Curiosity plays a big role in every aspect of our lives. Stefan’s heroin addiction began with him being curious about drugs. He knew that he needed to experience the drug so that he can get the knowledge he was craving for. Although his addiction began with drinking a bottle of tequila at the age of twelve, this had negative effects on Stefan so he turned to smoking weed. This opened doors for him, one of which was shoplifting. Now, Stefan the House Manager at Gault House in Santa Cruz. Learn more of story of addiction, recovery and how he has kept clean for 11 months.
In this episode, I’ll be talking to Stefan about his addiction and his recovery from addiction. Stefan is the House Manager at Gault House in Santa Cruz, California. Stefan works at a sock company and his addiction was heroin and opiates. Stefan did all drugs, especially stimulant drugs. Stefan now has eleven months of clean time and he is 33 years old.
Listen to the podcast here:
Stefan, A Story About Heroin Addiction, Shoplifting And Recovery
Welcome to the show, Stefan.
Thanks for having me, Paul.
You’re very welcome. Thank you very much for being here. May I start by asking you how did you get started in drugs?
I can remember back in elementary school and they had DARE come in, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education taught by a police officer. It was the fourth grade and they had these little slips that said as a pledge that we would never use drugs. I can recall not having a conception of what drugs were. I didn’t have a problem signing it, especially later on when they underscored all of the negative effects of different drugs. It didn’t make any sense why somebody would want to use these things because they harped on how damaging and even deadly they could be. I didn’t have an exposure to addiction or alcoholism in my family growing up, so I didn’t have that prior knowledge. It wasn’t until I was twelve years old in seventh grade, I went over to a friend’s house. He pulled out a bottle of tequila. When he heard that I had never gotten drunk before, he started pouring me shots. That night ended with him passed out and me throwing crumpled up dollar bills at Adam to try and buy the remainder of the bottle to drink. He didn’t wake up and I eventually grabbed the bottle and finished it. It’s like a lot of people’s stories. They talk about that sense of completeness they feel that first time they get intoxicated. That was definitely the way it was for me. It turned out rapidly. I would drink intermittently.
You didn’t get sick from drinking all that tequila?
I definitely woke up with a hangover, but it wasn’t something that deterred me. That came a couple years later at a high school party, I think freshman year, and I got wasted, trashed. The next morning, woke up and it wasn’t so much how bad I felt. I felt terrible but the fool I had made of myself at the party puking on the deck and my mom picking me up. I wouldn’t stay out that night, but if she picked me up, she couldn’t say anything about how messed up I was. She kept to a bargain, but I didn’t want to drink again after that night. That was my drug use career was getting started. I’ve switched over into that full time. In eighth grade, that’s when I discovered cannabis and that was what I was looking all the time or universal intoxicating unlike alcohol. Weed was something I could smoke consistently. I could be stoned in almost any situation and it didn’t have the negative drawbacks that liquor did for me. Even though alcoholism isn’t so much a part of my story, whenever I would drink, I would drink to excess. I have no problem identifying as an alcoholic even though drugs were the vast bulk of my story.
Eighth grade is the end of middle school. Before you’d even got into high school, you’re using pot?
That was also the year my stepbrother was prescribed Ritalin for his ADD.I began pilfering parts of his prescription and bring it back over to my mom’s house. Me and some friends would crush those up and snort those in the bathroom. I had read online that the effects were similar to cocaine. Although I didn’t yet have a frame of reference of what that felt like. In retrospect, it was obviously a dangerous path I was beginning down. By the time high school began, maybe I should say first, I’ve always done exceptionally well in school. Teachers often said that they had great hopes for what I might achieve. I was in the Gifted and Talented Education Program. I was the kid who they all thought would get into Stanford. My natural curiosity once I began down this drug path, there’s a little bit of self-exploration I want to undergo. I began devouring knowledge on drugs. The internet was becoming a big thing and there are lots of different websites and forums where you could get esoteric information on different substances and their effects. I began learning everything I could about the different drugs, different classes. What I hit upon was that I couldn’t claim to know anything about these substances unless I tried them firsthand myself. That’s rapidly what I set out to do and ended up achieving years later.
Where did you grow up? Was it here in the Bay Area?
I was born and raised in Santa Cruz. I don’t come from a family of addicts and I don’t have trauma. A lot of addicts in recovery have some traumatic stories. I’ve always thought that my lack of real trauma combined with my lack of exposure to addiction when I was young, it’s not to say that they put that off on anybody else but in my mind, it puts what happened to me squarely in my lap. It’s made accepting responsibility for my addiction easy for me. I never wanted to blame Santa Cruz for the path that I went on, but certainly some of the attitudes. We’re a very liberal community. We’ve had hands off or a soft approach to the addiction problem and it is. Over the last years, seeing where we, as a community, have gone with first the stimulant, the meth epidemic, and then moving into the opiate epidemic. It’s gotten incredibly severe here. A few years ago, there’s opiate web forum community and a lot of people from around the Bay Area, heroin addicts. When I said I was from Santa Cruz, they all said that they would come from all over the Bay to get their dope in Santa Cruz because they knew that the quality of our stuff was much more potent than even in San Francisco or Oakland, the bigger metro areas. We have a pretty bad problem, but that being said, I have plenty of friends who, even with their intermittent experimentation, didn’t go on to become the level of addict that I did. It’s not to put anything on Santa Cruz. You were eighth grade, smoking a lot of weed. What happened from there?
When I got into high school, it was Scotts Valley High. I’ve gone to all Scotts Valley schools and Scott’s Valley was a brand-new school. We were in portables in the parking lot while they finished the rest of the high school. We would bring water bottles full of vodka. My best friend, Chris, had his older brother buy us liquor and we’d bring the water bottles. Since we didn’t have a cafeteria, the roach coach would come, and we’d buy juice and drink half and pour the vodka in and sip that during class. It was the end of that year, so it was weed and alcohol during that year. At the end is when I had my bad drinking experience and swore off. It was over that summer that I tried ecstasy for the first time or MDMA. It was amazing. My group of friends and I rapidly became involved with the rave scene. It was like ’99, 2000 and we’d go to underground parties.
They called them like warehouses in Oakland and San Francisco. Some of them sanctioned, some of them are illegal. You have to run from the cops, but exciting and a great community of people. Within that community was a tremendous amount of different drugs. I remember the first time I took LSD and a friend got a vial of liquid and drop it on sugar cubes. My mom wasn’t getting off work until 6:00 PM or 8:00 PM. I’m supposed to take the bus home. I took two and got on the bus. I could feel the effects coming on. They say you’re not supposed to take psychedelics alone, but I want to test myself. As I am sitting on the bus I’m thinking, “I took two. I have two more. If I’m going to do this, I may as well go full.” I eat the other two.
As the bus is making its way from Scotts Valley to my home in Aptos, I began feeling this urge to laugh, but I didn’t want to be that guy sitting alone on the bus laughing to himself. I’m trying to suppress it and trying hard. As soon as it comes up to my stop, I get off and burst out in hysterics. I can’t contain myself. I end up getting to my house and trying to call my buddy. This was a new thing, nobody had tried it amongst my circle of friends. I’m trying to call him and tell him what I’m experiencing, and I’m screaming with laughter. The next day I hurt my stomach so bad. I was laughing so hard. It blew my mind to this day, psychedelics. I have a profound respect for some experiences I had in years, interpersonal things learning that I’m having all these memories of abandonment come back to me.
Learning things about myself that these substances helped open the door had been incredibly powerful. My belief in God at that time, it’s a cliché. I’ve had some remarkable learning experiences on them. I think that colored my further approach to drugs because they weren’t all negative experiences. I’ve heard it’s a common refrain in meetings that people will say, “My best day using isn’t as good as my worst day sober.” I disagree with that. I had some great days when I was out there using. I think it’s important for people to recognize that too. It’s what happens at the end of it, the sum of all that is far more negative and detrimental and painful than anything we contend with while we’re in sobriety.
You touched on your belief in God. Could you expand on that? Tell me about what you do believe about the subject of God.
I try and take a holistic approach to a higher power. I wasn’t raised with religion. On certain holidays, Easter, my mom would take me to church because she felt obligated to do that.
Which churches? Christian? Baptist?
Christian church. Inner Light was a good one. I was raised with an open mind and an open conception and science. I would loudly proclaim in my AP Biology classes that science was my religion and would argue with students who are trying to bring up creationism and things like that. I had that experience on LSD and it was like I could see the interconnectedness of all things. In seeing this, it was like I knew intuitively that what I was witnessing was an aspect of God or whatever you want to call that power. What I tend to believe is that the universe, it’s the very Santa Cruz way of approaching it, that the universe in its infinite vastness and everything that it encompasses is a component.
I would call myself an agnostic that the human mind is, in many ways, too frail to fully comprehend the awe that is whatever this power is. I know in my recovery that when I’ve opened myself to insights from whatever this power is, they’ve come. That no matter how difficult certain experiences in my life have been, everything has always worked out in the end. I put my faith in whatever that power is as long as I stay on what I know to be the right path, that I’m going to be directed towards salvation in a sense.
Going back to your high school days, you got to the end of your first year of high school. You had some heavy alcohol experiences and you swore off a little bit and sounds like you swore onto marijuana use. Then you tried LSD on the bus. You had a good trip you might say. What happened from there?
From there, I go further and further into the psychedelic scene. My best friend that I had mentioned and through our connections we made at the raves up in the Bay, we began selling ecstasy and cocaine. I remember the first eight ball of coke that we picked up. I’m marveling how small it looked for how much money it cost. His phone had pocket dialed his mom, but his brother-in-law and sister were in town. They were going out drinking. We heard this noise and he looked at his phone, and turned it off. She called back and said something like, “You boys be safe.”We were wondering like, “Did she hear us?”At the end of the call, she says something like, “Be careful with that eight ball of cocaine. Start cackling.”She would be like, “What are you boys doing tonight?” We’d say, “We’re going to shoot heroin and run naked through the streets.”I was joking with her.
I think she thought we were messing with her when we’re excited about this coke we had picked up. I remember the first line’s cutting out, not knowing how much to do. Snorting a little line after little line until finally we looked at each other and like, ” I can feel it.”Picking up the little pieces that had dropped on the ground and realizing that like, “This is what crack heads do.”We were the first real drug dealers in the school because by then, we had moved up to the new campus. This was sophomore year. They would add a year after us, so we’re always the upperclassmen. That began taking off. This was when ecstasy was all in the news. People were dying at raves. Even though the coverage was negative, people want to know what it was all about. Our business began taking off.
I assume that the other kids at the school knew that you were the guy to go to if they wanted anything to do with drugs.
When I said that, I began devouring the information on different drugs and set out to try all of them. I had a reputation of being a relatively smart guy and when I began adopting this drug persona, I would be introduced at parties as the guy who knew everything about drugs. People would test me on my drug knowledge or see how big a line of coke I could do. It became a huge component of my personality, my identity, that I was the drunk guy. I milked that. I was proud of that. It wasn’t for another year that I began experiencing any consequences. Even then, I didn’t interpret them as consequences. Some girls who were selling coke asked us to get them some crystal. We had never done it before. We’ve seen it, but our guy over the hill, he was affiliated with one of the street gangs over there.
He’s a nice guy considering, but he could get it for us. I’ll never forget smoking it that first time in his room and looking at my buddy and say, “It feels like coke, but without the fiendish-like come down.”That was the very first pitfall that I ran into around my drug use. I’d always been chubby as a kid and I had gotten up to 250 pounds. I’m a big 6′ 2”. I carried it somewhat well, but my dad had made a deal with me that if I lost 50 pounds, he would buy me my first car. Didn’t know I was getting into stimulants. I lost that weight within three or four months. We’d be in a junior year at this point. That was the year I got the best grades of high school, staying up all night studying. I was in all AP classes. When the switch flipped, the sleep deprivation, combined with amphetamine use, it makes you pretty psychotic.
I heard of amphetamine psychosis and that is similar to schizophrenia. I knew what I was experiencing when it began happening, hearing voices. I’ve seen the police come for me sitting on my bed and I heard my name called out over the loud speaker and saw the spotlight shine on my windows. Dove down, peek through the blinds, and I could see the car idling out there. I believed it so much. Nobody came to the door and I didn’t do anything that would have warranted the police other than selling drugs. They weren’t onto us. I was so sure though that they had been there that I asked my mom the next morning like, “Did you hear anything last night?” I said it must have been a dream, but I was very much awake. I’m seeing creatures come out of the trees and lurk into my house. It was terrifying, and I could put the pipe down, crash out for a day or two and go a week or two without having any real cravings. You might call hardcore drugs at this point. I didn’t have a concept of what addiction was.
You’re in your junior year of high school?
That would’ve been junior year. Towards the end of that year, because of how much meth we were consuming, our business fell apart. My best friend and my business partner ended up having to run off to Washington State and then eventually Nevada to get away from a big debt that we owed our dealer. He knew where he lived. By senior year, everything fell apart. The business was done, so I didn’t have a free source of drugs anymore. I turned eighteen at the beginning of that year, so I could sign myself out of classes. I went to school but not very much. I smoked pot before class every morning. The AP classes were junior and senior year, and we had the same teachers. I’ll never forget my AP Bio teacher pulling me in for a student teacher conference and saying, “What are you doing? Of all the people at the school, you have the best mind of anybody at the school.”I immediately protested and said something, “So and so has better grades than I did. So and so got the score on SAT.”She’s like, ” I don’t mean in terms of performance, but the way that you think is unlike anybody else. I see you throwing that all the way.”She didn’t come out and say that she knew I was using drugs, but that I wasn’t living up to my own capabilities. That always stuck with me because the faith that she had in me exceeded even what I had myself. In a lot of ways, I feel I let all my teachers down. I have a lot of love for my old high school teachers.
What happened in your senior year? Did you graduate?
Just barely. A couple of weeks before graduation, I remember my math teacher because I stopped going to his class, running across the quad to me and saying,” I’m afraid you’re not going to graduate. You’re failing my class.”They ran the numbers and I had enough units from my other math courses up until then. I did graduate but barely. The worst part about all that was, I had been accepted to UC Santa Cruz out of high school based on the grades I had gotten my junior year. Because I did so poorly senior year, they rescinded my acceptance, which is rare. My mom was so angry. The summer after high school, she found out that I cleaned out the coin collection that was going to be mine. That was the justification I used to take it and sell it for drugs. Including this gold coin that her father had given her. That was the moment I got kicked out and started living in my car. I got arrested for petty theft or stealing some milk and barbecue sauce. That was my first arrest. My best friend, Chris, who had moved to Nevada, invited me to live with him and his girlfriend, get out of Santa Cruz and clear my head, get ready to move on to whatever was next. I moved up to Reno and that was the first appreciable amount of time off of speed I was able to put together about six months I lived there.
If there was something that a parent could do to help you to redirect your course, what do you think that would be? Is there nothing that somebody else could do? Because presumably you were getting encouragement from your parents and your teachers. If there is a parent who’s listening to the show now, what would you advise them to do if they had a child that was in the situation that you were in?
My mom has asked me that a number of times or we’ve discussed that a number of times. In my case, I often tell her more to assuage her own feelings of guilt, which she shouldn’t have, but I understand as a mother why she would. This was my destiny, in a sense. This is all in hindsight because this is the path I took. I have to say that to own it. I’ll never forget the time when she found my meth pipes and she called me. She didn’t say anything. She said, “Get home now,” in a rage. I knew I’d messed up somehow.”Get back to the house.”She calls me in a room and she have the pipes all laid out on her bed. She was like, “What is this? Are you smoking crack?” I said, “No, it’s meth.” She didn’t know what it was. She had never heard of it. It immediately calmed her down. In reality, she should have been more freaked out because in a lot of ways, meth is more harmful than crack. She only had the experience with crack from the media in the ‘80s.When I began explaining what meth was, she likened it too. She said something like, “Like diet pills?” When she was in college, she had stolen her dad’s diet medicine, which was some form of amphetamine. She calmed down a lot. In reality she should’ve been more concerned. At that point, I don’t know if I had been sent to treatment before I was eighteen forced into a program if it would’ve worked. It couldn’t have hurt.
As parents, the key would be to talk to your children. My parents and I always had an open door or an honesty policy whereby as long as I was upfront and I’m truthful with them, there wouldn’t be consequences. As long as I was forthcoming with things where I was called to check in. I knew a lot about drugs. Even though she saw my drug use progressing, she thought that it was done in a safe manner. There is one incident I didn’t mention. I had combined before a party one night. She was in Peru for a week or two. I had the house to myself. I must have been seventeen. I had smoked some meth after taking something called Yohimbine. I didn’t think about it when I took it, but that this was an MAOI or light MAOI and raised my blood pressure. In combination with the meth, it was like a meth overdose even though it was a normal amount of the drug I took. Immediately what happened, I began vomiting uncontrollably. The pain in my head, it felt like my brain was being torn apart by a ball of flaming knives. That’s how I’ve always described it. It’s such an intense headache. It felt like my brain was melting. Almost convulsing on the ground for about six hours that night. I ended up driving myself to this party because I was afraid of dying on the floor. I was puking so much or vomiting on myself in the car.
Years later, talking to a doctor about it, he’d thought that what I had was called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is a blood vessel bursting in the sac that surrounds your brain and the blood. It is neurotoxic to a brain tissue or something. It’s like a stroke almost. At the time, I didn’t go to the hospital. Apparently, a lot of people die from that condition. I made it through. The very next day, I continued using speed. I couldn’t see that I had a problem then and certainly, my mom couldn’t. In looking back, the problem was getting very severe. You don’t want to believe that your children are as bad off as they might be. There might be aspects of blaming oneself. It’s not about that. Addiction knows no class like nobody is above addiction. Knowing when to ask for help and to ask for help is incredibly important. Reaching out, we have institutions designed to help people divert them away from the problem getting more severe.
Had you seen a family therapist at that time on the subject of drug addiction that would’ve helped at all or would it have been a drop in the bucket? Was your destiny to run this course?
I was in therapy. My parents divorced when I was four and my dad subsequent remarriage, was the only trauma I can speak to growing up. Although, it was pretty difficult for me at the time. They had me in therapy at different points growing up, especially issues I had with my stepbrother. When I was a teenager, my therapist thought that I was maybe depressed. I’d seen him for about a year. I quickly learned how to manipulate him and talk around him, divert the sessions. I was fully honest about where my drug use was going. He would always say, “Give me a year to stop smoking pot. Give me a year off of it.”No amount of therapy was going to be able to be effective as long as I was using something, and I wouldn’t do it. When I got put on antidepressants for a short period of time, it would make those ineffective, too. Looking back, I don’t know what more my mom could’ve done to help push me in a more positive direction. She was a great parent. I love my mom dearly. It’s not fair at all. As much as I want to be sober for her and make her proud in that way, I’m being sober for myself is the only way that this is going to work in the end.
What are your feelings towards your dad now?
My dad has always been distant. We’ve had a good relationship. When he remarried, he began focusing on his new family more. I don’t fault him for that. I think he has a lot of guilt. In fact, the first time I went through treatment in the mid-2005, I’ll never forget a family group and all of us sitting in a big circle. It got around to my parents and my mom was intense and in my face around it. It got to him and he said something like, “Sometimes, I wasn’t around very much yet when Stefan was growing up. Sometimes he’ll tell me that he loves me,” and it’s as if he didn’t know why that I loved him after him being gone for so long. He started sobbing, it’s one of the only times I’ve ever seen him cry like that. I know that he has heavy heart and maybe some regrets around whether he could’ve done more as a father for me growing up. I don’t fault him for that.
At this point, it’s more about looking to how we can build our relationship at this stage going forward. That he’s alive is something that I’d like to hold on to and build from that we have the opportunity to get to know one another better than we have. When I got into drugs and into that whole scene, partying and my friends, I stopped going over to his house. My life was over on this side of the hill. He lives in San Jose and so it was my decision to focus on me instead of having a relationship with my father. I know my mom has blamed him a lot for not being there when I was growing up. She’s begun to let go of that a lot. It’s not fair to put that on him. He did the best he knew how to.
You went off to Reno, off to high school, you dry out a little bit. What happened next?
I couldn’t find work up there. I tried to get a job at Walmart and had some fake urine to pass their drug test because I was smoking pot constantly. When I went to the drug testing place, it came up as 115 degrees and I was caught right on the spot. After trying to find these jobs and not succeeding, I decided to move back to Santa Cruz and go to Cabrillo to take the next step with my education. As soon as I got back to Santa Cruz within a couple of weeks, I began smoking meth again. I started working for my dad. He’s a painting contractor, so he has his own company. At the time it was doing well. He had our shop in Watsonville, so I started working for him. He helped me get a little studio apartment and I began doing speed again. This time, something had changed in me. Before, I could do speed for a week or two, crash out, and wouldn’t have any cravings.
I would always end up picking it up again, but I wouldn’t fiend for it at all. This time when I’d go on a run crash, and as soon as I woke up, it was like if I didn’t already have some, I had to get it. If I didn’t get it right away, it was like my whole body would shake. It was incredibly uncomfortable, and it frightened me because this was the first time that I understood what this phenomenon of craving was all about. That lasted for a few months of me trying to hold the job together, showing up for work. One of the guys that we were hooking up speed with, not for selling it but to the side, had something that he called opium that he smoked. I’ll never forget that first time smoking it with them, there were paperclips and with a torch. You heat up one paperclip in the torch and touch it to the chunk of this “opium” on the other paperclip and inhale the smoke. I took twenty hits that first time and got sick, started puking up everywhere but it felt amazing.
I’d done experimental with Oxycontin a number of times towards the end of high school, but I didn’t get fully addicted to it. It was more warmer feeling than any other drug I had tried. It didn’t have the harsh edge that the stimulants had. It took that fainting feeling that the speed had caused me, completely eliminated that. The next morning after trying it that first time, I pulled him aside and said, “Let’s be honest, that’s not opium. That’s a black tar heroin.”He said, “It sounds better if I use a euphemism for it as opium.”Because the circle that we were in at the time, calling it heroin would’ve been a full pie. If he had told me that it was heroin right off the bat, I would’ve been eager to try it because it was one of the drugs that I hadn’t yet experimented with and add it to claim that knowledge thing that I talked about. Very rapidly, I switched my stimulant addiction for smoking that heroin. The first time I woke up and realized that I was doped sick, sweats and the loose bowels. It was not as frightening as it should have been, but it was an acknowledgement of where my life was at that point. I don’t know if that makes sense. It was the beginning of the end in a lot of ways.
Are you saying that right at the beginning, within the first few times of smoking heroin, you had a realization of where you were?
I didn’t experience the withdrawals for about a month, but I used it that first time and then a week later I use it again. Then five days later I use it again and then three days. It very rapidly became an everyday thing.
You got doped sick as soon as you’re using it every day?
Within two months you were getting doped sick.
I remember going to work and I’m asking my dad for advances and he would say, “How much do you need? I paid you.” I say, ” I know. I have this bill.”I’d make things up and asked him $400 each time. He would complain about it and yell a little bit, and then he’d pull out the checkbook and write me the check without even recognizing that he was enabling me or maybe subconsciously. His guilt around not being there when I was growing up was reflected in the money that he would give me. As if you can throw money at me and make up for the loss time that he had as a father. I think a lot of it was subconscious, but it certainly helps to drive the hook in deeper. I stopped paying rent in my studio apartment. That ended with me getting evicted there. It was right at that point I had been using heroin smoking at this point. I’d been using it for maybe eight or nine months, almost a year. Once I got evicted, I realized I have a problem. I need to address this and that’s the first time I went to treatment.
What age were you then?
I would have been twenty. Before I got evicted, my best friend, Chris, was killed in a motorcycle accident. It was right before my 21st birthday. A big group of us go up to Reno, and another friend had a connection. We were going to get a suite at the Atlantis Casino and party up there. In a week before that, Chris had got a motorcycle. A week before that, he was killed. A van pulled out in front of him and he crashed into it, high speed. I’ll never forget the call from his girlfriend the next morning and sobbing. I knew what had happened right away. As soon as I got off that phone reaching, had this one sob racked my body, but no tears or anything. I reached for the torch and the heroin and got high. I gave the eulogy at his memorial and I made it a point to not use anything that day, at least up until afterwards. That morning, I wanted to be sober, I want to feel that and how difficult it was seeing his body in the casket. That was hard. It colored how I used. The last time I’d seen him, I’d only been using heroin for a month or two at that point. He took a couple hits with me but not enough to get high. I remember him saying, “Be careful.” Neither of us had experienced real addiction. He didn’t know how bad the meth had gotten for me and no physical addiction. He knew that I was playing with fire in a lot of ways because our drug use mirrored one another, and we use so much together that we kept each other in check. When he died, I lost a voice of reason that I had always had.
Was his motorcycle accident possibly influenced by his own usage?
It’s definitely possible. It never came out that it was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if alcohol wasn’t involved. He had gotten the bike and his mom had bought one too. He had his learner’s permit and so she didn’t want him going out and hid his helmet. She was out of the house that evening. I can imagine him having a few drinks and getting angry that he can’t go riding and then hunting around, finding the helmet, and then doing it. That’s the kind of guy he was. It’s as easy that he was going too fast on. I believe it was McLaren Boulevard which is a road that goes all around the City of Reno. It’s not a freeway, but it’s faster than normal street speeds. The van pulling out, I don’t think it had his lights on either. Too fast and not enough experience on the bike and if he had even a little alcohol, it could have contributed to it.
There you were with a good friend that passed away around the age of 21.I remember those years for myself and I had something similar, if not identical, but there was a cousin that passed away at 21.It had a big effect on me because he was a strong guy and he seemed to have everything going for him. I looked up to him. Suddenly he passed away. It seemed to touch me on the shoulder. In your case, you were using a lot of heroin and you went to your first residential treatment program. In order to get into that, either you admitted yourself or one of your parents admitted you. Can you talk to us about where that program was and what you did there and whether it was any use to you? Perhaps you could touch on that whole event?
I checked myself in. I knew that I needed the help and I didn’t have any other options at that point after getting evicted. I found a place in San Jose because my dad lived over there. It was called Pathways and right near San Jose State. I didn’t know what to expect when I got there. I’d only been to jail once at that point. Most of the guys there were either coming straight from jail or a lot of them from prison on prerelease deals to get an early release from prison by attending a drug program. The cafeteria area was divided by race and a lot of these jail mentality going on. At that point, I didn’t have experience with that, so it was foreign and hostile to me. This was my first real exposure to the 12 steps. The whole basis of their program was meetings. They’d even have things called marathon meetings where every hour of the entire day was meeting after meeting in house. Sometimes people would come in, but it didn’t paint a good picture in my mind on how helpful meetings could be.
We went to an outside meeting. It might have been my first outside in a meeting, I believe. It was at a church and at one point during the meeting, a gentleman stood up and somebody been talking about your own conception of higher powers. He loudly proclaimed, “There’s only one true higher power and his name is Jesus Christ.”The whole room began applauding and I was staring aghast. Looking back now with my experience in the program, if it were me today sitting in there, I would have corrected him. Because as a newcomer at the time, it terrified me. Everything I understood or how they painted themselves was that it was your own conception of God. It was spiritual not religious program. This guy dashed those assertions and it caused a lot of harm in me. It turned me away from the program for a few years. The other thing that held me back from succeeding was my belief that I could drink alcohol and smoke weed when I got out. I was only there for heroin and speed and that was my problem. As long as I didn’t do that, I’d be okay. I needed some outlet in one form of intoxicant or another. When I got out the very night, I came back to a party my friends threw for me and I got drunk and stoned. Within three months of getting out of that program, I was back using heroin.
How long was the program?
It was 30 days.
I have heard commonly with people that I’ve interviewed at how they’ve continued to use alcohol and weed. They had this conception that the problem was heroin or cocaine but alcohol and weed were permissible. It’s a big mistake. People use alcohol and weed, and they end up within a few months and as in your case, three months, you’re back on the heroin. You’re back to where you were before. You went to this first program, you were there for a month. Within three months you’re using again. Did you go round and round in loops for ten years?
I had been living with some friends at that point and the one rule was that I couldn’t use dope and live at their house. One of them sold weed and as my secret heroin habit began picking up. I started stealing cash from him because he had a lot of cash from all the pot he was selling. About nine months, he had suspicions or something like that. He set something up and caught me red handed. I broke down and said, “There’s a lot I’d been lying to you about.”He’s one of my oldest friends. We’ve been friends since kindergarten. He immediately kicked me out and I realized that I needed help again. This time, I decided to go to Janus and Janus is a great program. I have a lot of love for Janus. It’s night and day compared to what Pathways was. With the negative experience of the first program juxtaposed with how great that first time in Janus was, I decided to do things differently.
At this point, I realized that I couldn’t use anything that it would always lead me back to heroin. I decided that I couldn’t live with friends especially that are selling pot and having parties and stuff. When I got out of Janus this time, I moved into SLE and got a job as a security guard. I didn’t get a sponsor. I got a sponsor in name only, one for show, but I didn’t do any work. I was going to more meetings but not getting involved. I should’ve known that I was in relapse mode when I was being trained for the security position. As I was walking around the property, seeing little like nooks and thinking in my mind that, “This should be a place where I could secretly smoke heroin and nobody would know.”
88 days, I relapsed straight to heroin. I’d always shoplifted a little bit, but I think it was at this point that my shoplifting took off and that’s a huge part of my story too, how I funded my habit for a lot of the years that followed. They got me on tape at Circuit City and got my license plate number. They went to my mom’s house because that’s where the car was registered. A deputy called me and interviewed me and said he was going to come to my work and get me. I left work early and I agreed that I would turn myself in if he didn’t come to my work. When I got back, they explained what was happening. They said, “Why would you do this job for him? If he wants you, let them come get you.”I called him up and he exploded in rage and said he would file a warrant. Nothing ever came of it. I don’t know if it was a threat. He only had so much evidence or something. After that, everything fell apart anyway. The SLE I was in, the first one, I got kicked out.
Why were you kicked out?
They found out I played dirty. The second one got shut down and the manager was using a bunch of people there were using anyway. It wasn’t a very safe environment. When that one got shut down, I moved back into my car and an old friend that I had met up who I’d known from school years before and he had also become a junkie. We became shoplifting partners and we began living in hotel rooms and smoking lot of crack. This was also when I began shooting out for the first time. Especially mixing it with coke or with speed, I started going downhill rapidly.
Isn’t it expensive to live in hotel rooms?
I was stealing a lot like I would fill up shopping carts that safe way with bag. I would bring bags in or I would take shopping bags as soon as I walked in from the counter and hide them in the cart, fill the cart with different food items and then go down an aisle and have the alcohol or DVDs in the cart. I’d go down the aisle and bag everything up out of view of the cameras. Then push it out the door acting like I forgot something. I had already purchased it and in this way, I’d steal a thousand dollars’ worth of stuff at a time. It sounds crazy and brave and it was, but it worked dozens of times. This was a regular occurrence for me. It was pretty profitable and well enough to pay for the hotel room especially between the two of us, and to pay for our drug habit. My partner in crime, we had been casing Costco for a while and I don’t know why.
I’d heard their security was good, but the fact that we’ve been so successful elsewhere, built it up in our heads that we were untouchable. We got another friend to serve as what the police would later describe as the getaway driver. He parked in front of one of the fire exits at Costco. He put duct tape over his license plate. I guess that’s what caught the security guard’s attention on the cameras was that this car was idling out there with the license plate obscured. While we were inside, I’m pushing the cart around, we began loading digital SLR cameras, a portable DVD player, we got Xboxes. In the end it was like $6,000 worth of stuff. I should have known that there was something up when there were employees stationed doing busy work by every fire exit.
We’d try and go to one and then the employees would be there stacking boxes or facing the store. When my friend called me outside the car and said, “The police had driven by.”At that point, we realized that something was up. We tried to leave the cart in the middle of the store and walk out and the cops were already in there and stopped us, pull us in back. My buddy that was in there with me had a warrant, so they immediately cuffed him. They pulled my friend over outside and he gave us up and said what we were doing. They ended up arresting all three of us. I had only had that one petty theft prior few years before, they didn’t come down on me too hard. Technically what we had committed was commercial burglary because we entered with the intent to steal even though the intent to commit any felony is burglary.
Even though we didn’t try and leave with the stuff, it meets the definition. My friend, because of his prayers, he ended up getting a year. They gave me three months and my friend in the car, because he cooperated and snitched on us, he ended up getting the charges dropped. I ended up turning myself in and they gave me a month after that court date to get my affairs in order, smuggling some Subutex to try and kick my dope habit while I was in there. I went to the farm, it’s a medium security jail for Santa Cruz County. It’s comfortable in there, but I’ll never forget, because I had brought some pills in with me, I made instant friends with the shot caller. They call them for the whites.
I’ll never forget maybe a month into my stay, he pulled me aside and said, “What are you doing here?”I’m like, “I committed a crime.”I didn’t try and put it off. I was guilty and because I had gotten away with so much, it was almost like I felt I deserved that in a sense. He’s like, “No, that’s not what I mean.”What my teachers and my family, friends had always said about me that I was capable of more than that when you held me up to some of the other guys in there who are obviously going nowhere or were not capable of achieving anything. It hit home for me that this guy noticed that, and he didn’t even know me that well, but it was like, “You need to get your act together because where you’re headed, you’re better than that essentially.” I got on the waiting list to get back into Janus when I got out. I serve two thirds times. After two months, they released me and that night I got high again but I was scheduled to get into Janus about three weeks after that. I got rearrested a few days later for possession of heroin. They dropped the charges, or I don’t remember exactly what happened. I got into the program and so that was Janus round two. This time was a huge change from every other time. I did all the right things that I had done the first time in Janus. I got into the SLE when I got out. I changed my phone number, which was something new. I got a sponsor and I began working the steps as if my life depended on it. I got involved with service and in the meetings. My favorite meetings were Heroin Anonymous because my sponsor had brought that. He founded that. I think Santa Cruz is a second city in the country after Phoenix to have an HA group and my sponsored founded it here. We got heavily involved with that. CA was another big one. All the groups have worked at AAs big book because that’s the original program. There’s nothing against AA. I’ve found a lot more in common with the folks at the CA and HA meetings and even some of the AA meetings.
What does a CA stand for?
That’s Cocaine Anonymous. In the past couple of years, it’s fallen by the wayside. It did in Santa Cruz at least. By the time this was 2008, 2009, that was popular especially the Friday night meeting. It was a big meeting, hundred people. I did everything right. I made my amends. I thought at least that I’d worked the steps thoroughly and honestly and in hindsight, after what ended up happening. Maybe it’s not fair to blame the steps or myself. I started working and then the crash of ’08 happened and I ended up getting laid off. I figured that was a good time to go back to school. I re-enrolled at Cabrillo and did exceptionally well. It took two and a half years to fulfill all my credits, but I ended up graduating from Cabrillo with high honors and got straight As the whole time.
What subjects were you studying?
I’d always dreamt of studying pharmacology ironically because of my fascination with drugs and stuff. Writing has always been my strongest subject. I decided that political science, it seemed the most fascinating and I did well in the courses. I didn’t know exactly what I would do with the PoliSci degree. Most people seemed to suggest that law school is the natural progression when somebody studies PoliSci. It seemed like a solid liberal arts degree that I could focus on. In retrospect, I wish I could’ve done better in math and so I could have pursued a hard science because even though I ended up not finishing my bachelors, after Cabrillo, I’d applied as a transfer student at almost all UC schools. I’ll never forget, I got denied waiting for the acceptance as a comeback. I got denied at UCLA but accepted at UC San Diego and Santa Barbara. Because I was denied at UCLA, I assumed that I wasn’t going to get into Berkeley. I’m settling on San Diego and then there was something with the emails they sent out like a group of us on this forum.
We’re all waiting for the acceptances to come out and half of us got or some percentage got this mistake email they sent. They didn’t say we were accepted, but we didn’t know what it meant . That next day when the acceptance came down, it was one of the happiest moments of my life to get into Cal especially after having my UC Santa Cruz accepted and rescinded. Ironically, people saying that I was going to go to Stanford when I was growing up. To get into Stanford rival, it was serendipitous in a sense. To underscore what sobriety had done for meat this point, I had been under three years sober. Being able to share that in meetings like this is what’s possible if you stay sober and work at it. I absolutely acknowledge that it was my recovery that allowed that to happen. There’s no way that I could have achieved that if I had been using. I wouldn’t even had a desire to achieve it. I prepared to move up there. I’d been at the SLE for almost two years and was the de facto assistant manager at that point. Then about that time, I may have been before I got accepted to Berkeley while I was taking classes at Cabrillo. Me and my best friend that had made the SLE, moved into an apartment together.
You and one of the other guys got apartment?
We got an apartment together and it had begun happening. Even though I was sober, he had a brother in Missouri and we began selling ascending pounds of pot out to him to resell. It wasn’t even there. I thought that was interesting that I didn’t have a pool to use it or anything like that but the money that we’re making, because he can sell it for so much more than we could get it for around here. It seemed like extra profit and going to school and not being able to work full time helping pay the rent and things. Looking back on it, it’s so clear where I was headed, but it didn’t seem like counter a sobriety and I had so many justifications I could use at the time. When I began selling pills to a friend that I had made in the rooms of HA, had a serious back injury and he had the blue 30 milligram oxycodone. I could get dozens of them from him. I didn’t have any pull to use them but selling them to friends and one of my friends ended up developing a serious drug habit and ending up as a junkie shooting up. I have a lot of guilt around that, feeling responsible for his eventual addiction. When I transferred up to Berkeley, I was moving away from my support group. The other big thing that had happened during this time, the whole span of my sobriety was switched my addiction from drugs to food. I couldn’t see it at the time.
It began happening gradually. I didn’t recognize it for what it was, but it’s common when people get off of a drug or alcohol addiction that they turn to some other addictive behavior whether it be sex or gambling or eating as an outlet for their disease. In my case, it went to food and I went from about 220 pounds to over 400. That’s morbid obesity for sure. What it did was it made me hate myself. That’s the easiest way I can say it, the walking around and seeing the judgment and contempt in people’s eyes. It was the thought that I’d never be able to be in a relationship. I couldn’t even approach women. I had a deep shame. In the Labor Day, I ate a barbecue. They have a raffle every year. One year, I won both the grand prize trip to Hawaii and the 50/50. Two separate raffles, the Grand Prize of Egypt, people were shocked. It was ridiculous.
When I went to Hawaii, I decided to take my mom after everything I’d put her through. I thought it was a good gift to her. I remember realizing that I’d be snorkeling on the beach and I didn’t want to take my shirt off. I had to buy this rash guard thing, like a wet suit. Looking back on pictures, I look like a fat guy in a wet shirt on the beach. That’s how ashamed and afraid I was of showing my body and the stretch marks since it began to spread across my belly and stuff. It got hard. By the time I got an apartment up in Berkeley and began attending classes. I couldn’t fit in the desks at school. One leg would fit on the chair and the rest of me would be out in the aisle or crammed into the auditorium seating. Even if people weren’t looking at me and judging me. I felt like they were.
How did you put on that weight? Were you eating McDonald’s five times a day with a big sugary drink or how would you describe how you put on the weight?
It was a combination of things. I can think of times when I would eat burritos and burgers. They were my thing especially the burritos. I ate one giant burrito and then my mom might call me an hour or half hour after and say, “You want to get dinner with me?”Although I had eaten, I wouldn’t say that and say, “Sure,” and have her pick me up. It’s like I’d eat two dinners. The constantly eating out instead of preparing my own food, the fast food, it wouldn’t be like five different fast food meals. It was much more pathological than that. I would go towards the end like self-loathing. I would go to one drive through, buy a fast food meal, hide the bags in my car and then go to the next fast food restaurant and buy another meal. I didn’t want the guy at the register to see the food I had already bought out of fear that he would judge me for it. I would take both those meals and then go down some dark street and eat them in secret. It’s very much like addict behavior.
An addict using drugs and oscillation, that’s exactly what it is.
Hiding from people and acceptance. Totally legal. It’s that same degree of shame and everything. Because I gained the weight so quickly, I couldn’t see the volume that I was eating for what it was at the time. In retrospect, it was very much addictive behavior. While I’m up in Berkeley, I signed up or they give me free health insurance at the UC system. I go into the doctor. I won’t even fit on the scale in the medical clinic there. They have to send me up to where the Cal football players. I was asking for a referral to see a bariatric surgeon. Because of the health insurance I could have a bariatric surgery and they would end up removing like 80% of my stomach. I was looking for the easy way out. It was right around that time I’m in a feat of despair. I had begun looking at the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance across the Bay and imagining jumping off of it to be done with things. By this point, I’d completely stepped away from the program.
In many ways, forgotten everything that I’d learned by working the steps. I wasn’t applying the principles in my life. Again, isolated from all my friend in the support group that I had built in Santa Cruz. I didn’t reach out to new meetings up in Berkeley. In that kind of despair, one night I broke down and I’ve gotten big into target shooting and developing new hobbies. I had a number of firearms and I put the barrel of my revolver in my mouth. Years later, a therapist told me like, “You realized that, that’s a suicide attempt?” I said, “No, I didn’t pull the trigger.” He said, “No, with guns. All it takes is putting into your head or putting it in your mouth because so few self-inflicted gunshot wounds are survivable.”
Even doing that action counts as an attempt and I didn’t know that. As soon as that barrel hit my lips, I got to think, “It was God or Chris or one of my guardian angels slapping me in the face.” Because of the shock of how cold that barrel was woke me up to what I was doing. I cried on the ground for an hour or two. After that, I relapsed and I colored the whole next year because I discovered via article, somebody had written about a website called the Silk Road that is defunct now. It was on the so called Dark Net and you can order drugs right to your house through the mail. It sounded a little crazy. Without even thinking what I was doing, I justified it by, “I will order powder heroin.” Because I was addicted to tar. I didn’t get powder very often. It’s not commonly available in the West Coast and that somehow made it okay.
Coming off of the thoughts of suicide, it seems perfectly legitimate. Made the order and in a week later, it showed up in my mailbox and there went almost four years of sobriety in an instant. I wasn’t thinking about how fat I was. I wasn’t thinking about my loneliness. It was back to that familiar place of at least the illusion of comfort that drugs provide us as addicts. I was flush with cash because my student loans and scholarship I had had, and I’d sold my nice Volvo that I had been super proud of because public transportation in Berkeley, you don’t need it. I had about $10,000 or $12,000 in the bank. I’d been keeping my drug use on the download I had been using for about two months at this point. I decided to sell on the Silk Road. I had the money to invest in it and it was right about a month as I was preparing for that, getting all the tools I would need, the packaging materials and the heat sealers and the scales and all that.
I’d come back to Santa Cruz to pick up my first ounce that I would break up to sell on there. While I was here, I ran into a girl at my buddy’s house who had been an old high school friend. She was absolutely gorgeous. It blew my mind and I couldn’t stop thinking about her even when I came back to Berkeley. It was some chance, coincidence. It almost created an epiphany in me that the realization that I would never have a partner like that as long as I was doing to myself what I had been doing. It’s hard to explain how powerful it was and what these emotions and things like that, what it did for me. I realized that I was in control of my life that I was the one who had made me that heavy and much like my addiction even though I had relapsed.
I was using it at this point, but I had the experience of being clean and free from that. I had done that to myself and therefore, I was the only person who would be able to pull myself out of it. It sounds so simple saying it, but it was an amazing and very deep realization that I could do this. I got into this diet program. Keto was the main thing at cutting all carbs. I began losing a tremendous amount of weight and surprising how quickly after a first month and I stepped on the scale at the gym and then I ended up at 360. I’d lost more than 40 pounds in that first month. By the end of that year, I had gotten down to 250, so I almost lost 200 pounds in that year through this rigorous diet being very strict about it.
You’re using the ketogenic diet? No carbs, no sugar, but eating salads and some meat products.
A lot of meat and fat. You’re not using glucose as a fuel, so you’re using fat and your body breaks into ketones and it’s incredibly effective. Your mental acuity goes up drastically. It’s a great diet. The science is very sound behind it.
Meeting this girl, you went on this diet, what happened to your studies at Cal?
It was more my continued drug use and involvement with the Silk Road. A month after getting involved in it, I became the second most popular heroin dealer on the website. I was the top tar seller and then there’s some Canadian dude who was the top powder seller. I’ll never forget seeing that first bank statement saying that I had $30,000 in sales for that first month, not even a full month. I went crazy on that. I was using Subutex, able to kick in encouragement I had developed around the whole weight loss thing. Somehow able to kick my own heroin use in my apartment, put it all into selling. I began doing GHB and I’m trying all these other drugs because you could order. They had almost anything available on there. It took off for two or three months and then I went back to the heroin one day and very quickly it all fell apart. The whole business crumbled.
Probably at the perfect time because it wasn’t until I moved to the Gault House that talking to a roommate and telling him the story. The next day, I come back here, and he said, “He needed to talk to me and pulled something up on his phone.”It was a piece of the government’s exhibit in the trial. The guy who started the site is doing life in prison right now. One other piece from the government’s exhibit against him was a list of people the government had bought drugs from like undercover buys. My account was one of those names and they’d bought relatively significant quantity of heroin from me. They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t have a serious investigation into me at the time. It’s been over five years at this point, so I’m comfortable talking about it. I look forward in the future. I want to write about whether it turns into a memoir or what, but the statute of limitations has expired, so I’m not so worried about them coming after me.
Your studies at Cal presumably fell through?
I had stopped going to class at this point. Before that last semester, I lost my scholarship, so I was going to lose my apartment. Right before that new semester began, I did a medical withdrawal because I had the insurance through them. Using that, I was able to get into the camp. That was my fourth time in treatment. I don’t know what I was thinking because coming off of my great success, my four-year sober and getting into Berkeley. When I was at the camp, I was convinced that I could again drink and or smoke pot when I got out. It blows my mind thinking about this point because it was like I don’t know what I was holding onto so severely. I’d proven to myself over and over again that any drug user is always going to lead back to the same place, for me heroin and yet I was convinced that I could do it.
I got out. I moved in with my buddy I’d been living with before and his girlfriend in Montana this time. He, at this point, was active in his alcoholism and so we would drink together. What happen, happened. Within six months, I was back on heroin. I’d moved back to Santa Cruz and it colored. I was living with some friends on a house off of Ocean Street and one of them was shipping pounds of weed back to Florida. I flew out to Maryland Forum and caught some pounds that he mailed over there and help this girl sell them and made money that way. We tried making GHB in a little lab, in the yard, making weed concentrates like hash oil. I got involved in that whole lifestyle. My heroin use was constant throughout all this. That friend of a friend from Florida, he also had an opiate problem and began using heroin again.
I got kicked out of the house, he blamed some missing money that I actually didn’t do. There are a number of reasons he could have kicked me out that were perfectly legitimate. I ended up living on the street with one of my heroin dealers camping and I hooked up with a girl who was sometimes prostituting, and we became boyfriend and girlfriend. My mom, I don’t know why she thought that buying this shuttle bus for me was a good idea, but it was this converted shuttle bus. My girlfriend and I moved into that and would drive around, I would shoplift all day. I had some counterfeit money that we made up, good counterfeits with the strip. We would pass those all over town and get the change. Did that for almost four years until the shuttle bus got impounded. By this point, I was 100% shooting up. I could only shoot up goof balls, we call them, which is the meth mixed with heroin, a lot of Xanax. It got bad.
By the end of it, it was early in 2017,I’d been sleeping outside and almost burned down the back of this Chinese restaurant because I’m trying to start a fire to keep warm. It was early in January and I get woken up the next morning by two Capitol police and I have my piece of foil and the meth pipe there. They didn’t even take them or sees the drugs. They’re there rousting me and I immediately walked across the street to Target, get high in their bathroom. They come out and try and steal much of razors and a Head & Shoulders shampoo that some of my fences would buy and then resell the flea market. My memory’s hazy of that moment because that’s what Xanax does. You have blackouts or brown outs. A security guard stops me at the door as I’m pushing the cart out and ends up taking me down and the fixed blade knife I have on my belt goes flying out of my pants as he takes me down.
They ended up trying to charge me with armed robbery. I’m locked up for three weeks as my lawyer argues it. The judge luckily sees and I didn’t brandish it in anybody. There was a petty theft gone wrong and they ended up reducing the felony, the two misdemeanors. I pled to petty theft and assault. I get released that day and three days later, which is interestingly enough, exactly a year ago today, I shot up for the first time since getting released from jail. I knew my tolerance would be greatly reduced. I balled maybe a quarter of my usual dose of heroin and mixed it with speed. The last thing I remember is pushing that plunger all the way down with my girlfriend in the bathroom and then waking up surrounded by paramedics and firefighters.
I’d been out for almost twenty minutes. I made it a habit of carrying Narcan, naloxone with me and I provide three different people within including my girlfriend about a month before this happened. The dose that I’d use on her was the last dose that I had. She and my good friend were breathing for me and hoping that I would wake up. I’ve been completely turning progressively more blue. He called 911 and they walked him through the proper CPR technique. When the first responders got there, I needed four vials of Naloxone, which is a huge dose. Considering how little heroin I took, they later told me they thought it had been adulterated with fentanyl, which is incredibly potent opioid. I don’t remember it, but they asked where I was. I said, “F unit,” which is where I’d been locked up in jail and try to put my hands behind my back.
They’re like, “Calm down buddy. Do you know what year it is?” I said,”2004.”They’re like, “You’re going to have to go to the ER,” to get checked out and everything because I was so out of it. I was so shot out. My veins were so bad from all the IV drug use. They had to put the IV into my neck in the hospital. That was a real eye opener for how bad my situation had become at that point. That was probably the biggest turning point almost of my life in terms of my addiction and where it was taking me. Even though I had thought about suicide at different points and things like that, coming through that, I wanted to live. I know some addicts who accumulate overdoses as if they’re keeping score like stamps in the passport. For me, it wasn’t like that. It was incredibly powerful and frightening as where my addiction was taking me. It was at that point that I got in back on the waiting list to get into Janus again. Even though some of my overdose was on February 20th of last year, I did get in Janus until March 29th and my clean date is March 30th. I used afterwards but I never shot up again. I switched back to smoking it because I was so afraid of what had happened.
That was your third time in Janus. You had been at Pathway, you’d been at the Camp and you’d be in a Janus three times. I’m guessing you came to Gault House off to straight off to Janus?
Right away the day I got out of Janus.
You’ve been clean for almost eleven months. What’s your confidence level about staying clean?
Knowing that I’ve had almost four years before and what I accomplished in those four years. Although my addiction had come out in the food addiction, it feels good to be sober. I don’t know what it takes for each individual to click for that switch to get flipped that like, “Is this going to be the time?” If some people don’t even need a program in order to get off of drugs and that’s where the 12 steps comes in. I’ve seen it work some amazing miracles. I’ve also seen people that have gone through twenty programs and relapsed time after time. I think a lot of it for me is every time I’ve gone to treatment, nobody’s forced me there. I haven’t been directed by the courts and that’s necessarily a bad thing because I know people who’ve gotten long-term sobriety after being sent by a judge to a program. I’ve realized that the longer I kept that up, the less faith and support I would have from friends and family. That people were rapidly giving up on me along that entire journey. I was wasting my life. I’d already thrown away Berkeley. I could technically go back because I did a medical withdraw. In the future, I could go back and finish up there but it’s not about that so much today. It’s more about what I can do to remain on this optimistic path that I’ve set out for myself.
As I keep going in my recovery, I feel good. I can see the doors begin opening up for me. I have my family back in my life. My girlfriend is sober. Right after my overdose, even before I got into Janus, she got on Suboxone and did it for herself. I think the important thing is t when I had those three years that I said, “I bet my life that I’ll never do heroin again.” I did, and it very nearly killed me. You never want to say that never again. It’s such a powerful self-affirmation. Even saying that it feels like the thought of relapse and it certainly been, I’ve had run into old people. It’s all around us in Santa Cruz, so the opportunity is there. I don’t have a pull towards that anymore. Waking up without that obsession to drink or use, I truly wish that every addict gets that opportunity at least once because you go from utter dedication or addiction to having that feeling be completely removed is a night and day difference.
One of the things that I’ve found very important for myself is to start the process of moving towards new things instead of constantly trying to prevent myself from using old things. If I ask you, what are you moving towards, what is your answer?
My old friend, somebody that I used a lot of different drugs with while I was out there, he got sober and celebrated three years. He almost lost his family. He had two kids with his wife and she had the divorce papers signed. That was what it took to scare him into recovery. He went to school for being an electrician and he’s got a great job doing well. I’m super proud of him. Seeing that, that’s what I want. It’s inspiring to me to see a friend that I used to use with attained this life that’s very appealing to me. He also inspired me to go after or explore being an electrician because I have experience in different trades, especially painting. Electricians are the most skilled of the trades arguably and one of the most well-paid. It also requires a little bit of intellect.
I’ve always been the kind of guy who repairs works on my car myself, changing the starter, the alternator, and things like different electronics projects I made in high school. I’ve hit on what would be a good career path for me. I’ll be taking the aptitude tests for this whole apprenticeship program that the electrical union offers. It’s exciting. I’m very confident that I’ve done some studying and preparing for it. I’m pretty confident that I’ll do the aptitude tests. I do well with interviews. Setting these goals for myself and believing that as long as I keep doing the next right thing that these doors will open for me. I truly believe that everything always works out in the end. Even if it’s not like my initial thought or what my first conception of what that will look like, as long as I stay sober and remain honest and I’m committed to myself and my recovery that truly miraculous things will end up happening.
I would suggest that you consider exploring writing skills. One suggestion would be to write short verses and put them on cards and sell the cards. I’d also suggest looking into marine electronics. I used to own a sail boat in the harbor and I had a friend do some electrical work on the sailboat. He had a complete monopoly on the electrical work. If any of those are helpful to you, I’m delighted because I’m delighted to have you as a guest. I’m so pleased you shared in-depth with me and the audience your life experiences. I want to thank you very much for being here.
Thank you. I appreciate it.
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