submitted by: Susanne Johnson
Writing my book was cathartic although intensely painful.I was terribly shy as a child and agonizingly alone for most of my life and here I was baring my soul and telling the world about my 24-year cocaine addiction, along with all the awful things I did while using.
Somehow — I can only call it a miracle — I began my recovery and today I am eight years sober. Three years ago, I decided to write my memoir to help anyone who is either tempted by drugs or is already in the clutches of addiction to see how insidious this disease can be and how determined you must be to avoid it or contain it. In addition, I believed that my story could help people who have loved ones who are crippled by their addiction by providing a window of insight into the addict’s mind. As difficult as it was to expose my failings, I felt that if I could help even one person change their life, I would consider it a second miracle.
As I wrote my story and dissected the origins of my addiction, I could not help but recall waking up at twelve years old to my brother, sitting on my chest holding a knife to my throat. Panicked and terrified, I tried desperately to talk my brother off the ledge, silently praying that he wouldn’t slit my throat. My brother, destroyed by the death of our father three years earlier from a massive heart attack, literally went off the deep end, wreaking havoc on the house, my mother and our entire lives. My mother, devastated by the loss of her husband, lost her ability to be the loving parent she had always been. That was the start of the knot in my stomach, which remained until the day I tried cocaine at 24-years old.
Somehow during the early years, I developed a mantra, “I can do this.” This simple four-word sentence took me through a terrible childhood, a wonderful baseball career where I played professionally in the Dominican Republic, a successful harness racing career and a prosperous sales vocation in a variety of industries. As an athlete, drugs were off limits; in fact I didn’t even understand why anyone would use an artificial substance particularly when it could kill you. Finally after several failed relationships, work-related challenges and a shocking revelation that my father had actually committed suicide, a friend’s introduction to cocaine eliminated the knot completely and sent me spiraling downward into a 24-year affair with the white powder and a total loss of myself.
My “I can do this mantra” somehow enabled me to support myself and my cocaine habit, fostered a further addiction to women and sex and even enabled me to marry again and start a family. I had momentary lapses in cocaine use, but not enough to sustain a healthy relationship or be a good father to my two daughters. I didn’t really know what a healthy relationship was; I knew that I loved my wife and my girls but I didn’t know how to share my fears or how to communicate any of my feelings whatsoever. This led to a lack of empathy and with the disease of cocaine addiction driving my actions; my life was a disaster waiting to happen.
I heard the beeping of the heart monitor and felt the intense pain first before I opened my eyes and realized that I was hooked up to a bedside monitor in the ICU. I had no idea where I was or how I got there, let alone what brought me there. I looked around the room, completely dazed and thoroughly confused when a nurse walked in. I don’t think I have ever seen a nastier look on anyone’s face; it was filled with disdain and outright hatred. She finally spoke. “You piece of sh*t. You deserve to rot in jail.” I had no idea why she said that, but I knew deep down that my cocaine addiction was to blame.
What I finally came to understand is that I had fallen asleep at the wheel of my car going 65 mph and slammed head on into a wall. I could have killed myself of course, but the nurse was reacting to the fact that I could have killed others. As the toxicology test had confirmed, I was loaded with cocaine and another narcotic and clearly a drug addict. Unbelievably, my injuries, while severe, were not life threatening and even though they had to cut me out of the car, I basically walked away from the accident.
After going to the state-run tow yard to collect some personal items from my trunk and hearing the guy on duty say “sorry for your loss”, I realized that he did not believe that anyone could have walked away from this accident given the state that the car was in. Once he found out that it was me, he would not let me see the car, saying “Um, no.You shouldn’t see the car.” I didn’t fight him; I just allowed him to retrieve my things and left him, looking pale as a ghost, as I had already called my dealer to let him know I was on the way to score more cocaine.
It was 1998. The accident occurred following a failed marriage where my addiction had even caused me to miss our engagement party. The fact that the wedding went on as planned remains a mystery to this day. Even a stint at rehab didn’t work; in fact, I came out with the name and telephone number of a new dealer. My wife of one year left me without a backward glance. It was devastating. My level of addiction was so abysmal that neither a disastrous marriage nor a horrific, life-threatening accident could deter me. Cocaine had infiltrated my life, my brain and my consciousness, completely eradicating any sense of right and wrong.
In 2006, after five years of marriage, my wife filed for divorce and petitioned the court for an order of protection, to keep me away from my children while I was using. It should have been shattering to be told that you can no longer see your children, and it was, but while it hurt immeasurably, the disease had full control. Testing positive for cocaine during my divorce, the court ruled against me and ordered that I must be tested weekly with negative results for six months straight before the order could be lifted and I could see the girls again.I had been in and out of the 12-step programs for years and decided to try again. I really tried. I made it to three months before relapsing.
Finally after I destroyed a friend’s apartment during a drug-induced hysteria, I happened to hear a message left by my therapist the previous day. She said, “Alan, it’s time to come back. Please. You are going to die.” Somehow I “heard” it. I was as low as I could be; barred from seeing my daughters, without a wife, without a home, fired from my job; no one to care. I dug down as deep as I could and found my mantra; “I can do this.” I rejoined the Program on December 8, 2007 and with the help of my therapist, my sponsor and program members who believed in me, I am sober to this day.
Most people say that when someone hits bottom, they can seek recovery. As I’ve said before, in my case, I just call it a miracle. When I look back, I realized that I did not want to be like my father and effectively “commit suicide,” leaving my girls without their dad. And, although my mother officially “checked out” of my life when my father passed away, she had in my earlier years given me an incredible amount of love, a genuine feeling of being proud of who I was and who I might become and the feeling that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. She may have had her limitations in dealing with my father’s death, but she had already made her mark.
As a recovering addict, I am often asked what advice I have for other addicts, loved ones of addicts or people in the recreational stage of drug use. Here is my top three:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Help is often one of the hardest things to ask for. Many people are frightened to admit that they are powerless, or vulnerable or afraid, often worrying that they will be told to help themselves or just “get over it”. I went to therapy early on and although it didn’t help me right away, it was the most impactful thing I did; without it I would not have survived. The therapeutic process is not without it’s own pain; a good therapist will dig down deep and uncover the most raw parts of your past delving into things long since buried. Interestingly, the process truly leads you to a place of understanding, acceptance and separation from the control of the pain that probably started at a young age. Coming out the other side, you learn how to take control of your life, work on a process to stop self-medicating and ultimately learn how to identify yourself.So, don’t be afraid to ask for and get help. I wish I had done it at a much younger age. Thankfully, it saved my life.
- Work a program. If you accept that you need help, you must also accept that others have gone before you and have perfected a methodology that effectively deals with this type of problem. Whatever program you choose, your program helps the addict deal with all levels of their addiction, including the emotional aspects of life that may have precipitated the drug use. Working the program, including having a sponsor to check in on you, teaches you how to live and is a lifeline without which it is difficult to get sober. Trying to accomplish sobriety on your own is almost impossible. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Work a program. Grab the lifeline.
- Set small goals. One thing I have noticed, in almost every aspect of life (not just addiction) is that if you set your expectations too high and then fail, the path downward is long and hard. Anyone who is sober will tell you that it takes one day at a time. As cliché as that sounds it couldn’t be a truer statement. Each day that you are sober is a HUGE accomplishment in and of itself. So set your goal of sobriety at one day. Congratulate yourself. Recognize that you did it. Put it behind you and then do it again tomorrow. The days add up.I am eight years sober, having set small goals, one day at a time.
Alan speaks around the world and hopes that his story will help people realize that it is possible to survive no matter how far you may have fallen.