Second in a three-part series
By Beth Lawrence
Mike (not his real name) developed a substance abuse problem when he was 13 years old, but with the help of Narcotics Anonymous, he has been clean for 38 years.
Mike grew up in Franklin County, Kentucky.
His problems with drugs began in 1962 when the understanding of substance abuse was in its early stages and the use of recreational drugs was taking off.
“I used drugs on pretty much a daily basis until the age of almost 32,” Mike said. “I started out using the drug alcohol, and it seemed to be a way to alleviate me out of a situation in my life that I wasn’t particularly happy with.”
Mike grew up in a home where he felt there was no love. What he experienced as an absence of nurturing led him to act out.
He was a good student, but like any teenager facing emotional problems and a burgeoning substance abuse disorder, his school work began to be affected.
“I pretty much went to school sporadically,” he said. “The fact that I was fairly capable is the only reason they didn’t do something drastic with me.”
As he grew through his teenage years, his addictions grew too. He began smoking marijuana, and by the time he was 15, he added pills to his list of ways to get high.
Like many addicts, Mike resorted to crime to support his habit.
His crimes grew as well, leading to stints in jail. The offenses ran the gamut from misdemeanor disorderly conduct and theft to felony drug dealing and possession.
“I dealt whatever people would buy and whatever was available,” Mike said. “I guess I started getting some felonies by the time I was 17 or so.”
The closest he came to serving time in prison was a three- to five-year probation term for felony possession of drug paraphernalia.
Mike believes if he had been a minority engaged in the same activities, he would have received harsher punishments for his transgressions.
It was around the age of 18 that he began to seek out harder drugs.
“All that time it was pot here and there, pills here and there, alcohol here and there,” Mike said.
He developed a preference for barbiturates like Seconal and Nembutal, used to treat sleep disorders and anxiety.
By the time he was 19, he moved to prescription opiates. He began shooting up the powerful painkillers morphine and Dilaudid.
He wasn’t concerned about the effects the drugs had on his body.
“I liked the feeling that it produced,” he said. “I just didn’t really care. The reason why I liked to inject drugs is because the feeling was immediate. I knew it wasn’t good for my arms.”
Mike recalls seeing other users develop “severe abscesses” on their arms from injecting drugs. It never happened to him, and he doesn’t think that an infection would have stopped him from using.
He didn’t care how it affected his relationships. Mike could not have a healthy relationship.
“As for mentally, when you’re using, your whole life is centered in drugs, everything else is on the peripheral,” Mike said. “I had no ability to have any type of intimacy with anyone, being honest, being able to be close, being able to be caring. If I needed to get high, and I had to choose between following my need to get high and seeing you, I’d get high.”
He lost a marriage and a relationship with his child over his drug use and the fact that he was pretty much a (jerk).
By the time he was 32, Mike was living in Broward County, Florida.
He moved to other drugs besides opioids because they were easier to obtain and using them was less risky.
In the years between ages 13 and 32 Mike tried a number of programs to achieve recovery. “Starting at the age of 13, I was prayed over,” he said. “I’ve seen psychiatrists; I’ve seen social workers, probation officers.”
He tried outpatient therapy and at least one inpatient stint.
“You would go and share your feelings and all this stuff, and they’d sign you off,” he said. “I’ve been through countless numbers of those.”
Though he learned some truths about his behavior from those programs, he never connected with the programs. He viewed them as akin to a teacher giving a student an assignment, once the assignment is done, it’s done; you don’t think about it anymore.
Another reason for a lack of connection to the programs was his lack of commitment.
“I had no intentions to stop using at that point,” Mike said.
What finally worked for him was finding Narcotics Anonymous.
He had reached his bottom and was actively looking for a way to work out and hold onto sobriety.
“I didn’t reach my bottom until I was almost 32 years old,” Mike said. “Using drugs had not been fun for many years. I just did it because that’s what I did. I believed the lie that once you’re a junkie, you’re always a junkie.”
Hitting bottom means the addict find himself at a point where he feels he has run out of options and must make a decision to seek recovery or continue using until he dies.
He began seeing a therapist who suggested he try Alcoholics Anonymous. Mike could not connect with the program because AA is alcohol-centric. The therapist found a Narcotics Anonymous meeting that was new in the area.
Mike went. There he found the element that had been missing in all his other attempts.
“When I went to my first meeting, I felt at home,” he said. “Until I came to Narcotics Anonymous, no one told me that I had to stop using all drugs. They would say stop using this drug; stop using that drug, and you’ll be OK. They just didn’t know that was the solution.”
NA also worked for Mike because he found people suffering from the same disease who were being very real with themselves and others in the program.
Honesty is one of the tools NA uses to work the steps of recovery.
“As I sat in that meeting and I listened, my (BS) alarms were not going off, and I felt that there was truth in what I was hearing,” he said. “My basic thought was if these people can do it, maybe just maybe, I can as well.”
Like many addicts Mike suffered relapse. He lost two years of sobriety, but he was lucky enough to find a sponsor who would not give up on him. He kept attending NA meetings despite using and eventually was able to get back on track.
Mike’s story is not the story of a typical addict. Addiction covers a range of socioeconomic and psychological demographics.
He has seen that in the NA meetings he has attended over the last 38 years.
“I have seen people come in and share their stories about coming from situations that I consider far worse than mine to people who have shared their stories, and I thought why would anyone ever use with that life,” Mike said.
Despite maintaining anonymity, Mike shared his story because he wants others who are suffering to know that there is help available.
“I’m doing this because I believe there is a real need for recovery in this area,” Mike said. “There are a lot of people who are using drugs and don’t seem to be able to find a way out.”
Mike has lived in Jackson County for five years, attends NA meetings and sponsors other addicts on their path to recovery.
NA has a hotline and website to locate meetings anywhere in the state; call 855-227-6262 or visit www.ncregion-na.org.