Falling Into the Abyss of Addiction
Getting high to celebrate a career opportunity leads to the loss of a dream job.
Posted Sep 10, 2020
Note from the author: In this excerpt from our book, The Craving Brain: Science, Spirituality, and the Road to Recovery, my co-author James B. shares his experience with the terror and anguish of end-stage addiction. —Anderson Spickard, Jr., MD
It was like watching a movie, one where you know something bad is about to happen to the main character, and you hope somehow he escapes danger. Except the main character was me.
I was thirty-one years old and fulfilling my dream to become a sports broadcaster. After landing a job with the flagship radio station for a prestigious, sports-crazy university, I had been given a plum assignment for one of the biggest football games of the year. My task was to produce a series of profiles about the star players and to interview the coach as he led his team off the bus. I couldn’t believe my luck—it had been a long wait for a big break.
Friday night I worked late to wrap up the radio spots. They would have been done earlier, but I’d spent the day sleeping off a hangover. Now it was a race against time, and it was almost midnight when I finished. To blow off steam, I headed to a nearby bar for a few drinks. They would calm the knots in my stomach, and I deserved a little fun for a job well done.
In less than fifteen minutes, I had a beer in hand and was talking with friends about the game. After three or four more drinks, I realized I was feeling numb, not high. Something was missing, and I knew what it was—a little cocaine. Just the thought gave me a rush. I could already smell the drug and taste it. One or two lines, no more.
I texted my dealer, Max, who sauntered into the bar a few minutes later and ordered a drink. After we made eye contact, I followed him into the bathroom and bought three and a half grams. It was enough to get through the night and my postgame celebration. Just to get started, I did a big line off the toilet seat. Within seconds, I was high—and a little paranoid. It was time to slip out the back door. I needed to be alone to give the coke my full attention.
The fifteen-minute drive home seemed to take hours, in part because I had to stop by the store to get a few six-packs. When I walked in my door, I cut out three or four more lines of cocaine. What could it hurt? I’d be in bed by four, get some sleep, and be at the top of my game for the interview.
At five, I was still using. Now it was too late to sleep, and in any case, I was too wired. Not a problem. There was enough coke to last through the early morning, and I’d quit in time so I wasn’t too high for the pregame show. Working after an all-night bender was never easy—just thinking about it made me anxious—but a few beers would calm me down.
Nine o’clock came and went, and I still had not left my house. I tried yelling at myself. If you don’t leave right this minute, you’ll be destroying everything you’ve worked so hard to get. You love your job. Think of the people you are letting down.
Nothing worked; I couldn’t even put on my shoes. To this day, I can feel the terror and anguish of that moment. Even in my profoundly disoriented state, I knew it was the end of my career and my life as I had dreamed it. But I couldn’t stop snorting cocaine long enough to walk out the door.
I went on drinking and using, and the pregame show and the football contest went on without me. It wasn’t until late afternoon that I roused myself enough to check my email. “We no longer need your services,” the station manager had written. “You have talent and have done good work. But your behavior is erratic, and we can’t keep covering for you and worrying if you will show up.”
I felt so full of shame and humiliation I almost threw up. Something was wrong with me—really wrong. No one in his right mind would blow off a job like mine. Was I going crazy? What had happened to me? My life had once seemed so full of promise. As a teenager, I had been a gifted student and athlete, surrounded by friends whose dreams were as high as my own. Now I was completely alone, with nothing left but the wreckage of my life.
Nothing left, that is, except for alcohol and cocaine. More than ever, I understood they were my only true friends. Maybe I couldn’t control them, but they would always be there for me.
I started out the door, heading for my favorite bar, and then walked back inside. It was too hard to face anyone. Grabbing another beer, I felt the alcohol calming my nerves. For just a moment, I could taste cocaine. My drugs weren’t working as well as they once did, but I could never live without them. For me, they were—and always would be—the only game in town.
My name is James, and I am recovering from addiction to alcohol and cocaine.
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