It never fails.
Every single time I tell somebody how much clean time I have, I automatically diminish the accomplishment by saying, “I should have more but…” I’ve gotten to the point where I can sometimes stop myself from saying it out loud, but I always think it. Today, Monday, June 26, 2017, is my five-year sober birthday, and that voice is still there, obnoxiously pointing out that I should have 13 years.
But I don’t, because I relapsed at year six.
Here’s the tricky thing about addiction. It doesn’t matter how much clean time you manage to accumulate; your future sobriety is never guaranteed.
I was forced into sobriety in November of 2004 through incarceration. I was released from prison in 2005 and managed to stay clean – even when I had to return to prison in 2006 to complete my federal sentence. I celebrated my 18-month sober birthday at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. When I got out, I worked to build a regular, sober life. I got a job, a car and eventually, my own apartment. I went to a lot of AA meetings and associated, mostly, with folks I met through AA.
Until I was dumped by an AA guy in 2008. Right or wrong, that soured me on the program. My meeting attendance dwindled, although I did maintain consistent contact with my sponsor. I muddled through. I stayed sober. I told myself I’d never let myself fall for another man, ever again.
The point, really, is that it wasn’t the bad stuff that tripped me up. I made it through three solid years of federal probation, a traumatic breakup, two residential moves and a sudden job loss. Those incidents weren’t what took me down. It was love. That’s what took me down. It was the hope, excitement, promise and desperate uncertainty of new love. It was the butterflies.
It was really the butterflies that did it.
For me, happiness is treacherous. It needs to be tempered with grief.
Once I stopped going to meetings, my life got very small. I had one close friend, two if you count her husband, and she was really the only person I spent time with. When I moved from Madison Park to Capitol Hill in 2010, it was into an apartment located three or four doors down from hers.
But right before I moved, I discovered something I loved: live music.
It started with cover bands, like Platinum Spandex and my friend Kristin’s band, Rock Candy. Then I started checking out original bands, like Desillusion. I took social risks and met some new people, which is how I ended up in Pioneer Square on August 20, 2010, at Fuel, for an MS benefit. There were three bands playing that night, one of which was Late September Dogs (which conveniently shortens to LSD). The funny part, is that other than the fact that he played a pink Hello Kitty guitar, I didn’t even really notice Dan that first night.
For one thing, he ignored me. And another, his hair was all over his face so I couldn’t see what he looked like. I was with my friend Don, who knew the band, including the lead guitarist with the pink Hello Kitty guitar. He didn’t introduce me to him but he introduced me to Liz, Dan’s sister, who happened to be the lead singer. I loved the music and I loved Liz, so I went to another show.
And another one. And another one.
My thought process, as marred and erroneous as it was, was this: as a former heroin addict, being in bars is not an issue for me. Drinking alcohol was never really my thing, so what’s the big deal?
My second LSD show was on August 27, 2010, in south Seattle at a place called Club Motor. I went to that one by myself.
Dan ignored me at that show too.
His Facebook profile listed his favorite quote as; “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
I saw that as a challenge.
On Sept. 2, 2010, I hit up another LSD show with my friend Don. This one was acoustic, at a place called the Little Red Studio. Dan’s hair was back and I finally realized how good-looking he was. I kicked myself for coming to that show with Don, because I didn’t want to seem unavailable.
I started going to Fuel on Tuesdays, because LSD did acoustic nights every week back then.
The thing about Dan, is that he and Liz are kind of a package deal. And that was OK with me at the time. Sometimes I think it’s possible I may have fallen in love with Liz before I fell in love with Dan. I’m not sure though. Honestly, I can’t remember not loving him. It was intensely overwhelming. Still to this day, he is the best person I have ever known in my entire life.
He gave me butterflies in the worst way. I pursued him. My friend Kristin encouraged me to be brave. “You can’t buy butterflies,” she said.
He had to like me. If he didn’t like me I was going to die.
Exactly two weeks later, I decided to hit up a Witchburn show. It was an oddball Thursday night gig at the Funhouse, which was right by the Seattle Center. I had a personal training session in Ballard that evening, so I asked my parents if I could stop at their condo to take a shower and do my makeup. Their place is just a few blocks from where the show was, and I figured I could walk.
I made sure to put it out on social media that I was going to be at Witchburn that night. I knew Dan had Porn Jam practice, because I had stalked his Facebook page. I told myself that if he didn’t stop by Witchburn afterwards, he was definitely not into me.
My solution was to completely lose myself in the music. That may have been my first Witchburn show, because I remember not knowing the words when Jamie launched into the chorus of “Stand up and be Counted,” leaning into the front row and holding out the microphone.
I fell head-over-heels in love with that band. I still love them. They are incredible. I enthusiastically embraced their entire set, headbanging, cheering and loving every minute of it.
The next night, Friday, September 17, I went to Fuel to see LSD again. And finally, Dan invited me to come to his house after the show. Which was amazing… Except… Something had started to go seriously awry with my neck. It hadn’t felt quite right all day, and then that night, I started experiencing strange prickly, shooting sensations that originated in my neck and traveled down my right arm.
It almost felt like I was being shocked by something… It felt like electrical charges. I began wondering if I was having a heart attack. I was thinking about how embarrassing it would be if I died at Dan’s house during our first night together. I mean, who does that?
It got progressively worse and then, the pain kicked in. It was excruciating. I drove myself to urgent care that weekend, to figure out what was going on. The doctor gave me Vicodin. I sat there and thought about all the things I was supposed to say and do in that moment, and I said and did none of them.
I was reinvented. I was into bands now. The guitar player I was obsessed with liked me. I was on the list.
I took the prescription. And I got it filled. And I took the pills.
The pain worsened dramatically over the next two weeks and I was given progressively stronger pain medication to deal with it. Sometime during the second week, I lost all strength in my right arm, and would collapse to the ground if I tried to do a pushup. I had to stop seeing my personal trainer. On Sept. 28, 2010, I had an MRI, which revealed two herniated discs in my neck.
The doctors speculated that the trauma was related to a car accident.
But I hadn’t been in a car accident. Headbanging, as it turns out, at the age of 40, is hazardous to your spinal region. I viciously herniated two discs in my neck by headbanging for an entire Witchburn set.
It really doesn’t get any more rock ‘n’ roll than that.
I fooled myself into believing that I wasn’t going to relapse. I was too smart to relapse. The pills were prescribed to me. By doctors. Until I started taking things that weren’t prescribed to me, like Xanax. And stronger opiates. I celebrated my six-year sober birthday on Nov. 17, 2010, but it was a lie. I had relapsed. I had lost my sobriety. My sponsor finally made me say the words out loud in December.
What followed was nearly two years of chipping, sneaking, lying, tapering, failing, chasing and nodding off in my beef stew. Dan was an innocent bystander in the turmoil that is me, caught in the throes of full-fledged addiction. On June 25, 2012, I was finally able to get a bed in detox. You can’t ever count the first day of rehab or detox as your clean date, as you always get loaded before you go.
That detox was hell. But necessary. I haven’t ingested opiates, benzos, alcohol, marijuana or any other controlled substances of any kind since June 26, 2012.
I know this for sure: I have zero detoxes left in me.
After detox, I attended 21-days of treatment at Sundown Ranch. It was also hell. But necessary. My parents paid for it out of their pocket, as I had no insurance.
My life isn’t fantastic. I don’t consider myself a happy person. The last two years have tested my limits as far as change and relationships coming to an end. Dan and I split up at the start of 2016, and although it was amicable, it still grieved me. He was and still is my best friend. I had hardly recovered from that when 2017 greeted me with a not-so-amicable split from the Monroe Monitor.
That did more than just grieve me. It infuriated me.
But I am sober and I am a good person and that’s better than the alternative.
Sobriety in and of itself doesn’t quell an addictive personality, but today I strive to be addicted to good things. In the last 18 months, I have dramatically improved my health through fitness and healthy food, staving off an intense addiction to sugar and binge-eating. I challenge myself physically every single day and try to inspire others to do the same.
I have five hard-fought years of sobriety, and while it’s too bad I don’t have 13, I need to finally let that go. And anyway, it doesn’t even matter. Five years, 13 years, six months; the time is of no consequence. I could use drugs tomorrow.
But I don’t think I will.