Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Addict Speaks: My Long Road to Recovery

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By Christian Weaver
"Grew enamored with consciousness - wings of the mind
Soared aloft to a blue and insatiable height
On a tempest of chemicals....heavenward peered
But the dragon had long disappeared."
 - The Author

When I say that getting high was my first true love, I´m not just using an expression.  My earliest memory, when I was only perhaps four, was of a dizzy, blurry feeling of trees and sky rushing past.  Every three or four seconds I would glimpse my smiling mother as she gave another push to keep the merry-go-round turning.  It was love at first spin.  When it was time to leave the park, I started to whirl around in circles to keep the dizzy feeling going.  I never wanted it to end.

I spent my teenage years in Crossville, Tennessee, a rural area near the Smokey Mountains.  My parents were probably upper middle class.  There were six of us in all living in a five bedroom house on a sixty-four acre farm.  During most of this period we were homeschooled by my mother.  Our family was a part of the local homeschooling community, about thirty or forty families that would gather once in a while cook-outs and field trips.  Apart from these events, we had little fellowship together.

My parents provided me with a unique childhood, including missionary travels to Guadalajara, Mexico, Uganda and Kenya; Brussels, Belgium, and even Switzerland near the Alps.  I remember once being bitten by a baby cobra and another time seeing children my age with machine guns and camouflage uniforms, and another hiking through ice caverns made from holes in melting glaciers.  Looking back on it now, I am shocked by how little I appreciated the experience.  I was simply too young.

Most homeschooling families were Christians, including the Amish and Mennonites. I led a sheltered life, with no exposure to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or even cigarettes.  I found myself rebelling against the Leave it to Beaver atmosphere.  At fifteen I was an A and B student, a serious poet, excellent athlete, and piano player, but I had zero interest in going to college like the other homeschoolers.  My heroes were rock-stars, dead poets, and even the psychopaths in movies.  I wanted to be reckless and crazy, the black sheep of the homeschooling community.  Christian morality, which of course included temperance, was my nemesis.

One evening, a church buddy introduced me to cough syrup.  You had to guzzle four ounces of it and it sent you on an intense, zombie-like, ten hour trip that seemed to last for many years. Your entire life was recapitulated through the span of one day.  Large doses can cause brain hemorrhaging and damage the liver.  I also gobbled dozens of caffeine pills and pseudoephedrine, a sort of over-the-counter speed that you could buy at gas stations. Between these and the cough syrup I was every bit as blitzed as a junkie doing speedballs.  I would crash our group events, the life of the party, ranting, laughing manically and falling over like a drunk.  I grew popular with the kids but shocked and horrified the parents.  Because my potions were still a secret, they just assumed I was evil or had a mental disorder.

When I was sixteen I ingested a lethal amount of seeds from a hallucigenic plant  called Jimson weed, or Devi´ls weed.  I ended up in the hospital for three days hallucinating insects on my skin – i.e. tubes and IV´s – and talking to people who weren´t there.  Though the doctors had pumped my stomach, they told my parents that I would probably have permanent damage from all the toxins.  I didn´t notice any difference.

I spent the next few months in Chattanooga in a long-term Christian rehab called Teen Challenge.  It didn´t take the staff long to see my heart wasn´t in it.  “In fact”, said one counselor, “I think you´re just getting started”.  On the Greyhound back to Crossville I met an older, attractive woman and talked her out of four pills…I blacked out for half the day and have a vague memory of my father finding me in a Hardees parking lot with a suitcase in my hand.

At age seventeen I actually started to huff gas (later I would experiment with lacquer thinner, airbrush repellant and the infamous gold spray paint).  It was a different buzz entirely, a sort of Disneyland Fantasia where inanimate (and for some reason, domestic) objects like brooms and tables would whisper and grin and even point with wooden fingers.  Several times I almost panicked when I forgot I was human and didn´t know my own name, home, planet, etc.  I only knew that I was conscious and that I therefore existed.  One time I found myself in my parents´ attic surrounded by two-by-fours and pink insulation.  With one hand I was smoking and with the other I was holding the yellow nozzle of a plastic gas container.  I was alternating between puffs from the cigarette and drags from the nozzle.  Miraculously, I didn´t burst into flames, burn the house to the ground, and kill my entire family.

When I turned eighteen, my father gave me three options:  enlist in the military, complete a long-term rehab, or get the hell out of his house.  Can you guess which one I chose?  Once emancipated from the homeschooling-Christian community, I finally had access to real drugs like alcohol, marijuana, and pills.  On my eighteenth birthday I passed out in the middle of a road and woke up in the county jail.  The officer who’d found me said he´d almost run me over.  For me, the entire year of 1996 was one prolonged blackout with spotty memories, mostly of girls and couch surfing, because I drank until I puked and always mixed it with pills.  I would take whatever drug I could buy or was given – no questions asked – and was hospitalized more than once for either overdoses or adverse reactions.  All I remember clearly from age 18 to 20 is multiple stretches in the county jail.  I was arrested nineteen times and racked up a pile of fines and charges for missed court dates, bail jumping, and drug-related misdemeanors.

Not only did I mix alcohol with other drugs, but I also drove my car around in that condition.  I perceived it as a challenge, as a skill to be mastered.  To me it was no different than one of those old school racing games in a video arcade. I was a very careful driver.  As long as I was conscious, I could drive without crashing. One night I dropped five hits of blotter acid and drove to Cleveland, Ohio to pick up my girlfriend.  I remember seeing faces in the mountains and clouds and even vehicles on the freeway melting into the pavement.  Another time I was huffing gas and driving through town when suddenly the road became a lake and my car became a hovercraft.  I started to swerve it back and forth enjoying the hum and the glide. I found myself parked on the sidewalk.  “Are you okay?” somebody shouted.  I had totaled my car – wrapped it around a telephone pole – but didn’t remember the impact.  How often I cheated injury and death.  I never even broke a bone.  Probably the stupidest thing I did, if I had to pick one, was getting drunk and lying down across a set of train tracks.  I nestled between the crossties and thought I´d rest a couple of minutes…

At age twenty two I moved to New Orleans.  I had relatives in the French Quarter who introduced me to  bikers, offshore workers, and alcoholic ex-hippies.  I started working on oil rigs and painting houses uptown.  A buddy talked me into trying heroin and it was love at first poke.  It was superior to any and all the other drugs combined.  I can only compare it to dreaming while being awake – Mother Poppy, Leading Lady…Soon I was doing speedballs and even breaking down and injecting crack cocaine.  The houses I had to paint were old Victorian-style mansions, like wedding cakes the size of castles.  Often I´d be found atop a forty food extension ladder, paintbrush in hand, trying desperately to keep myself from falling asleep.  Though I would nod for several minutes my feet remained on high alert.

An older couple I knew – a former merchant marine and his Cherokee wife, who were both alcoholics – won forty thousand dollars in an injury suit.  I crashed at their apartment for two weeks and we probably smoked about ten thousand dollars-worth of crack.  I remember my heart beating with bird-like intensity – in quick staccato bursts, like a machine gun – and my brain feeling like it was frying in a pan.  But the heroin was even scarier.  It was far less predictable.  The first time I OD´d I was out for three days; I sweated to dehydration and lost control of my bladder.  The second time was even worse: my head and chest began to pound like they were going to explode, like they would rupture or hemorrhage.  That was the only time I was sure that I would die.

By age twenty five, ten years of continuous inebriation finally began to take its toll.  I was filled with self-disgust, regret, and paralyzing grief about my wasted potential.  Delusional thoughts crept in.  I started to think I was dying from some mysterious disease, that I´d be dead in six months.  My last year in New Orleans – 2003, before I came back to Crossville – was when my sanity finally snapped.  I felt it break like a twig.

An old buddy from Crossville introduced me to meth; it made me hallucinate from lack of sleep and gave me the energy to keep drinking, eating pills, and smoking weed without stopping.  Suddenly, I grew convinced that there were people out there to kill me.  I began to carry a loaded pistol and rant and rave, starting arguments.  I could sense my own apocalypse, but I wanted to speed it up.  In December 2003, one of my handguns was stolen by a young man who I knew casually from drug circles.  After several weeks of complaining and making threats, I managed to lure him into my car, where I shot him, execution-style, three times in the head.  I dumped his body in the woods, burned the car to its frame, and started walking down the street like nothing had happened.  I was famished and barely conscious when the officers picked me up, so intoxicated that the murder seemed fake, like a movie.  But the nightmare became real when I examined my affidavit:  I discovered, to my shock and utter horror, that the victim was no man.  He was only fifteen.  Drugs had so deteriorated my perception and judgment that I actually mistook a child – a skinny child! – for a man.  What´s bizarre is that I couldn´t even remember his appearance.  I couldn´t have picked him from a line-up.

After a year or so in jail I had an encounter with Christ, a “Road to Damascus” experience, that made my attitude and nature and behavior change drastically.  It really filled me with love and desire for integrity.  I apologized to my victim´s family in open court and voluntarily pled guilty to First Degree Murder. I started my sentence at Turney Center (a fairly dangerous prison) and improved myself rapidly through church attendance, exercise, and intense self-discipline and education.  I had a column in the prison paper called “The Pen and the Sword” and was published in free-world magazines over thirty times between 2005 and 2012.  I also studied journalism and wrote two novels, four books of poetry, a full length play, and plenty of essays and aphorisms.

The biggest mistake I made at Turney Center was not joining the Narcotics Anonymous Program.  Unaware that obsessive and/or addictive behavior is a type of personality, like introversion or Type A, I just assumed that I was cured.  I didn´t know my own psychology.  By 2007 I could morally justify taking small amounts of non-narcotics like Baclofen and Neurontin.  I would take them as prescribed and never go up on dosage.  I had yet to discover that just the slightest shift of consciousness can prove virulent to the addict.  Any chemical that alters his awareness, even over-the-counter drugs, will start the process of dependence and addiction all over.  Soon I was smoking weed and rationalizing it to myself because I avoided the “real” drugs like morphine and meth.  I didn´t catch the growing pattern;  in my mind, I was a godly Christian whose only addiction was self-improvement and knowledge.

In 2012 I was transferred to Northeast prison.  In 2014, four months before my transfer to Bledsoe, my identical twin brother attempted suicide three times.  He nearly bled to death in a bathtub and even tried carbon monoxide.  Then his phone got turned off and he refused to answer letters.  The grief I felt was unbearable.  That week I stuck a needle in my arm for the first time in nine years.  When I came to Bledsoe in 2014 I was still sober about ninety percent of the time.  I didn´t need drugs daily, but I wasn´t strong enough to resist them when I felt depressed or stressed out.  Also, I couldn´t avoid them when they were right in my face.  If I could see them or smell them, then I would usually cave in.  My only method for staying sober was to hide from, or fearfully avoid drug users and situations. I was lacking in power.

From 2014 to 2016 I alternated between abstinence and intense binges of Seboxone and synthetic marijuana.  As usual, God protected me from the consequences of my actions: I never failed a drug test or got a drug-related disciplinary.  Though I was higher than Mount Olympus, couldn´t walk without swerving or even find my own cell, I wasn´t  snatched up and shipped like many other inmates were.  When I joined the NA program about a year and a half ago, I still continued to have relapses for the first ten months.  It took me hundreds of hours of applying and internalizing the NA philosophy before I believed it unconsciously.  For example, I knew that I was powerless over drugs (Step One), but unconsciously I thought I could smoke a little weed without falling off the wagon.  I also learned that having relapses -- so long as they are lessening in frequency and duration -- are not a symptom of going backward, but signs a battle is being fought.  Only addicts who are recovering are even capable of relapse.  Active addicts cannot stumble because they never try to quit!

In the last eight months I have found a new strength, the inner power of sobriety.  The same stresses and triggers – the same unchangeable situations – no longer push me to use.  Instead of numbing the sharp feelings, I am learning to bear their full intensity without changing or compromising my behaviors and beliefs.  Instead of running away from fear, I turn to face it without flinching…until I fear it no longer.  The attraction of getting high, like that of an ex-lover or spouse, is still present and real. But it is not overwhelming.  I have fallen out of love.  Gaining a new identity and peer group and being known on the compound as a member of NA has made it easier to resist the temptation.  Sobriety is no longer a state of mind to be endured, but a world – a new horizon – to be explored and discovered.  I´m not just leaving the old path but embarking on a new one.  A new city awaits.

Christian Weaver 271262
BCCX -24B-202
1045 Horsehead Road
Pikeville, TN 37367


Anonymous said...

It's been a strange journey these past years my friend.Still in the shadows of this place,I see us walking the avenues and alley ways.I am no longer he,nor is he me.. I try to escape,but at times the demons ride shotgun.I dropped a bunch of them off at a gas station somewhere out West when they weren't looking.Wherever you go,there you are.. But,it gets better every day.May God be with you~ J

Bryson Schwoyer said...

Hey Christian it's been a long time since I wrote u but I was reading your poetry and I have seen you have greatly improved on your craft by the way this is Rachel

Unknown said...

Hey it is good u are saved miss ya old friend hope all is good as can be

Still missing him said...

I couldn’t reply directly to Christian it wouldn’t let me but I’m commenting in hope he sees this!! I’ve read your story and I do feel some sympathy but I also feel rage and sadness!! You took my best friend and my first love!! You shot his three times over something so stupid and petty!! You guys even took his shoes!! I understand drugs make ppl do some stupid shit but damn man!!! I hope you’ve truly changed and I hope God continues working with you and I hope you never have to feel the pain of searching all over town looking for your friend that won’t answer the phone! Only to hours later be identifying his body at the hospital!! I went to the court hearings and wished death upon you soooo hard!! Still to this day 15 years later I still think about him and what happened that morning he went missing and the same night I got the call!!! I want to forgive you I know you probably don’t care but for me I need to!! And I honestly hope you have seeked and found God in your heart and continue to grow!!!