Elijah is a 26-year-old Oregonian who began smoking pot as a sophomore in high school. He soon began drinking and eventually turned to cocaine which took over his life. Unable to hold onto a job and grappling with mental health concerns, he is newly sober (13 days at the time of recording) and a resident at the Gault Street Sober Living Environment. He has never been to a treatment facility and is determined to hold onto his mental clarity through sober living.
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Elijah – Seeking Clarity
Finding Sober Sanity After The Madness Of Addiction
Hello to all suffering addicts. Hello to all the people who have found sanity in the recovery lifestyle. In this episode of Stories of Addiction, I’ll be talking to Eli about his addiction and his recovery from addiction. Eli is a client at the Gault House Sober Living Environment in Santa Cruz, California. He is 26 years old. He has been addicted to cannabis, alcohol and cocaine. Eli, how are you doing?
I’m good. Thank you.
Why don’t you tell us how your addiction got started?
I didn’t start using until right around the beginning of my sophomore year in high school. I’ve always been interested. I always hung out with the other kids that smoked a lot of weed and drank too. It was only something that was intrigued by. I didn’t necessarily have the motivation to do it. I didn’t feel compelled to do it until I hit an episode of depression. I was going through a very bad existential crisis. There’s a back story behind that too that I don’t mind talking about either. It was a pretty bad one.
I used to be part of this youth group at this church here in Santa Cruz on mission street. It’s called the Christian Life Center. We had a wonderful man. His name was Pastor Kyle. He led the youth group. He did a great job of teaching us the scripture in a way that we could understand. It wasn’t done in a very intimidating way. Especially the older people, the older generation, they’ve had some intimidating, almost authoritative figures that were heads of the church. They had a guilt-based sermon, but he did not. His was based on the possibilities of greatness through faith. He was given a job offer up in Washington state as the head pastor. It has better pay. It’s appropriate for him because he was trying to raise a family. I don’t think that he considered Santa Cruz to be a very good family town.
He immediately took the job. That was something that was hard for me to deal with because I looked at him as such a great guy, almost a father figure in some ways. I felt that it was the best way to cope with that depression that followed. It was a combination of depression and an existential crisis because a lot of my faith was reinforced by him and his presence and his teachings. That was something that I wasn’t very good at dealing with losing that. I’ve had a lot of instances in my life where I’ve been let down by father figures or males. It was a very tough thing to deal with.
Right at the beginning of that period of depression and existential crisis, I said, “Screw it.” I remember the first night pretty vividly. My friend and I went up to his house and we smoked. It was a pretty awful night because what happened was we ended up walking into somebody else’s house. We had eggs thrown at us. I was wearing this jacket that my grandparents got me. It said “Propaganda” on the back and it had backward letters. I don’t know if you know what Cyrillic is, but it’s basically Russian spelling. Some of the letters are backwards. I was very disappointed because that was a very cool jacket that I’ve had.
I didn’t immediately want to drink. What happened was I realized that marijuana was making me paranoid. I was like, “How am I going to combat that? I’ll drink some alcohol.” I remember my first drink was champagne and this was a couple of days before New Year’s Day. I don’t remember exactly what day it was but it was sometime in the month of December that same year. It was November when I first used and then in December, I ended up drinking for the first time.
What happened after that?
The same thing pretty much happened. I grew fond of smoking and drinking. It got to the point where I needed it. I needed it in order to feel happy. Keep in mind that in the midst of all this, I was dealing with my existential crisis. It was a way to suppress those fears of not knowing what happens, not knowing why we’re here. It can drive people crazy. I felt that it was the best way to suppress it. It did help but as I’ve come to learn to this day, it’s putting a Band-Aid on it, a wet Band-Aid because it’s not going work.You can't always get what you want. You’ve got to learn how to accept defeat sometimes. Click To Tweet
Your friends, did they use the same amount or the same stuff that you did? Where were you at in terms of your friend group and how much do you guys all use?
I would say that we’re probably on the same level. It took me a while to get to their level for sure. I was somebody that was timid at first, but then it got to the point where I was like, “I was smoking more than them.” Even they were like, “You’ve got to take it easy.” There was an incident where we had shoulder tapped and we got a bottle of Jack Daniels, one of those big ones. I don’t know how much it is. We ended up taking it back to my friend’s house with another friend. We drank and we smoked. I remember waking up in the morning and having the big toenail off of my right big toe missing. There was a pretty nasty scar. There was a wound there. They said, “Last night you felt motivated to kick the cement curb. You had flip-flops on.” Immediately, I was like, “Oh, God.” Then I went to the toilet and picked my cuts out.
Were you blacked out when you kicked the curb?
Yes, I still don’t have any recollection of it. I don’t think I am. That was many years ago.
An interesting thing I’ve seen, it’s like a hallmark of alcoholism or at least the potential to develop alcoholism, is if you have a propensity to blackout when you drink. Did that happen frequently when you, when you would drink or at least drinking excess?
It didn’t happen every time, but it certainly happened occasionally. It took me a while to blackout after that because I got sent away to a boarding school. After I graduated, I’d say about eight or nine months, I was at my house with my mom and my stepdad. We all lived there. I was drinking some vodka. I literally passed out onto my back and I apparently threw up. I was lucky enough for my mom to hear me and she ended up flipping me over on my side, pretty much saving me there.
You said you got sent to a boarding school. What happened around that?
There was a lot leading up to this because in my sophomore year, I changed high schools. I initially went to Soquel High School. I had legitimate problems there. I was dealing with somebody that was a bully and a stalker. I didn’t do anything to make the situation better because I got a little kick out of it, like a cat and mouse game. I didn’t take it as seriously as my folks did. My folks said, “We don’t feel comfortable when you’re going to school. We’re going to move you to Santa Cruz High.” Santa Cruz High was much worse in terms of the crowds. It was very polarized. There were either straight-A students or people that love ditching class, smoking, drinking and stuff. I’m sure there’s much more going on, but that was where I was at my level there. Towards the end of that year, that was sophomore year, I played hooky. I was a truant. When I came back to Santa Cruz High, at the beginning of junior year, I was basically a truant in every other class. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes. I’m sure they threatened expulsion with me. They ended up saying, “We’ve got to do something.” They sent me away.
What was a boarding school like?
It was very rewarding. It certainly taught me a lot about dealing with people. It was very difficult to develop very good social skills when I was smoking and drinking. Even before then, I was completely sober through middle school and elementary school, but I was never a very social kid. I was always very socially awkward and socially anxious. It wasn’t something that I had ever learned until at that point in my life, which is late for some people. I’m grateful that I at least had the opportunity. A lot of things happened at a boarding school where I had a whole new perspective on things. I realized that you can’t always get what you want. It’s a cliché but it’s true. You’ve got to learn how to accept defeat sometimes.It's best to go out, get a job, have a social life, and see where that takes you. Click To Tweet
It’s definitely a lesson in that. Was it a behavior role reason that you went there where it wasn’t because of the crowd that you’re hanging out with or is it because you weren’t going to class periodically?
It’s a combination of reasons. It was the alcoholism. It was marijuana. It wasn’t necessarily marijuana abuse. What I thought was more of my problem at that stage was the alcohol. Marijuana came second but I’m not trying to promote marijuana with the problems that people have with that. In that instance, my family was especially concerned because we’ve had alcoholism in our family. Two of my uncles or great uncles specifically have died of alcohol-related diseases. They always said, “You shouldn’t drink because of what happened to your uncle Ron and your uncle Bobby.” It was a combination of reasons. It was also the fact that I wasn’t very social. I didn’t know how to interact with people. Definitely behavioral, the way I interacted with my family. I was in a position where I was an only child and I was spoiled beyond what I actually deserved. They even said that regrettably, “I think we spoiled him a little too much.” That was one thing I had to learn. You’ve got to work for certain things. You’ve got to put in the work for sure.
It sounds like you had a good experience there and learned a lot. What happened when you came back to Santa Cruz?
I didn’t take much out of it at first. I was so grateful to be home and able to smoke weed and drink again. It wasn’t until years later that I started applying some of those skills and some of those lessons that I learned in boarding school. I wasted a lot of time there. Things were going good at boarding school, but things didn’t start to take off until five years later in 2015. I was unemployed for the most part. My family was still enabling me. They knew what was going on. I was smoking a lot of weed, drinking a lot, playing a lot of video games and I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I don’t regret it either because I feel I’ve got it all out of my system at this point. It’s unfortunate that it had to be that way but it is what it is honestly.
I’ve been in a similar position myself and seen it in a lot of people. I figure, at least in your early twenties and certainly in the teenage years, if you’re going to put off getting to work, better you do it than when you’re in your 30s or 40s. You’ve got more to lose basically in it. Although if your family is enabling you, if they’re helping put a roof over your head, then at least you’re not sleeping outside or something.
That was something I am always grateful for. That’s the reason why I don’t feel deep feelings of regret. Of course, it’s better late than never. I feel that if anything, it has given me a testimony to other people, to other kids. If I could send a message out to the youth now, I would say, “Don’t waste any time. Don’t sit on your hands because there are a lot of things to do. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun to be working than it is sitting at home.” It seems like it’s fun but it’s a false sense of fun. You’re not achieving anything. It’s best to go out, get a job, have a social life and see where that takes you.
When you’re making money too, there’s a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when you’ve been working that is really rewarding. Where did the cocaine come into play?
I did my first line of cocaine in late 2015. This is coincidentally after I got my first real job. I was working at a grocery store in Santa Cruz, a health food store. I had reconnected with an old childhood friend of mine who was a big smoker and drinker all the way back to middle school. We knew he did it, but I never partook with him. I was with another group of friends at that point, but we had reunited. He was the one who introduced me not only to cocaine but methamphetamine and MDMA. He certainly wasn’t a good influence on me. It was hard because we were good friends and having that time apart and then reconnecting, we were like making up for lost time. It’s like, “We never did this before. I would always be high and you would always not be high. Now we’re both high.” It’s faulty logic but we didn’t care. It was a friendship thing, it was a bonding thing.
What did your use look like?
I couldn’t quantify it back then because he was the one buying it. I’d give him money and he would go buy some. It wasn’t until 2016 that I started buying it myself. I started out by doing grams. I’d go through those very slowly because I do very tiny lines as most users do. They start out small. A year later, I started bumping it up. I would do eight balls and that would usually last me a week and then going further even a year, it would be an eight ball at night.Don't ever do anything or put anything in your body that's going to make you feel different. Click To Tweet
Would you combine that with drinking?
Absolutely. It was a vicious cycle. What would happen is I would go to the bars and start drinking. Then after I got a buzz or even got drunk, then I thought, “Do you know what sounds good? If I had some cocaine right now.” I’d get that. I’d end up doing a lot of cocaine. If I had worked the next day, I would say, “I’ve got to get to sleep.” I would drink to put myself to sleep and it worked. It’s a trap that people fall into. It’s like, “I’m still working. I’m functioning.” I’d wake up in the morning because I would be hungover. I’d do some coke, go to work and then the whole thing would start right over.
Did people know? Did you ever get comments from people about how you look the next day?
I think so. I think that they noticed but they never said anything. I think they were afraid to address the subject with me because admittedly, I was an erratic person when I was a strung out. That’s not something that they wanted to have the deal with, especially in the workplace because we’re all there to work. We’re not there to work out our personal stuff. What made it difficult was the fact that most of my coworkers did cocaine. We were in the restaurant industry together and we would work pretty long hours. We would be scheduled and in blocks of eight hours, but it would always end up being very busy at random times. We’d say, “I got sick twelve hours and I’ve got to do a bump to keep me going.”
That’s what made it difficult. Many people in my workplace were doing it. That certainly made me feel better about my use. I was like, “That’s probably part of the reason why they’re not addressing it.” In my mind, I was like, “Everything’s cool. I’m fine.” Then it got to the point where I wasn’t even going to work. I was calling in sick and sometimes I wouldn’t call. It would be a no call, no show. That’s eventually what led to my firing, which I feel is where I started to hit my very low point.
What happened at that point when you got fired?
I had turned 25 right before I got fired. I was able to access a custodial account that was put in my name. It was a trust and that had a lot of money in it. That’s when my addiction got out of control. That’s when I started doing the eight-ball night because I felt like, “I’ve got all this money.” That lasted for a good long year, maybe even a year and three months. That was probably my low point for an entire year in 2018, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t work at all. I did nothing but do drugs and drink a lot. It was pretty sad. I didn’t feel happy doing it to be honest. Honestly, I did it because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t think that I had any other purpose in life. I told myself, “I don’t care if I die doing this. I got nothing else anymore.” It was a rough time.
Were you still living with your folks at that point?
No. Two months after I got fired, we had to move out because the house that we were renting, the owner wanted to retire. I don’t know what she did with the house. One of her family members was living there, but we had to go because she didn’t want to do the property manager duties anymore. That’s when I moved back into a place that I had lived at, on and off since 2012. The thing that was very difficult about that was the fact that people at that house were people that liked to do what I did. They pretty much turned a blind eye, which didn’t discourage me from doing anything. It encouraged me to do more.
Did your parents know how bad your drug use was getting towards the end?You don't have to be trapped in addiction. You can get out of it. Click To Tweet
Yes, they definitely knew. What would happen is I would have all my bags on my floor. My room was an absolute pigsty. What would happen is I’d walk around barefoot and a bag would catch on the bottom of my foot. I’d go out into the common area like the kitchen or the living room, they would find all these bags all over the place. I was so strung out that I didn’t care. I think they knew they couldn’t change my mind. I was going to do what I was going to do. It was pretty hard for them to deal with it.
What happened at the very end? What led you to wanting to change?
I have been working at this job for about several months in a couple of days. Things have been going well but keep in mind, my addiction carried on into that job. I got clean for a while and then I started using it again. I did it with so much caution that I never ever used before I went into work. It is the same with drinking or smoking, I never did any of that. This would always be at night. It wasn’t like any amounts that I was doing before. Even if I did do that eight ball in the night, it would be at my weekends so it wouldn’t affect my work. Then I thought, “I don’t think that this is going to take me anywhere.” At first, when I started using cocaine, I was into it. I enjoyed it, but it got to the point where I was doing it to feel normal. That’s what I’ve learned. I shouldn’t ever want to do anything or put anything in my body that’s going to make me feel different.
I’ve heard often and you also said that the restaurant industry is rife with drug and alcohol abuse. They used stimulants to keep going and work long shifts then drink to come back down. It matches exactly like your story. I wonder how has it been for you working in that area while not using it?
It’s been a lot better because I’ve found different ways to keep going. The workplace that I’m in now, the people are much more pleasant than the previous place where I got fired. That definitely helps when you’re dealing with people that you don’t like if you’re coked-out, you can tolerate them a little more. At least that’s the way I used it. I used it to calm me down in some ways, but at the same time calm me down with people that I didn’t like, but also to stimulate my body to keep going. It’s a weird thing but that’s the way I used it. The current workplace where I’m at, I get along with everybody. They like me over there and I feel that I have too much to lose to continue using. Even if it’s a small amount, even if it’s a little bit on my weekends, I don’t want to take any chances because I know what happened at my previous job when I did that. That’s how it started. I was like, “I’m doing a little bit on the weekends. I’m doing a little bit right before I go to bed. It’s not going to affect my work.” I don’t know. I don’t necessarily trust myself with that type of thing anymore.
It sounds like you have the support of your coworkers. I think that can be helpful. You don’t want to let people down. It ties in with that sense of accomplishment when you know you’ve done a good job after working for a day. What are your hopes for the future? You’re one of our newest residents here at the Gault House. You’ve certainly done really well since you moved in. I’m wondering what your outlook looks like, how you hope to turn your new-found recovery into something more?
Especially the younger crowd, I want to let them know that drugs and alcohol are not the answer. In terms of making yourself feel good or feeling competent, you need to have things in your life like a job, a skill, a hobby or a relationship with the family. It doesn’t matter. Basically, anything that gives you confidence. The best high, in my opinion, is being high on life. Not having to rely on material things like drugs and other things too. I’m sure there are other bad vices out there too.
Sex and gambling.
I never got into either of those. There’s so much more to life than drugs. With drugs and alcohol, they limit your ability to experience life to the full effect. You can’t experience it the full way that you can when you’re sober. I didn’t use my first substance until my sophomore year of high school. Sobriety is not necessarily too much of a foreign thing for me. I did have some good times back before I started using, even I had a lot of anxiety and a lot of depression. I had some good times, and that’s something that I’m starting to experience again. It’s the joys of human interactions. Customer service is something that I like. I love seeing happy customers. That makes me feel so good. I would say, it’s letting other people know. You don’t have to be trapped in addiction, you can get out of it. It’s important that you do not just for yourself but if you’ve got loved ones around you, especially if you’ve got a family that has invested a lot and you don’t want to let them down because they’re expecting you to continue that cycle. If you have kids, you can’t do that if you’re using drugs. Even if you are, they’re going to end up in a very bad place.
I would also say it seems difficult at first. It’s a daunting task to stop using, but continuing using is even more difficult and hard on us. You can’t see that when you’re trapped in the midst of addiction. I’m glad you’re here, Eli. You’re able to stop using and I appreciate you doing this. Thank you, Eli, for joining us. Thanks to all our readers for joining us on the Stories of Addiction. We wish you to stay sober and to be happy.
Elijah is a 26-year-old client at the Gault Street SLE. He is originally from Grant’s Pass Oregon.
He has been sober for almost two weeks.
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