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Shotgun of Strength

I hate to generalize, but I’m going to anyway: addicts love to justify, excuse, and rationalize their behavior. I know because I am one – now sober for over twenty years from cocaine.

My first marriage was to an addict.

I am, once again, married to an addict.

See a pattern? Yeah, me, too. Embarrassingly enough, it took almost a year of therapy for that tidbit to reveal itself. I digress.

My current husband is a recovering sex addict, and he’s been sober for almost a year. My first husband, who was also my high school sweetheart, was a cokehead like me; he’s deceased from a motorcycle accident 15 years ago.

I met “Senior” when I was 15 and he was 16 and we were normal, regular teens. We smoked a little weed, drank beer on the weekend, and every so often did a hit or two of acid or mescaline. No big deal when I grew up in the eighties.

This snippet comes from a time when I justified, excused, and rationalized like the addict I was and, instead of hitting rock bottom, embraced denial.

Senior and I shared a dilapidated house in a crappy part of town with Anthony. It wasn’t much of a home, but at the age of 18, it was mine and Senior’s and Anthony’s. Anthony was our roommate and a drug dealer, which was quite convenient, contributing to our demise and fueling our addiction.

Senior and I had an agreement: I would never, ever go to college high and he would never, ever go to work high. It made us feel as though we were in control of our drug use. Rationalization at its best.
Senior and I abided by this agreement throughout our drug use days. Somehow it made us feel superior to the people around us.

Trust me: we weren’t.

We managed to fit in more drug use in those short hours after school and work every single day than most other users did all week. Yet we managed to delude ourselves we were the “smart” ones of the bunch.

Anthony’s agreement with us was that he’d only deal weed and coke. He could stay with us for free as long as he supplied us with the drugs we wanted, as often as we wanted. It worked out great for all three of us for quite some time.

I was used to watching random people come in and out of my house. Some would stay for minutes, others for days. I recall some staying for weeks at a time.

However, the “vibe” of the house began to change. It became more Anthony’s house than ours. His paranoia was increasing: he had deadbolts installed on his bedroom door, he placed baby monitors outside doorways, and the smell coming from bedroom – well, it was unfamiliar to Senior and me. We tried to talk to him about it, but Anthony was high ALL of the time now. A strange, scary kind of high we couldn’t place.

I came home from school one day and saw Anthony’s door was actually open for a change, but noticed he had one of the living room chairs blocking the doorway into his bedroom. I figured he had someone in there with him getting high and proceeded into the bathroom adjacent to his room.

As I sat on the toilet, I noticed three small holes in the wall. It took a second or two for me to register that the holes actually went all the way through the bathroom wall and into Anthony’s room. I could see into his room through the damn holes!!

My gut knotted. Something wasn’t right.

I realized I still hadn’t heard anything from his room since I walked in.

Holes in the wall.


Could he be dead?

I peered through the holes and saw him on his bed, smoking a cigarette.

Whew, not dead.

Okay, then why the holes? They were definitely bullet holes.

I thought to myself, “Whatever it was, it’s obviously over, and besides, I can see he’s got coke on his desk.” I flushed the toilet, washed my hands and stepped outside the bathroom door.

Anthony was already inside his doorway, feet away from me as I stepped into the hallway. He had moved that quickly from his bed to the doorway – it took only seconds.

“Hey Ant, got a line?” I asked him, leaning over the green velvet living room chair that was keeping us apart. My eyes drank in his room and I could see where one of bullets ended up, in his closet door, on the other side of the room.

I glanced at the desk beside me, saw the coke, and the addict in me screamed. I looked back at Anthony, waiting not so patiently for an answer.

Fuck the bullet holes, I really wanted to push him and the chair out of my way and get to that mirror with the pile of blow on it and start shoving it up my nose! He’d probably been partying all day!

I’d been stuck in class all day, now it was my turn to party. I felt myself get twitchy from having to wait. The feeling of “it’s there, but not there, so close but so far.” If you’re an addict, you know it, and it’s awful.

I glanced back to the desk, back to Anthony, and I saw the pistol he used in the bathroom.
I figured he was waiting for me to ask so I said, “Why are there bullet holes in the bathroom, Ant?”

“Fucking cockroaches. I hate ‘em.”

He reached over and grabbed the mirror off the desk and slid off a line for me. Finally! My body exhaled and tensed all at once. I felt my pulse quicken with anticipation.

I didn’t care about the cockroaches. They were a dime a dozen where we lived. Why he would decide to shoot them that day, in our bathroom, didn’t even strike me as being unusual.

I just wanted my fix, which he had in his hand still. I was getting pretty pissed by now. Just give me the damn line already! I just needed one to help get me started with my homework.

“What the hell Anthony, gimme a line!” I raised my voice.

“I will.” He taunted me with the cocaine. He passed the mirror before me. Right under my nose. Inches from my face. If I breathed too hard, or God forbid, if I sneezed, we were both screwed. Hundreds of dollars lost! It’d be at least an hour, maybe even two hours before it’d be replaced.

As he passed the mirror by my face I saw him move with his other hand but my eyes were glued to the coke. He put the mirror back on the desk and the knot in my stomach moved into my throat. The anticipation of getting high has turned into the fear of something unknown.

Anthony continued, “You’ll get your coke when you tell me where it is. Where did you put it?”
My mind began to race. I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. My eyes scanned the room again.

There were two empty packets, not one. Why two? Think!!

There was also a needle on the floor by the bed with a tie-off. Okay. Someone had been shooting up in here. But shooting up what? Coke? Heroin?

Had Anthony started shooting up now, too? Was the second packet for heroin or did he do so much coke he’s just that fucked up in the head right now?

My eyes went back to the pistol on the desk. I’d been around guns for a long time. I’d been taught how to use them, so I wasn’t afraid to shoot someone if I had to. I didn’t think so, anyway. But, he was blocking me, and so was the chair.

Suddenly, Anthony screamed at the top of his lungs. Asking me where it is, where did I put it? Did I sell it? Did I use it? I was petrified (and remember thinking, even in that state, that I was glad I had just used the bathroom). It was then that he pulled the shotgun from the side of the chair, hidden beside the desk.

It was Senior’s .30-.30, his favorite hunting rifle. Anthony put the barrel of the rifle to my forehead (oddly, it wasn’t cold like I thought it would be) and he began yelling the same questions over and over again.

Instead of embracing the fear that was growing within me, I felt a sense of absolute calm settle over me. I knew with every fiber of my being that Anthony was not going to shoot me. He was not the one that would end my life. Not that day.

In a calm and rational voice, while looking him in the eyes (and his eyes were purely crazed), I told him, “I don’t have anything of yours. Think about it, Anthony, I haven’t been here all day. I just got home from school. Put the gun down and I’ll help you look for it.”

Sure enough, he did.

I found out later that he had been speedballing for weeks.

Unfortunately, this incident was not my rock bottom. I merely went into denial for another year. However, it made me realize I have the ability to reach inside me and find inner strength, even when times seem dismal and scary and beyond hope.

I have reflected much upon this incident. Although it occurred during a dark period in my life, it still brings me strength. I reach back to that person with the shotgun to her forehead quite often and remember who I am at my inner core.



Me. Briefly.

The first time I used, I was 9. I stole some of my mom’s appetite suppressants. For the first time in my short little life, I felt like I could do anything. I forgot that I felt like I didn’t belong. Don’t ask me why I felt that way. I am an adopted child raised by a good family, so I should have felt fine. I truly believe that addiction is genetic. With dope, at long last, I belonged. I wasn’t afraid.

Life went downhill from there. I gradually branched out to other drugs. At 14, I was stealing my parents’ cigarettes and booze and smoking pot. At 18, I got introduced to what would become the great love of my life-meth. I really could do anything on that stuff-no job was too big, and my mind worked like a pinball machine with an electrical short-thoughts careened around so fast I never held one long enough to examine it, so I never really thought about feelings of inadequacy or fear.

Or shame.

At 19, I was tired of trying to make it on my own, so I found myself married to an abusive bastard; anybody who’s ever been through that can understand what I mean when I say that it destroyed any shreds of self-worth I had a chance of having. By then, I knew how to fix that-I used more dope. It didn’t matter what kind as long as it helped me shove those feelings of worthlessness into some dark, forgotten corner of my soul.

After 3 years of being smacked around, I fought back, left, didn’t look back, and didn’t quit fighting for a long time.

I went through a string of failed relationships for a couple of years, until I met “the one.” He actually started to redeem the male of he species for me. For a year and a half, I somehow managed to limit my drinking and drugging. Life was pretty good. I was living the suburban American dream.

In the end, untreated addiction always wins. I got involved in some unsavory business, running drugs up and down the interstate. For each time I got arrested, I made it through at least a few more times. I guess sometimes it really is better to be lucky than good, or I’d still be in prison.

My second husband finally had enough, and I got sentenced to prison knowing that divorce awaited me when I got out. Looking back, I can’t blame him. At the time, I was just enraged.

In prison, in a state far from home, I didn’t have drugs but I still had that fight in me, and the ability to stuff my emotions into some dark corner of myself and forget them. It allowed me to survive in a cold and lonely place. When I got out, I did what I always did. I got high. How else was I supposed to deal with my situation? I was 4 states from all I knew, being held against my will by a parole officer who wouldn’t let me move home.

Fast forward to 2005.

I’m on probation for yet another drug offense, headed for an inpatient drug treatment center at the judge’s (and probation officer’s) suggestion. I had reached that point where I used dope to become that static-y snow on a TV with no reception. I didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to deal with the mess my life had become and I damn sure didn’t want to deal with the mess that I had become.

I muddled along for a while until I had a using experience so horrific I will never forget it. I had finally used so much dope, trying to kill my feelings, that I had used myself into a corner and it was that dark corner of my soul that I had been avoiding for 27 years.

The dope had led me right into the hell I had been denying from the time I first discovered dope at the tender age of 9.

I got clean, finally. It hurt. Detox can kill, and I guess I considered myself lucky to be alive, considering the way I had used my body for a toxic waste dump.

And I grieved the loss of the drugs. I grieved the loss of the numbness. I was FEELING shit again and it was ookie and I didn’t like it.

The human psyche is an amazing thing, with a remarkable talent for self-preservation. I managed to avoid the real problem: here I was drugless, and the big shitty mess inside was still there. Denial became my best friend. I felt no emotions (or so I told myself.) I damn sure didn’t show them.

For the first two years I was clean, I was involved with another abusive bastard. Got a busted eardrum out of it. During that two years, I did a good job of not allowing myself to feel much of anything, partly out of determination to deprive that bastard of the satisfaction of knowing he had affected me, and mostly because I didn’t want to look at that big shitty fucking mess in my mind and soul.

I did all this while calling myself a member of a twelve step fellowship.

Two years into my abstinence, the pain of my living situation became too much. Denial, toughness, bad attitude-none of it was working anymore. Without the dope to numb my soul, the big shitty mess in the darkest corner of my heart began to fester. So I got honest. Well, a little bit, anyway. Six months later, I was out of the abusive relationship. I was healing.

At least that’s what I told the world.

Until the physical after effects of the corrective surgery on my eardrum became unbearable. They also became a physical representation of all that was wrong with my psyche.


I could no longer use those old defense mechanisms. I could no longer be the hardass, the tough girl who didn’t give a fuck. I gave a fuck and I was tired of being broken.

Aunt Becky, I cried. Like I don’t think I have ever cried before.

I cried for all I wasted. I cried over all the wasted potential, the wasted years, the wasted lives I destroyed with my sick spirit.

I cried for a little girl who never felt like she belonged. I cried for my mother who couldn’t fix her child. I cried for what was left of myself and for the parts of me that were lost forever. I screamed. I cried until my throat hurt, my rib cage hurt, my head hurt. I cried until my entire head was so congested I couldn’t breathe. I cried over all the sadness I had never cried over, I cried over all the pain I never cried over, I cried over all the fear I never cried over. I have no idea how long I cried. It seemed like forever.

And then I slept. I slept the sleep of the damned. Because as I cried, screaming about how I was tired of being broken, I realized that nothing could fix me. I was doomed to this existence of knowing I was broken and the only thing that ever made me feel whole was dope and I couldn’t have it anymore. It had been killing me while it killed my feelings, except it wasn’t killing the feelings anymore. I couldn’t stop using once I started, and once I used I became this horrible beast who got arrested and burned bridges with the people in her life. So dope was out.

I was, finally, alone with the truth. I was rotten inside and nothing could fix me.

At 40 years of age, I’m glad I can say that a lot has happened in the 3 years since I cried that night and screamed my frustration at being broken. I started working the 12 steps of recovery from addiction. I have a sponsor. I have 5 years clean. I have a reasonably good relationship with my mother these days. I am now in a very serious and mostly healthy relationship with the man who held me the night I cried-he is truly a good man. I am in my first senior year of college. I have been well trained in the work I do and have been working the same part-time jobs for 5 years now. I’m good at my job. I have a few friends-true friends.

Aunt Becky, I wish I could give you a happy ending. I wish I could say that I have finally progressed through the 5 stages of grief. I think it’s safe to say I have passed through denial.

Yet I still can’t let go of those old defense mechanisms. It is so fucking hard to express emotions. It’s just as hard to live through them. So I shop. I eat chocolate. I find things to distract me. Often, I stick my feelings in that dark corner of my soul. Even the good ones. I still miss the ability to deny their existence. I don’t know what to do with them, so it’s easier to deny them.

I guess it’s progress, being able to admit I have emotions.

Some days, I get so angry. Why the fuck can’t I be normal? Why oh why do I always seem to feel inadequate, less than, afraid? At least the rage can be empowering, motivating me to get up and try one more day to find a way to heal my sick spirit. If nothing else, rage feels good. It’s so primal.

Some days, I’m depressed. The possibility of spending the rest of my life knowing I am irretrievably broken saddens me beyond belief. This is where I am grateful for my adoptive mother-she’s my REAL mother. Nothing ever stopped her, and rarely did anything slow her down. She always kept going. What an amazing example; I believe it’s the only reason I keep going on my depressed days.

Bargaining. Yes. I do that. I make bargains with whatever’s out there-if you would just fix me, God, I would try to touch another life so some other woman doesn’t ever have to live with the pain I lived with for so long. Just please fucking fix me so I am not afraid, ashamed, and insecure. Make me not hurt and I will try to share it with someone who needs to know it is possible to not hurt.

Acceptance. Not so much. Today, I refuse to accept that I am irretrievably broken. Maybe that is where the twelve steps are beginning to work in my life.

And maybe that’s the happy ending after all.

Like Fathers – Like Sons

Adult Children of Addicts are at a far greater risk to develop addiction to substance abuse.

This is the story of three brave men:

My father was the son of an alcoholic.  He had a brother and 3 sisters who all would partake in the ocassional alcoholic beverage but never let it interfere with the normal every day functions of their lives.  My father, on the other hand carried on the family tradition/trait/ illness, or whatever you wish to call it.  He was not an abusive drunk, although I do remember he and his best friend trashing our house fighting each other when I was a pre-teen. He was very much involved in my life and that of my brother and sister, but he was still an alcoholic.

As years passed, his drinking became more and more severe.  It wasn’t until my teen years that I really started paying attention and noticing that he was consuming a case or so of beer by himself, everyday, along with as much as a pint of liquor.  He became more pissed off at the world and everything about it.  The world was out to get him and so was everyone on the planet.  It was getting to the point where nothing we did was right.

After graduating high school, it was time to marry my high school sweetheart.  A day I had dreamt of for a long time.  I was never one for dating and the whole girlfriend issue, but this girl was for me and I was so looking forward to that special night and our first dance as husband and wife.  In the middle of the most special dance of my life, my father interrupted and said, “why don’t you play something we all like?”  Our wedding song was “All Of My Love” by Led Zeppelin.

I was stunned, flabbergasted, ashamed, and yet I let it slide.

I vowed my entire life that I would not be like him, and to that I stayed pretty true.  Sure, I had the occasional drink as a teenager.  Yes, I got drunk from time to time but never really cared enough for it to become a regular thing.  Never would I be like him.  I would not put my children through that, even if he was not mean, it was not a childhood I would not want any kid to have to live.   Little did I realize at the time that I was just like him.

Although I was not a drinker, I had no problem smoking pot, tripping on acid and mescaline, doing ‘shrooms, or just about any mind-altering substance that I could get my hands on.  But hey, I was not a drunk.

It wasn’t until my mid twenties, deep into a cocaine free basing addiction that my wonderful wife, the high school sweetheart, told me  ”I don’t know what you are doing, but you either quit or I leave.”

Wow, a brick in the face that one was.

I finally looked at myself in the mirror, literally, and saw a pasty grey skinned man, skinny and sick looking he was just one step away from death or an institution.

I quit.  I vowed to myself and my wife that I would never touch the stuff again.  I spent several years going to narcotics anonymous, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day and I am proud to say I am free, clean, and sober.  I am a fairly healthy 45 year old man still married to my high school sweet heart, and I have 3 wonderful sons and 2 grandsons.

I have felt their joys and sorrows.  I have seen their smiles and frowns.  I have been there for them.  And I was there to help my oldest son through his addiction.

He chose to follow me and go the drug route.  I have always been open with my children about drugs hoping that it would steer them away since I was speaking from personal experience; not quoting something I read in a book.  He saw it like, hey you’re still alive, it couldn’t have been THAT bad.

On his 17th birthday, I did something that even I could not believe.

On the way home from picking him up at school one evening, he was so wasted that he was actually hallucinating in my car, asking me questions about how we were going to get the car through all those trees, and what were we going to do when we got to the end of the road where it turns red. I was so scared for him; it was time for another search of his room.  I found pot growing in his closet, for the second time, so I figured I had no choice. I turned in my own son and he spent his 17th birthday in the county jail, and several others months following.  It opened his eyes a bit.  He stumbled a few times since but is now a wonderful 21 year old man with 2 sons.

One night, not to long ago, he finally told me that he hated me for quite a while for turning him in, but he then said he could not thank me enough for what he did and that he loved me.

I am constantly worried about him.  Will the stress of the children lead him back to the drugs?  Will he make it through as I have?  Will any of his children follow the familiar path?

One good thing that has come of my sons addiction is that his younger brothers want absolutely nothing to do with any of it.  So for now I just let him, and his brothers know, that I will always be there for them, and that life might not always be wonderful but it could always be worse.

And of course, I must thank my wonderful wife.

She stayed with me.

She saw the problems and instead of bailing out she stuck by my side.

She spent several weeks with very little sleep as my mind and body fought each other she was there to calm me.

She saved my life.