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I came back from the military completely broken and took refuge under a bridge in Portland, OR. In an attempt to escape, I turned back to drugs and alcohol after a seven year hiatus. Seven years later I was arrested and facing seventy years on various drug charges.
I had been bailed out and had just over ninety days before sentencing. I decided that I was going to quit. Though I vividly remember my experience of quitting, it seems quite surreal now; after all, it happened to a different person I am not that person any longer. Here though, is the defining moment of that quit:
I lay on the floor trying to sleep, a hammer by my side. My arms and legs often flopping around with a mind of their own as my nervous system short circuited. I sometimes would use the claw part of the hammer to tear at the crawling under my skin, sometimes resorting to just pounding on my arms and legs to kill the sensations. The mental torture, of course, was worse. My mind screamed for more, my will crumbling over and over. Finally it screamed, If I don't have a hit I'll die! I remember the thought; so clear and then a response filled with strength and total and utter conviction, "Then die". And I meant it with all my heart. And then I did.
I'm told the ambulance got there six minutes later and I had no heartbeat. More than enough time to stay dead, or at least be permanently brain damaged. But I didn't. When I regained consciousness, I knew I would never have to use again. Make no mistake, I was still a disaster physically, mentally and emotionally, but I was free if I chose to be. And so I began the long road back.
My public defender told me my best deal was four years. I felt sick. I began attending twelve step meetings and really threw myself into recovery attending 387 in my first ninety days clean. Recovery became a full time job, one that I took very seriously. As the court date grew nearer, I became more resigned and accepting of my fate.
Three things stick out in my mind during that first ninety days. Roger was the first. In those early days I found it hard to relate to people in the meetings. And seeing as they couldn't possibly comprehend how much pain I was in so how could they relate to me? And then there was Roger.
Three years clean and sober, Roger had set his five year old daughter on the porch one morning as he turned to close and lock the front door of his house. Because of the cold and ice in the cracks between the door and door frame, he had to slam the door shut to get it to close. When he did, he loosened the sheet of ice on the roof and turned just in time to see it fall on and crush his daughter to death while he stood eighteen inches away.
Roger knew pain. And he kept coming back and not picking up one day at a time. I never talked to him about what had happened, but I watched him not pick up every day.
The second thing I remember was the birthday girl. During a noon meeting one day, a young woman in the Air Force came in. She had just been transferred the day before and this was her first meeting since landing. She shared that she was particularly homesick as she would be celebrating her fifth anniversary clean and sober tomorrow and would be doing so without the support group she had come to count on for the last five years.
I was saddened by the idea. Her sponsor, her friends, her group no one around she knew to help her celebrate. And with no notice, she wasn't likely to get a cake for her birthday, which was a traditional way to celebrate out our way. Five years was too long a time to receive no recognition I decided, and went home and attempt to bake my first cake. It was completely ridiculous. The cake was lopsided, the frosting was missing in some spots and too thick at others but when she saw it she cried and told me it was the most beautiful cake she had ever seen. I was embarrassed beyond words but it had seemed like the right thing to do and so I did it.
The third thing I remember during those early days was The Plan. My lawyer had told me that a deal had been struck for me to receive four years. It was a good deal but I had no plans on doing the time. I had been in a cage during my time in the military and I wasn't going back. The nightmares had never gone away and I wasn't going to live that again. I know that prison in the states would be different than what I had been through but waking up behind bars wasn't something I was going to put myself through. The first night in I was going to kill myself.
It may seem strange to people that I knew that alcohol and drugs were going to kill me and yet I went through such efforts to get clean and sober only so that I could kill myself when I reached ninety days clean, but in my mind, even today, it makes perfect sense. I knew I was going to die regardless but wanted to die free. It was going to be a choice. My choice. Drugs were the enemy and the enemy wasn't going to take my life from me. I'd do it my way by my own hand and was at peace with that whole idea.
Finally the day came and I went to court to be sentenced to what the judge thought was four years though with me committing suicide that night, it would only turn out to be a few hours. In front of the judge, rather than sentence me immediately, she started asking me questions. Questions about what I had been doing in the months since my arrest, questions about my recovery, questions that, quite frankly, confused the heck out of me and, from the look on his face, my attorney too. Then she called me to the bench. My attorney and I approached the bench and she suggested he go back to his seat.
Then she told me a story. Her brother and his wife had died years ago in a car accident. Someone who was stoned out of his mind hit them and they were killed instantly. I suspected I may not have to kill myself as I tried to recall if our state had a death penalty. She continued, explaining that their deaths orphaned her two-year old niece who she then adopted and raised as her own daughter.
That little girl, she told me, grew up and became an alcoholic and drug addict herself. She ran away from home and stayed missing for two years. One day she got a call; it was her daughter. She had quit, was clean and sober for a year and was hoping for forgiveness and reconciliation. She told her there was nothing to forgive and asked her to just please come home. It turned out that it wasn't possible at the time but they looked forward to the day that it would be. The opportunity finally arose. Her daughter jumped at the chance and the Air Force transferred her to a base in her hometown a day before her fifth anniversary clean and sober.
Without knowing who it was and with no expectations, I had baked my first cake as a gift for the one person the judge loved more than anyone else in the world - her daughter. Then she got serious and her voice got even quieter. You are facing seventy-years. You got a deal for four. If you violate your probation I give you my word you will do the maximum. Now go re-join your lawyer.
She addressed my lawyer first. I've spoken to the DA in the moments before court and he agreed. I've taken the liberty of assuming that you'll have no objections: suspended imposition of sentence, three years probation.
It'll be twenty-two years in May since I cleaned up and got another chance at life, despite my best efforts to throw it away.