By David “R.J.” Vied
I am willing to share personal accounts of my experiences with you in hopes you will better understand the thinking of an addict. Well, at least this addict. If my experience can help just one person a day, then, ultimately, it helps me.
I am no college grad. I’m a high school dropout turned father, husband and union carpenter. At the ripe young age of 17, I found out I was having a daughter. Nine months later, I became a homeowner, father and full-time adult. There were no more clubs, parties or bars with friends. The thought that in just two years I would be shooting heroin and committing crimes, only to become completely alone in an empty shell of a home … My drinking reared its evil head, and I was off to what would be a 15-year run.
If you had a chance to read “Loving an Addict: A Painful Goodbye,” you know that I grew up with both parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all married till death did them part. So imagine the feeling of becoming the first Catholic member of the family to divorce. Imagine sitting in an empty house with pictures of what was once a young family living the American dream. It was a short-lived dream replaced with domestic violence, infidelity and the occasional blackouts.
Drugs First, Family Later
Why? Was it because I was too young to take care of a family? Was it the fact I went from sitting in history class to fatherhood and marriage? No, that would be the easy way out, the painless way to not take accountability for my drinking. The fact is I found a love like no other. I had arrived to a place of comfort. I used to call it my Southern Comfort. A comfort that I alone could feel, as for those around me, well, let’s just say comfort was the last feeling on their list.
Years go by, women came into my life just long enough for me to push them out. The pure shame of my actions only led to more drinking, more drugs and less me. I completely lost myself. I became a shell of a man, a little boy living in a malnourished body.
My life took a drastic turn. I used to always say every time I tell God to go to hell, he stays and I go instead. I must have cursed him a thousand times a day. As I was lying on my mattress in this damp, dingy basement, I took my last line of cocaine, the line that should have sealed my fate, but the God I cursed had another plan. The woman of the week was with me. I’m not sure her name, and I highly doubt I knew it at the time. At the time, I had no idea the severity of my diminishing health. Not that I cared, to be honest. I had three to four meals a week were simply because they were force fed by my friends. I was 6-feet-3-inches tall and weighed in at 148 pounds. It must have been early morning. I could hear the responsible adults heading off to work and birds chirping. I had that overwhelming feeling of just, Shit, who am I, and what have I become? I watched my dad — every single day for decades — get up, take us to school and go to work. He was a man who took care of his family. Here, I lay unemployed, sleeping with a stranger for drugs and ignoring all calls from family. It was at this moment something greater than my frail self pushed pause on my horror show.
Ready and Willing to Die
I’m being rushed to OR. The doctor, without any remorse, mentions to my panicked father that I’m not going to make it. Again, God intervened, and seven days later I woke up with several tubes in my throat, my hands strapped to the bed and two marks on my neck from surgery.
You’re probably thinking how scared I must have been upon waking? How the tears in my father’s eyes must have affected my thought process? You’re probably thinking I must have felt so lucky to be alive. Well, my initial feeling upon seeing those tears in my father’s eyes and hearing my mom cry was pain. My second thought was, How do I get more coke, and how the hell am I going to use tied up in this bed? I had zero regard for any family members, their concerns, feelings or wishes for me. I did not care that I nearly lost my life. It was drugs first, family later.
A few years go by, and I find myself alcohol and cocaine free. I lost all desire to drink or sniff another line. The obsession had been lifted! Lifted by the hands of painkillers and heroin. I went from sniffing lines to shooting dope. I now have three beautiful kids, three disappointed and angry single mothers, and parents on the verge of planning their first born's funeral. I hated the idea of living. I had given up all hope of becoming a father, and I wanted nothing to do with life. I wanted back in that coma, the kind you don’t wake up from.
At this point in my life, I hurt everyone I loved. I’ve lost trust from all my friends and family. I’m in and out of detoxes and rehabs. I’m living on strangers’ couches and in my car. I see my kids once a month and mostly through pictures. My life had become nothing but a domestic battle with heroin. Although the business end of a 9mm or the crisp, cold taste of a Remington 12 gauge had no effect on me, neither did the terrified faces of my kids. The countless nights of disappointment and tears, the dozens of missed calls from loved ones — I had reached a point where nothing mattered anymore and death became more attractive than putting a drug in my vein. My chances of this recovering addict making it to heaven was slim to none, but I’ll tell you right now that hell had nothing on my daily life on earth. I was ready, and willing, to die.
Removing the Stigma of Addiction
Most of the world will look at an addict and have zero sympathy. I can’t blame them given the process of self-medicating. There are a lot of times I get people writing me with harsh, heart-stabbing words: “You’re a junkie. Why don't you just die? You don't have a disease. It’s an excuse for that fact you’re just a bad person!” I try to come up with analogies that relate this disease to others. It’s very difficult.
Honestly, I wish people would stop, drown out the media’s stigma and just think. Drive down to a bad area in your town, and look down the street. Do you see that 20-something-year-old with the hoodie up, hands shaking as he’s holding that sign begging for change? Don't you feel bad! This kid wanted this life when he was 6 years old. He is right where he dreamed he would be. Now, go up to this young man and offer him some food, maybe something from McDonald’s. That was my favorite. Do not be shocked if he denies the food. Trust me: He probably hasn't eaten anything in a few days. At this point, he knows when eating is an option. Again, this man once dreamed of eating twice a week, begging for change in the freezing cold just for one more high. Offer him help. He may take it, or he just may take the ride across town and your purse.
Now, if I told you this guy was a good person deep down, you would call me crazy. What if I told you that same kid had a full ride to UCLA on a basketball scholarship? He was No. 2 of his graduating class and the father of a beautiful little girl? What if I told you he volunteered at his local church for years and loved it? What if you took the time to see the disease as insidious and not the person?
This is the last disease I wish on anyone. It’s killing thousands of families, yet it’s stigmatized as a generation of junkie deadbeats that flood our streets. No, we were once all the same: little kids dreaming of flying to space, becoming doctors, lawyers and firemen. We are some of the most talented and resourceful individuals on this planet. We are competent and capable of achieving anything with ease. It only takes one time — one hit, one drink, one needle — to change your entire course in life. And when that course is set, we take everything down with us.
So what does that leave us with? We have a national epidemic going on. People have a disease. Now what? Well, thank you for asking. The media likes to show what sells. Violence, death and terror among many other facets. The truth is, take the amount of people suffering in active addiction, and double that number. That's the amount of people living in recovery, no longer in a hopeless state of mind. There are thousands of doctors, lawyers, successful men and women living with this disease and striving. They have found a solution.
Yes, there is a solution to all of this. As loved ones of addicts, we like to force recovery, force them to get help and stay clean and sober. Not going to happen. This is completely up to them. Now, it is always always a good time to plant the seed, but this needs to grown within. Just by being empathetic toward another human being may be what changes the stigma, better understanding and education on the disease, knowing there is hope and you’re not alone. It took Caitlyn Jenner a lot of courage to get out that dark hell she lived in for years, but she did it. She stopped hiding in shame, and now the country has not only accepted her for her but also the LGBTQ community as a whole. We need to do the same and not be ashamed.
Again, this is coming from my personal experience. I’m no therapist or doctor. I’m a person who didn’t die and found a way to not want to. That’s it. By describing my mentality during active addiction, some may realize how serious this disease is. Again, it’s the only disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease.
Finding a Solution
Let’s set a few things straight: A lot of you may think after reading this, “Wow, this guy was a deadbeat, a heartless man. He was selfish by having kids when he couldn’t manage himself.” The truth is, I never stopped loving my family. My little Hannah was my world, my everything, the only girl to ever stand by me and never leave. My father was my best friend, my idol and the man I only wished to be half of. My mother and I fought countless times because she cared and was watching her son dying. I loved them all. I hated me, and I loved the way drugs and alcohol made it easier to live in my skin. My first thought every day was the same: Who am I going to have to hurt today to get high? Who will I have to lie to, steal from or manipulate? Literally, my first thought every single morning. The moment that drink or drug was ingested, I was on the phone calling everyone, filling their hearts and minds with lies: “Yes, Mom, I’m fine. I’m living in a nice sober house in the city. “No, Dad, I haven’t used drugs in days and work is going great, I promise!” Meanwhile, I’m on the other end, freezing cold in a truck I call home, dope bags scattered through the car and blood stains on the seats from the countless needles. I found myself happy, content and able once the drug entered my body. There was no task too big and no job I couldn’t do!! It’s now 15 to 20 minutes later, and I’m planning my next victim to vomit lies on. This happened over and over again, every single day. The amount of energy it takes to get and stay high is incredible. The average person would more than likely need a nap midday. No matter who is in your way — your mother, father, wife, kids — the obsession is so strong that it consumes the addict. For me, it was as if I saw my family and those closest to me as strangers, people who will always forgive me no matter what. All along, they were my victims, my pawns in the deadliest game of chess known to man.
As addicts, we have the option to self-medicate, to over medicate, in order to cover our guilt, fears and actions. Just please know, as soon as someone sobers up, that pain is there. It’s there, and it’s deep. All the hurt we have caused, all the crimes we have committed, they are still there. This is why it’s crucial for someone to seek treatment after detox. There is a point when there is little to no clarity. I would have never taken anything in if I first did not have those 60 days with a therapist.
Also know, and I’m sure many will agree, rehab is but a tiny grain of sand in one’s foundation. It is not and will not ever be the end all. To this day, I make sure I stay connected with my peers. I work a program, and I help others. This is a process — a far from simple, painful, yet so worth it process.
If I could suggest anything, if you are a parent or loved one who is an addict, please seek support. There are groups and clubhouses that hold meetings for those in need. It is just as important, if not more important, that you have your own program. You must grow separate. You must focus on you and your sanity. This all sounds a little selfish to some, but we need to remain selfish until it’s time to be selfless. For everyone out there that may be going through this, I pray for you. Know that millions have found a solution and are living an amazing life. You can, too.
David “R.J.” Vied is director of public relations at Reliance Treatment Center.