Thirty one years ago I got in the passenger seat of my mom’s car. We got on I-5 and headed south. It was an end and it was a beginning.
It was the end of my half decade rollercoaster ride of drugs and alcohol. I had guzzled, snorted and inhaled my way through too many car wrecks, fights and near-death experiences. I was overdrawn, undereducated and out of options. I wanted out and the drugs weren’t working any longer. The only way out was a massive u-turn.
We were heading to SWARF in Vancouver, Washington. It was an alcohol and drug treatment center two and a half hours away. It was a long, depressing ride. My life as I knew it was over. My mom and I listened to Elton John’s Greatest Hits and I cried sporadically. Rain spattered the windshield and the clouds kept the sun at bay.
I had actually given up a few days before. Hoping to get into treatment through public assistance, I turned to my parents when I found out the wait was at least three months. It was a terrifying phone call to make, but both my mom and stepdad had immediately said yes. We will help you get into treatment.
It had been years since I had traveled much further south than Chehalis and the second half of the trip was new territory. The farms and timberlands eventually gave way to the strip malls and overpasses of Vancouver’s northern suburbs. As the clouds broke and a feeble sun poked through the midday clouds, we pulled into the VA hospital campus where the center was located. A couple dozen one story barracks-style buildings cluttered a large plot of land just east of the interstate.
A peach pie had been the real catalyst. Yes, pastry as an impetus for change. I had smoked the last resins I scraped from my pipe and walked with a headachy high to the Safeway. I had just a few dollars for food and it was early June. There would be no money until July.
No food. No drugs. No job.
As a consolation to my shitty mood I wanted something sweet. I saw some store brand fruit pies on the reduced price rack. These were imitation peach-flavored Hostess Fruit Pies and I bought 3 for 19 cents each. I dragged my tiny haul of food back to my apartment. I threw the bag down on the couch and reached for a pie. WIthout benefit of light in my dark living room I ripped open the package and stuffed the pastry into my mouth.
Mold. Covered in mold. Not just traces, but a forest of heavy, grotesque mold.
I gagged, leaped up and spit the nasty half-chewed dessert into the sink. I gargled with water and retched. I brushed my teeth and gargled again. Then I cried. Not a sentimental, woe is me cry, but a deep guttural I am done cry. That’s when I knew I wanted to go to treatment.
My mom dropped me off in front and I asked her to wait a minute to make sure everything was ok. After stepping inside they said just grab your bag and you are good to go. I hugged my mom goodbye and saw her drive off into the early afternoon.
I had been trying to stop since I started. From the first time I got really drunk as a tween I knew I couldn’t handle it. So I was torn for years. Drink. Drug. Stop. Drink. Drug. Drink. Drug. Stop. Drink. Drug. Drink. Drug. Can’t stop.
Admission was straightforward. They gave me the rules and told me what my daily schedule would be. They were used to people being forced there by the court. I was an exception. I wanted to be there. I put my things away and came back to meet with my counselor. Pouring out my heart I watched her listen attentively and knew she understood just how special I really was.
Actually I had quit drinking about 15 months earlier. A few weeks later I temporarily quit drugs, too. However, the lure of getting high was too strong and I smoked pot right after school got out for the summer. For the next year I spent most of my time trapped in my head. Pot, speed, cocaine, acid, mushrooms, even freebase. I wasn’t crashing cars and getting my ass kicked but I was imprisoned in a depressing spiral of drug use. I lost a ton of weight, flunked out of school and wound up financially broke and spiritually broken.
After I told my story she sat quietly and wrote some notes. A few moments later she told me I really needed to focus on patience and tolerance. Wow, just like that she had given me such pithy advice based on just how different and special I was. Patience and tolerance. I wore that like an invisible crown and went out to meet the other people there for treatment.
It was fun at first. I loved the first few times I got high. Beer made me feel so damn good. I could talk. I could laugh. I wasn’t afraid. I was somebody. I was special. But then it was harder to get back to the beginning. My solution was more drinks and harder drugs. Pretty soon I wanted the momentary oblivion that only large amounts of drugs and alcohol could bring. I could annihilate the person I was and be the person I wanted to be. But it never worked that way.
We sat at a table. Four or five young guys all in treatment. Most had been pushed. I had jumped. We talked about drugs, music, drinking, college, girls. Then we talked about our meeting with the counselor. I proudly dropped that my special goals were patience and tolerance. One guy snorted, me too. Another laugh, me too. Yep, all of us. Patience and tolerance. We were all really special.
That was thirty one years ago today. I know three of the others that day didn’t make it much past treatment. Somehow I got lucky. I didn’t drink. I didn’t get high. I am not really special, but I am a little more patient and a little more tolerant.