Desolation Waves

By A.C.

The floor had little blue swirls in the tile. I remember the blue swirls because I refused to move my eyes any higher than the floor. The swirls, they seemed to move, somewhat like waves, as the movement out of my periphery gave way to the illusion. I liked waves. I’ve always loved the ocean. The sound that the water makes as it crashed along the shore. The salty smell in the air and the feeling of the water moving over my body. I often day dreamed what it’d be like to live in the ocean, it always appeared to be so freeing and alive. A little bit of silence was all I needed to bring myself there, to where I was free.

There’s that movement again. But I just need to keep focusing on the swirls. Eventually the movement would become so engulfing; I had no choice but to break my gaze. I’d shift my position while crouched on that tile floor, trying to keep the towels underneath my big brother’s head so he didn’t hurt himself while convulsing on the floor. Eventually he’d settle down and I’d go back to focusing on the little blue swirls, usually holding his arm and telling him I wouldn’t leave him. I’d take care of him, often falling asleep on that blue swirled floor. I’d never leave him. I was ten years old.

I was born into a home running rampant with addiction. My father and his entire side of the family were proud, lifelong alcoholics. You know, the kind that would pack entire suitcases of alcohol for day trips and such. My biological mother was a cocaine, meth, and heroin addict at various points in her life. My step mother was an alcoholic and hooked on prescription drugs (which eventually wound up taking her life, three years ago.) Then, you have my older brother who has been addicted to cocaine and heroin since he was fifteen years old. He is currently thirty-seven.

Growing up amidst addiction, I was fairly oblivious to the dangers associated with it. I assumed that was how everybody lived; I didn’t realize there was any other way to be, really. As a young kid my older brother was my absolute favorite person in my life. He was my best friend, my protector, my leader, my confidant, my everything. I idolized him so much, everything he did I wanted to do. Everywhere he went I wanted to tag along. While I had a very pugnacious relationship with my father, my brother in his own way would step into that role in my life. I could trust him and he took care of me.

Being so close with my brother, in a lot of ways, exposed me to a lifestyle I was not prepared for. We were at very different places in our lives, and our hobbies were so diverse, being that there was a sixteen-year age gap between us. I started smoking marijuana with him at the age of eight, because it was what he did and I wanted to make him proud of me and to fit in with his friends. It made him and his friends laugh, and they kept me around. Due to my upbringing, I was not allowed to have friends or socialize with people in my age bracket so I yearned for a sense of belonging somewhere. In a lot of ways I was the typical little brother vying for my brother’s attention.   

As the result of an extremely abusive household as a child, I was removed from my parent’s custody and placed into the foster system at the age of twelve. I was allotted time with my brother through visitation, where I found myself clinging to him more than ever before. While he was a grown up in the legal sense of the term, he was deemed unfit to care for me but he would often pick me up and let me hang out with him and his friends. I found myself bounced between five different foster homes in those days and the only sense of familiarity I had was him. I didn’t really have anybody to guide me in the right direction, and at this age I was drinking regularly with my brother and his friends. I grew accustomed to house parties, music venues, and other social gatherings that focused around drinking and doing drugs. I liked drinking with him, I felt grown up and a part of the crew. It was cute to the people who were in and out of the situation, the ones who didn’t see the habit develop.

I really partied hard between the years of thirteen and fifteen. I had no problems keeping up with all the adults in my life, who by this point were all in their thirties. I was reckless, I felt invincible, and I didn’t want to feel emotions. I was battling the darkest of demons, both physically and mentally, and I masked it with defiant and submerged myself in parties. I’d run away from my foster homes, get myself into parties and people would give me whatever I wanted because they thought it was cute. By fourteen I found myself dangerously entangled with various drugs in addition to alcohol. At the time my usual go-to drugs were mostly cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and speed.

With everything that was going on, it wasn’t very easy for me to recognize that I had a serious addiction problem that I no longer had control over. I was so focused on not feeling anything, that I really viewed using as a savior, not as a burden or something that was detrimental to my wellbeing. As twisted as that may be, that was the reality in my head. It blocked out the things I had to do to make other people happy, or for other people to see my value, even if it was jeopardizing my health and growth in the meantime. I was too busy protecting other people to see that I was letting myself be put in harm’s way, with no regard to how it might have been affecting me as I was growing into a teenager.           

The first time I began to realize my drinking and using had become a serious problem was the fourth of July in 2009, at the age of fourteen. I was at a house party with my brother and some of his friends. I remember locking myself in a bathroom with a girl who was only a little bit older than I was. We shared the bathroom sink to snort lines of cocaine while people were banging on the door. As the day progressed I was so high and drunk off tequila, plus mixing and matching various pills, that I somehow ended up passing out on someone’s pool table, completely naked, covered in vomit, with newspapers as blankets and pictures of the event were posted on social media. Social media was an awful thing to me back in those days because not only was I suffering physically and emotionally, but I almost felt forced to joke about it publicly. It wasn’t a good look.

Even with how bad I felt after that, and knowing I had a serious issue, I kept up my partying and using and drinking. I just didn’t care. I was aware I had a problem, but I felt I could live with it. I believed this was how I was supposed to be living. My only role model encouraged this behavior from me, but I didn’t feel good on the inside or out.

My life really revolved around partying. My behavior got really rocky as 2010 was approaching. My seven year old niece passed away from a serious illness and my drug use went through the roof. I was so afraid of hurting that I forced myself to drown my feelings. I was finding myself running away from my foster parents and charming any bad influenced adult I knew into supplying me with anything they could get their hands on. I’d then just isolate myself until I’d pass out somewhere or my foster parents would find me and drag my ass home. At the time my education was in a private setting with a tutor which made it easy for me to cancel my classes or not be held accountable to do the things necessary to be successful academically.

In May of 2010 I discovered that my two-year-old nephew had been abandoned by my brother for multiple days while he was away on a binge. I found him on accident, and was not fully sober. I couldn’t safely care for him, and I had to call a cousin for help because I was scared my brother would return and not let me leave with my nephew, and I knew I couldn’t leave him there in that condition. It was awful and a scene that I don’t really care to revisit. My cousin came and took my nephew, and told me I would not be allowed to watch him or interact with him if I was still using. I chose to seek professional help because I knew I wanted to be involved with my nephew and there was no way I could be a positive influence in his life with the way I was choosing to live. My addictions were so overwhelming that I couldn’t function in most day to day circumstances let alone be a positive addition to my nephew’s young life.

A friend of mine had a roommate that went to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting not far from my house and I asked if I could go with him. I remember how nervous I was, and I felt like everybody was staring at me, which probably wasn’t far from the truth as I looked much younger than fifteen. I personally didn’t feel I needed anybody to help me, even though I wanted to do better in my life. I couldn’t focus in the meetings, even though I went frequently. I was on the fence as to whether I was going to choose sobriety. I didn’t know how to stay clean, and I wasn’t learning much from the meetings because I wasn’t putting myself in a position to be open minded. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to befriend someone I met in a meeting who turned into my drug dealer, and I completely fell off track again. I kept finding myself relapsing over and over again, and hiding it because I didn’t want my nephew to be kept from me. I just couldn’t stop the train wreck.

I had learned how to function as an addict. I was learning how to behave and how to complete tasks and still maintain a high level of poor behavior. I was going to school, eventually enrolling myself in an alternative high school and trying to integrate with people my own age. I had never been allotted that luxury growing up, and I wanted to experience that. The people I was surrounded by weren’t partying the way I was. Most of them had never tried alcohol, let alone any hard drugs. Conversations didn’t revolve around the behaviors I was exhibiting. These kids were mostly into innocent activities, group dates, sporting events etc. I wanted to fit in again. I was slowly finding myself back in NA and AA meetings, and even though I didn’t participate a whole lot, I listened. My struggles didn’t go away, but I became more aware of my situations. I slowly started distancing myself from my brother in those days of awareness. I threw myself into my work as a traveling musician, I focused on my skills, I focused on my school, I focused on my nephew and the small bits of extended family who re-emerged in my life, and tried to fit in with the kids at school.

Even with all of the changes I was trying to make, I still slipped. I needed to change, I was slowly killing myself and the pressure that came along with that was so over bearing. A lot happened between my brother and I that drew us far apart.  There was one incident that occurred about a month before my sixteenth birthday that, probably in a lot of ways, pulled me out of my trench. I was already on the verge of absorbing the help I needed to stay clean when I went to the state fair with some people from school. I had to be home at a certain time and the kids I went to the fair with were able to stay later. I called my brother to come pick me up and take me back to the house I was living in. When he was dropping me off, while sitting in his car, he shot me up with heroin. I’d never done heroin before that, I’d never been courageous enough to use needles, but I didn’t object. I just let him do it, for whatever reason I don’t know. After it was over I walked inside and had already made up my mind I would distance myself from my brother. Even though I didn’t argue, or try to fight or tell him no, I let it happen, but in that moment I lost respect for him and for myself.

Over the next several months I stopped using illegal drugs and limited my drinking. I went to my NA meetings, I read a lot on personal development, I found new hobbies and I was really invested in spending time with my nephew. We needed each other, and he needed me to be healthy. My brother, little by little, disappeared, coming in and out of my life, running from here to there, never in one spot. At seventeen I was able to move out on my own, I put together my house and made a home that was mine. In making sure my home was safe and healthy for me I have refused to let my brother know my address. I can’t say I was 100% better, I definitely still struggled with prescription pills and my eagerness to “not feel” was replaced with actions of self-harm. While that is not healthy either, I felt it was a safer alternative than drinking or using.

I lived like this for a couple more years until I somebody entered my life who was also struggling. There was something about this person that made me want to stay clean because I supported his sobriety so much that I could not bring myself to use. It’s like, in the action of rooting him on I kept myself on track, too. I felt what it was like on the other end, as somebody who cares deeply about somebody else who is struggling. It was the first person who I spoke to openly and honestly about where I was at, and he’d do the same with me. In a lot of ways we helped each other grow and develop. I admittedly did have a few slip ups with prescriptions but for the most part I stayed pretty good. My self-harm was still a problem, but I felt like I had my using and drinking subsided.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016, at twenty one years old, and my whole world just seemed to fall apart again and all at once. I had been enduring some severely serious stressful and emotional situations that had me in a state I’d never been in before. My self-harm was at an alarming high, to where I could not control the amount of damage I was inflicting on myself, and I couldn’t stop. There were some significant changes to the core of people in my life, that I didn’t emotionally know how to manage it.

While in Long Beach for some work, things came crashing down at an increasingly fast rate. Relationships were changing and I couldn’t keep up with the changes. I ended up being re-routed to San Diego before coming back home and while there I spent $1,300 on drugs and isolated myself in my truck for hours. I was so upset, I didn’t want to use it but I was not feeling in control of my actions. On July 14th of 2016 I was crying for help, literally. I went through my phone, starting in the A’s, and continuing until somebody answered. Finally, after about 25 calls, one of my friends answered towards the end of the C’s. We can just call him “C”. I don’t really remember all of the conversation but I know he listened to me. I cried and cried and I remember he spoke to me in such a way that I felt safe. He told me to take a nap to calm down, which I did. I’m sure I sounded a mess on the phone. When I woke up I immediately used everything that I had on me, I wasn’t strong enough to wait it out.

I felt so low. I had been able to stay off hard drugs until that moment. I thought I was going to come out on the other side of that okay, and when I didn’t, I was so devastated. But I’d found somebody who said he wouldn’t give up on me in this struggle and he really gave me the ability to see I could bounce back and that just because I fell off the saddle didn’t mean I couldn’t get back on again. I’m fortunate that I’ve crossed paths with him in this very crucial point in my life. He reminded me that I wasn’t a bad person and that I could be a better me. He decided to work with me and helps keep me on track, and to be a friend to me in a way that I desperately needed and make me feel like I matter. It’s a relationship that has become invaluable to me.

I’m trying to overcome the self-harm and realize that I am loving and that I am capable of being loved. I’ve slipped up since that initial relapse, sure. I found myself back on September 27th 2016 in a position where I convinced myself I could not live anymore. I made sure my nephew was okay, and left in my truck with the intention of killing myself.  I drove all over town, for about two hours crying and contemplating all my options. I’d called a couple of friends but nobody was available. It gave me more drive to just do it finally and I got a text from my friend, “C” mentioned above that he’d just got out of a movie and he would call me soon. By this point I was already heading to the mountains, but he eventually called and somehow he convinced me to just drive home. He calmed me down and stayed connected with me all night long and the very next morning I had somebody come to my house and remove my weapon from my possession, which is still gone as of this very moment. He very much saved me from myself, not once, but twice in a matter of a few months. I will forever be indebted to him for that.

Ever since that day I’ve been working really hard at my sobriety and my personal development. I had one slip up with drugs later in October, but luckily I bounced back pretty quick and got refocused. I know I’m going to make mistakes, but I also know I can learn from them. I’ve come a long way, and I’m sure I have a whole lot longer to go. More obstacles are bound to be placed in my path. All I can do is be open to suggestion and learn from my mistakes. Now I have someone looking up to me, just as I did to my big brother, and I can’t continue to lay a rocky foundation for the child I’m raising. I’m grateful for everybody who has helped me become a better me, whether by leading from the front, or even those that did not have my best interests at heart. Both circumstances have molded me into the person that I am today, and I know genuinely that I am a good person.

I’m still on my journey, I’m still struggling, I still have demons that eat away at me at night, but I am growing up and becoming stronger and am finding the ability to see the benefits of allowing myself the gift of sobriety. I’m not perfect and I can’t be expected to be, however, it literally takes no effort to be a decent human being. Sincerity, kindness and compassion are totally free and available to everyone. I design my life so that I come from a place of kindness, sincerity, and compassion, and I truly hope that if anybody can learn anything from me, it would be that really good things can come from really dark places as long as you don’t limit yourself or your growth. It just takes a little bit of patience and persistence and sometimes a little sparkle from outside. One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right.” I like to think that I can. And I will. As of this writing I am at 131 days sober, one day at a time.