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The Triangle of Health
When I recovered consciousness I wasn’t able to move. I was upside down and the steering wheel of the Triumph TR 6 had my arm pinned to the broken glass of the windshield. “Two Trains Running” by the Blues Project dolefully slowed to a halt as the tape jammed in the cassette player. I had just driven off a 40-foot cliff and landed next to the Colorado River. My best friend, the owner of the car, had escaped major injuries and was able to get out the crumpled passenger door. He was trying desperately to lift the car off me as the gas leaked all around, but to no avail. He asked if I was ok and said he was going to climb the cliff to get help. I waited for the fire to start. It didn’t and help was there 45 minutes later.
Late the night before we had decided to meet the “ladies” at the Blue Water Resort near Parker Arizona to water ski. We drank beer, popped “bennies” (Benzedrine) and smoked pot through the night as we drove through the dessert. At dawn Rick asked me to drive the last couple of miles along Parker Dam Road – bad idea. We were both lucky to be alive. Now I realize I had an angel looking after me.
I slowed down my drug and alcohol consumption after that for a while, but I didn’t quit – I was 19
I was born in Brooklyn but the family moved to California when I was three. We lived in Redondo Beach until I was 14. I went to Catholic school with my four younger siblings. We lived near the beach and that was where I developed a love affair with the ocean. It also helped relieve the fears of being bullied. I used to get abused at the bus stop before school every morning. I often walked to school to avoid confrontations.
I learned to body surf and eventually saved enough money for a surfboard – it became my passion and my escape. When we moved to Orange County I felt like my life was over and I had lost my best friend.
My dad was a very successful comptroller in the Aerospace industry. Sadly he was never there for me emotionally. We never did things together and he missed most of the important things in my early life – first communion, plays, graduations etc. I felt that I was on my own when it came to learning about life from a man’s perspective.
In high school I was one of the smallest students – 120 pounds – and awful at team sports. I always felt less than and got targeted by bullies I had picked up smoking and started drinking beer as a weekly habit during high school. I liked the way it made me feel – my drinking buddies not so much – I always over did it and either threw up or caused a crazed scene attracting too much attention but it made me feel like I belonged and it helped with my fears. I hung out with the alienated surfer crowd and became a 10%er at school – one of the group of individuals that the principal targeted as degenerates. In my senior year I discovered marijuana and psychedelics.
The consequences of my drug and alcohol use mounted. After graduation I got arrested in Catalina for trespassing and possession of arsonous paraphernalia (I had learned to blow flames with lighter fluid) I was high on acid and alcohol and I got kicked off the island and asked to never return. Ten of my friends were arrested at the same time because of my behavior. That same summer I had tried to kill myself while drunk by intentionally crashing my car. This came after receiving a “Dear John” letter from my first major crush. Fortunately, I was only knocked unconscious from the crash and did minor damage to my car.
Soon after that I quit drinking because of a bleeding ulcer. I switched to pot and other drugs. The next year I went away to college at UC Santa Barbara. Studying took a back seat to surfing and partying and of course, my grades sucked. My dad withdrew his support so I sold marijuana to afford saying there. LSD became a regular escape from reality. I moved to the Bay Area the summer after I quit UCSB. In the Bay Area during the Sixties I did the hippie thing. I joined a band, grew my hair, went back to school and worked in a restaurant. I had many relationships after high school but they were very self-centered and emotionally abusive. I know that I had felt ignored and abused by the opposite sex in high school so maybe I was trying to get even. I didn’t have much to give anyway. Cocaine became part of the scene in the seventies. I drank and used Coke daily. As I lost motivation the band and school became a drag.
I quit both. Then I lost a long-time relationship because of my infidelities and became depressed. I got two DUIs during that period and didn’t drive for three years. Unbelievably during this time of struggle I met my wife. She was a waitress and I was the night chef. She thought I was a misogynistic ass – I was. But somehow we hooked up and a blossoming relationship began. I tried to be a better person - I really tried.
The whole Oakland scene was getting out of hand so Nancy and I moved to Orinda and later Lafayette to get away from it. We got married in 1976. And I focused on being a good husband. I got a job at Trader Vic’s when Nancy was pregnant with our first child, Giorgio. I quit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes and stayed clean and sober for about five years. I also became a long distance runner and practiced martial arts. I was really healthy and I did all the things a Lafayette dad was supposed to do – soccer and baseball coach, helping in my kid’s schools, attending martial arts classes with my son etc. But gradually I started smoking and drinking again after I left Trader Vic’s. Maybe it was the stress of the new jobs. I became a binge drinker for the most part – after all I was working hard and I was under so much stress that I deserved it. I stayed away from coke and other drugs except for pot. This went on for years. Every once in a while I would quit drinking just to prove that I wasn’t an alcoholic.
I injured my back in late 2009 and in 2010 the pain became unbearable. After two major surgeries I had become addicted Oxycodone. I also was also taking muscle relaxers and benzodiazepines for the anxiety of withdrawals. I was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease, an incurable condition, and I became resigned to taking drugs for the rest of my life for my pain. I had a justification for my addiction.
Without work I started to isolate and drink earlier and earlier during the day on top of all the meds. It helped with my daily withdrawals because I never seemed to have enough oxyies. I switched from wine to vodka and began to hide the empties. This went on until March 2013 when I called 911 because I thought I was having a heart attack or stroke. I was really loaded when I went to the hospital. They detoxed me off the alcohol for five days but let me take my oxyies and gave me Ativan. The day I was released the doctor came in and told me I had a problem with alcohol and that I should go to AA meetings. Thinking back on it I was kind of relieved to hear that. I went to a couple of meetings but I thought that they were religious fanatics and some kind of a cult. I decided I could do it on my own. With alcohol still available in the house I only lasted six weeks, if that. I never stopped taking my other meds. Soon I was drinking way more that before - I quickly went down the toilet. I was starting to get super depressed and suicidal. I went through withdrawals every day and would wake up at 3 AM sick as a dog throwing up and shaking so bad I couldn’t hold a newspaper. If I didn’t have vodka I would drink anything in the house – vermouth, beer, cooking wine – until I could get to the Quickie Mart at 7 AM. I hated my life and I had no idea of what to do. Death seemed like an option.
Nancy had had it. She was ready to leave. She started finding liquor receipts and empties everywhere. Just before she left me out my Son found CFR and asked me if I would go. I said yes. My last drink was on September 23, 2013 on the way to detox.
I spent eight days in detox. My back was still bad and I was feeling like shit, but at the same time relieved. At least I wasn’t having the horrible withdrawals – that was a major improvement. Dr. Von Stieff gave me stretches and exercises to help with my back pain and that gave me hope – something I had lost. At first I was still very unwilling to listen to the lovely folks from AA and NA that came to speak in detox but that gradually changed. My insurance covered my stay in the Residence and I learned how to live with three changes of clothes and no electronics. My housemates were a major part of my newly found life. We were all in pain, suffering, lost and demoralized. But it got better.
The Spiritual Awakenings came slowly. Nancy didn’t really want to talk to me and at first and I was broken hearted. But I slowly came to believe that I had to do this recovery thing for myself – a huge concept. Next I gave up fighting to be in control and I gave my spiritual side a chance to develop. As a recovering Catholic I had a lot of prejudices about religion but I was blessed to have a very spiritual housemate and one of the Resident’s Counselors to talk me though it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the program. I didn’t have think and everyday was planned to maximize my exposure to the tools of recovery. I learned not to future trip. I tried to be honest, open minded and willing. I was curious about this “recovery thing” so I would hang out in the smoking area and talk to all the newcomers from detox everyday. I would ask them what happened, was it a first time or did they relapse? I listened to the “relapsers” the most…
I listened to the “relapsers” the most. Their stories were always the same – they put their job, family, relationships, school or whatever before their recoveries, they stopped going to meetings, they stopped calling their sponsors and they stopped working the steps – most importantly they stopped being grateful…
I did not want to relapse – I wanted to learn from them. I was told to do 90 meetings in 90 days – I laughed – but I did it and still attend between 5 and 7 NA and AA meetings a week. CFR requires you to get a sponsor before you “Graduate.” I was lucky to find the person I needed at the “Askitbasket” NA meeting. He is a person who has had decades of recovery, who had relapsed and come back, who had made millions and lost it all, who struggled with relationships and family and wasn’t afraid to cry in meetings. He helped me through the steps and encouraged me to be a sponsor. The process of sponsorship is one of the biggest parts of my recovery. I am blessed to be able to work the steps constantly with my sponsees. They have given me more than I could ever possibly give them and I love them all.
I was encouraged by counselors to think about going back to school and studying to be a counselor. After eight months of recovery I took my first class at DVC. I loved it.
I just graduated from the Addiction Studies Program with an Associates Degree and a counseling certificate. I also pulled a 4.0 GPA, something I never thought I could do. In recovery I have sailed through cancer, radiation treatments and two surgeries without medications and I have learned how to manage my chronic pain with my new tools. There are financial challenges and the stuff of life but if I stay clean and sober I can face those challenges with my experience, strength and hope.
My life now is about the Triangle of Health – Body, Mind and Spirit. I work out everyday, I give back and I do something to improve my mind everyday. I have joined a new band and my guitar playing has improved immensely with out drugs and alcohol. I believe in Quality of Life and it has very little to do with money and material things - it is not having what you want but wanting what you have. I am truly grateful for my recovery.
For all of you who are in recovery, or thinking it might be a good idea, and for all the “loved ones” who might now have come to the conclusion that you can’t “fix it”, the following might strike you as serious and depressing. For all those who haven’t experienced this, you might find the following hilarious, thinking to yourself, “How could these people let this happen to themselves.”
My husband got up early one morning and just had to go to the local CVS for some odd reason. I had been trying to “bust” him for a while, but never had the ultimate CSI proof I needed. At this point he was getting sloppy covering his tracks and all I had to do was rummage through the bathroom garbage container and “ta-dah”, there it was! The receipt from CVS (with no extra coupons) with the vodka clearly listed. I immediately marched out to the backyard, paper in hand, waving it around like a flag on the 4 th . Now I know what you’re thinking, “Why didn’t you just hire one of those intervention specialists?” For one, it was 7 a.m., and for another thing, I was sure my way was the best, and lastly, I HAD HIT ROCK BOTTOM.
I’ve gone to many meetings since then and inevitably the recovering addict, while sharing their own “experience, strength, and hope”, will tell the audience all about their “rock bottom” moment. I’m here to tell you that I got there first! About 20 minutes, to be exact. In my big sermon and my best non-yelling voice (I didn’t want the neighbors in on our dirty little secret) I simply said that I loved him but I wasn’t going to hang around and watch him kill himself…end of discussion. Then I got really, really angry when he accused me of snooping around the garbage can. “The NERVE”!!!!! As I was heading towards the suitcase area (trying to decide if I should pack him or myself) he finally broke down and hit his own ROCK BOTTOM.
Perhaps this is a good time to back up and give you the details about how he got to this stage in his addiction. It’s pretty common and typical. Husband retires, husband has had back issues for a while, husband enjoys vodka and wine. No hobbies except the above. Husband has a “pusher”, a legal one, under the guise of “pain management specialist”. Now in all fairness to the medical profession, I’m sure that they truly believe that a mature adult will follow the directions CLEARLY written on the bottle of meds. “DO NOT TAKE WITH ALCOHOL. TAKE ONE EVERY SIX HOURS OR AS NEEDED’.
Well my guess is that these doctors and pharm companies have no idea who they are dealing with. There seems to have come to a point where “managing” pain has become he desired recreational activity of choice for lots of adults, and truly has no age or gender bias. It’s a downward spiral from there, and if you ever were required to read “Dante’s Inferno”, you can see it in level four…on the way to HELL.
A few months prior to this day, I had been reading my monthly newsletter from my health insurance company. I’m fortunate to have great coverage, which is one compensation for teaching in a large urban school district. They are painfully aware that the “ground troops” will most likely be in need of both physical and mental health support at some point in their career. There was an article about how recovery programs were covered (I bet lots of teachers need that). I read this out loud to my husband, hoping maybe he would take the hint…What was I thinking? Meet the Rest of the Fam
We have two grown children. Our son and his lovely wife have blessed us with four grand children and our daughter…well let’s just say….is the reason you should sit up and pay attention to those public service announcements about locking up your meds. In true codependent fashion, I had been making excuses for why our grandchildren should not drop over to visit. My daughter had been going along for the ride, enjoying the game of hide-and-seek with the meds. Exploding out of denial was a freeing experience and realizing that I didn’t have to live with this guy anymore was exhilarating. The kids somehow banned together and my son quickly researched my health plan and found CFR, called and basically hounded them, and I think somewhere along the line, my husband actually talked to them. At first he said that they didn’t have room that day and then it turned into the next day and the next. In true addict fashion he was putting off the inevitable. I believe it was my son who finally set a date. The timeline is hard for me, because let me remind you, by this time I was OUT OF THERE! My daughter stepped up to the plate and dropped her dad off at the door, drunk and loaded on his meds. I think this experience cured her of her own on and off addiction. To this day my daughter will tell you that it was like dropping a kid off at preschool for the first time. Right now she’s telling me that it was the meanest thing I ever made her do. I love her deeply and will always “owe her one big time”.
Singing the Praises of CFR It took a week worth of intense detoxification to get the poisons out of his system. I couldn’t believe that he would be able to survive without his meds, but somehow he managed, thanks to the experienced care of the staff. From there he went to a residence program for 28 days.
I attend a weekly family group for the “loved ones” and let me tell you that people share out how happy they are that their addict is safely being watched over 24/7. They talk about it like it’s some kind of dream vacation…hey, let’s go to Bali! That’s what it was like for me. I got to come home after a tough day and not have to face a stumbling human being who was also intent on burning down the house. I could finally just breathe! Then, after a mere five days at the residence I got the “call”.
It was on a Friday. Apparently my husband had had a high fever for the past two days and wasn’t doing very well and they wanted me to pick him up. The first thought that came to my head was, “What the f….You’re two blocks from the hospital, just drop him off there!”. But no! I had to pick him up and nurse him throughout the weekend until he could go see our primary care physician. He was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and was sent home with massive doses of antibiotics. Fortunately by that time he was dedicated enough to his recovery that he insisted on finishing his time in the residence. I dropped him back off with a smile and gratitude and resumed my vacation.
One of the very best parts about the CFR program is the four week educational piece. As a “loved one” you have the opportunity to attend family group where you are free to vent to your hearts content, and then attend classes along with your addict that explains the medical condition of addiction, codependency, anger management (just for you), and some touchy-feely classes to help you get in touch with your situation (basically coming out of denial). Meanwhile your addict gets to go to lots and lots of meetings on a daily basis.
To use a well-wore phrase, my husband took to his recovery like a fish to water. He quickly became the “poster boy” for recovery (in true addict fashion). He got a wonderful sponsor. Just let me say that this is the best invention ever. As you are told in your family group, you have to fire yourself from being the major mechanic in the scheme of things. The sponsor will say things to your addict that you only wished you could say. The sponsor is also on top of the 12 step program and is dedicated to making sure that those steps are being worked on. Your loved one can also share out some shameful feelings that they have to face, preferably not to your face.
Self Care Yahoo!!!! There are several organizations dedicated to those who live with an addict. There’s Al-anon, Nar-anon, one for teens, and CODA (for the codependent). CFR has a family group. It was there that I came to the realization that I had my own recovery to attend to. It was tough and I cried a lot.