Every day I am clean, I am so grateful I do not live like I used to. I’m a late bloomer I guess, not experiencing meth until my late 40’s and early 50s. That probably seems so old for a lot of you, but hopefully you’ll all get there some day and hopefully it will be free from the grip of crystal meth.
I don’t like focusing on the messy parts, suffice to say that I was in a very unhappy, verbally abusive relationship and began looking for a way to escape. That escape first came with sexual encounters with strangers to fulfill my sexual desires. It was during one of these chance encounters that I discovered meth, and for the first time in my life, I had the confidence, self-esteem, and power I had been searching for. Or so I thought. But what it really did was make a mess of my life, my work, and my relationships. My relationship with my partner of 22 and a half years ended, but not amiably. I was basically told to leave with a lot of debt and nothing in the bank.
My first stint in the hospital started with neck pain. It was getting bad, and I asked a using buddy to drive me to the hospital, where I assumed they would x-ray my neck, write a script for pain pills, and tell me to follow up with a neck and spine doctor. Instead, they started complaining about my blood work and said I needed to stay overnight for “evaluation”. Staying overnight is not the news an addict wants to hear. A night without using? You can’t be serious?
Well, fortunately for me, while I lay on a gurney in the halls of the E.R., one of the doctors stopped to look me over. Everything looked fine. He didn’t see any outward signs of trouble with my neck. But then he did something that probably saved my life. While checking my legs and arms, he got to my hands and flipped my palms up. He started to ask me about these light red circles on my palms, and how long they had been there. I said, “Now that you mention it, it’s been a couple weeks, I thought it could be a reaction triggered by a “med” and the sun. That’s when I found out it’s a sign of neurosyphilis.
Neurosyphilis is a disease of the coverings of the brain, the brain itself, or the spinal cord. It develops in people with syphilis that is left untreated. Neurosyphilis is a life-threatening disease. Had it not been caught and treated, there’s a good chance I could have died. The treatment was a week in the hospital on IV drips of penicillin and other antibiotics. It was also the first time a doctor confronted me about my meth use.
Like a good addict, I made all sorts of excuses: it was just an occasional thing, I had it under control, please don’t put anything in my chart, and I promise I’m done with that stuff. Oh, and the ‘friend’ I had left in my apartment to watch my cats, was busy picking and choosing things out of my apartment to steal and sell. I’d like to say that that was a wake-up call and when I got out of the hospital, I stopped using. I didn’t. It took another trip to the hospital for pneumonia, and more discussions with the doctors and nurses about getting help for my drug problem. I promised them before I left that my drug days were over. For eight months I white-knuckled it, without support. I wasn’t participating in any recovery programs and still hanging with guys actively using. And of course, one night I wanted to take just one hit, to see how it would feel after all this time. That’s all it took. I was off to the races again, but this time I was doing things I said I would never do, which included intravenous use. I wouldn’t learn how to administer myself, because I didn’t want to be a junkie, but I already was.
As far as my life was concerned, things were falling apart. I didn’t lose my home or my job, but I wound up abandoning any real friendships, my family, and most importantly, my daughter. The situation at work was getting worse, and the guy everyone depended upon became the smart but unreliable worker that few wanted to work with. I used the illnesses I was contracting as excuses for my behavior, and for the most part got away with it. As far as my other relationships, if you weren’t using, you weren’t my friend. And hanging out with my family meant I had to listen to their criticisms, concerns, and advice – something no addict wants to do.
It wasn’t until my voice became very hoarse, and at the urging of my boss, that I went to see an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor. That was at 2:30 PM and by 4 PM he was calling every number he had of mine, including my daughter and my niece. His message: “Get to the hospital now, before you suffocate to death.” Turns out, there was a golf ball sized growth on my larynx, almost blocking my airway. That day was the last time I used meth. Of course, prior to a buddy dropping me off at the hospital for an emergency tracheotomy, I was getting high as a kite. Who knew I’d be spending the next two and a half months in the hospital?
Fortunately, the time in the hospital gave me the opportunity to detox and do a lot of soul- searching. I realized my life was on a downward spiral and by not doing anything, I was slowly killing myself. I also had the opportunity to have some amazing talks with my niece and nephew, a wonderful young man in recovery, and my daughter who does social work in N.Y.C. Suddenly, I realized my life was worth living. All I had to do was stay clean. The first step was while I was in the hospital. I deleted all the apps, blocked and/or deleted anyone in my contacts associated with using. If I was going to do this, I needed a clean, fresh start.
After leaving the hospital, I went home and the second thing I realized is that I couldn’t do this on my own. I tried before and failed. And in the fall of 2019, I walked through the doors of Kolmac Clinic for the first time. It was at Kolmac that I attended my first CMA meeting. It’s also where I found out that there were guys like me that had a chem-/sex fusion, and I wasn’t alone. Kolmac helped me a lot, but most importantly, they stressed the need for other meetings to build my network, stay connected, and help keep me clean. That’s when they suggested I try going to Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings.
Walking up those stairs at the Dupont Circle Club for the first time was scary, but I got to a meeting, sat in the back row, kept my head down, and listened. I’m not sure I understood it at first. Some of what I heard, I thought, “Well, I’m not that crazy” or “I didn’t get that bad!” but most of what I heard was stuff I did, things I thought, and feelings I experienced or wanted to experience. But as soon as the meeting ended, I jumped up and ran out and headed home. But something kept me coming back, and eventually I went to dinner with guys after a meeting. I’m not the easiest person to hear in a restaurant, due to missing part of my vocal cords, but these guys engaged me in conversation, and we laughed and carried on, all without drugs or alcohol. Finally, I started to share in meetings. I still remember the first time I said, “I’m Russ, and I’m a Crystal Meth Addict.” In some weird way, it was liberating. And the other thing that happened, is that people began to know me and talk to me. Funny how that happens.
Well, in March of 2020, the pandemic hit, and I thought “How will I be able to stay clean now?” Fortunately, the DC CMA fellowship rose to the challenge quickly and these online “Zoom” meetings started popping up. The next thing you know, I’m holding service positions, attending two, sometimes three meetings a day, getting involved in study groups of the 12 Traditions and the 12 Steps, getting a sponsor and working the steps. And suddenly, life seems worth living again, and I’m having lots of fun, even during a pandemic. I’ve met people all over the world, and enjoyed great fellowship, laughter, and have had more fun than I have had in years. A year and a half later, I started to leave my apartment and attend in-person meetings. I’ve found strength in the DC CMA fellowship. We come in all shapes and sizes, colors, and personalities. Some you like, others you don’t, but every one of them I love. Why? Because they are just trying to do the same thing I am – just not pick up and lead the best life I can. I also know that if I need help, all I need to do is ask. If I’m feeling blue, all I have to do is call another addict in recovery.
Today, with just over three years of continuous clean time, I am truly the happiest I’ve been in over 20 years. I don’t have a partner or a husband. I’m not looking for love, but if love finds me, I’m not going to close the door on it. I love my job again and folks want me to work on their projects. I have family and friends who love me and care about me, as I care about them. I have two cats that unconditionally love me, and I them. And my relationship with my daughter is the best it’s ever been. She is my rock, and I couldn’t be prouder of her. And I can happily say, I think she’s proud of me too.
For me, it doesn’t matter if you have days, weeks, months, or years of clean time. What I’ve learned from all of you is that what matters today is no matter what, you don’t pick up. If you’re having a hard time with it or a bad day, call someone in the fellowship and talk, or just text them. Or go to a meeting, meditate, or pray. Do some exercise, or just listen to some inspirational music. If all else fails, play the tape forward and remember how bad it can get. This shit has consequences, and they aren’t good. Because we all know our addiction is just around the corner or out in the parking lot working out, just waiting for one of us to have a weak moment. And for me, I just can’t let it win again, cause the next time could kill me.
I am grateful for CMA and every person in this fellowship. My hope for you all is another day clean, another day free from drugs, and another day being the happiest you can be.