I've been down before. I mean, way down. To places many people can only imagine. I've spent nights on bus benches shivering. I've spent nights in drainage tunnels, sharing stories and a bottle of cheap whiskey with a new-found friend. Homeless guys have the best stories. The kind of stories that make you wonder just how the hell you ended up in this situation, yet again.
4 years ago, this Thanksgiving, I was in another valley. It's insane how many times I have climbed the mountain only to immediately take a free-fall and end up in a lower valley than I previously climbed out of. I was living with my girlfriend, fresh off her second arrest for prostitution. She wasn't an actual prostitute. She just had a habit of going too far at her job at the strip-club. Usually, it was okay, but occasionally an undercover cop would wander in and she'd be busted again for some charge. Intoxication, possession, prostitution. When you've got a few small charges, a few more really doesn't affect too much. It's amazing how you try to justify things, even looking back four years later.
The cocaine was killing me. It started out as income. I didn't even particularly care for the drug when I had tried it years before. I guess the constant presence just wore on me, and around 7 years ago shortly after getting out of the Air Force and losing custody of my daughter, I started using in addition to selling. It was usually only a few bumps a day, at least in the beginning. The energy was great. I could be at the club until close and still get some painting in before morning. Then, wake up and repeat the cycle. If I even slept at all.
I guess it wasn't really the cocaine that was killing me. I was killing myself. All of my choices were adding up to my death. Granted, the coke made me so paranoid that I didn't trust anyone. I didn't even trust the other voices that were constantly talking in my head. A few bumps a day became a few lines here and there, as needed. I needed more and more and more.
The paranoia is what made me snap. Some people call it rock bottom. I don't know if that is an accurate description, for me. I had been much lower. I had a roof over my head, money in my pocket (granted, illegal money), I actually had designer clothes for the first time in my life. But, something clicked.
The knock on the door was rare. When you're a dope dealer, noone knocks without calling first. There aren't a lot of random knocks on my doors.
But, for some reason, with this knock something changed. It was only a friend of my girlfriends, but I was so terrified. I hid in the closet, shaking and crying. I had been awake for a few days. I am not sure how many, as they all used to run together. Maybe it was just my emotional state at the time. Maybe the drugs had finally just pushed me over some line that I needed to go over. Whatever it was, something snapped. I fell asleep gripping a bag of cocaine in my closet, terrified that someone at the door was going to haul me away.
That was it for me, and when I woke up some number of hours later, I called a friend from Phoenix, a couple hours up the road, and I packed my bags and left, the sunday after Thanksgiving, November 27th, 2005. I still had a lot of coke in my system and the comedown almost killed me again. The cramps, the vomiting, the shaking... I could have killed myself just to get it to stop, and it lasted for about 10 days.
After about 10 days, my first 10 days without coke in over 2 and a half years, I started to feel a little better. My body didn't ache as bad, my stomach wasn't as upset, and more importantly, my mind was more clear than it had been in years. I haven't looked back, and don't intend to, although I know it is a constant battle and my demons are right behind me waiting to jump.
I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful to be clean. I am thankful for friends, especially friends that will come pick you up from your valleys and take you to the start of the mountain. They can't take the steps for you, but that helping hand to help you keep your balance during those first steps... I am thankful for companies that see a person's hard work and see their effort and reward them. I am thankful for my family who, even though I ignored for three years, were right there waiting when I found myself. I wouldn't be alive or where I am today without a combination of my own mental change and the help from my friends and family.
I am thankful for 4 years so far clean, and at 29 a whole lifetime ahead of me. That is what I am thankful for.