feel warm inside and start singing “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone” to myself. When I get in the passenger’s seat, I look over to see my boyfriend’s head tilted back and his mouth agape. But the needle’s out of his arm and the cap is on. Classic, I thought to myself. So sloppy. I don’t think about the times he’s had to carry me, unconscious, out of places I had no idea how I’d gotten to in the first place. He overdid it again and will come to, a groggy mess, any second. And now I’ll have to drive home illegally while he comes out of his stupor. This is really fucking up my drinking timeline….
Or is it? I take a swig straight out of the pint. I’ve driven drunk hundreds of times, and only gotten two DUIs. What are the chances of a third with that kind of track record? I figure I’ll take one more stamp bag while he’s out and later when he realizes the count is off, convince him that it was actually his doing. I fade into that far-off, hazy place and feel well.
It’s been a few minutes and something feels off. His lips are blue at this point and his breathing stops for seconds at a time before it rattles in sharply. I panic. He’ll kill me if I call 911. That’s what I tell myself at least. I pour water from the water bottle onto his face. Minutes pass like hours. I get out of the car and open the door on his side. I’ll move him then drive somewhere without so many people. He’s too heavy for me to budge him one inch. People are walking right by us and I’m drawing attention. Someone is bound to call the cops on us. How stupid I am. I get back in on the passenger’s side. I start yelling his name and slapping his face. There’s more time between his labored breathing and I take another swig of my pint. I don’t know CPR but I start breathing into his mouth like I know what I’m doing. We have no friends to call. I wouldn’t dare call our already frightened families.
Sadness and rage flood into every tissue of my body. I’m shaking him and crying. How did we get here?
It’s 10 p.m. on a Tuesday in California, two years later. We’re trying to get to sleep but our little orange tabby cat is just gearing up for playtime, meowing at our feet. “It’s your turn to play with him,” I say to that same boyfriend.
We have quality problems these days. We’ve both been working steadily at jobs we enjoy. We can afford an apartment. We are no longer ostracized from our families. Their hearts are healing, and so are ours. We are no longer hiding, chasing highs, and lying. We actually have friends. We sleep at night instead of relish that time we would have spent drinking and using ourselves into oblivion. We are stable, clean, sober and happy.
If someone had told me about the gifts of sobriety before I experienced them myself, I wouldn’t have believed them. We had both finally hit our bottom of rock bottoms and were out of options. And sadly, the parking lot overdose was only the beginning of a series of bottoms—lost jobs, car crashes, cut ties with loved ones, fights, injuries and lost hope.
What Were My Choices?
Risk homelessness while dying quickly or slowly, or go to drug rehab. I figured I’d go to an addiction treatment center for 90 days and just lay off the booze after. My family was heartbroken and tired. I was, too. I brought misery and failure to everything I touched, it seemed. But I could never quit everything, I thought. I thought alcohol and drugs reduced my anxiety, made me more “outgoing,” and brought me an irreplaceable feeling of joy. Maybe I’d quit alcohol, for I truly believed I was an alcoholic. But most certainly not everything.
How wrong and backwards my thinking was, looking back now.
The feelings that came up in early sobriety that I wasn’t able to numb out anymore were terrible. Memories of my own drunken behavior horrified me. My life was in shambles, and my self-punishing inner self told me that I deserved to feel this ashamed and broken. My boyfriend and I detached for a while to work on our separate programs.
I had nothing to lose.
I started listening at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. With the help of a good drug rehab, I got a sponsor, I started therapy, I started exercising again, I met other addicts and alcoholics, and, finally, I started laughing again. I kept listening and growing. I did everything that my sponsor asked of me because she had horror stories, too, and she seemed incredibly at ease with herself. I wanted that. I worked the 12 steps of AA, something I would have made fun of five years ago. But I was desperate this time. I didn’t know what I needed but I needed something, and this turned out to be it. Drinking had gone from fun to scary to life-threatening over the course of my teens and early 20s. Going through the steps started to give me a sense of purpose and redemption. I got and held onto a job, I made amends to my loved ones, and I started enjoying life. A miracle kept unfolding for me so long as I did the program I was taught to do.
Today I have a degree of stability and inner peace that I never thought were possible.
I’m no longer the human garbage disposal that takes any pill, powder or drink that comes my way, and asks what it is after. I have no desire to drink or use—something else I thought was impossible. I’m no longer anxious, and I actually care about people and how my actions affect them. My past experiences help me relate to new people in the program. For me, that’s a miracle. My life isn’t perfect, and I still go through ups and downs, but today I know how to cope with them sober. Rehab and sober living are in the past, but the routine I learned there is very much alive in my daily routine today. And the magic of seeing life through a new lens continues to amaze me.
There is no darkness so dense, so menacing, or so difficult that it cannot be overcome by light.
-Vern P. Stanfill