Addiction comes to some of us like a wave of an innocent hand, or a margarita on our 15th birthday. Amanda’s spiral of addiction started like this and her wanting to fit in fueled it. The anxiety of going from high school to college made things go out of control when she started to cash out $70 for a gram of cocaine whenever she could cash it out. Amanda shares honest stories of being an addicted to alcohol and cocaine and her wonderful recovery.
I will be talking to Amanda about her addiction and her recovery from addiction. Amanda is an Assistant Manager and Resident at Gault House in Santa Cruz, California, which is a structured sober living environment. Amanda works as a waitress at a local restaurant and her age is 24 years old.
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Getting Out Of The Spiral Of Addiction. The Story Of Amanda The Bartender
Welcome to the show, Amanda.
Thanks for having me.
How did you get started with drug use?
My drug use started in high school. It was mostly drinking before any other harder drugs. The first person that I drank with was one of my next-door neighbors. He was older. He graduated high school. I think that I was fourteen or fifteen. My parents drank when I was younger to the point where I saw that they had a problem. I had no inclination to drink at a younger age than that. I think it was my fifteenth birthday and there were some people hanging out in his garage. He made some margaritas and that was my first drink. It started from there and progressed very quickly to the point where I didn’t even realize how bad it was.
How much were you drinking? It started with drink. It’s one thing to have a margarita once a month. It’s another if you’re drinking ten margaritas before breakfast. Where were you?
At the end of my drinking days, I was drinking probably a fifth of Jameson or vodka, whatever was handy, and also doing a good amount of cocaine. I’m smoking marijuana daily. Anything that I could get my hands on, really.
What size is a fifth? Is it the size of your drinking bottle that you got?
It’s 750 milliliters in a sitting. I was never a morning drinker. My drinking would lead to the wee hours of the night, but I never woke up and drank. I definitely woke up and would do a line here and there just to kick start my day. At the end of my drinking, I was bartending. I would go in for work at 4:30 and I wouldn’t get off until 2:00. After that, I would go to my friends’ houses or I would go back to my place and I’d always have alcohol there. Cocaine is just something that comes with the restaurant industry and something that comes with partying. When you enjoy drinking as much as I did, you don’t want to stop. That’s how that addiction started. That’s when I realized that I was getting in trouble was when all of my money that I was making on shift was gone when I woke up in the morning. It was all going to alcohol and drugs. It was a slippery slope very quickly. I got really deep really fast. By the time I realized how bad it was, thankfully it wasn’t too late. It almost seemed like it was too late because I couldn’t back out of it.
How old were you when you first started using cocaine?
I first started using cocaine when I was 21 years old. The job that I worked at, that’s something that everyone, all my coworkers were doing. On Friday nights, there is a karaoke night. There was a crowd of people that I would hang out with once I got off of work that we’re using it religiously. I had no interest in it because I knew that I would like it and then it got to the point where everyone was just telling me, “Just do one. Just try it.” I was like, “I’ll try it. I’ll do one.” After that first one, I did not stop. At first it was like, “I did that.” We partied that night and then I woke up in the morning hating myself. That was one of the worst feelings is waking up with a cocaine hangover. After that, I probably didn’t do it for a few weeks. All of sudden, I realized that everywhere I went, it was always around me. It was really easy to get. It was fairly expensive, but it wasn’t too expensive to the point where I couldn’t afford it. I was making really good money bartending. It went from once every few weeks to once a week to twice a week to everyday, spending all of my money on it.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Santa Cruz, born and raised.
You started drinking at the age of fifteen and you started cocaine at the age of 21. You had five years approximately of just drinking. How deep did your alcoholism get? You were saying you were a fifth a day, was that seven days a week?
At the end, yes. That’s within the last year of my life when I was 23, 24. That’s how bad it got. In high school, I really didn’t drink that much. I played softball and volleyball all throughout middle school and high school and I even played a little bit in college. I didn’t drink that much in high school because my schedule didn’t really allow it. I was playing year-round softball competitively. I was playing Fall Ball and then in high school during the spring. During the summer, I played travel ball. I went all over the United States. I’ve been to Arizona, Utah, Hawaii, Texas, all over playing. My schedule didn’t really allow it. My drinking was sporadic. It would be on spring break or weekends every once in a while. It wasn’t something that was habitual for me until I turned about nineteen or twenty. Once I graduated from high school, I was going to Cabrillo, which is the local junior college. I tried out for the softball team and I made it. I met a group of older girls that knew everybody and liked to party.
That was a way for me to socially fit in and socially make friends. There was a lot of anxiety going from high school to college. In high school, especially being from Santa Cruz and having an older brother that’s one grade older than me, he’s 21 months older than me but he’s only one grade. That was my way throughout my whole life to make friends, was through him. I always had a built-in friend through him. Also, the fact that he had his whole group of friends, I clung to that. When I went to Cabrillo, I was on my own for the first time, in some sense of the word. I met these girls and they really liked to party. I had enjoyed alcohol, so I thought that that was the next logical progression. I ended up not doing very well in school at all, not completing classes and getting pushed through just because I played sports. My priority was no longer myself or school or even softball. My priority was drinking and fitting in with these girls and socializing with the cute guys on the baseball team and trying to find out what the next best thing was going to be.
This was at the age of nineteen and twenty and then you became a bartender. I’m assuming you had to be 21 to become a bartender, is that correct?
That’s correct. I started out as a host at this restaurant and then quickly went to bussing. I moved to Long Beach for a year when I was 20 with a guy that I had met and didn’t know that long. It was my first relationship that the drinking played a huge role in. He was a little bit older than me. We didn’t know each other that long but I wanted out of Santa Cruz. I was bored. I was stagnant. I didn’t have any inclination or anything holding me here. He wanted to get out as well, so we ended up moving to Long Beach together. It was a volatile relationship from the beginning because we never knew each other. All we did was party together and mistakes were made on both parts. I turned to drinking and turned to marijuana. I didn’t use any cocaine in Long Beach but turned definitely to the social aspect of drinking because I felt very alone down there. I didn’t know anybody, and we weren’t getting along. It was just not a good situation. He ended up staying. Once I came back from Long Beach, I went back to the restaurant and I had just turned 21. I started cocktail serving and then eventually started bartending. When I turned 21 and came back, the party was on. It was nonstop party from there. I didn’t even attempt to go back to school. I had no goals, no aspirations. My only goal was to have as much fun as I possibly could. I did for a little while until it got to the point where it was unmanageable.
You came back, and you were bartending, and you were 21. The cocaine started, which assisted you to drink more and stay up later. The parties became longer and heavier. Did you get into any drugs after cocaine?
I’ve tried Molly a number of times. I thoroughly enjoy it but that was one of those things with the emotional hangover was far too much for me to handle. It drains everything in you. I was so depressed that I should have decided to leave everything behind. I decided that that was not something that meshed well with me. I decided I didn’t need to use that anymore and I had other things that made me feel fine.
Perhaps it was your first introduction to the concept of saying ‘no’ to a particular product.
It was the only concept I’ve ever had of saying ‘no’ to a mild-altering substance. That was the only time that I can really remember saying ‘no’ to anything because everything made me feel great for the moment.
On your cocaine usage, let me ask a little bit about quantities so the audience might be able to get some bearing on what quantities are we talking about and how much money were you spending on it. Can you talk to that point?
At first, I was never buying the cocaine. I was hanging around the people that had it. I had no idea of how much it costs. When it got to the point where I wanted to do it by myself and I didn’t want to share with anyone, I was going through at least a half gram to a gram a night. A gram costs about $70 if it’s not very good. It’s upwards of that depending on how good it is. I never found anything that was really as good as the first stuff I did. I think that’s more of a mind trick.
About $100 a day and was that seven days a week?
It was whenever I could get it, whenever I tried to get it. At that time, I was working about six days a week. There wasn’t a shift towards the end that I didn’t go to work with some in my pocket.
What’s some of the worst experiences that you can describe while you were using?
Embarrassment and humiliation. There’s been a few times where I have done things with people in order to get cocaine. There’s been times where I put myself in risky situations knowing that they’re risky because I wasn’t done with the party, my night wasn’t over. There has been people that have taken advantage of me when I wasn’t in a coherent state. Those actions were not okay.
Why do you think that you were using drugs at all?
It’s always been a social thing for me. I don’t have much problem talking to people of the opposite sex or of the same sex. I always thought that that’s what you did socially. For me, it was self-justification of this is how you make friends as an adult. Once you get to 21, that’s why the drinking age is 21 because that’s what you do. That’s what I was doing for a really long time. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz. I can tell you exactly what the inside of every bar looks like, but I can’t tell you what every beach looks like or whatever national forest looks like. I think that it was a social thing. I assumed that that’s what people did. People drank and people partied. That’s what you do when you’re an adult. It was also the environment that I was around. Had I not been bartending and had I not surrounded myself with people that did that, then I don’t think that this is the path that I would have taken. If I would have taken my priorities a little bit more seriously or my interest even more seriously rather than other people’s interests, then I think that my life would have gone a much different route. I’m grateful to be here. This is the best mind state that I’ve been in in a very long time. Sometimes you have to go through the trenches to get to the other side. That’s where I am now.
You seem to be in a pretty good space to me. You’re also young, so if you went down some wrong roads, you realized it fairly quickly. You can choose which roads you want to go down in the future. The roads that you’ve been down in the past are not dictating which roads you want to go down in the future. I want to give you some assurances that you’re doing just fine.
Thank you. I’m lucky to have an amazingly supportive family that was there and has had my back through this whole adventure, I guess you could say, that I’m going on. All I had to do was ask for help one time and all of them moved mountains for me. I’m very grateful and I’m very blessed to have everyone in my life that I do.
One of the things that I feel I want to say as a way of trying to be supportive to you is to tell you that the desire to be liked is an Achilles’ heel. You were talking about your motivation for using drugs as largely social. To me, it sounds like you want to be liked, which most people do, but it’s an Achilles’ heel and it comes with consequences. I’m not sure if that’s a good aspiration in the first place. I’d like to focus on the turning point. I’m thinking there was a mental process that happened inside you or there was some significant external event that happened but there was a turning point where you decided to ask for help and seek help. Can I ask you to talk about that turning point?
I was at a wedding with my mom in Carmel. I had stayed up all night the night before, well knowing that this wedding’s been planned for over a year. We had RSVP’d over a year prior to this and I had known that this date was coming. I chose to stay up all night. I didn’t sleep at all. I showed up late and my mom was perturbed about that. We drove over there. On the way over there, I stopped at a gas station to get gas, went in and got two little shot-sized pings of Fireball and pounded those in the car and then got back in. We got to the wedding and I had some cocaine left over from the night before. We walked into the wedding and I walked straight into the bathroom and did a line, then went and hung out with my mom the whole time. It was fun. It was a really great time. We were drinking the whole time. My mom doesn’t drink alcoholically but she enjoys drinking. We’ve had a rocky past, her and I. At this point or previously, me being 24 years old and on my own, she saw drinking as something that I enjoyed and that was something that we could connect over and that’s something that we could do together because she didn’t really realize how bad I had gotten.
We were drinking at the wedding and then we went back to the hotel. We’re drinking there, and I was drinking and doing cocaine. My mom looked at me and she was like, “You’ve had like fifteen drinks. How are you okay? How are you still talking and not slurring your words? How are you still standing upright?” We went back to the room and I broke down and I was like, “This is what I’ve been doing, and I need help. I don’t know how to, and I feel like I’m lost. I don’t know where I’m going but I know it’s not a good place.” We sat there, and we cried. I could see the pain in her eyes. I don’t want to say that she was disappointed, but I think that she was willing to do anything to help me. She felt sad that I had felt so desperate all this time and wasn’t able to reach out and ask for help. We woke up in the morning and drove back to Santa Cruz. She had called a bunch of places the night before and said that she found a bed for me at The Camp Recovery Center in Scotts Valley. I drove straight to my job. Quit my job. We went to my house. She moved all of my stuff out of my house and I was in treatment.
What were the causes of you having a difficult relationship with your mother prior to this because she was the one you went to and confessed to? Mothers being mothers, they’re always there for their children. Did you have typical problems, daughter-mother issues?
My parents always had a tumultuous relationship with each other. They never thoroughly enjoyed being around each other. I have an older brother and a younger brother. There’s never been a day that all three of us went without hearing “I love you” from both of them and getting big hugs. They really didn’t enjoy being around each other. I think that seeing that made me want to grow up a lot faster than I should have. I’ve seen them not be very nice to each other and be generally unhappy with their own lives because they felt like they had to stay together for us. When I was fifteen, my parents got a divorce. That took a toll on all of us. I don’t think that I realized that’s when my drinking started. It just coincided. That’s the time in my life where I decided that I wanted to start drinking. That’s what we were doing. It wasn’t that I was heartbroken over my parents finally getting a divorce. I was ecstatic that they were because immediately, I saw the change in them. They seemed a lot happier.
Because of all the years of me having to follow them around and pick up the pieces a little bit, I grew up a lot faster than my parents wanted me to or that I needed to. My mom and I would always clash really hard because I always was trying to play the parent. I was always trying to be older than I was. I was always trying to kind of parent her in a way, I guess you could say, and parent my father and try to separate them like they were fighting siblings. That’s where the relationship between her and I got rocky. It stayed that way throughout high school until I was eighteen. When I was eighteen, I moved out into my first apartment with a few girls that I had met. After that, with a little distance put between us, I realized how much she was doing for me and doing for all of us. That made me a little more grateful as I should have been the whole time. Being sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen are hard ages for a girl. I took that out on her and she wasn’t having it, so she pushed back. That would create us to push against each other. That’s where it stemmed from but since I was eighteen, I’ve had a really solid relationship with both of my parents. There’s ups and downs to every relationship but I’ve gotten a lot closer to each of them. They’re a lot happier separate. I’m grateful to have both of them as parents and friends at this point.
You went to The Camp Recovery Center, a very good recovery center here in Santa Cruz. What age were you at that time?
It’s only been about two and a half months since I’ve been out of camp. I spent 30 days there.
You were 24 at the time that you went there?
What do you believe are the keys to achieving recovery? I know you’ve only got two and a half months of recovery under your belt. Let’s call it three months. You’ve only got three months under your belt, what do you think are some of the keys to staying sober?
I know some of the keys for me is keeping open communication lines with my family and the support group that I built. I have a sponsor. I have two service commitments. I live in a sober living environment. I got a house. I live with three of the girls that I went to treatment with that I’m so blessed to have met that are solid amazing women who want to recover. This being my first go around at recovery, I think that to answer the question of, “What are the keys of success to recovery?” I don’t feel like I have those answers. All I know is what’s working for me. What’s keeping me sober is working an honest program to the best I can. I call my sponsor at least once a week. I text her every day. I sit down, and I write every day. I’ve gone in contact with my higher power. I turned things over. I surround myself with people that are in recovery that want this as bad as I do, that need this as bad as I do. That’s just what’s worked for me so far.
I personally believe that being in contact with your higher power, whatever that higher power is, is a key part of getting in touch with yourself spiritually and helping yourself to make the right decisions. Could you describe to me what your higher power is?
I don’t know exactly what my higher power is to be honest. Since I’ve gone in treatment, I’ve always had this need to put a physical appearance on my higher power. I still struggle with it. To my knowledge, my higher power is the fellowship, the groups, the meetings, everyone that attends, everyone that wants recovery, everyone that’s trying at recovery. That’s a hard question for me to answer because I can’t even formulate that answer in my head. All I know is that there’s something out there that is larger than me that will relieve my stress if I turn it over, if I turn my burdens over, if all my insecurities and my weaknesses and my downfalls and all that. I have someone to turn it over. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be someone. I have something to turn all of my flaws over to. That’s worked for me so far.
In your three months of being clean, how many times have you seriously thought about using cocaine or alcohol?
Every day. That’s one of the great things about living at this house is the level of accountability. Also, one of the amazing things about having a really solid group of sober friends is that when I wake up in the morning and I’m like, “I really want to go to a bar right now. I want to go sit there and I want to socialize. I want to get drunk.” They ground me. They bring me back and they say, “For what reason? What would you get out of that?” Realistically, everyday I’ve thought about picking up but the level of accountability that I’m holding myself to and the level of accountability that everyone around me is holding me to has kept me sober.
Personally, I found that the first six months of my own recovery from drugs and alcohol, I was telling myself ‘no’ a lot. Thoughts would come into my mind and I’d have to tell myself, “No, don’t do that. You can’t do that. Stop thinking like that.” After six months, it came to me that I was moving towards something new. I wasn’t moving away from something any longer. I was now moving towards something new that I wanted that wasn’t drugs or alcohol. It was new things in my life that I was trying to move towards, positive things. Have you got any ideas of what you would like to move towards?
I want to go back to school. I want to figure out what I enjoy doing in life. I feel like I really lost that when I started drinking and started not paying attention, especially when I was going to Cabrillo. I had every door open for me that possibly could have been opened, and I took advantage of it and really messed up in that way. The biggest thing for me is that I feel like I have enough time to figure it out. I don’t feel like the anxious pressure of I have to figure it out right this second, but I feel the freedom, and I feel the opportunities that sobriety has brought to me. I’m grateful for that.
Amanda, you’ve been a wonderful guest on this show.
Thanks for being so honest and so forthright in your answers. I want to give you one opportunity to speak to any suffering addict that’s out there that is considering turning their life around the way that you’ve managed to turn your life around, even though you’ve only got three months under your belt. It’s a fantastic achievement to have three months of sobriety and I wish you 30 years or more of future sobriety. What would your message be to the suffering addict?
My message would be that every day is not the best day but everyday it gets better. It does. There’s not a single day that I don’t wake up angry that I’m not hung over. I wake up every day grateful and ready to start my day and excited. I feel the love from the family that I haven’t felt in a really long time. I hope that they feel the love from me. I have an amazing community around me of people that I would have never met, had I not started this road. I feel very blessed that I get every opportunity. Not that I get, that I’ve earned opportunity that is in front of me. It gets so much better when you can see clearly. Sobriety really is worth it. There’s no amount of suffering that you can’t endure just to have a bright future.
Thank you for that message. Once again, thanks very much for being on this show.
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