The Light Bulb Came On

By Jon G., US Navy, Ret.

At the age of 16, I began smoking pot. My parents were getting divorced, and I thought it was the end of the world. I had been in emotional pain for a couple of years.

When I was 14 years old, my best friend died from a heart murmur while sitting beside me at a high school basketball game. It was tragic and devastating for everyone. I can still recall the sequence of events: first, my friend having a seizure; me screaming to anyone who would listen that we needed a doctor; then school officials stopping the basketball game; finally, to the ambulance taking him away. I had no idea how to cope with the situation. Who would at that age?

On that day, I began to isolate from society.

The first time I smoked pot, my friends said my eyes were red, but I don’t remember feeling anything. As time went on, the effects of the dope improved. It numbed my emotional pain; I could forget, at least temporarily, my friend’s death and my parents’ subsequent divorce.

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Sports were my life. Everyone in my small town knew my name because I was the highest basketball point scorer in the county. I was also very good at baseball. Ironically, at the same time, I was both the biggest jock and the biggest dope head in the school. I smoked, drank, took LSD and PCP. Eventually the dope won, and I was kicked out of school. Bye-bye, Mister Jock. Welcome to the real world.

After working several factory jobs in Indiana and Arizona, I joined the US Navy in 1982. I thought there had to be more to life than slaving away all day, every day.

The first four years in the service did not change my using habits much. A majority of the people I worked with got high. The sailors who administered the urinalysis also got high, so it was easy to cheat.

I got married in 1986. From then until my divorce in 1996, I seldom if ever used illegal drugs – though I certainly did my share of drinking. Once in awhile I would take my wife’s muscle relaxers or pain meds, but I also went to my own doctor to obtain a prescription for the same drugs.

While still in the Navy, I married again in 1999. Prior to my leaving the military, I had five separate surgeries on my knees, feet and hands. My addiction really started to take off.

When I retired from the Navy in 2003, I was addicted to gambling and any painkiller I could get my hands on. I was going to Mexico on a regular basis and smuggling OxyContin across the border, neglecting not only my welfare, but that of my family as well.

In 2004, I was admitted in San Diego to my first treatment center. It was an inpatient, 30-day residential program. But once I left, my sobriety didn’t last long. I had acquired a great deal of information, but I wasn’t willing to do the work necessary to stay clean.

I found a prospective job online in Tucson, Arizona. My mom and her parents lived in Prescott, Arizona. A move to Arizona would bring us closer to my family. My wife went to stay at her sister’s house with our two small children while I went to Tucson to secure the job.

My wife and kids came to visit me from time to time and eventually moved back in with me; but after about two months, she decided to leave. The circumstances of our separation were not entirely due to my using, but that surely didn’t help matters. Regardless of the reasons, I was now on my own.

In June 2005, during one of my kids’ visitations with me in Tucson, I accidentally overdosed on prescription meds and was taken to the hospital via ambulance. Once released from the hospital, I found an outpatient treatment facility. Although I was a ‘functioning’ addict in that I held down a job, I knew I was headed toward a premature death if I did not change.

I went through that treatment center twice. It was a ten-week program, requiring 12-Step meetings three times a week. I received all the knowledge I needed to stay sober, but I was seeking treatment for every reason except the most important one: me. I really wasn’t willing to do this thing.

Recently, my 13-year-old daughter nearly died when she took some of my medication, which I really didn’t need to have in the house. She actually stopped breathing on the way to the hospital. Soon after that, I accidentally overdosed again.

The light bulb finally came on. I asked myself, “What will I look back on when I am old and gray? What will I be proud of? What will be my legacy?” I didn’t like my answers. It was then I sought the help of the Tucson VA – this time to get help for me. I knew sobriety would not happen for any other reason.

The counselors at the VA were highly skilled and professional. I remember my very first day in the Early Recover Session. The therapist, Bob W., must have known I was new and delved into the heart of the mess I had created of my life. That very first day when I left the session, I felt in my heart I would never use again.

Thanks to that counselor, I have been clean for 130 days. Today I know who I am for the first time in decades. I am me, and I am okay.

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