By: Al S, Hackettstown Stigma Free Task Force
As a much younger man, I was a lost soul trying to find his place in the world. In that moment in time, I was going through a tumultuous period in a relationship I was in, disliking my job, disillusioned with my station in life. So, I did what someone who continually struggled with addiction does–I turned to old friends. I turned to drugs. Anything I could get my hands on that would alter my state of consciousness, I took. Mostly, it was cocaine. I loved my cocaine. However, it also was Percocet, Hydrocodone, LSD, Ecstasy…whatever…whenever. I wanted to numb myself from my harsh reality. See, I had this underlying issue going on that I wasn’t prepared to face. Every line of cocaine I did, every pill I popped, every hallucinogenic I took, I knew I had a problem. There was even a rock-star sense of pride that came along with it. Addiction was somehow, in my faulty-wired brain, cool. But, if you called me depressed? Well now…you and I were going to have a problem. My problem with you, back then, would’ve been that you were calling me “weak!” By calling me depressed, you were insulting me. I couldn’t stand for that. That’s the inherent flaw in so many men—this man.
We give it cool sounding names like machismo or bravado. However, what it is, when we rid it of its pomp and ceremony, is foolish pride. This underlying, willfully unrecognized, raging depression was the impetus for my addiction. I recall, when my addiction was at its most prominent, I would regularly do my standard amount of cocaine, which was enough to kill a small horse, and “pop” about ten 10mg pills of Percocet. I wasn’t afraid that my heart would explode; I was banking on it.
That was the first time I realized I wanted to die.
I tempted fate frequently with this same process…cocaine and pills. A constant barrage of my being with those two weapons. Sadly, that wasn’t the low point. If you’ll indulge me, let’s fast forward to another moment in time, where this son would bring his laundry to his mom to do. Except, this time was different. To give you a point of reference, I was doing so much cocaine, that I lost track of so much of it. This time, it was a large bag of it, in the pocket of a pair of pants that I had just dropped off to my mother’s to wash…
My mother is outstanding at being my mother. But, you should know that she would never, ever, pass up an opportunity to lecture me about anything. She loves her lectures to this day. At this moment in time, however, when she found that bag that I had forgotten about, in my pants’ pocket, there were no lectures. What I saw is seared into my mind’s eye forever; It was the look of heartbreak that was on my mother’s face. Time passed and we weren’t speaking. My relationship with my mom was broken. The relationship with my girlfriend at the time, gone. I was fully symptomatic of my depression, and it was at that time that I backed my car into the garage, ran the hose from the tailpipe into the slightly opened window, and began to suck the oxygen from my lungs. I set it up like I’d seen in movies a thousand times. I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up again.
The religious will call it the grace of God. Those without faith, will call it happenstance or sheer luck. While the oxygen was being sucked out of my car, in that garage, and it was being replaced by carbon monoxide, at this moment in time my mother decided it was time to mend our relationship. That her son, somehow, needed her. My cell phone rang, and on the screen, on the caller ID, I saw “Mom.” I lunged for the phone. I lunged for the electronic garage door opener. I no longer wanted to die. I wanted to speak to my mother. I wanted to tell her I loved her. I wanted to hear her say everything was going to be okay. In her own unique way, she said all these things by actually saying the poetic, “I’m stopping at Chili’s. What do you want to eat?” I wish it was more dramatic or poetic than that, for the sake of a good story. But, it was what it was. Maybe it was the grace of God? It may have been sheer luck. I prefer to think it’s that unbreakable connection between parent and child. That’s why I’m still here. Because of her. Because of my mom.
I know that I am one of the lucky ones. That’s not lost on me. That so many of our brothers and sisters are gone—gone because of suicide. Gone because of overdose. That realization impacts every minute of my life. Because the stars somehow aligned, I’m still here. It was that moment in time, where I faced the reality that I was severely depressed. It began the long and arduous road of recovery. My addiction came and went, and come back again since then. But for now, I’m keeping it away—one day at a time. My depression still lurks. Like a demon waiting for it’s opening, it stalks me. I’m more prepared now. I’m more aware. I’m more honest with who I am, and what my struggles and shortcomings are. This self-realization and the knowledge that asking for help doesn’t make a man weak; It makes him strong. This wisdom that we all fall down and we all need a hand to get back up, is what makes us resilient. I have, since that moment in time where I wanted to fall asleep and never awake again, have repurposed my life. Putting the needs of others ahead of my own has mended me. It’s made me as whole as I’ll ever be. The monsters that are depression and addiction still want me dead and are still part of me, as much as my arms and legs are. But, I no longer fear them. They do not have that power over me any longer. They are now, simply, my old and depraved friends.
If you take nothing else away from my story, just remember, as corny as it sounds, and played out as it is, the saying that “you are not alone!” is still so potent and powerful. Asking for help is the opposite of weak. In different moments in time, we all fall down. Asking for help to get back up, is the strongest thing we can do.
You are not alone.