Addict on Fire:

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  • Ryan

Spiritual Economics Part I

"What's different this time, Ryan?"

Perhaps the most useful curiosity of my unlikely survival is how, against all odds, I was able to break the spell and reset the course of my life in the first place. Everyone wants to know how I did it. Especially Earthlings. Most especially those privy not only to my insanity, but specifically to my innumerable failed attempts to get clean. It was always the same story. I’d use until I had run out of drugs, money, and resolve, only to emerge unctuous and pitiful, and in my best Ferris Bueller voice strain out the words, “help me...I want to stop”.

But stop I never did. It was always more like a pause. Even pauses were only made possible by incarceration of one flavor or another. The duration of the temporary stoppage was a function of the nature of the lockup.

In my earlier years it was insurance paid deals with detox and long term residential treatment. This was before my parents had to “let go of the drowning man lest they drown”, as my dad put it. Those lasted anywhere between 7 and 15 months for me. Before you think they were cush, the 15 month-er was worse than jail. Way worse. I would know because I was transported there directly from a jail, City of Smyrna (GA, that is) to be exact. When they searched me I had a pocket sized Bible they gave to interested inmates. The Bible was a first for them. They asked what it meant. I explained that “I’ve gotten into jailhouse religion a bunch of times”. In this particular jail a preacher had laid his hands on me to heal my disease, but it didn’t take.

Once at the facility that was to be my home for 15 months, I put through an official communication to the staff requesting to go back to lockup. This official process was the only way to communicate. You weren’t allowed to speak to or even look directly at staff members in this facility. The dumpster fire that was this so-called rehab, and the legit brainwashing that was practiced there, deserves a chapter of its own...and it will have one. Oh, and my request to go back to jail was unceremoniously denied.

The jailings were anywhere between 2 and 180 days maybe. Not really sure. Some assiduous asshole will be fact checking this for Oprah after I drop my book, so let me just say they were for sure between 2 and 90 days and my mangled memory seems to recollect some that were longer. Look it up if that’s your thing. Either way, be assured, this ain’t “A Million Little Pieces”.

Then there were government detox and mental health facilities I checked myself into. Since those were on my own volition I don’t remember any reaching that magic 7 day number which would have unshackled me. Those usually ended with a Western Union or mischievous idea to solve the sickness faster. I didn’t know about Root Cause Analysis (RCA) back then. 

Those were my pauses. But pauses are neither useful nor curious, and I’ve promised you both. Stopping is both. So how, after a long career of pausing, was I able to stop, and stay stopped for 16 years at the time of this writing? Maslow famously said that “he that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” Well, I studied business, so my answer to this question is economic. Or more precisely, spiritually economic.

When you start out using drugs, you spend small money. You might even get them for free when someone turns you on. Or as we say more truly in dope fiend circles, “turn you out”. If you end up an addict, you will assuredly buy again or start to spend money to get high. Typically in the beginning these expenditures are benign and cause no significant financial problems. The term used to describe drug use at this stage is something like “partying”, and takes place in some sort of social context. At least for the most part. In my case the day after I first got high I was using alone. More on that later. But I digress...

Over time, addiction increases its union dues. Eventually money becomes a problem for almost everyone. But if money were the only cost, even I might still be getting high. I hope not, because it would cut into my fly fishing time, but I gotta “keep it 100”, as the kids say. 

So why am I clean? What changed? How did I finally rise up after so many failures? In the first place, “the day” came. “The day” comes for all addicts. “The day” is when your disease looks you in the eyes with an amused, sadistic countenance and says, “money is not enough anymore”. Once that day comes, it doesn’t matter how much money you have. Sorry celebrities, athletes, and otherwise rich people. You gotta pay the rapacious piper too.

In the second place, my “day” was followed by a relentless tailspin into spiritual bankruptcy. An endless succession of similar days bringing evermore significant losses. I’m using spiritual here as a secular term capturing non-monetary dimensions of life such as familial relationships, peace of mind, financial security, health, and mental well being. In addiction these are like a bizarro world MasterCard commercial...the loss of all things priceless.

The cost had gone up so much that even the word “cost” is too sterile to capture the scale of the unabated suffering. Describing the pain to you is almost as unimaginable as trying to fully grasp the vastness of the Universe. It’s 1 billion trillion stars a seeming analog to my infinite anguishes. The blinders are put on and incrementally pushed further and further forward by an unseen yet powerful force. Eventually they block out everything except the using. Think of every single thing you care about. Every dimension of your life, big and small. From breakfast to breath. None of it mattered. Nothing.

Which brings us back to that unfeeling supply and demand curve. Remember the money? You’ve probably forgotten it by now. Fuck the money when you’re willing to stake your very breath. At this point I continued going to the block to cop (score), but each time I didn’t just pay the bill, I paid with my life. I paid with my humanity.

It should be clear to any reasonable observer that the trade is a raw deal. I mean damn, no matter how good a feeling is, how could it possibly be worth this cost? Your very life? This is the fundamental dishonesty that keeps addicts in slavery. Upon reflection, we can intellectually understand that our lives are shit, but it’s like we are detached, watching it unfold on a stage rather than in first person. Remember when I was being held down with a hawkbill to my throat begging not to be stabbed, devoid of true fear, clinging to a bag of dope in my jacket pocket? That example is an acute manifestation. On the whole, I lived everyday like that, disconnected from any concept of protecting my own welfare. It’s a disease of the mind, of the thinking.

To make the jump to the pathway of recovery, I had to feel the costs. I mean really feel them. I had to internalize the stark fact pattern of destruction that was my life. This is a simple step. Simple, but not easy. It is, in fact, extremely difficult. If you have an addict in your life that you are struggling to help, stay tuned. I’ll speak more about how this relates to you in practical terms down the road.

For me, the jump finally happened circa August 4th, 2003. I had recently been released from Dade County Jail, or as we called it, DCJ. I have been in jails all around the Southeast, but this jail was really fucked up. Picture the traditional bars you see in the movies. It was a large room with about 40 men and 30 beds. Newcomers had to sleep on the floor underneath the lower bunks until a bed opened up. It hurt to crawl down there, especially if you had been in a fight recently, which was true for me on at least one occasion. If there was a heavy guy up there the bunk would bend down and press on my anterior, in spite of me being gaunt. Too bad, side sleepers.

This was no Mecklenburg County. No single man cells. No drug rehab pods. Mecklenburg was like the Taj Mahal of physical safety and uninterrupted masturbation compared to this place. This was one big pod without any guards. The guard would walk around every once in a while, albeit apathetically. I really couldn’t judge them though. It’s hard to give a shit about people in society that have literally made their beds so hard by their own hand. 

Violence was common. Much more common than I had ever experienced. That’s how I was all sore from fighting that one time. At least half the time the combatants were both/all left in the same pod afterward, which meant that you had to sleep in the same room as someone that wanted to beat your ass or stab you. And there were guys in there from prison. Some were lifers. They had to pass through county to face a charge they picked up inside, or some old, near forgotten warrant. Many of these motherfuckers were mean and didn’t have a damn thing to lose. I am 6’2” and at that time weighed 135 pounds soaking wet. It was scary. County jail in Miami was ruthless and brutal enough to merit its own chapter...and it too will have one.

Going through that place opened my eyes some. I mean, I wasn’t enlightened to the point that I only went there once or anything. The curtain that addiction works behind is heavy as hell and doesn’t pull back easily. I went several times. But the place, and most especially the violence, got into my consciousness. 

Stay tuned for Spiritual Economics Part II, where we will finish this tale of anguish and triumph...