MY FIRST LINE OF BLOW
The first time I used cocaine was in 1987. I was in the downstairs bathroom of one of the nicest hotels in Dallas, befitting my outward status and appearance as a licensed attorney (at least in Pennsylvania, I had not taken the Texas bar exam yet). Shiny marble, mouthwash, breath-mints, and the ultimate bonus, a toilet door that closed completely so no one could see in. With the bathroom attendant standing just outside my door handing out towels and mints, I carefully laid out three lines of cocaine given to me by the drug dealer I was introduced to for the first time twenty minutes earlier. I rolled up a twenty-dollar bill and bent over the white Kohler commode. The three white lines looked harmless, and my only hesitation was the grime, germs, and undoubtedly the past drug residue from previous guys like me.
Then I went for it. As the cocaine began its journey up rolled bill to change the course of my life, I had a thought. I thought about a man I’d never met. I thought about Lenny Bias. Lenny was a first round draft pick of the NBA Boston Celtics in 1986. Lenny was a “can’t miss” future NBA prospect. He died of a cocaine overdose two days after being the second overall pick in the draft—it caused a deadly arrhythmia. No warning. No second chance. Just dead. I was thinking about him just three months after he died as I stood there with a rolled-up bill in my nose. It occurred to me in that moment that I had no idea what I was putting my my nose any more than Lenny did. But I was determined. I was going to do what it took to be part of the fun. That could never happen to me.
After I snorted the lines, I opened the stall door, walked over to the faucet, washed the residue off my hands, swigged a mini-cup of generic mouthwash, flipped the attendant a 5-spot, took a mint, and pushed open the restroom doors to exit into my new kingdom, at least for as long as the high lasted.
I was on the apex of a feeling I had never experienced before. A feeling I loved and knew immediately I had to have again, and again, and again. This is what I’ve been looking for all my life, I thought. I finally felt like I was in control, and I walked confidently through the dim light of the already addicted, the non-addicted, the weekend coke kings, big haired beauties, doctors, lawyers, students, and fellow 30k millionaires. I was now up for the battle. The King of Dallas. Nothing could stop me as long as I felt that way. In that moment, in that bathroom, I was instantly addicted. Not necessarily in the sense of physical dependence, but in immediate psychological dependence—I instantly felt I couldn’t survive if I didn’t try to maintain such a wonderful feeling.
Cocaine had the power to make all my anxieties seem trivial, and made the formerly impossible, possible. I was able to party, socialize, and feel good about myself all at the same time. It was like the drug made my problems go away, if only for the brief period of the high. But of course, my self-medication was only papering over deeper issues, not resolving them. Cocaine did not make me better at building and maintaining relationships: it just helped me overcome my often paralyzing fear of being rejected by women and worrying less when the relationships fell apart. Coke didn’t help me focus in my career: it just helped me recover from the hangover from the night before and not lose self-confidence despite poor performance. Coke didn’t cure my depression: it only masked it for the short time. It did not help me take control of my life: it just offered the illusion of control and self-acceptance as thing slowly but surely spiraled downward. Decades after my first experience with coke, I’d watch the ziplock baggies of cocaine I’d traded for Mavs Championship tickets spiraling down the toilet bowl, but the vision of those baggies wasn’t enough to help me see just how out of control my life was.
What is recovery? For so many people, it doesn’t just mean getting sober. It means adopting a new lifestyle of constant self-improvement not just to remain sober, but also to lead a happier, healthier life. It’s a process of learning how to better ourselves. The question is, how many different ways are there to do that? Is there only one path to recovery? Some people seem to think so.
Paths To Recovery
Some people get sober through addiction treatment. This may be a 30-day program or longer, or an outpatient program. The bottom line is as long as they are not dying and are able to live a fulfilling life why must there be so much judgment. Just like there is not a specific life that every person is supposed to live there should not be only one way to recovery.
Others quit without the help of treatment. Still, others use 12- step program to get sober, or to stay sober after treatment. Often, treatment and twelve-step programs go hand in hand. This is partially due to many treatment centers integrating twelve step teachings and practices into their programs. It is in treatment that people are introduced to these programs. Treatment centers are now also offering information and exposure to SMART recovery which is a non-12 step support program for those not interested in the 12-step approach.
Twelve step programs are popular and have helped countless individuals over the years to get sober and live a life of recovery. People who participate in 12 step programs work steps, get sponsors, sponsor other and find a higher power. Because this program works for so many people, members tend to be fiercely loyal, often to the point of discounting other methods of recovery.
Not everyone who achieves sobriety chooses to participate in twelve step programs. Some choose to heal from addiction in other ways. They may choose to get help via therapy, they may pursue a spiritual or religious path, or they may focus on health, wellness and holistic means of staying sober.
In twelve step programs, people are taught that trying to stay sober via religion, medicine and psychiatry are basically futile, and will only result in relapse. But is this true?
Sobriety Via Therapy
Intensive therapy can help people heal from negative thinking patterns, past trauma and teach valuable tools and strategies for dealing with issues such as anger, anxiety and impulsivity. People who struggle with addiction often struggle with depression, anxiety, untreated trauma and PTSD as well as a lack of coping skills. As a result, they often turn to substances to help them cope with these issues.
For some people, stopping drug or alcohol use, removing themselves from unsafe situations and participating in regular therapy is sufficient to help them move on from addiction and live a life of sobriety.
Sobriety Via Medication
Some people struggling with addiction turn to medication. For example, those addicted to opioids may choose to slowly wean off drugs through the use of methadone or suboxone. This is often referred to as harm reduction, and ideally, the person will slowly taper off the medication and achieve sobriety. This particular path is often the topic of criticism from many sides. This is partially due to the fact that many people who choose medication don’t stop. They may choose to remain on methadone for life. While it is tempting to judge this situation, it really doesn’t help matters. Each person must determine what is best for them and their situation. While harm reduction isn’t necessarily recovery or sobriety, there are many people who are able to lead responsible, productive lives as a result of the help they receive. And if they are not dying do we really have the right to tell them that it’s wrong.
Holistic Treatments, Health, And Wellness
Some people turn to a more holistic path to sobriety. They may engage in practices such as yoga, meditation, acupressure and more. They may use supplements and nutrition to help keep them feeling well and balanced. While this may not be sufficient for some, it may very well help others. If someone manages to stay sober because they have a solid meditation and yoga practice, does it mean they are “less recovered?”
Religion And Spirituality
A faith centered Program called Celebrate Recovery uses a faith-based approach to recovery and follows a similar approach to AA with meetings for members and 12-steps. Then there are also people who choose to turn to their faith or spiritual practice to overcome addiction. This may include attending church, studying their faith of choice and involving themselves in the faith community. If someone is able to stop using as a result of their beliefs and the support that they get from their faith and the surrounding community, is it not recovery?
Tolerance For Different Paths
Anyone who is able to achieve sobriety, regardless of how they do it, is a success. Not everyone wants to or feels the need to attend meetings.
In the recovery world, there is a problem with intolerance. People often judge the way people go about getting sober. If they don’t do it “their way” then they must not be doing it right.
This intolerance is even seen between twelve step programs, with one side thinking their way is better than the other. This is the opposite of what the programs teach, tolerance being a founding principle.
Each person is different. Their needs, temperament, values and experience makes them who they are and often determines the best route to sobriety. If a person is able to stay sober by a means other than rehab or twelve step programs, then that is wonderful, who are we to judge. Life is not black and white it is filled with different shades of gray, and there is beauty in that. The expression “Live and let live comes to mind.
If you find that meetings and the twelve step fellowship are what you need to maintain your sobriety, then that is wonderful, too. Do you!! Find what helps you live a healthy and balanced life and do that. That’s really what counts.
Some people struggle with addiction and may try many different paths before they find the one that works for them. It’s important not to judge one another’s journey. Better to support them and wish them well no matter what route they take.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.
You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram
Depression And Addiction-Which Comes First
Sometimes those who have never experienced addiction (and even many who have) have a difficult time getting their heads around the nature of the beast. It certainly robbed me of the ability to choose not to drink or to not ingest illicit drugs for any significant period of time.
Did I know right from wrong? Of course. Did I care? No. Did I know I was destroying my life? Yes. Did I care? Yes. Could I stop? No. Addiction overpowered my rational thought process to that extent. Clinical research and limitless anecdotal evidence tells us that my experience is not unique in that regard.
Different environmental factors may or may not trigger that predisposition. Genetically, there is no history of addiction in my family or extended family that I am aware of. I’m the middle of three children. The oldest, Mark, was always the outgoing entrepreneurial type. He was selling one thing or another as far back as I can remember. He became what the first born might be expected to become and much more, going on to become a billionaire, among other accomplishments. My younger brother Jeff, like many last born, had a little more freedom to just be who he wanted. He was a jock—a nationally ranked wrestler—and also popular with the ladies. I was the middle child, and like many middle children I was shy and withdrawn, a little less certain. I had an overblown need for acceptance. I was also someone who internalized every negative thing said to me and about me. Fortunately, I had a good relationship with my father, but, unfortunately, I had a volatile relationship with my mom. There was a lot of “fat shaming” between my mom and me. I remember coming home from school for lunch some days starving, so hungry I’d crank open a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli and eat it right out of the can. My mom would pop in between appointments as a real estate agent, and if she caught me, she’d say, “If you keep eating like that you’re going to be a fat pig.” It wasn’t just the fat shaming. If I did something absent-minded at home or received bad to mediocre report card grades (which was a regular occurrence), she would call me a “dumb bunny.”
What I didn’t know then, but do know now, is that this was the sort of thing her own mother would tell her when she was young. They were also things my great grandmother said to my grandmother. She was repeating a cycle of verbal abuse. Fat shaming in families is often generational. I’m not starting with this ancient history to blame my mother or great-great-great-grandmother for my alcohol and drug use issues. Parental dynamics can play a role as a trigger for addiction or in the progress of addiction (or, hopefully, the progress of recovery), but those relationships do not “cause” addiction. When I speak to groups, I always make sure they understand that correlation (which is complex environmental factors in this case) is not the same as causation.
But there was a time I did blame my mother for my addiction issues. In fact, for a long time, I blamed my mother for everything wrong with me. When I finally realized that she was not the cause of my problems and that she was repeating what was done to her, I understood. Then I was able to let go of anger. When I was able to let go of anger, I was able to forgive.
I forgave my mother, and forgave the little boy I’d been for the choices he made. I forgave the junior high and high school bullies who made fun of me and physically assaulted me because of my weight. None of those people caused my addiction. They all had problems of their own. Blaming them was one of the ways I avoided confronting my addiction problems, and forgiving them—and forgiving myself—was one of the first steps in my recovery. Today, my mom and I have a good relationship free of the anger of those early days.
However, when we’re young, this sort of perspective on past wrongs can be elusive. Episodes with bullies, and episodes with my mother would run through my mind often. Blaming others for my issues was a convenient way of justifying long boiling anger over my childhood and the choices I made. That anger was often a trigger for depression, which was often a trigger for the use of alcohol and cocaine.
My mental state as a teenager, in part, would probably be diagnosed today as clinical depression, though I was never diagnosed then. It was a different era. Depression and mental illness in general were not as widely discussed as they are today and not concepts your average baby boomer teen in suburban Pennsylvania would’ve been comfortable raising with, parents, friends, or teachers. Depression was something that was supposed to be handled in private. In silence. In loneliness, so you didn’t spread your “sadness” to others. And that’s how I experienced it for many decades. As something shameful. The shame was intensified as I watched my mother battle her own mental health issues alone. They were something to “just get over.”
Depression was still there when I walked through the doors of Pitt Law. It was with me when I studied. When I sat for bar exams. When I sought my first jobs, made my first friends in the city I’d come to call home, and fell in love for the first time. It was there every time I walked into a courtroom or mediation or wrote a brief. The feeling of depression was as familiar as my own distorted reflection, and yet, for most of my life, not something I ever acknowledged I needed help for. Depression was my “normal” long before alcohol and drug addiction. The feelings and behaviors became so familiar, even at a young age: a deep, gut wrenching feeling of loneliness. Feeling isolated, and crying in my bedroom. Apathy in my studies. Binge eating. Cutting school to drink and smoke weed. Feeling like I would never be accepted by my peers.
For some, depression can be triggered by addiction, but for me, it came first. And while I was ultimately able to stop using alcohol and stop doing cocaine and other drugs, the underlying pain of a shy, lonely, little boy remained into recovery and is something I still work on today.
Perhaps if the awareness of mental health that exists today had existed when I was a teen, someone might have reached out earlier. For instance, when I began to self-isolate for long stretches of time—my solace was my bedroom where I would spend long hours alone, playing my favorite board game, Strat-O-Matic Baseball with the family dog at my side. Or when seemingly pleasurable things—a trip to the amusement park with my grandmother, a nice word from a friend—would often leave me unmoved. The inability to articulate what I was feeling. But perhaps awareness alone wouldn’t have been enough. Even though there’s seemingly greater awareness of depression today, it can still be difficult for friends and family (not to mention teachers or counselors) to discern the signs of depression or other mental health struggles in teenagers. After I wrote Shattered Image a few years back, some people who knew me in grade school and high school reached out to me tell me they simply thought I was shy. Teens are natural experts at hiding feelings from others, often because they don’t yet understand their feelings themselves.
For me, the desire to pull away from others and hide my feelings was paired with a desperate desire to be accepted by others. To those close to me, it might have seemed like I was always eager to socialize, since I always wanted to fit in. And it was that desire to fit in that probably led to my first experimentation with drugs and alcohol.