Dysfunctional family life tends to manifest for some people into addiction. Having learned he was adopted at a very young age, J.J. has since tagged himself as different from everybody else. He then spiraled into his story of addiction, beginning at 14 years old. A client at The Gault House Sober Living Environment, J.J. is on his recovery from his drug of choice, alcohol, along with meth. He shares his story with us on how he went through years of struggle, going in and out of his addiction across significant events in his life—from getting a divorce, meeting his biological family, to the 2008 recession. Read on this episode as J.J. shares the details of his journey into addiction and then out towards recovery in this authentic episode.
Listen to the podcast here:
Watch the episode here:
J.J. – Alcohol And Meth
Divorce And Job Pressure Lead To Rock Bottom
In this episode, I will be talking to JJ about his addiction and his recovery from addiction. JJ is a client at The Gault House Sober Living Environment in Santa Cruz, California. He is 41 years old. His drug of choice was alcohol, but he also had problems with everything else. JJ, how are you doing?
I’m doing well.
Why don’t you tell us how your addiction got started?
An important part of my story that informs why I ended up going to a drug so early is that I was adopted. I don’t remember any point in my life where I didn’t know that. I assume there had to have been some point where I was able to understand it and was told, but I don’t remember that happening. I remember growing up with that knowledge and of being feeling distinctly different from everyone around me that’s a dislocation. I’ve read a lot. I was an actor. I was in some commercials, TV, movie and stuff when I was a little kid, played the violin, a little guy. I didn’t fit in. I only had two, maybe three friends all through elementary school. I pretty much always had my head buried in a book.
At the same time, I had a tremendous amount of rage inside of me. I can remember being as young as nine, ten and getting enraged, blacking out and knocking over bookshelves and punching through walls and things like that, seeing red. I fought a lot because I was a little guy. I was weird and nerdy so I was a target. I was angry. I pushed back. When I got to high school, I had moved to Santa Cruz from Arizona. It was a new town. I was looking to try to start over. I joined the theater department there. I got into the school play and started making friends. Santa Cruz is a very different place than Tucson, Arizona especially in 1992. It may be the only public high school in America where the stoners, metalheads, goths, freaks were at least in equal numbers to the jocks and the rich kids.Stories of Addiction to alcohol and Meth with J.J. Click To Tweet
We had the whole front part of the school, the front lawn and a little smoking corner across the street. The jocks had the quad, the back part of the school. I made friends with a guy in the theater department. He took a shine to me. I started hanging out with him. He was a popular, well-liked guy, had a lot of friends and they all smoked weed. I started smoking weed. It didn’t do anything for me the first several times I tried it. I do remember distinctly when it did work for me. I thought it was great. I started smoking weed every day. At the same time, I started attending school less and less. The first drug I ever did was LSD before alcohol and before pot. It was this same friend who talked it up to me and he scored me and my neighbor who was another nerdy, weird kid. He played bass. I played guitar and we would jam on Misfits, Codes and stuff in the garage. We took acid and went to the boardwalk. Neither of us had ever smoked any weed. We’d never had a beer.
You were totally drug–naive when you came here from Arizona?
Absolutely. I had a perception of alcohol as being what the jocks drank. I saw alcohol as being something that made you belligerent and aggressive, stupid, all of these things. Me and my friends, we didn’t do that. We were the weird kids. We’re in theater, sci–fi and fantasy. We were into expanding our minds. We would read Carlos Castaneda and Timothy Leary. Early on, I got into studying the drugs that I was taking while being on those drugs, taking them and reading books about the way that they worked chemically, even if I was too young to comprehend it. It was always fascinating to me.
For the first time in my life, I felt like I had friends. I felt like I belonged somewhere. Simultaneously at home, my adoptive father had left. He was an abusive sociopath, conman. He had bought a house on a credit card and lied and said that we were renting it. He didn’t pay any taxes, lied and said that he had. He cut, ran and filed bankruptcy. My mom is a single mother working full–time as a teacher with $70,000 in debt. She had a complete nervous breakdown. I would wake up to go to the bathroom at 3:00 in the morning and she’d be doing dishes and talking to herself. My father was the disciplinarian. With him gone, my mom had taken so much of a back seat that without his presence and the threat of violence that came with that, she had no authority over me. What she said meant nothing to me.
The extended family didn’t exist. He took his extended family with him. My mom‘s extended family, she grew up a poor white trash. There weren’t any family ties. I started developing simultaneously this family of choice, which revolved a lot around drug use, around psychedelic use. I started coming home less and less. I stopped going to school much. When I was a sophomore, my second semester I went to one class one time. It was a choir and showed up to that class because I got to play guitar. In the meantime, I was getting more and more into taking psychedelics on a regular basis. When I did go to school, I would go on psychedelics. I’m always smoking weed from the time I woke up until I went to sleep. I ended up getting kicked out of the house when I was fifteen. A friend of mine had a dad who was more like a buddy to him. He let him do whatever he wanted. He had his own separate wing in the house. He put me up for a month.
Did your mom know that you were the progression that you were on in terms of drugs? Was she aware or did she see you like you’re checking out or your behavior of not going to class? Did she know that the cause more or less ever sounds like multiple causes, but that drugs were right in there as part of what was going on?
My mom suspected that I was doing drugs. She accused me of being stoned on numerous occasions. I had a teacher tried to intervene. She called her and told her that I was stoned. It was during after–hours play rehearsal and she showed up. It was one of the few times that I hadn’t smoked pot. I was gloriously indignant about it. The thing is my mom never did any drugs. She’s never smoked pot in her life, even though she was in college in the ‘60s. I don’t understand it. She had a fiancé when she’s young in her early twenties, still in college, who died of a cocaine overdose. It scared her off of all drugs. While she suspected, she didn’t know at that point at least.
I ended up getting kicked out of the house. I was staying with a friend of mine and he drank. He had this different group of friends. They were not among my circle, but there was this Venn diagram overlap between his group, who we called the meatheads. They were metalheads and they drank. We were all hanging out one night. They were making fun of me for having never even tried alcohol. I was a little big man. I’m a little guy. I was ready to fight. I was ready to argue. I didn’t let anyone smack me. I didn’t let anyone put me down.
Basically, I got irritated into drinking because I wanted to show these guys up. I could consume Herculean quantities of weed and mushrooms. They had a stolen bottle of Kahlua and a bottle of Seagram’s Seven they had stolen. I chugged half of that fifth of Seagram‘s Seven. It’s the first drink I ever drank. In the movies you see people, they take their first drink, they gasp and none of that. I chugged it. It burned, but I put a game face on. I drank some of that Kahlua as a chaser. I got pretty drunk. I didn’t throw up. I got the spins a bit. I ended up smoking a bowl later, which is when the spins came.
I liked it, but it wasn’t like a light bulb went off revelation. Over the next few months, alcohol started to become more and more prominent. We were getting around sixteen to seventeen. I was going to a lot of parties because I was homeless. I was always looking for somewhere to crash and parties were a great way to do that. I started drinking more frequently, maybe once a week or so. At that same time, I started liking pot and psychedelics. I’d had a bad trip and had another bad trip. I ended up in juvie. My mom kicked me out for a month, called the police and reported me as a runaway. I’ve dropped by school. They came and they grabbed me and dragged me out of school in handcuffs in front of everybody, which boosted my reputation.
I don’t say this to be self-aggrandizing, but to explain the culture that I was living in at that time. This was in 1994 in Santa Cruz, California. The underclassmen, I found out from a girl I dated a couple of years later, had nicknamed me JJ, King of the Druggies. I was a big man at that time in those circles, the same volleyball captains who would drive by in their big raised up pickup trucks and yell out long hippie hair thespian, etc. In geometry class later, he would tap me on the shoulder and say, “I’m sorry about that. I got to do that with my friend. Can you get me and my girlfriend some acid this weekend?” I would text them and double what I got it for.If you have blown up your life and sincerely need to make a change but don't know how, be willing to change everything in your life. Click To Tweet
I felt protected. I felt safe. I felt loved, all of these things that I had never felt at home. The alcohol started showing up more and I started doing the psychedelics less. When I was seventeen, I had somehow managed to test out of high school. I took the California High School Proficiency exam. It’s a California–based GED-type certification. It’s only good in California. You take it when you’re sixteen. I took it a week after I turned sixteen. I tested out. That first semester I was doing well. I fell in with this guy. He‘s another musician. We started hanging out. He introduced me to heroin. That was my first experience with the way that hard drugs can isolate you with other people in a way. It can create these insular, paranoid, little micro–cultures.
I got dragged a couple of my friends into it. He had his girlfriend and her friend. There were six of us who were secretly doing heroin but still existing in this larger group of people where we were drinking and smoking weed and all that stuff. One of those other outer friends found out about my heroin usage and put together an intervention, my mom and a counselor and staff. They all tried to get me to go into treatment, but I had already decided I wasn’t going to do heroin anymore. I did it six, eight times over the course of no less than a month. I’ve woke up one morning and felt dirty. I felt like I don’t want to be a heroin junkie. That’s not what I want from my life.
I still had some level of aspirations. The music was always there through everything. I always thought that it was going to be what I was going to do. I was going to be a musician. I didn’t go to treatment. My mom couldn’t make me because she already kicked me out of the house. What could she withhold from me? After that heroin scare, I did straighten up a bit. I wasn’t smoking weed anymore. I basically was drinking on the weekends at parties. Some years go by and over the summer of 1996, four friends of mine all became meth dealers, like crank hit Santa Cruz, like a tsunami breaking.
In August of 1996, I had been out of town for one month. I went on a long walkabout trek up and down the coast, hitchhiking and camping out. I got back and everyone I knew was on the crank. I was homeless again. I ended up doing it because that’s who I was hanging out with where I ended up staying. I always had jobs ever since I was fourteen, fifteen. I was always working. Even though I was homeless, I always had money. I would buy alcohol or later meth. People would let me stay at their place because I supplied the goods.
I had always maintained afoot in these two–mirror worlds, I had on my downtown druggie friends. I worked and I had a lot of friends who were a little bit older than me who were at UCFC who didn’t hang out downtown. I was able to keep it together, to keep what I was doing secret until the meth hit. All of my more together friends, they started doing meth too. Everyone I worked with was doing. All the college kids were doing. I ended up being the one who would run the meth from the guys downtown to the college kids.
I had a house with eight college kids in it. That became my little sanctuary because I could go get an eight ball from my friends for them, bring it back and hang out for a weekend. I could tell that things were starting to go bad. Everyone was tweaking, up for so many nights and rivalries were starting to form. These different dealers who had all been at least acquaintances started to become competitors as they got bigger and bigger, and started dealing in the larger quantities and going for bigger scores.
One of the dealers hooked up with the girlfriend of one of the other ones, the guy who was the little godfather of our little area and started a little war. Things got crazy. I decided I was going to cut out. My best friend who had been with me through all of this had bounced off to this little town of Corvallis, Oregon and hang out with some friends of ours. He was calling me, trying to tell me to get up there and get off the crank. He had gotten off it. There wasn’t any there like it was a chill place. It’s super cheap up there. The two–bedroom house that we had was $400 or something.
I started putting my plans together. I had somehow managed to get a car at this point. I had a home. I had a job so I was saving money. As it happens, like I crashed the car, I lost the girl, I lost the place all in the space of a few days. One of the dealers to the dealers I knew like a bigger guy was coming around asking about me because there had been some guys that I knew had borrowed my car and used it to go burgle a place that I worked at. The detectives were calling me. In the meantime, this guy who was somehow involved in that was looking for me, trying to figure out if I was going to talk to the detectives. I tried to make sure that I wasn’t going to talk to detectives. Some people I was loosely associated with tied up, tortured and murdered a man because he had molested one of them when he was a kid and led to police on a manhunt all the way to Florida. That was in ‘97 or something like that. It was international news. It was huge. I was associated with those people.
I left with nothing. I hopped on a Greyhound bus with a couple of $100 and went up to Oregon. It worked. I got cleaned in Oregon. We didn’t drink because we didn’t have any money. Coming from where I was coming from, where at that point I was slamming glass from San Francisco and getting a lot of pills. Pharmacies were getting knocked over. It was crazy stuff going on. It was coming from that, having some beers on the occasion where we had a few extra bucks. It felt pretty close to sobriety. I stayed up there for a little while, came back to Santa Cruz briefly and went back up there. I ended up living with a couple of alcoholics and that was the first time that I discover what it’s like to wake up having panic attacks. You’re so hungover and grabbed the bottle of bourbon that still got a couple of shots in it at 9:00 in the morning. Slam it down and keep that cycle going all day long.
I got out of there. Everyone that I had known and run within Santa Cruz has either gotten killed, went to jail or ran. Santa Cruz was safe for me. This was a pattern that I repeated all throughout my young life is I would get in the shit and I would leave somewhere and think that by removing myself from the area where I was having the problems. That it would be okay. I’d come back and there were different people. Things wouldn’t be okay for a while, sometimes a few months, sometimes a few years. Eventually, a couple of years later, I ended up living with some people who were running meth again. This time I was the one who was going to San Francisco and sitting in the closed dance studio underneath the cooks’ apartment that he used for deals with a group of Vietnamese gangsters with machine guns, waiting to collect the bounty to take back and distribute in Santa Cruz.
I don’t even know how that happened. I honestly don’t. I was working and living with a guy who was a friend of mine and both of us had been into all that. Then we weren’t anymore. One night when we were all drinking way too much, somebody was like, “Don’t be funny. We could all do a line if we wanted to. We haven’t touched meth in a couple of years. We could do it. It would be interesting.” It didn’t work out. That house got crazy. I got run off at gunpoint. I was 21 at this point. I had loaded guns stuck in my face three different times all around meth. I had knives on my throat. I had left people on the ground unconscious and I don’t know how that resolved.
I got this job working for a community help working 40 hours a week, but with the commute it was more 60 hours a week. I got in this band with a bunch of people who are older than me. We were still doing a lot of drinking, but that was it. The pills when they came up, but that was it. We went on tour. I went on this month–and–a–half long tour. It was great. None of those guys did drugs. We drank like a fish and came back. Then 9/11 had happened a couple of weeks before we went on tour. That was weird. I got back to San Diego, the place I was working on had gone out of business, everything had gone out of business. I moved to Austin, Texas. From there, for the next several years, I got back on track as far as making the progress that a young man should be making at that age.
How old were you at that point?
I was 22. I went to Austin for a couple of years and learned how to live without drugs, with lots and lots of booze. I came back to Santa Cruz again briefly. I met a girl, moved to San Francisco, and I knew I’m getting married. I owned my own business. I sold that business for a tiny profit. I finally tracked my biological parents. That fundamentally changed something in me. The convergence of finding my biological parents, them wanting to be found, that being a good reunion and seeing how similar we were and also getting married. I had been a serial monogamous up to that point. Not even subconsciously, explicitly I had a strong desire to try to reboot my life in that way. Find a girl, settle down, get married, maybe start a family. Clear the wreckage of my past and start over fresh, but I couldn’t stop drinking.
After the ’08 crash, I was 30. I was right where I felt like I should be at 30, which had always been a real big thing to me. Even with everything crazy that I had done when I was younger, I still wanted to live in that world of normal people. I don’t know what else to call them. I wanted to have a career. I wanted to be someone who people will get introduced to their parents. I hadn’t done anything to process the shame and resentment of my past. I was carrying all of that with me. That’s why I was drinking so much, even though my life was pretty good because I felt like a fraud.
Did you recognize that it was problematic, the amount of drinking you were doing?
Yeah. I’d started keeping it from my wife. We’d have wine at dinner. It was a running joke between us when I finally tried to get sober that first time, it took about two months to finally track down all the little airline bottles of vodka that were in the car, rolling around every time you took a corner. It sounded like the sound of a slay jingling. I knew it was problematic. At that point, I had escalated to the point where I was working 70–hour weeks. I was drinking every minute of that. I was working at a startup company, 65, 70–hour weeks, no days off. I was running a recording studio/label. I was playing in three bands doing session work for five other bands because I play the violin. I was grinding myself in the ground and the only thing that kept me going was vodka.
My buddy who’s still a big drinker, he tried pointing it out to me. He said, “When you get to where you’re just drinking vodka, it’s no different from a syringe. It’s medicine.” I had to start drinking from the moment I woke up. I couldn’t go an hour without a drink. When the economy collapsed, I lost my job. My whole industry vaporized overnight. My marriage started collapsing. I started having panic attacks that were bad that even the alcohol couldn’t keep them down. At the time, I didn’t understand that they were panic attacks. I didn’t know that I had been having panic attacks for my entire adult life and probably a lot earlier than that. I thought that it was from the drink, withdrawing from the alcohol. I decided to stop drinking. Two days later, I was having seizures. My wife dragged me to a doctor and put me on a Klonopin prescription, put me on Seroquel, all these different meds. I was a zombie.
It had no point of reference. I started going to AA meetings, but I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it because my wife had drawn a line in the sand. It was an ultimatum thing. She was making me do it. She got on any precedents. Something happened where she stopped feeling anything. It seemed like she hated me. I was living with this woman who hates me, but I’m committed to it because I don’t want to be like my adoptive dad. I’m going to stick it out because I made a commitment. My word is bond and all this insane stuff. I was on all these crazy meds. I was occasionally still sneaking. If I have to show, I played the catalyst in New Year’s, getting up in front of the 800 people and have never played a sober show in my life. I was trying.
There were a lot of days where I was sober. They weren’t good days. I had panic attacks all the time. I had never seen a real psychiatrist before. I was learning about anxiety and panic attacks, putting together how those two things went together. My wife started drinking again, but still insisting that I wasn’t allowed to drink. When she and I met, she was puking at the end of every single night that I spent with her. She’s on precedence. She’s not supposed to be drinking with him. She started running around with some other guy lying to me about it. She came home from this two–day conference thing. I knew that she had been with that dude. She lied to me on the phone. I called her out in person and she admitted to it.
She went to go stay at a friend’s house and I left town for a week. When I got home, all my stuff was gone. She’d given away my dog to some stranger in Oakland, sold everything except for my instruments and left me at the end of the month holding the bill on $1,200 a month place. I’m working at a record store at the time because it was the early days after the economic collapse and making $10 an hour. I ended up staying with some friends. I’m on Gabapentin and Klonopin, but I started drinking again, doing a little blow, anything because I was suicidal. I’ve never dealt with depression. I had never been sober long enough to realize that I even had an anxiety disorder.
I was getting all this stuff at the same time. I completely lost my mind. I stopped taking the Gabapentin, not realizing that all the side effects of that. I was still drinking heavily. I had a crazy psychotic episode. I burned bridges with all of my biological family who I had met a few years earlier. Then I met a woman who was awesome, caring, wanting to go to school be a nurse, got me to quit drinking by not telling me I had to quit drinking but by being sad that I was punishing myself. I got it. She didn’t make me go to meetings or anything. She said that she couldn’t be with me if I was going to be out of control drunk all the time.
For those three–and–a–half years, I started rebuilding myself as a normal citizen. I became part of the world again. We moved to Seattle, had some good jobs. I would still drink in any of the types of occasions that people would drink at and sometimes at home, but I was careful not to get drunk. Every drink I had, every drink I didn’t have and every moment of the day I was aware of the presence of alcohol in the world. I was counting the drinks. I was spacing out the time. I’ve seen my biological dad. I’ve seen him do it. He’s been a functioning alcoholic since he was in his twenties because he has these rules. As my buddy said, here are these rules.
He doesn’t start drinking until 4:00. I see him at 3:55 and he’s standing there in the kitchen staring at the liquor cabinet, the obsession. I could not shake that. Eventually, we split up amicably because we both realized that I was doing the thing where I got with someone who helped me. I ended up in the hospital early in our relationship because I was punishing my liver so bad. I wasn’t able to keep food down. I didn’t eat for three days because everything I tried to put in my stomach came right back out. I was told that I was going to die if I did not stop drinking now. I was doing that thing where I was with a woman who I felt like it saved my life. I went with her up to Seattle, left everything I had behind so she can go to nursing school and I supported her as much as I could through that.
She was doing 70–hour weeks. I did the laundry. I’ll cook and stuff like that. I got her through nursing school. We reached this point where it’s like, “I need to go be on my own.“ I’ve not been single for more than nine consecutive months since I was sixteen years old. At this point, I was 35, 36. She’s an amazing person. I still love her with all my heart. I still consider her one of my best friends. She got it and she didn’t want it. She was not willing to be on a pedestal to be my savior. We had conversations about that. She was uncomfortable with that aspect of our relationship. I got it. I went back home to Santa Cruz. I was still on a real good streak. I was working full-time at Trader Joe’s. I picked up a second job doing catering, bartending. I was going to school full-time. I was taking honors classes. I had a 3.8 GPA. I was running.Obsession can manifest as an intellectual curiosity and a passion for passion. Click To Tweet
Anytime I thought about getting high or getting drunk, I would throw on my running shoes and go seven miles, eight miles. I did run 35 miles a week. I rode my bike to Cabrio and back. It was 40 miles a week of that. I was sleeping maybe three or four hours at night because I couldn’t. I had taken my addictions, that obsession and I moved it over onto things. On paper individually, all these things look fantastic. Everyone’s clapping me on the back saying, “You’re killing it. You’re doing good.” I was even able to buy a six-pack, bring it home, have a beer and let it sit in the refrigerator. That was one of my long–term goals for my life when I was in my early twenties. I want to have a liquor cabinet. I want there to be liquor in it. Tomorrow they’re still booze in there. It was a fantasy. I was doing it because I was putting all of that obsession into all these other things I was doing.
I‘ve had similar thoughts before. You and I, we can’t necessarily know, certainly not subjectively, but what it’s like to be a normal person. The mere fact that as you say being able to have something like that is a fantasy or the similar thoughts that I’ve had that isn’t normal. That a normal person, it’s not even a thought. It’s like, “I’ll pick up a bottle or do a little coke in the night out with friends or whatever.” They don’t think about the next day. It’s not some constant thing. It’s not the goal of being able to moderate because moderation comes naturally. One time I went through treatment and I had already been a bunch of times and I was so certain I can handle drinking. I‘ve never had a problem with alcohol. I’m going to do it. It’s like, “Why does it matter? If I was so focused on that, shouldn’t I have realized that the mere fact that I’m focused on it is itself the problem?” You’re here. You must have reached some clarity around that at some point.
I never understood that normies don’t have that obsession. I didn’t understand that until I went to treatment. I did not get it. Part of that is because I didn’t know anyone like that. I didn’t because anyone like that fell away from my group of friends, even the ones who were also killing it. Keeping their lives together and stuff like that. If I talked to them about booze, they were nervous about it. They had concerns. They understood that it was problematic for them. They’re at points where they were for whatever reason, handling that well and maybe that will continue. Maybe it won’t. I don’t know. This is something that I go around with myself on especially after going through treatment.
I believe that the same affliction, genetic cork that is responsible for an addictive personality is linked to other positive qualities as well like to creativity. Obsession can manifest as an intellectual curiosity and a passion for passion. By and large, most of the addicts that I’ve known when not in the thralls of active addiction had been passionate, creative people. I’m a little tentative around that idea because I can see how that could also be me trying to get myself a pass a little bit or trying to soften, how destructive that addiction is.
You could go the opposite way with it too though. It’s something that I frequently say that the addiction is part of the human condition and that everybody is an addict in some form or another. Some of us take it way earlier in–depth than others. Even if it’s not to substances, to behaviors of some sort, shopping, sex, gambling. Even smaller things like television or social media, it’s pervasive across society. If you called out so–called normal person who maybe spend a few hours a day on Facebook or whatever, they’re not going to see it as an addiction because it doesn’t affect their lives the way drugs have affected yours for example. I agree with you, I know what you’re saying. I don’t recognize that there’s at least an element of that particularly in creative people or intelligent people. That’s unfair to point out.
There was a counselor, who came in to do classes at Janus Recovery Center that I was at who explained addiction in a way that stuck with. The big book talks about alcoholism is an allergy, which I always thought as off the mark. It’s like almost the ’30s, how quaint. She explained how for any substance, let’s take alcohol. Alcohol does have a chemical hook. We know pretty much that the chemical hook in and of itself is not the most important driver of addiction. Every person on Earth has a threshold, a certain amount of alcohol that they can consume before they crossed this threshold into addiction. Once that switch has been flipped, they are an addict. That’s the same way that an allergist explained allergies to me is that we’re all allergic to everything that causes the allergic reaction.
We have different levels of histamine resistance basically. You can be a cat lover for your whole life. When you’re 81 years old, you could wake up one morning and be horribly allergic to cats because you’ve been bombarded by these allergens for so long. It’s broken down your resistance the same way with alcohol. It’s something she didn’t touch on that I see is different is people like me the trashcan thing. It’s not like I drank enough alcohol that I triggered an addiction. I’ve been addicted to quieting the inner voice. Anything to take me out of my normal state of being, which for most of my life has been one of fear and shame. They had ruled the overwhelming majority of my life starting from when I was young.
What happened to get you into treatment that first time?
When I was doing all that stuff, working those two jobs and go to school, I don’t know. I had a collapsed. I collapsed at work. I got ill. It was the symptoms. It was like I had a brain tumor. I had nystagmus. My balance was messed up. My skin was going crazy. I couldn’t digest. I couldn‘t eat anything. I got down to 119 pounds. I was walking with a cane. Eventually, they figured out that there were these polyps in my intestines that were building white blood cells and dumping them into my system that were attacking my brain and other organs. They removed them. That’s not happening. There was still damaged that I had to go to two years of neurophysical therapy because my memory had been destroyed. It was all kinds of crazy things.
Change everything and be willing to let things go.
I wasn’t able to work obviously during that time. I mentioned earlier that I’ve worked since I was fourteen. I worked through homelessness, drug addiction, everything. I’ve been very self-reliant my entire life and not being able to support myself having to lean on the government until that stopped. It made me suicidal. I became extremely depressed and that’s not something that I grew up with. I didn’t have any coping skills for it. I was having seizures from this weird autoimmune thing. I’ve been put on Klonopin again. I was on an antidepressant. I was on six different medications. I felt old and useless and that my life was over. I had missed the opportunity to have a life. It was too late for me. There was no point in my existence, but I wasn’t selfish enough to kill myself.
I could not bear doing that to my family, my adoptive mom who was the one who was taking care of me at the time in particular. I wanted to annihilate my consciousness. It was the first time that my drinking was motivated solely by crushing despair and a desire to die. I was still on Klonopin so I was blacking out. I kept waking up, beat black guys and cracked ribs. I had no idea what happened. One of those times, I woke up in a jail cell and that sucked. I ended stuck in there over the weekend because I got arrested on a Friday. I did not want to repeat that experience. I became committed to getting sober. It was my bottom. The jail cell was finally after the divorce, after everything else that had happened in my life, I finally plowed through all those false bottoms and hit bedrock.
A switch was flipped and I wanted to get sober, but I was still suicidal and massively depressed even more so now, addicted and on Klonopin, which is booze in a pill form with all the fun parts sucked out of it. I tried. I committed. I went to meetings. I wanted to be sober, but I would get so overwhelmed by this crushing depression. I had chain panic attacks one after another. Every few months, I couldn’t hack it. I would drink like a whole bottle of vodka and immediately blackout. It’s not a good experience, blackout, brutally ill because the combination of Klonopin, antidepressants and liquors, it’s not good. It doesn’t make you feel well.
The third time that happened, my mom, I was still living on her couch because I hadn’t been able to support myself. I briefly got a job at a grocery outlet, but I was still too frail and also the Klonopin. I couldn’t do the work. I wasn’t physically strong enough. That made things even worse. I had business cards that I made for myself when I was in my early twenties that said, “I can do that.” That was my motto. I’ve worked jobs from shoveling manure on a goat farm to nonprofits working with at–risk youth to film production. I’ve done everything outside of the trades. To not physically be able to support myself, it destroyed me. There was nothing left.
I ended up going into treatment. A sense in my mind, how I talked to myself and to go into new treatment was to get off Klonopin because I talked to my doctor about getting off it. He said it would take a year to safely taper off the amount I’ve been taking it for as long as I had. He was also the medical director at Janus. He may have been partially helping me convince myself that it was okay to go to treatment. I went for that. I went through a month–long brutal detox from that. I had a couple of seizures, left and I didn’t listen when they were talking about PAWS, the Post-Acute Withdrawal Stuff.
I got a job. I got into SLE. I was doing well for a couple of weeks when that post-acute withdrawals hit. I stopped sleeping. I start having crazy panic attacks. I couldn’t sleep. I went totally insane. I ended up relapsing. I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. I’ve talked to people who worked with me around me at that time. They were convinced that I was messed up on some heavy crap before I relapse. I was absolutely nuts with sleep deprivation, anxiety. I went back to Janus for another month, got on this amazing medication, Remeron, that helps with your circadian rhythms. It doesn’t knock you out and make you feel stupid the next day. It allows me to sleep like a normal human.
The first week that I was in Janus, I was awake for 80 consecutive hours no caffeine, nothing. I did not sleep for three–plus days. I got on the Remeron, I started having regular restorative sleep every single night. The panic attacks went away. I thought back on it. I remember being in third grade and waiting for the sounds of everyone going to sleep so I could get up and go read or whatever. I’ve never been able to sleep my entire life. I’d sleep maybe one night, five hours the next day, three and then not at all. There was a 40–hour period that I was contiguously awake for basically every week or two as far back as I can remember.
Getting regular restorative sleep and getting off Klonopin and getting off the antidepressants, I feel a totally new person. I’m physically healthy, strong enough to work. Those basic things have become the bedrock of my sobriety. I’m able to go to shows now. The first show I went to after I got out of treatment the last time, I didn’t even notice I was in a bar for the first hour that I was there until I saw someone next to me holding a beer. I was like, “That’s what they do here.” The obsession, at least in the last however many days that I’ve been here, for several months, the obsession is not there anymore. I attribute it to sleep at seven hours every night. Eating well, eating when your body needs food, getting regular exercise, but not like excessive exercises I was doing and therapy. Doing the step work, processing all the shame and resentment that had driven a lot of my behavior. My program is a simple one because I’ve been missing these fundamental things like sleep and food. I never ate either for a great deal of my life.The same affliction that is responsible for an addictive personality is linked to other positive qualities like creativity. Click To Tweet
What’s your hope or plans for the future?
I want to be able to support myself. If I had a loftier goal, it would be to enjoy my work, to have work that is meaningful to me. I’ve found a new job and I like it. I see opportunities and to have my life be meaningful in some small way. Nothing more grandiose than that. I sincerely don’t think I’ll ever own a house. I pray to God I never get married again.
If you had any advice for somebody who’s maybe dealt with some similar things to yourself and is considering getting into treatment or considering this lifestyle change, what might that be for them?
I would say that if you haven’t totally blown your life up yet and you think you have a problem, why don’t you try not picking up whatever it is that you’re picking up. Give yourself 30 days. It’s amazing to me how many people can’t do 30 days. It’s also amazing what a dramatic change you’ll see in that short period of time. At the end of that 30 days, it’s not like booze will be outlawed a month from now. Try and if you have blown up your life and you sincerely need to make a change but you don’t know how, be willing to change everything in your life. Even down to wear clothes you would never normally wear, change everything and be willing to let things go. You may have to move. It’s worth it.
Maybe not too though. Considering you did a lot of your drug use here in Santa Cruz, I did almost all of mine here and we’re both here and sober. I would say it’s certainly possible to get and stay sober where you used that. I like the idea of somebody, if they don’t know whether or not they have a problem, give themselves a month. Even if they’re able to stay sober for that month, I think being able to watch like we already talked about. If their mind is going to focus in on that 30th day and like, “When do I get to do after that?” That’s addiction right there. Thank you so much, JJ. That was a fantastic story. Thanks to all our readers for joining us on the show. We wish you to stay sober and be happy.
J.J. is 41 years old. He is from the San Francisco Bay Area. His story starts at the age of 14. Twenty years later J.J. was getting a divorce and struggling with the 2008 recession. Listen to him share the details of his journey into addiction and then his journey of recovery. Today J.J. has seven month clean from all drugs and alcohol. His story is authentic!
To learn more about recovery from addiction and to get started in the Recovery Lifestyle, join our mailing list here at http://www.ResponsibleRecovery.net and join the conversation taking place on our FaceBook group and follow us on Twitter.