Carlos, 45, grew up in the East Bay and Northern California. In his teenage years, after numerous Grateful Dead shows and experimentation with using and selling psychedelics, he was eventually consumed by alcoholism and trapped in a cycle of relapse brought about by cannabis use and his drinking. This is the story of how he came to arrive at the Gault House SLE, and what his hope and inspiration for recovery look like today. He joins Paul Noddings to tell his journey to us, providing wisdom and courage for those who are going through the same.
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Carlos – Alcohol, Cannabis, And Psychedelics
Finding Relief Through A Cycle Of Relapse
In this episode, I will be talking to Carlos about his best and worst times using drugs and alcohol. We are against the use of drugs and alcohol. We are asking these questions to our guests because we believe that our audience wants to know this information. Carlos is a client at the Gault House Sober Living Environment in Santa Cruz, California. He has been addicted primarily to alcohol and cannabis, but also use an array of other substances. Carlos, how are you doing?
I’m doing well. Thanks to the Gault House, I’m feeling extremely healthy. I am in complete sobriety. It’s been years since I’ve had complete sobriety. It feels great.
I’m glad to hear that. What was your drug of choice and how did you get started using it?
Alcohol, primarily, and I consider it a heavy drug like heroin. In my family, especially after hitting the gutter and having to go into residential rehab, they say that they can remember when I was about eighteen months old. I was at a badminton party and I picked up a red cup and was walking around with it for a little while before someone noticed that I had taken some sips off of it. They were having a good time with it because I was stumbling around. Of course, I don’t remember that. I do remember getting my mother beers from the refrigerator. By age 8 and 9, she would allow me to crack open the beers and even take a little swig. They would be amused by it, my mother and my stepfather.
By age eleven, my mother let me start using cannabis and drinking at home. She didn’t want us out in the streets doing it. She felt we would be safer doing it at home. At age eleven was the first time that she heard me vomiting out of my bedroom window. I had alcohol poisoning. She had to put me in the bathtub and try to use cold water and whatnot. She was pretty close to calling an ambulance but she didn’t. She had a fear for her own freedom. I do remember defecating in the shower and she got a chuckle out of it. She was buzzed at least, if not drunk herself, at the time and was saying things like, “Don’t you see now? This is what it’s going to do. You’re lucky that I’m here.” It was still accepted. It wasn’t something that I got in trouble for. She still allowed me and my older brother and eventually my younger sister to drink openly and freely at home.
You had substance abuse issues within your family, you would say?
Yes. My father was a revolutionary and he was with Cesar Chavez for six years. He talks about having alfredo and burgundy wine binge when he was in college. Other than that, he was naturally clean and sober and cared about community and organizing a lot more.
What happened after your early childhood? How did your addiction begin getting started in high school or around your teenage years?
I had skipped the first grade and I was a promising child academically. I started skateboarding when I was eleven and hanging out with even older kids. They would smoke cigarettes and like to drink at the creek. I would defy my mother’s wishes to use that at home. Oftentimes, I would come home drunk between the ages of eleven and then into junior high. My older brother was a senior when I was a freshman at the same high school. He was into bands like the Grateful Dead as my mom was. I also have an uncle. It was something I was attracted to. I thought I was cool. I wanted to be at the older kids’ parties and whatnot. I was invited.
In high school, it took off. Aside from wanting to drink all the time and not be in school, I started using hallucinogens. Eventually, I went to my first show when I was sixteen years old, my first Grateful Dead show. My mother condoned it. I remember when I was fourteen when I took my first acid trip and I did it in our neighborhood and skateboarding around. When I came home, she took care of me at the dining table and let me draw and trip at home. It was warm and cuddly in a way.
Would say that your first trip was positive then? You had nothing that would deter you from using it further?
Absolutely. However, one of my first string of shows was in Sacramento when I was seventeen, we would always go to all three shows. My mother would buy tickets for my girlfriend and I and provide cannabis, provide an eighteen-pack, give me money and give us a ride to and from all three shows. There was one point where by the last show it was hot in Sacramento. I had been tripping on hallucinogens the whole time. I gave lots of nitrous oxide. I was drinking, smoking lots of cannabis. I ended up being John Doe LSD number three because I went away from our circle of friends to use the bathroom. I was feeling a little nauseous. I had eaten five hits of acid and a bunch of mushrooms. It was the third day in a string of shows.It does not make sense to go far without helping others. Click To Tweet
I was dehydrated. I walked out trying to get through the hallways and I tried to get to the bathroom. I remember some kids coming up and knowing that I was out of my mind and needed assistance. They had curly fries and a big drink and they’re like, “Do you want a drink?” I tried to get it but I knocked it out of their hands and I passed out. I woke up on the Red Cross mat and I didn’t know my name. I couldn’t tell them who I was.
Nearing the end of the show, I still hadn’t come through. They had to put me in an ambulance and I ended up at the hospital, John Doe LSD number three, until it wore off and I said, “I’m Carlos Volguin and here’s my number, 506-231-4154.” They had me strapped but I had wiggled out of it and taken the little monitors out. They called my family and the next thing my older brother came right in and then they let me leave with him. He said, “That’s my little brother. I’m taking him home.” There were no charges pressed. I went home. My mother let me sleep it off. There were no repercussions from my family. It was like, “That happens.” They didn’t consider it a bad trip.
You used psychedelics after that experience?
Absolutely. I was into selling it and distributing it at my high school. My older brother and I were known for it. We were smart kids. They could never catch us, but pretty much the whole high school knew it. We were infamous for it. It’s interesting. After that, I plunged deep later on in life.
What was your progression like? Were you not attending class in lieu of getting intoxicated with your friends? Did you graduate high school?
No, I didn’t. It progressed. I had some friends that lived right around the corner from the high school. One of my buddies was German. They had a pool table and we’d always cut class. They had this huge wet bar and we could have it and his parents didn’t look at levels or anything. There would be 5, 6 of us cutting a couple of classes before and after lunch. We’re going to leave at lunch and not go back to school and go party. In the middle of the week, it was random, whenever we wanted. It definitely progressed. I did not graduate from high school. I went to continuation. I took the high school proficiency exam. For me, skipping the first grade, being gifted and talented and whatnot, I had shown a lot of academic promise but it never came to fruition until later on in life through recovery.
I’m curious, before the consequences caught up with you, what was your best experience using drugs?
It’s hard to pinpoint one best experience, but I would say it was definitely at a Grateful Dead show at Oakland Coliseum. At that point, I was eighteen years old and was linked up with the family, you could say in Berkeley. I would hang out on Telegraph distributing a lot of LSD, mushrooms and cannabis. I went to the show and the high was great. The show was great. The audience was great. I felt like I had come out of my shell and that I was a grown-up and that I was a part of this huge family. For a long time, it meant more to me than my actual family.
At a Grateful Dead show, I definitely had one of my best experiences where there wasn’t any type of negative feeling from it, no negative after-effects that come down. It wasn’t hard or heavy. Though I had been drinking alcoholically, intermittently, throughout the years since I was 11 to 18 or 19, I remember not being hungover. Sure, I dosed hard and drank quite a bit, but I always looked up to my older brother and his friends. It seemed like there were no repercussions at that point.
How many Dead shows did you go to?
From ‘91 until Jerry Garcia died trying to kick heroin. I never went on tour, although I had been invited. I was quite the homeboy, you could say. Also, I had skateboarded since I was eleven. At least twenty including a lot of Jerry Garcia band shows. Garcia and Grisman, which was the acoustic end of things. I probably went to twenty-some-odd Jerry shows as well. It’s 40 or something shows.
Did you see Phish or adjacent jam band things?
Absolutely. My older brother had friends from the East Coast in his early twenties. His name is Javier, I was considered a Little Jav for a long time. I got dragged to a lot of Phish shows. I still love the band. I know what Trey has been through with opioids in particular. I went to quite a few Phish shows. A lot less than Jerry affiliated shows, but ten or so.
When did things begin to take a turn for the worse around your substance abuse and dependency?
A lot of my friends looked up to me because of my social ability. I was a good networker. I can make people a lot of money and I got my share of it. Eventually, my alcoholism in my early twenties, twenty and on, I wasn’t a good drug dealer anymore. I would miss deals. I would lose packages. They could not depend on me anymore. Eventually, through that, I thought that I had made them plenty of money and that they needed to take care of me. They did for a long time, but eventually, the bottom fell out of that. I would start to steal from them. They had no proof and those things.
I ended up having to run from Berkeley because all of my best friends in that circle, Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, pretty much want to cause some physical damage to me. I ran with my tail between my legs to Sacramento. That’s when things got bad because I was trying to numb out the pain of losing some of my best high school friends that I had turned on to the Grateful Dead. They weren’t such big alcoholic like myself. Some of them may have been. One of my best friends wasn’t. He’s a huge broker in the business and did well with it, you could say, financially. Although, he talks about how he wishes he would have done something that’s more substantial and not along those lines as far as education, building a family, and those things. It fell apart when I was about 23 and I had to leave the area.
What were you selling?
A lot of acid, mushrooms, and cannabis. It’s what we believed in. At that point, I would say, we hated tweakers. We were against it. We did not like junkies, especially after Jerry Garcia died in ‘95, and also crackheads. Although we did a lot of blow or cocaine, we thought we were on our high horse spiritually. Otherwise, we were better and holier than that.
What began you turning away from drugs?
At age 25, my mother’s door was always open to me even though I had burned bridges in the Bay Area. Between 23 and 25, I had good connections for cannabis. She was lazy sometimes, my mother. She would give me her bank card and I had the code. I had the pin number. I’d pull out $50, $100 and get her some cannabis. I was deep into my alcoholism at that point and I would take out a little extra at first. It would turn into a lot of extra.
From time to time, I would go into her purse or my stepfather’s wallet to get what I needed when she didn’t need something. I was into the restaurant and the foodservice industry. I was a decent busser and then server. I did have my own money at times. My alcoholism started to take its toll and I drained her bank account eventually. The door then got last enabling bridge got burned. I remember coming home and there was a big Glad bag with all my clothes in it.
My stepfather, who’s Texan and throws haymakers, he boxed in the Navy and whatnot. He was the one who taught me how to fight, so to speak. He was standing behind my mother and I was a feisty kid. I went in to get more of my stuff, my bong, or whatever. It wasn’t happening. They gave me a bag of clothes and they said, “That’s it. You’re on your own.” I had a friend with a car waiting for me and they said, “Don’t make us call the cops,” which was one of my worst fears at that time.
I still was on high horse and I thought, “I’m going to turn this around. I’ll do some deals. I’ll make some money. It will be okay. I’ll have my own place.” I told them where to go with it. It only took about two months before I was homeless on the streets in my mother’s neighborhood. In the same neighborhood where I went to junior high and high school where I used to be popular among the skaters and Dead Heads and all that.
By age 28, I remember to skip ahead a little bit. It was around Thanksgiving time and I was a wreck from alcohol. I was drinking in the gutter at that point and showering maybe once a week at a compassionate and fellow alcoholic friend’s house. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was cut off, alienated from family and friends alike. I have quite a big family on both sides that I missed, all my uncles and my brother and sister, my folks. It was heavy. These are the days of payphones and I remember spare changing for 40-ounce. We used to glorify it, and I couldn’t drink it. I tried to crack this 40 and I would also spare change for $1 Famous Star at Carl’s Jr and stuff. I hadn’t eaten several days and all I cared about was the next bottle. I couldn’t drink it.It’s important to get to a point where you can be a productive member of society. Click To Tweet
My father was trying to get me into the treatment center. I would say the whole time because I wasn’t in contact. I had to call them. They had no way to contact me. Before that, I had disappeared for a couple years between age 25 and 28 to The Grass Valley area. I remember not being able to drink this 40 and it was a few days before Thanksgiving and I broke down. I put a $0.25 in the payphone and called my father and he said, “If you want to come home, you’re going to have to go to the treatment program.” That’s what I proceeded to do.
How did that program work out for you? I’m assuming that you went.
Yeah. It was interesting. They had it in Kensington in Berkeley Hills. It was an open door because I was finally willing to accept some help. They can tell that I was whole-hearted and I was done. It was that destitute in every regard. It was the Cronin House which a stepbrother of mine had completed a program there and turned his life around. They had an eighteen-day wait. I have stayed in there for a couple of weeks before I got the eighteen-day wait, which would have been January 3rd, 2003. We had New Year’s Eve before that.
There were some UC Berkeley students that are grad students too and they live behind my folks and they had a big New Year’s Eve party. I remember having a couple of weeks because I was locked in their house sneaking over to that party. They had no idea what was going on. My stepmother, especially, was embarrassed by it. I was able to go down there and I would party with them all night. They didn’t know where I had gone. At 2:00 something in the morning, I’m stumbling up the stairs. They weren’t surprised. They knew I was going into the Cronin House and I still wanted to. On the 3rd, I went in and that’s when I was introduced to the twelve steps and a lot of psychotherapy and group sessions. That was a good experience because since I was eleven years old, I hadn’t gone a few days, barely a week, without being on something.
What happened afterward? I know that you had been drinking before you arrived at the Gault House. I’m curious what the pathway to relapse was. If you have a particularly difficult experience there, I’d be interested to hear it.
I completed 46 days of the Cronin House. I was on a pink cloud, as we say. I felt good. I knew that I was going to be successful. I knew that I was going to do some great things. I was able to be a pillar in my treatment center. It was an awesome experience. I went into an SLE, it’s Horizon South.
I went through there.
Cronin House is Horizon North. It’s definitely a brother-sister program. That was a great experience. I remember one of the house managers went out on crack while I was there. We were all surprised because he seemed together and everything. That didn’t have any bearing on me. I had already gotten a sponsor. We would take vans from the house and go to these huge meetings in Los Gatos, St. Luke’s. There were over 100 people and all this.
I was 28 at the time and I had this beautiful girlfriend. I had a year clean and sober. At the time, I only had a little over 90 days. Even though I was older, they shunned her but not much because I was older and that I was a newcomer. It was great and I stayed clean and sober for almost two years before I let cannabis slip back in. It was out of a celebration. I had a job at Whole Foods. I was going to West Valley College. I’d never had a unit of college before that. It’s all because you work in steps.
I let my guard down. I was doing great and making money out of my studio apartment. I’ve been playing percussion and drums since I was about eighteen through the Grateful Dead scene. I had started to study Afro-Latin percussion in Berkeley before that. I was playing with bands all of a sudden. I was this singer-songwriter in Downtown Campbell at Tannin’s wine bar and I didn’t want any wine. I still would not drink, just cannabis. I held on to this thing where I haven’t drunk for three years. I wouldn’t talk about with certain family folks that I’m taking bong hits every day. Eventually, I drank after about three years.
I had a wonderful girlfriend. We were talking about marriage and things like that and things got bad quickly. It was exponential. I didn’t see it coming. I went to jail. I busted up our apartment. I never hit her physically, but vandalism and criminal destruction of property. I had been to jail for DUI in my early twenties. I would get drunk in public. I had a whole slew of those. I had this fear of jail. I never did more than eighteen days in my life. I don’t consider myself a hardened criminal or glorified at all. It was scary. Oftentimes, I was calling in sick to work. I worked at both Whole Foods that time, at Campbell and Cupertino. They have the beer Olympics and stuff. I slipped back into it and forgot all about the program and the great meetings. I did not forget all about it. It ruins the party if you ever do it wholeheartedly. I would have to drink more to enjoy it.
Did you make any further attempts at recovery at that stage or a little bit later? How long did that lapse period last? Did you give it another shot?
Things got desperate quickly. I was fortunate enough that my girlfriend at the time, we ended up staying together for about six years. She would help me out financially so I wouldn’t be homeless. I consider that enabling in a way. I would come back for a year. Things would get great. I usually have relapsed in celebration or when things get good, not because things are bad. I was letting my guard down and being complacent. I had a year and then I’d go out for a year.
At one point, I left Whole Foods in sobriety and I definitely wanted to do something with my education. I had been going to West Valley for a few years and started studying. I earned an associate’s degree in computer animation and then a full-ride scholarship to UCSC. I remember that my girlfriend and I were planning on getting married. She did not want to have children of her own. She wanted to adopt. I was trying to talk her into it, “At least have one.” She did not want to. I remember using cannabis again. It’s the same old story.
The summer before I had a full-ride scholarship, things were awesome. I was going to start in the fall. This is 2009. My friends wanting to take me out and celebrate and they weren’t a part of the rooms or recovery. They keep that hidden. It’s a reservation. I didn’t know it. It was such a sneaky little thing that happens. I remember accepting their invite to go to Boswells, which is a diet bar in Campbell. I remember I was telling myself, “Smoke some herb and get high,” which I’d already started doing a couple of months before that. Her and I were close to breaking up.
Once I got there and the pitchers of beer were on the table, 3 or 4 of them, I accepted it and I started drinking. This beautiful woman walks in and they all knew I wanted out of this other relationship. Not wanted it out of it. It was a sad thing but I was done. I knew I wanted to have children of my own or at least a child of my own. They heckled me and I went up and asked her if I could buy her a beer and she said, “No, but I’ll buy you one.” She wouldn’t give me her number. She took my number and called me two weeks later. She ended up being my future ex-wife. We have a daughter.
I went into UCSC to relapse. Recovery is the only way I would have ever been able to achieve that. I don’t think there was much gratitude on my psyche. UCSC was a struggle for me. I was definitely in and out. I had to stop drinking but I wouldn’t stop smoking pot in order to graduate. I graduated in 2011 and still smoking weed. That woman that I was talking about that I met at Boswells, we ended up living together. She did party with me a lot. She was an elementary school teacher. She told me, “You’re a bad influence.” She’s a normie. She can have a beer or two. She can go out and party. Sometimes, she doesn’t even finish one beer, especially during the week or finish her glass of wine. She likes one at night or one a day or something. She’d go, “I never would go. I would never arrive to my kids, my classroom, hungover.” She never missed a workday, but she went hungover because of me in a way.
She stuck with me until after graduation from UCSC in 2011. I did not know what to do. I was drinking and smoking cannabis. I was not using cannabis in other forms. I could not stop no matter what she said. We were getting complaints from our landlords. We were renting a nice guesthouse in Aptos, Freedom and Valencia. It was beautiful with a pool. We had two stories. I wouldn’t quit. Eventually, she had enough. She didn’t want to get kicked out. She packed up all my stuff into her pick up. I was revolting. I said, “Fine. Take me home.” My mother, having been at my graduation with the whole family, she didn’t take it like it was a big deal, “My son is back. Your room is still there.”
It got bad for about a week and I was sick. I was in love with her though. I begged her to come back to the Santa Cruz area. I would write our landlords a letter and get back into the program and work the steps, which I proceeded to do. I was rabbit hole about recovery again and things got good. We ended up getting married at La Selva Beach. I was clean and sober for two years when my daughter was born. I graduated from UCSC even though I was using cannabis at that point. The marriage and the birth of my daughter were some of the best things that ever happened to me in recovery. Being there clear-headed, super responsible, and cutting the umbilical cord. We did not want to know the sex. She wanted a girl badly. The doctor was a female and she showed me. I was able to hand our daughter to my wife and say, “It’s a girl.” I don’t know if you can beat that.
Unfortunately, I had a fear. I was happy and things were going good. We lived in Felton, in a beautiful cottage. I had a new car, a 2010 RAV4. She had a Prius. They’re both white. It’s her type of thing. We got them both at Santa Cruz Toyota. Things were unbelievable. The gifts, the rewards, the promises came to fruition. Two weeks after we brought my daughter home, I had a fear and it was overwhelming. Not to mention I was a stay-at-home father. I’d worked nights as a produce clerk at the New Leaf in Felton. I worked in produce for about ten years between Whole Foods and New Leaf and was in management.
I started smoking cannabis again and hiding from her. It took her a couple of months. Being a stay-at-home dad for the first eighteen months of my daughter’s life, I was good at hiding it. She found out by the time my daughter was 2.5 months old. I left. They would retreat to the bedroom because they slept together. I would oftentimes sleep with them. Sometimes I would sleep in the living room. I would get high after they went to bed. I left my pipe on the deck. She’s leaving us to teach in Morgan Hill Elementary School. She leaves, “Goodbye, honey.” She comes back in the door with this look in her eyes. I’m like, “What?”
At that point, in my heart, I was like, “It’s just cannabis. Go to work.” She’s like, “There’s a pipe on the railing out there.” She had to go. She’s not going to be late. She’s extremely responsible. I remember going, “I can manipulate my way through this.” I was back and it only took a couple of months. I need it that bad. I didn’t want to drink at that point. I’m looking at my daughter’s eyes. I wouldn’t stop using cannabis at that point. We worked it out. Instead, it’s manipulative if you look back in the history. She knew it, but she wanted a family so bad since we worked hard for it. There was that, “How could you?” I would talk her into, “It’s going to be okay. I’m not going to drink. I’ll moderate.” That definitely didn’t happen. The drinking came back into the picture.
By the time my daughter was eighteen months old, she had to leave. Her mother came down from Crescent City. Nana, who I had an awesome relationship with back then, her and my daughter moved to Boulder Creek from Felton. It’s not far away. She still wanted to work it out. She knew she needed to do something to snap me out of it and it worked. When Nana came and they were packing up all their stuff, I remember begging her, “I’ll go back into the program. I’ll fix it.” Unfortunately, there were pounds of cannabis in our little storage and money that she’s like, “What’s this?” She didn’t complain when the money would be in the bank account. Here comes some of that manipulation. She’s not stupid.
They moved to Boulder Creek. It was the night before they were going to move, I was begging her. I was on my hands and knees, “Please, go back.” I was definitely drunk and high. I was getting in my car, her and Nana going, “Carlos, are you crazy? Don’t get behind the wheel. What are you doing? It’s not going to help you. This is ridiculous.” I got behind the wheel and all I did was drive out and around. We had around about. It’s a windy mountain road. I came back around and I pulled in the driveway. That whole time I remember shrieking. It’s not screaming. It’s like the Bad Lieutenant. I was driving and I let it all out. That was one of the worst experiences of my life.We don't have to continue to be self-destructive. Click To Tweet
In my heart, I was like, “If I let it out and shriek, God is going to know that I mean business.” It didn’t help. She needed to take my daughter away from me because I was quite insane. We had a nice framed photo from our wedding on the wall. During one of the fights, a week prior to them leaving, I had taken it off the wall and smashed it because she wanted me to get sober. The frame was a wedding gift from one of her high school friends. It was tragic to her and saying, “Why? How did I marry and have a child with someone who’s insane and crazy?” That’s one of the worst experiences in my life.
That’s rough. What’s interesting hearing your story is how much the relationship between cannabis and alcohol. It’s fairly common.
It’s the guilt and shame and having to numb it out. It’s unbelievable. I do not have a problem writing about the notion of insanity. I’m recovering and doing step work. When I look at it now with a clear head and clear mind, I know that I can’t dwell on that shame and guilt. We have to turn that energy into energy that’s going to help me. If I don’t help others, it won’t make sense.
Does your ex-wife have a conception? I don’t know if she’s done any Al-Anon or anything like that, but understand the nature of the disease. I’m certain she’s grateful where you are. What happened next? What brought you to the Gault House?
They lived in Boulder Creek until my daughter was on the cusp of 4 maybe 3.5 years old. I was in and out. Cannabis always brought me back to alcohol. Things would get good for six months. I’d be clean and sober. I would do secretary meetings at the VanderHouwen fellowship. At one point, until there was a whole slew of the revolving door of relapse, she realized that she had to divorce me. She didn’t want to. She had to because I always sit back and she said, “What if you have three years ago, then you start drinking again, I’m seeing the same thing over and over again.” At one point, she liked going to meetings with me. What she didn’t like was the holier than that was spiritual high horse that a lot of people in recovery would be on. She didn’t like going to meetings anymore. She would criticize and things like that. When I was clean and sober, I would be offended by that.
She did love a lot of my friends that were in recovery. She didn’t like to go to the meetings. I tried to get her to read the first 164 pages of the book. The same thing, she’d get to the wives. She felt a lot of it was critical or that the idea that an alcoholic addict is like a cancer patient. Would you shun a cancer patient? She didn’t like that type of rhetoric. She didn’t grasp that type of compassion. I can’t blame her. I don’t blame her for that. She never read the full 164 pages. To my knowledge, if she’s being honest with me, she never went to Al-Anon.
Nana and her do like to get a little bit tipsy. Nana is an alcoholic. My ex-wife drinks wine and beer. I know that during the holidays because I’ve been there with them, that Nana gets tight. I had put that into her face at times. The revolving door relapse, I did that commitment. I started smoking pot about two weeks before I was done with the six-month commitment. I had to apologize after coming. A year later, when I got back in, I drank again. That time, when I came back, I had to apologize to the fellowship. They appreciated me standing up and letting them know. I wanted them to be near me. I needed it to be more structured. I needed a sponsor that was going to work with me steadfastly and make sure I’m doing my step work. It was sinking in this time, so to speak.
It’s been in and out. It’s been hard. Eventually, she got sick and tired. My daughter is old enough to go to daycare. It’s expensive. Maybe for financial reasons, but also being hopeful. I would get to do two days of daddy daycare at their place in Boulder Creek. I blew that too. I started using cannabis again. When my daughter is napping, I would sneak outside and take a toke. At one point, I had left in my shirt pocket or something, a bag. When she came home, I was aloof. I didn’t even know that the house smelled like it. It’s pretty high grade. The look in her eyes was unbelievable. That was it. She said, “That’s it.” She’s going, “Five days a week and no daycare.” It’s going to cost our family because we had started to build up our savings and I have drained that prior to them moving to Boulder Creek.
I would show promise and we would all go out to pizza together. A couple of times a week, I would get to come over and visit but I couldn’t be alone with her. She didn’t divorce me right away through all of this. She wanted me to do the deal that way and set an example, but I didn’t. I got a knock on the door at one point while my daughter was napping and it was the Sheriff, “You’ve been served,” while I was still doing the daddy daycare. There are two weeks after she came home and smelled cannabis that she still had to have me there two days a week for a couple of weeks. That’s when I got served the divorce papers.
I was trying to quit. I wasn’t drinking and I was going to meetings. It didn’t crush me, the divorce thing. Part of it is my own ego, being egocentric to that. I was in love with her and so as my daughter. I wanted the family back, but I was like, “I can find another girlfriend.” What’s a girlfriend compared to the love of your life and the mother of your child? That’s insanity as well. Eventually, she had to move to Humboldt. I started drinking again. I could not provide the $500 a month that we had agreed to. We never went to court. It was an amicable divorce, so to speak. That’s what we call it to sugarcoat it. In many ways, it wasn’t amicable. I didn’t want to go to court. She offered joint custody, but she wanted full physical custody and I have legal custody. That means she gets to decide if I visit, who Indigo lives with. I have the right to know what education she’s getting and who’s taking care of her and things like that, but I don’t have a say over visitation or anything.
They move to Humboldt and that was crushing, the separation issues that I went through. I tried to get sober. I never let go of the cannabis. I would go help growers trimming and whatnot and distributing. I fell back into that easy money lifestyle and it’s a party. For the last couple of years, I’ve been doing that. I had eight months without drinking but I grew my own and started seeing another woman who’s not alcoholic. She doesn’t drink or smoke pot, cigarettes or anything. She’s a good influence in my life. It’s my friend, Alison, who helped me out financially in order to come here. She stayed by my side. The past years have been nuts. I got a DUI. I almost wrecked her car. Fortunately, I didn’t. I blew a .29.
At this point, my ex-wife loves our daughter and knows how much my daughter loves me. She knows that I love my daughter no matter what happened or what has happened. I let her know what I was doing and where I am. She said, “We’ll do Zoom meetings.” The last time I saw my daughter was on her birthday. I went up to our kid and we had a good COVID-19 type of social distancing birthday party, me, my daughter, and my ex-wife, which was tough. My daughter used to be on my shoulders. We had a great time. After that, I remember leaving our little get-together. Alison gave me a ride up there and we got a hotel. They’ve never met before, by the way. Although Alison has met my mother and my sister in Sacramento. I left at my daughter’s sixth birthday, and I went right to the store and got some ales and then we went to the brewery.
Alison has enabled, in a way, but I don’t consider that. I consider it manipulative. I know that Alison loves me and I love her. However, that’s not love, manipulating someone into thinking, “It’s going to be okay. I’ll get help, but I’m shaking and I’m going to need a couple of pints at least.” She knows that starts it off. The trip home was hell. We’re pulling over every hour so I can smoke cigarettes and get more beer. She’s like, “We’re never going to get home.” She’s going to let me have a six-pack in the car. She’s like, “We’re breaking the law. You can smoke your cigarettes and cannabis in the car. I want to get back to Santa Cruz with you.”
Especially the last couple of years where we’ve gotten kicked out of a couple of places. My ex-wife knows that when the money stops and the wholehearted letters, I had backed out. We would normally Zoom once a week. After her birthday, that stopped for a couple of months. I was living with Alison in Boulder Creek. We were evacuated. I went on a huge party trip to Utah and Oregon to see some old party friends. The lightning struck and I came back to be in the Red Cross voucher hotels in Asilomar, Pacific Grove. It was like, “What a good opportunity to get sober again?” I didn’t. I partied.
I came back to set to Santa Cruz after the vouchers ran out. I had to start paying for hotels and drained the little savings that I had. I was relying on being a broker in the cannabis industry. The bottom fell out of that with the fires. This time it’s over for a lot of people in that regard. I keep that in my sights. Part of that was financial desperation. Had I had several $1,000 in my pocket, perhaps I wouldn’t be sitting here with you. I have to take a good look at that.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to look into my daughter’s eyes through Zoom and play. A six-year-old wants to play. It was tough. A six-year-old is going to ask those questions, “Daddy, I wish that you still live with us. I wish I could live with you. I wish I can see you right now.” It was about an hour and a half that we got to Zoom and she told me, “I love you.” It’s how kids do it, particularly little girls. It fills me with joy and it breaks my heart. That’s tough. At the same time, I’m working on steps with a sponsor. It’s a sponsor that I’ve had for a couple of years in and out. I’ve known him for years. He’s a wonderful guy. Working the steps let me talk to my daughter in that regard and not be full of shame and guilt because they’re steps in the right direction. We did the whole Zoom hug and blowing kisses at each other. All six-year-olds are funny because I’m still saying, “Goodbye. We’ll do this again next time.” Click. It’s cute, but it hits you real hard.
At this point, I’ve never worked past that. I had come to terms with that and I write about it and I share about it. I always get to step nine, make amends. Promises are fulfilled. Life is great and then I celebrate. I know that if I take 10, 11, and 12, which needs to be a lifelong process, you could say, it’s not going to stick. My goal this time is to keep 10, 11. I do like meditation, I like to say, but I don’t think I’ve done it quality. I don’t think my level of faith and spirituality has been quality, whether it’s seeking attention from women or even musician friends of mine that I hold up on a pedestal even though they’re out there partying.
I need to knuckle down, start to reach out to others, go to meetings, and look for people that need help and give it back. Without it, my daughter, a degree from UCSC and fine art. It’s not that I haven’t helped people by being there. I’ve been the hand, but not wholeheartedly. I’ve never been the person that’s a sponsor where someone could call me, where they could count on me in the long-term. That’s my goal. It’s tough to talk about all of the worst times or all of the best times, but it’s like that. I realized too, I tried to tell myself, “You’re not in the gutter this time.” I would be if it weren’t for people like Alison. It’s not enabling. It’s love.
I need to be grateful for it and not take it for granted and not tell myself that I didn’t go through the worst bottom that I’ve ever been. I did reach that bottom. At our interview, I wasn’t falling on my face drunk. Knowing that I could have come in that day in the 25th, I couldn’t stop. After our interview, and with Alison being there and calming myself to a point, being so desperate and sick of these roach motels. Being broke and all this again, it’s such a bottom, below that zero. That was a great feeling. I don’t know how to describe it.
Living in a house like this, it’s a lot of new personalities. I have to remind myself, principles before personalities no matter what and to be kind, loving, tolerant, and tolerable and realize what’s important. What’s important is that I need to get to a point where I can be a productive member of society and support my daughter. I can move up and live in Arcata. My ex-wife is a Montessori teacher and my daughter is getting a Montessori education, kindergarten and first grade. She has a Spanish teacher. It’s interesting.
I love alternative education as opposed to public school, though the public school did a lot for me. I don’t think it’s bad. I’ve tried to move up there and work on a farm, “I’m in McKinleyville. I’m only ten minutes away from you guys.” The ex-wife is like, “No, you’re not. Not permanently. You don’t tell our daughter that. You’re not going to be allowed to see her so I don’t want you to tell her that.” I don’t know how my ex-wife is able to explain that to Indigo, that’s my daughter’s name. I’m sure she’s good at it.
If it wasn’t for her, my daughter would know that I’m an alcoholic. My daughter would have seen some of the worst sides of me, and she hasn’t. She’s never even seen me smoke a cigarette or smoke cannabis or use cannabis. I owe that to my ex-wife. She wants, somewhere in the future, to have a strong evidence. We know that. You can live amends. She is saying no until that happens. That’s hard to swallow. A lot of people, including my sponsor, told me, “That’s not what it is. Don’t put a time frame on it. Do what you need to do. Be there. Be responsible. Be in recovery. Help others and get your act together.”
Like the program says, “One day at a time. Focus right now on the moment.” You’re doing the right thing in focusing on your recovery and getting yourself well again. From your story, it sounds like you have a lot of people around you who care about you, who want to see you do well. You talked about enabling. For the folks in our lives who are not themselves in addiction, they do whatever they can. They want to do something and they don’t know whether what they’re doing is going to be helpful or going to be harmful. It can go either way. The manipulation that we pull, nobody is as good a manipulator as an addict or an alcoholic. What advice would you give to other people who may be thinking about recovery?
It’s a tough question. We all have different personalities and qualities about us. I wouldn’t want to tell somebody that everything is going to be great but the promises show up, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. The idea is, though, that we don’t have to continue to be self-destructive. For me, I know this time and quite a few people in my life are telling me, including my mother, my older brother, my younger sister, Alison, that I was killing myself. It’s hard to see it when you’re in it. For me, alcohol gives me courage or you think you’re good. The sociability and the camaraderie you think you’re getting is definitely not. I’m a social drinker, for sure. I don’t like to be alone.Don't expect things to get better right away. Click To Tweet
If you’re reaching that bottom and you’re killing yourself like I have been, it feels good to surrender and take some advice. It works. You don’t have to stay out there. Even though I’ve been in and many great things have happened through recovery, it was hard to see it but I knew it in my heart. It’s real. The steps work. There are many wonders in people’s lives. Life is going to show up. My advice is don’t expect things to get better right away. For me, it took a couple of years, each time, for things to get good. I would say go into it wholeheartedly as if it is the most important thing.
I have a beautiful daughter. I have a degree from UCSC. Those are awesome things. I’m alive. The idea that I’m alive is what’s most important, because what else is there? I’ve come close to losing my life being out there drinking and using. It’s unbelievable to me once I get a little bit of recovery. Once I’m back in, it’s unbelievable. I would say there’s nothing like waking up in the morning and knowing that you don’t have to. It’s definitely knowing that you’re in a safe place. Not only that, do I not have to die because of my alcoholism, but that I get to help other people not die.
When it’s over, it’s over. We all want a next. Perhaps there’s eternity on the other side. There’s no next to this phase of existence. If you want to make the most of it and you’re an addict or alcoholic, get into some form of recovery. I know that the twelve steps of AA aren’t the only way. I know that a lot of programs are based off of it like NA. I know that there are other programs. They’re all spiritually based. I would say the best advice that’s in the book is don’t stumble over words like God. It’s of your own choosing and that means you can cross that word out.
It can be anything. It can be music or art or even cooking or growing food or whatever it is. It’s miraculous how good it feels to wake up in the morning and be looking forward to the day, to be looking forward to what’s the future and how it has brought me back together with family and true friends and what matters. There’s nothing like that feeling. If anyone is definitely at that point where they’re desperate at their bottom, there’s nothing like surrendering. There’s love in recovery.
It’s no bullshit. I’ve realized that a lot of my way of thinking was bullshit. At first, it’s hard to swallow but then you realize that’s the truth. It opens up many doors that I never fathomed. I never thought that I could achieve some of these things. I know my heart that I can and that makes the party worse. The party got ruined when I first took it wholeheartedly and it changed my life. Have I ever been to a complete psychic change? I don’t think so yet and that is uplifting because I know that I still have further to go in recovery and it’s getting that much better. When I think about that, it’s phenomenal.
I’ve had many achievements through recovery. I’ve brought out of the bowels. I can’t imagine how good it can get, my own life, my daughter’s life, my ex-wife’s life, Alison’s life, my family. I lost both of my fathers. My mother is still around. My stepmother is still around. I have a lot of loving people in my life. That may not be everyone’s story. What’s amazing is not only can I not imagine what the achievements can be, but how I can help other people turn things around their own life and not die. That’s one thing that I hold on to. It’s life or death and that’s what it came to for me this last time around.
I started being able to feel my liver and my kidneys. I could feel my brain. I’m losing capacity. That has turned around. It’s interesting because I started a new job and it has to do with art, it’s a painting gallery. It’s amazing. I applied and then got called and asked to come into an interview on the same day. I started two days later. I would not have been able to do that. I had been doing a little shading. I was able to say yes. I can be there at 4:00 and it was 2:00. That’s miraculous.
Before, I was drunk and stupid in a hotel here in Santa Cruz. I couldn’t talk to my daughter. I was cut off. I had texted some nasty stuff to my ex-wife. She blocked me. Fortunately, email was there. She tends to unblock. She knew. I was talking to my mom that I wanted to get back. All that anger hadn’t been suppressed yet and all the guilt and shame. The anger comes from guilt and shame in my book. If you’re there, do it. Don’t pick up for a day and ask for help because it’s out there. It’s everywhere.
We can call it a spiritually based program, which is love to me. Love is spirituality and it’s love-based. There’s a lot of love waiting for you. I know how baffling and powerful my disease is. I have to remember, every day when I go to sleep, every day when I wake up, that I pray and meditate. Become willing. I accept advice to improve how I pray and meditate, how I spend my time. I need someone to hold my hand and that’s why I reached out to my sponsor and said, “This is what I’m doing. I’m in SLE. I need your help.”
That’s excellent. That sounds like some solid advice. I want to say how much I appreciate you joining us on the show. To all our readers, we wish you to stay sober and be happy.
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