I was raised by an alcoholic father and a mother who had a full time job of trying to hide it from everyone. She did a pretty good job of it, too. But when she decided it was time for him to sober up, a Big Book was placed in the bathroom and she began picking him up from work and driving him, drunk or sober, to AA meetings. She patiently waited for him outside in the car.
My first AA meeting was my father’s one year sobriety anniversary. My mother began attending Al-Anon where she discovered she was possibly more dysfunctional then the alcoholic. My older sister and I started attending Alateen where I made my very first friend and tried my very first drug, marijuana. The world was both fuzzy and funny and I remember laughing and eating donuts until I felt sick.
I was 14 and partying every weekend and after every Alateen meeting. I wanted to fit in so badly, more so than enjoying the high. It was the first place I ever used and the first friends I ever had.
As soon as I was old enough, I became a regular at the local gay bars and drank continually for the next 12 years. I lived a double life and kept it from my partner (at least he pretended to not know). I attended social functions, wore tuxedos and sipped chardonnay. And then I turned around and slammed rum and cokes, hustled men, and frequented adult book stores and arcades.
I would cry from shame and drank the guilt away by staying in a blackout as much as possible. If I was drunk, I wasn’t responsible for my actions. As my drinking worsened and I became an embarrassment to my partner, I tried to cut down and quit. I was in and out of detox so many times I can’t even count. The urge to drink was too strong. My 10 year relationship with the most wonderful man I’ve ever known ended. I was left with the clothes on my back and the bottle in my pocket.
I began to hustle on the streets of Denver. By this time, neither my looks nor my reputation were in very high demand and I resorted to staying in the baths when I could afford it and if I couldn’t find a john to take me home. This was when I discovered crystal meth and my days with alcohol ended.
Changing from a depressant to a stimulant made me feel like I’d been born again. It was the wonder drug that saved my life. I found affection in the form of sex, love in the form of a dealer, and a new career in the field of selling my new companion.
I had energy, popularity, focus, creativity and a whole new group of friends. But I couldn’t hold a job. The profits from selling drugs usually ended up in a pipe, and those who didn’t steal my money would steal my dope. So I too became a thief. I stole merchandise from stores and traded it for meth to support my habit and live in cheap motels.
It was a daily process and I soon acquired my first felony when I was caught lifting $1,500 from a local department store. I was charged and given a four year sentence. I immediately phoned my mother and without question, she jumped in her car and drove from Grand Junction to visit me, even though I had not called home in over a year.
The next two and half years I was quiet and stayed pretty much to myself. I wrote a lot, worked as a baker, and for the first time in my life became aware of myself, who I was and what I had become. How ironic it was when I looked in the mirror. It was a blurry image I saw in the dented, polished metal that hung on the wall before me, and I didn’t like what I saw.
Three years passed and I was released to a halfway house to finish my sentence. My mother, who stood by me with no questions, came to visit me. I spilled my entire story to her … how meth helped me stop drinking, how I was dealing drugs, stealing, everything. She still stood by me with love and forgiveness. She was my rock!
I did very well in community corrections. I held a full time job as a waiter, saved money, and was released on parole to my own apartment. But the money and new freedom made the temptation to use too strong. I started up again in the meth madness. I lost my job, all of my savings, and most of my marbles!
During this time, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I couldn’t visit her in the hospital because I was so messed up. She almost died on the operating table. Due to complications, her liver and part of her intestines had to be attached to her side with a plastic sleeve. A vibrant, active, on-the-go woman was reduced to an 80 pound, bedridden shadow of herself. I couldn’t bear it.
I had to return to jail to finish my sentence and 10 days before my release, my mother passed away. It left the biggest hole in my heart. I had more guilt than I knew how to handle.
Upon my release, I was paroled to a “crack house” motel on east Colfax during the blizzard of 2006. I had no money, no job, and no hope. After two months, my parole was revoked and I went to the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center (DRDC). I stayed there for several days. I was wondering what was taking so long when I was called to the infirmary and told I tested positive for the HIV virus. I was numb! Though I was grateful I was in a place where I could get medical help and still had six months to adjust to this information.
The day I was supposed to transfer to territorial prison, I was re-routed to a halfway house. I was asked to sign a release of medical responsibility and could not get the DOC to release any information about HIV.
The next six months were hell for me! I was so upset and frustrated, not to mention alone! I had nowhere to go when I was released so I was adopted by a friend’s family I met in the halfway house. They gave me love and a place to stay. I began using again and finally the Colorado AIDS Project had an opening in one of their housing programs. I moved into my own studio apartment. I went into a deep depression and left my apartment only to get drugs and food and to go to the doctor. I came to believe that I would live the rest of my life alone. The only comfort I found was in meth.
In my apartment building was a handsome southern man who I would occasionally buy dope for. I couldn’t see myself ever being in a relationship with him. I was very cautious having resigned to not allowing anyone in my life again. In the past, I had hurt or betrayed everyone who loved me and I couldn’t handle anymore guilt. But he was persistent and charming and he was also HIV positive so there was no fear there!
We started partying quite a bit and I started selling dope again. Then he became violent, insisting I give him my drugs … he even struck out at me. I decided a line had been crossed and there was no point in continuing to see him. Three days after I broke up with him, a note of apology was slid under my door saying he could never be with me again because he knew he had a temper and didn’t want to hurt me. He also planned on moving out so he wouldn’t witness my future relationships. His heartfelt, honest, selfless letter took me by surprise.
I went to his door. When he opened it and I saw the sadness on his face, I could only hug him. It was at that point that I fell completely in love for the first time. Finally, someone to spend my days with and hide no secrets from. But I was still running from parole and using a lot. I was soon found and taken back to jail. His heart was broken.
We stayed connected with daily phone calls and letters. I felt I had someone to help me through all the agony of the HIV and all that came with it. But thirty days later, I saw him with another man and my world fell apart. I was devastated. I considered suicide. I stayed in bed for 22 days and the only thing that helped me through it was dope. When I reflect on this relatiohship I am grateful because I take with me the reminder that I do want love.
My life became a voyage through doctor appointments, parole visits, heavy using, and paranoia. I was told I was now living with AIDS. I didn’t have the courage to live anymore. I had given up and I hated myself. I had pushed away everyone who had ever loved me and, again, only those who wanted my drugs were around me. I was hospitalized three times in a month and no one would help me get off the streets. Today, this fact plays a huge part in my recovery.
One night I slept on the ground next to a dumpster, in the rain. I was unable to walk. I was broken and tired. I managed to get myself up and headed for the hospital. I was in the hospital for nearly two months, I had no visitors. I realized I needed to stay away from the drug users and get around people who were clean. Maybe drug treatment was a good place to start.
I had 90 days left on parole and was approved for treatment. I avoided it for about two months and then was threatened to serve my last 30 days in jail. I remembered that dumpster and its smell and sleeping on the ground in the rain. I finally wanted to exercise “my choice” and get into drug treatment.
I called Sobriety House. There I found the will to live. I found people who want me to live. I found sobriety and in being clean, I found the ability to make a different choice. When I was using, I only had one choice and that was to use. I found that what I’m really looking for is trust and intimacy and when I’m using there isn’t such a thing!
For the first time in a long time, I was surrounded by people who wanted to help me stay clean and sober. They didn’t want anything from me. Now that I have some time being clean, I’m aware of the choices I have in life. It’s a new found freedom where anything is possible and true happiness is within my reach. As I grow, I know I will one day be able to trust myself enough to have friends and relationships.
As I write this, I realize it doesn’t matter how or why I ended up at that dumpster. I have the choice now to not be there again. More than that, I have the opportunity to grow and to change and to experience love. For the first time in a long time, I want to live.