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Domestic Violence And Divorce Empower Alcohol Addiction
In this episode, I’ll be talking to Mike about his addiction and his recovery from addiction. Mike is a client at the Gault House Sober Living Environment in Santa Cruz, California. He is 25 years old and he has been addicted to alcohol. He is from the North San Francisco Bay Area in California and he has a little more than four months clean time. How are you doing, Mike?
I’m doing pretty well.
Why don’t you tell us how your alcoholism got started?
The first time I drank was with my cousin after a hard childhood. I grew up in a not so well household with my parents. They fought a lot. I grew up in the South Sacramento area. It wasn’t the best environment for anyone especially with alcohol within the house and the domestic violence. My parents divorced when I was seven or eight, it’s hard to remember, but it’s around that time. After they had divorced, my mom went on her little run with meth or crack. I went through her disease with her until the age of eleven. From nine, when it got bad for her was when I knew what that drug was. Growing up in an even harder ghetto and being almost ostracized because I never fit in. During that time, I was moving from school to school. I never fit in with anybody.
By the time I ended up getting picked up was when I was eleven years old in a hotel room, after being on with my mom’s run. I got picked up by my dad. He came back from the tour because he was in the military. He came back from a thirteen-month tour or something like that. He found me out with a cop and took me to my uncle’s house before he had to go back to do another tour. That’s when I started to explore a little bit with my cousin. She said, “We’re going to sneak out. If you’ve got $10, let’s go hang out.” I moved from the ghetto to a nicer place to Vacaville, California. I felt like I have nothing else to do.
From that day, it was a good feeling. I knew, “That’s a good feeling I want to go back to,” because it was alcohol and weed at the same time. At that age, it was something that was different. Everything in my head stopped. I was eleven years old, about to be twelve. My mind was racing and for that to slow everything down for me was awesome. At least that’s what it felt at the moment. I didn’t start drinking hardcore until I got to high school. When my dad came back, I moved in with him to Petaluma, California. That’s when it started to kick off when I started to want to fit in or be with people and belong.Denial is where addiction kicks off. Click To Tweet
Was your dad a heavy drinker too when you moved into that household? You described your living situation when you had been with your mom, but I’m wondering if it was still chaotic once you moved from your uncle’s place?
My dad rarely drank. When he did, it was bad. I didn’t think his problem was a problem compared to what I’ve seen my mom go through. It was still toxic because he wanted to finally be a parent. That’s what I felt like. I was fourteen, fifteen years old and I had no guidance. I learned pretty much everything on my own. I was looking to find a set group of people to hang out with. It wasn’t the best, but it stopped my thoughts and I slowed down everything but I wasn’t doing anything either.
I can totally relate to that when you moved away from your family, I had stopped going over to my dad’s house. You focused on your friends and building that social group and especially if drugs and alcohol are part of that group. What were your friends like and how did you get meshed in that? How did your drinking take off from that point?
Living in Petaluma is where I found out what the Phoenix Theater was. This is a place where there are a lot of punk rock shows, a lot of skaters and you can do both of that there. That’s where I grew up in that general area of downtown. It was the same people with the same music and skated. It was a bunch of skaters that I hung out with. If it wasn’t those, then it was some other people that were just stoners. I meshed with both of them. They weren’t the best of influences, but I wasn’t influenced positively either. That’s where I felt I fit in. I’m big into punk rock and skating. That was the little scene.
Your friends drank and smoked pot, do you feel right away you used it differently than they did? Did you guys initially all drink and use similar amounts?
It was about similar amounts, but the next day they would want to not drink, and I was ready to go because I knew that was the only way to get rid of what I was feeling. It was to keep going. I thought it would make me feel crap. I experimented and I was like, “I feel a lot better,” and so that’s where it kicked off. I was playing around with painkillers but they weren’t super painkillers. I ended up moving out of my dad’s house because I got kicked out again to move back to Sacramento. I was fifteen around this time. I was a sophomore. I moved in with my sister and they were heavy in their disease. They didn’t want to admit that they were alcoholics but that’s where it kicked off. That’s where I started to take painkillers. That’s when I started to experiment.
I was over there for about a year and a half. I almost died due to the fact that I didn’t know what I was taking with my alcohol. That’s where I went with it. I didn’t care what I was doing anymore. At a young age, I stopped hanging out with people. I was tired of moving around. I was tired of establishing. I was tired of all that. I did my own thing. I knew there was always booze at the house because they were alcoholics. I would grab a pack of smokes, grab whatever, walk out and do my own thing. From that moment when I almost died because I woke up in the hospital and I didn’t remember anything. Apparently, I took a Klonopin. I don’t exactly know what it is. They said it was a muscle relaxer.
I woke up in the hospital, not in a regular hospital but juvie hospital. I was fifteen or sixteen. I had to move back to my dad’s because my sister, even in their alcoholic state of mind, couldn’t even handle me. Nobody could handle me. It didn’t matter. It was like, “If I go back, I know people over there too. I’m going to go hang out with these people and start doing more.” It wasn’t until I was seventeen that my dad took me to the psychiatrist. I thought it was a CDRP Kaiser in Petaluma. I don’t know what they were telling me. I ended up going to rehab. It was by choice because I felt I had a problem. That was my first experience with the residential was at seventeen.
How was that experience for you?
It was a couple of months. The experience was good. I felt different than everybody else, although I did know a couple of people there, they were telling me, “You’re not as bad as you think you are. Look at me.” They talked about not one-upping each other and that’s all youth do. “I’m better at you than this, better at you than that.” I did my two months there. I learned what it felt to not have communication on the outside except with letters and learning how to write. It was a different experience. I didn’t do a program or anything afterward. After that, I went right back to it. I was eighteen going to nineteen. I always had this pattern.
You had been able to stay sober for that year?
That was because I was isolated. That’s my MO. I’m figuring that out now. When I don’t want to deal with things or if I feel safe, the only thing that’s going to make me feel safe and not do anything stupid is to isolate and stay away from people. It’s not bad for them, it’s just I’m going to go do my own thing. That’s ultimately what’s going to happen.You're not as bad as you think you are. Click To Tweet
If you ended up going back out at the end of that year then I wonder if the isolation, you might not be around those negative external influences. You’re alone with yourself and you start ruminating on things. When you get a craving and it pushes you out. I wonder if that was your experience with when you made the decision to relapse at that point.
I never look at it as a craving. I just do it. Ultimately, it’s the case of the fuckets. I don’t want to believe that little saying is true, but it’s true. It’s the case of the fuckets. It’s my patterns that I have these days. When I get to that state of mind, nothing ever pulls me back out.
You’re nineteen and you started drinking again. What happened at that point?
I had work and it was my first job, and then I didn’t have work. My girlfriend at the time was going to college and she was stressed out and I was like, “Go to college. I’m not tripping,” but that tore me on the inside as well. I was with this girl for four or five years.
What do you mean it tore you up? Were you jealous? What was your experience? Did you graduate high school? What were your goals education-wise at that point?
At that point, I had already graduated. I was eighteen when it hit me and then I got into that dark place. I graduated, she was stressing out but it was more of the long-distance thing and I knew it wasn’t going to happen. It’s a high school romance. We all want to think that it can work out but it doesn’t. It was a tough pill to swallow but that kicked off something in my mind that I didn’t want to deal with. That’s where all my drinking stems down to is I don’t want to deal with things and I want to be done.
We use our addictions as a solution for life and a shortcut through all the difficult stuff that life puts in front of us. She moved away and you continue with your drinking. What happened from that point?
I started acting out. I met another girl. I wanted to vandalize so I got into graffiti. When I was doing that for a period of time, stuff catches up to you and you get in trouble. With all that stuff on my record, it was hard for me to get a job. I was still drinking, still doing my stuff while on probation due to this childish act. I wasn’t taking it seriously. It wasn’t until the third time they arrested me within that time to stop until I was done with probation, and then do whatever I want. During that time too, I got into the local 378 Iron Workers Union. I did that for a couple of years and it built character for me. I understood what I needed to do as a person. It wasn’t until my last few months working with them or doing that type of work that I drank heavily. Everything was getting to me, pain, mental. It was hard for me to sleep, but I have to be up at 3:00 in the morning or 4:00 in the morning speed driving to the job site, and they weren’t close. You have to beat traffic.
Is that an opportunity that you want to pursue again in the future? A lot of the trades are pretty rife with folks with varying levels of addiction issue. That’s cool that you had that at one point.
It’s definitely something I want to pursue again, but also I want to pursue something a little bit different. I want that type of work but not that type of work. I want to be able to feel satisfied at the end of the day with certain jobs. Not, “I laid 400 tons of bar or set it.” That’s a lot of weight, it’s unbelievable amounts. I have goals on what I want to do. Do I have the drive to do it? Do I have the patience to keep doing it? It’s like, “It’s not going to happen.” Right away it’s going to take time.
Were you fired? Did you quit? I guess your drinking caught up with you.
I remember my last day, I was on a bridge deck and puking my brains out due to a hangover and dehydration. My foreman was like, “You can get off my job.” I took that as I’m not getting another one. I’m not going to go to the hall and deal with this. As an apprentice, we were guaranteed work until we’re done apprenticing. It was an immature thing on my end. I pretty much gave up and chose to go down that path, which led me to go into jail two more times. One period was two months and then the third one they wanted me to do a six-month term.The bad things you did are not who you are. They’re what alcohol turns you into. Click To Tweet
What were those for, the vandalism?
I was on probation for the vandalism, but my violations were drunk in public. It was in one of my violation. You cannot have alcohol and I was drinking in public a lot because I’m not going to drink in my car and I’m not going to drink at a bar. I would rather drink at a park or do my own thing. I was going in for a violation. That was supposed to be an eye-opener for me but I didn’t grasp the message.
Did you do the six months?
It was a three months term so I can bail out. I couldn’t do anything. Once you’re on felony probation, you’re trapped in there until you’re released.
How old were you when you got off that sentence?
I was 23, a couple of years ago roughly.
What happened next?
I lost everything again. Once I stopped drinking and I established stuff, I had a good a job. I had two jobs and I was living in Santa Rosa. I had a cool house. I lived with some punk rockers downtown, $500 for a room, the cheapest spot in town. I could do whatever I want. I had everything that I needed, work, a place, food and water, the essentials. I felt good and then I got off probation. I got off probation on a Sunday, I was drinking Friday. It started with a beer and then by Sunday, I was drinking the bottle. Slowly but surely within a couple months, I had lost everything that I’d established.
Did your friends you were living with or hanging out with at the time call you out on what you were doing? Did anybody try and check you like, “Mike, look what you’re doing?”
I was respectful. It wasn’t like I was a chaotic drinker. When I chose to do things, I chose to do the wrong things like, “I’m moving out,” and got another person to move in. During this process too, I ran into another person who gave me work. When I was struggling, this lady from SAY helped me out, which is Social Advocates for Youth. It’s a nonprofit organization. It helped me out a lot with everything to get me on my feet from every time I screwed up to 24. I worked with this guy. He was a C-27, a contractor landscape. He did the best he could to help me out, knowing that I’m a peer alcoholic. He let me live at his house and trusted me. After a year of working with him, he was finally fed up like, “You’re never going to get it.” He was like, “You’re a great worker and everything, but I can’t have this in my house.” He was going through his stuff, I was going through mine. That’s when I moved to Fairfield. My father during this time of me doing my own thing had moved to Fairfield from Petaluma. I ended up moving over there and then finding my little kink like I always do in every place I go to.
What do you mean by that?
I was like, “Get a job. Find out who the coolest person is to kick it with. Hang out with that person and drink.” That or excavate the land or search and explore where there are areas to hang out, where it’s safe, where it’s not safe and be observant of my area.Alcohol is always going to bring you back to that place out of safety. Click To Tweet
What happened after you moved back there and got back into it?
My dad knew I was a full-blown alcoholic from when I got off probation to when I moved into his house. I was like, “You don’t care I’m drinking?” It wasn’t until a few months living with him he was like, “You’re going to residential,” and this was in 2017. I went there for a month. I was like, “Whatever.” I didn’t think I needed it. Everybody says that. I was going through some bad DTs at the age of 24 and I was confused on like, “Why am I sweating for two weeks?”
How much had you been drinking at this stage?
At this stage, I was drinking about a bottle and a pint to go to bed. This was for two years straight. Once I had picked up that one beer, it was a bottle every night to every other night depending on my funds and how I was feeling. If it wasn’t that, in hard liquor form it was about six 40s and three tall cans. It’s a lot. I don’t stop but I feel that’s what I do. I was like, “This is supposed to be what I’m supposed to do. Drink as much as I can.” I was going through some bad DTs for the first time. I was sweating for a couple weeks. My mental state was off. I didn’t have hallucinations. I did have the hearing stuff, but it wasn’t as bad as a lot of people explain it to be. They gave me the basics, clonidine and GABA. My blood pressure was through the roof. It wasn’t the best feeling ever.
After 30 days over there, I established a support group that was out here that told me not to move back to Fairfield. I said, “I’m going to go back to Fairfield. I don’t have money. I don’t have funds to get an SLE or whatever,” and that lasted for a few months. I did the isolation, the cross addicting with video games. I went from playing only two hours of video games to fifteen to sixteen hours so I could get that feel and overdo a lot of energy drinks. That’s what I thought was normal or that I could get away with. That started to become bad because my dad noticed like, “You’re not doing anything.” I ended up getting my old job back. Within a few months of having my old job back, I was drinking again. That went on for about a couple months. That got me back into residential.
Did you reach a breaking point yourself? Was your dad encouraging you? What was that moment where you were like, “I have to go back?”
I didn’t want to go back. I was willing to choose the booze over a bed. I was willing to go and squat because I found those spots where I can be safe and not have to deal with anybody and do my own thing. That’s idiotic because but that’s where my mind was at. I wanted to keep going. I didn’t want to stop my little run. When I picked up from that, it was two 40s from the first time I picked up to the next day I’m drinking about six 40s again. My buddy that I was drinking with wouldn’t let me drink hard alcohol because he knows how I get and it made sense. I would drink when I had days off hard alcohol in my house. That’s how it was for me. That was already a bad combo from the gate. It was more being told that I’m going back because he doesn’t want to see me die before he passes.
I want to stress that. I’ve heard you describe that behavior is idiotic. What you had done at the job when you were on the bridge and stuff is immature. I hope that you are able to accept that you’re neither of those things. That’s what our addictions do to us. When we’re active in our addictions, that’s not who we really are. We all do things that we’re embarrassed. We shouldn’t feel ashamed. It’s not who you are, it’s who alcohol turns you into. Was this the most recent time in treatment when you were pressured back into it?
Yes. This is my most recent time. I don’t even remember when I got out, but I did. I got in and then I did a couple months from there.
This was at the camp?
It was at the camp. Every time I’ve gone to every residential, even from adolescence to now, has been the camp. It’s strange how I keep going back, but this time I’ve done something different and that’s not going back home.
Between all those different times, especially it’s an interesting case study because they’ve all been the same treatment center. How was each time different? Would you say it’s specifically coming to the Gault House and the work you’ve done since you’ve been here that makes this time different? What have you learned from each of those different experiences?
From the first time, it was that I’m still young and I have a chance to stop. The second time was I learned that once I opened up a little bit and talk about what was going on, I started to feel a little bit better. The moment I started to close in and I stopped being open, I go down and fall badly. This time was that I can establish friendships, build rapport with people and be myself to a degree. This time I’m doing the steps, I have a sponsor and I’m doing all that stuff. The other two times I brushed it off. It’s not necessarily that I said, “I don’t need it,” I just didn’t want it.
Do you feel any different about where you’re at in terms of yourself in relation to your disease? Do you acknowledge that alcohol is always going to bring you back to that place? That you can’t safely drink without that wreckage piling up rapidly?
That’s the hard pill I have to swallow too is I’m an alcoholic. When it happens and I go, “I’m going.” I won’t stop until I’m either whatever they say in the other program, jails, institutions or death. One of those things is going to stop me. It’s something that I have to live with for the rest of my life. Something that’s been on my mind in the last couple of days too is like, “I’m an alcoholic. I’m screwed forever.” That’s how I feel right now because it’s hard for me to believe. It’s not like I want to think of it as this big forever as everybody says. I do it a day at a time. I do challenge other people like, “What time did you wake up?” and encourage them and say, “You’ve got the more sober time than me.” I never look at it as time, unless it’s day by day because that’s all we have. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow and yesterday’s already gone. All I have is this moment until 12:00 until I go to bed and wake up.You are neither the idiotic things you did because they are what our addictions make us do. That’s not who we really are. Click To Tweet
That’s a fantastic outlook and a good way to deal with the compulsion that can sometimes arise to drink or use. You get through life or promise yourself, “I’m not going to drink or use for now,” and then when tomorrow comes, in my experience, that feeling is gone. If it’s still there, I’ll put it off for another day and you keep going that way until you have that moment where you realize, “I haven’t thought about this for days, weeks, months,” and that’s a special experience. What does tomorrow look like? Where do you see yourself going from here?
I don’t know. I don’t like to think that far ahead, even though it is just tomorrow or the next days. Every time I do plan stuff, it falls through. I’m currently learning this to take it as it is or move forward as much as possible. When it comes down to me as an individual, I want that career. I want to establish something. I want to give back the stuff that was given to me while I was going through stuff. I was a youth at risk. When they taught me a lot of stuff about the environment, it enlightened me to want to do the same thing back to the youth that doesn’t know anything about the ecosystem of the creek, habitats and whatnot. It’s what sparks my interest. That’s something that I want to do. There are all these other things I want to do as well, but that’s mainly what I want to do is keep giving back. Be selfless as much as possible and not want anything in return.
When you mentioned the landscaper who had helped you out and the woman from that advocacy. If you could make amends or even reach out to them and let them know their efforts, how much they meant to you could mean a lot to them.
That hasn’t even crossed my mind at all. That sounds like a good idea to do.
Sometimes especially people with these agencies, for me reaching out to the 911 dispatcher who handled my overdose call and a lot of these things people do are thankless. You reach out to them and like, “I’m doing good now.” It’s a good way to make them feel stoked. I’d encourage you to do that. What about school? What do you mean the creek ecology thing?
SCYEC, Sonoma County Youth Ecology Corps. I learned all that stuff hands on, but there’s schooling that you could take horticulture classes. You learn about native California plants, landscape plants, ornamental stuff and all this stuff that you need to learn. There are other options. I was talking to somebody when I was at the skate park, ladies out there, city parks within the city of Santa Cruz. We were talking about all the stuff in the creek. She said, “Why aren’t you working with us?” I explained the two situations why I’m not working with them. One, I have a felony and two, my driver’s license is suspended. She was bummed. She was like, “Did you go to college for all this stuff?” I was like, “No, I learned it all hands on.” She was like, “What?” That’s something that makes me feel good is when I can talk to somebody who knows the same stuff as me or I know the same stuff as them.
I would encourage you and maybe you have but to look at the expungement. Even with the felony, if it can be charged as a misdemeanor. You could get that stuff almost certainly wiped off your record and cleared up. I can see how into it you are. That would be fantastic if you could move down that path and turn a passion into a career. That should be our entire goal. Do you have any advice for anybody else out there who’s struggling with this thing or contemplating getting back into it?
I wouldn’t necessarily say advice but from my experience, don’t let the certain little things that are like, “Why did you get in trouble that day?” There are certain little miracles that are happening. I look back on all those and wish that I could have made a different choice on which side of the trail I could take. I never took those as warning signs. For the ones who do want this and don’t have the drive to do it, something that I’ve heard in most of the rooms is that you’ve earned the seat. If you don’t think you deserve it, you’ve earned a seat. You paid a lot of money for it and it’s yours if you want it. Nobody’s forcing you. That’s probably the best thing I got for that because I’ve been almost pushed into it but the more I keep going, the more I’m waking up.
Mike, thank you for joining me. Thank you for joining us on the show. To all our audience, we wish you to stay sober and be happy. Take care.
Mike is 25 years old, from the cities to the north of the San Francisco Bay, Petaluma, Vacaville and Sacramento. His parents divorced when he was eight years old and he lived with his Mother who had an addiction to Meth. By age twelve, Mike was drinking hard alcohol and smoking marijuana. By seventeen he was in residential rehab. Mike has been in and out of jobs as well as jail. Now he has 4 months sober.
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