Drugs make a person very selfish. A former addict friend of mine has described addiction as driving your car through a garden filled with beautiful flowers. All you see is the beauty in front of you; you think it’s great and you have a good time. Meanwhile, everyone around you is watching you ruin things for everyone else and leave a trail of destruction in your wake. While you’re getting high, all you care about is the high you’re getting and you’re oblivious to the damage you’re doing to everyone around you.
I used to think drugs were the greatest thing in the world. This is when I was a teenager, the best time in one’s life to make horrible mistakes. When I began high school, I had never done drugs in any form. But in the middle of my freshman year, a student named Luke let me know he had purple pills. I wanted to see what they were. It was exciting to me. I bought two of them for $30 total. He told me it was Ecstasy.
Well, let me just say that Ecstasy is a hell of a first drug to use. My pupils became massive, I felt perfect, and I put a whole piece of bread in my mouth at dinner. It’s not surprising I got the impression that drugs were awesome. I had no idea that drug use has costs and consequences, for both the user and the people around them.
I had trouble getting more Ecstasy, so I started asking around at school for new drugs. I bought some marijuana and smoked it, and later that year I would discover Adderall. But the major turning point in my life came when someone in the hallway told me about “robotripping”. He said he’d fake sick and take 10 cough gels and “trip out”. Well, of course I had to try it, and that night I ended up going to Richardson’s with my mom. I asked her to buy me some cough medicine, but she said, “You just want it for the jitters.” Jitters indeed. I bought some myself while she was up front getting her prescription and drank it that night.
All that happened was some dissociation, I felt like time skipped after I turned the lights off and I could walk “automatically” or effortlessly. My curiosity was piqued, and after a few more tries, I drank a whole 3-ounce bottle of grape Delsym. I call it the champagne of cough medicines, because all other kinds are putrid cherry flavored and it sinks into your tongue and stays there. Anyway, it was about 534mg of DXM, 18 times the recommended dose. I experienced euphoria, hallucinations inside my head, extreme dissociation and “jitters”. And I wanted more.
I went to Holiday Market with my friend Bill and attempted to shoplift a bottle of Robitussin, but because we went to the bathroom first, and they thought we were already stealing things in there, the security guard followed us the whole time and saw me taking the bottle out of the box and shoving it in my pants. We got caught and the cops and my mom were called and Bill and I were banned from the store for a year.
Consequences! I didn’t learn from them. I would shoplift cough medicine hundreds more times and never again were the police called, although I got caught a few times. They would tell me not to come back and a few months later I would, and I would steal more. I’ve stolen it from almost every store that sells it in my city.
My friend Brandon, who I introduced to cough medicine, became addicted and almost died from lack of oxygen when he took it with a massive amount of Benadryl. He was in Bill’s group of friends. My best friend Bill, and all these friends I had no longer wanted anything to do with me. I was banished from their house. I would eventually be banished from several of my friends’ houses because of my actions while I was high.
At the beginning of the summer after my sophomore year, I went on vacation with my family to North Carolina to see my aunt and uncle. While I was there, I stole Valium and Vicodin from my aunt, the dog’s pills that it needed to pee properly (oxyamphetamine), and $20 from my uncle which I used to buy Delsym. As I was walking back to their house, Delsym in hand, my parents pulled up. Everything was packed up and the whole family headed back to Michigan. I had ruined their vacation. When we got back, I started outpatient rehab, which I quickly stopped going to.
My junior year included a lot of Adderall abuse. I would snort it in school with my friends. I failed about half my classes, but managed to get a 34 on the ACT. Which means that I could have gotten into a great college if I wasn’t so concerned with getting high. I hung out a lot with my friends who were in a rock band and smoked weed with them almost every day. I loved getting high on Robitussin and listening to music and was almost always high when I helped the band carry the equipment. I would constantly make a jackass out of myself and be a sweaty, big-pupiled mess.
I dropped out of high school at the beginning of senior year, in late 2007. I would go back to school in 2009 after getting my GED, attending community college. At the beginning of every day there, I would go to the Kroger across the street, spend my lunch money on Robitussin, and be high the whole day. It was around this time I began to be delusional, thinking I heard people say things from through the walls or from miles away. It was just the start.
At the end of 2009, I was taking off-brand Mucinex DM pills in massive amounts. I would buy or steal a bottle that contained 1200mg and eat it in one or two days. This is an insane amount of dextromethorphan. Most people would be immobilized for 14 hours if they took that much, but I had a huge tolerance. I met this one kid, Kevin, in the student center who was possibly a psychopath, or a creep, trying to hit on girls. When I went home later, I took a bunch of cough medicine, combined with eating the cotton from a Vicks vapor inhaler, and experienced what I call, “Hell in my head,” the trip that would not stop. I saw horrifying visions of Kevin in my head all night. After that I was afraid to go to Schoolcraft and dropped out.
Shortly after, I stopped using DXM successfully for the first time. I just decided to take all of what I had left and after that I didn’t get any more. This was in late November. My siblings were back home for Christmas, and I stayed sober the whole time. But then they left, and I was home alone with my parents. I became depressed and almost never left the house. After searching my house alone for a really long time, I finally found a bottle of Nyquil and drank it after being 70 days sober. I started using DXM regularly again. I felt soooooo much better!
This began a new phase of my life. At 20, I had never had a job and it would still be well over a year before I did. So, I had lots of free time to get high. It was also at this time I began writing, beginning with a short story I wrote for my friend’s birthday. I would go to McDonald’s, near plenty of DXM-selling stores, and get high there and write. It became my home away from home, because it was open 24 hours. I’d discreetly get high in the children’s section too, because they had a TV playing Cartoon Network all the time, which goes great with drugs. Looking back, I realize that this was unethical.
In December 2010, using a hammer and screwdrivers, I broke into my father’s safe where he kept his weed and my mother’s Wellbutrin and Ativan. He was pissed. A month later I was in his workshop and he came down and said he would call the cops for me being down there. Looking back, I know that I had done nothing illegal at that point. But out of panic, I took the phones out of my dad’s hands repeatedly so he couldn’t call and took two of my antidepressant pills and six ibuprofens in a “suicide attempt”. The cops came and there was a scuffle and they tried to taze me twice. Then I was taken to Havenwyck mental hospital.
I felt sane, but in reality, since I thought I was the second coming of Jesus Christ, that was not the case. When I got out of Havenwyck I was not allowed to return home so I was sent to a three-quarters house, a place with a few strict rules where recovering addicts lived. Everyone else there was a former heroin addict, so it would seem like I was out of my league, but those people all stayed sober and I didn’t, so what does that say.
I didn’t sleep for several days after getting there and in the middle of the night I was paranoid that everyone could hear my every move. I thought Lucifer was whispering to me and trying to derail me from me from my mission to save the world, so I would quietly say, “Yahweh” seven times to banish him whenever I thought his name. I also thought I was hearing the house manager talking on the phone to the house owner about me, about how I was going to be kicked out. I told my friend there about it and he wisely told me, “It’s just hallucinations.”
It was about 8 days before I started using cough medicine again. It wasn’t long before I got kicked out, since there’s a no drug policy at three-quarters houses. I was luckily able to move back into my house, and returned my McDonald’s and Robitussin lifestyle, now firmly under the delusion that I was Jesus Christ and destined to save the world from the nuclear holocaust. God and the Devil argued about me all the time, with the devil saying negative things and that I was actually a bad person. I heard the voice of this girl I had a crush on, a manager of McDonald’s, talking to her boyfriend about me. I was insane. Then she quit McDonald’s after sleeping through Easter (she worked the night shift) and stopped replying to my insane messages about me being the archangel Michelangelo. I was heartbroken.
I started drinking malt liquor every day and did for the entire summer. All I really did that whole time was watch the Detroit Tigers and drink. I rarely went to Mcdonald’s and hung out with friends only occasionally. It was towards the end of summer, when I was hanging out with a group of friends and drinking outside, that my first dedicated burst of sobriety came. My friend Tyler was drinking out of a wine bag with us and he was high on Xanax. It was dark and he stepped in a hole in the ground and twisted his foot 90 degrees. We noticed that he hadn’t come back, found him, then called 911. After that night, I didn’t drink for 21 days. There was an actual effort given and relapses were brief (usually one day), then I’d start counting days from Sober Day 0 again. The average was probably 10 or so, meaning a 90% decrease in consumption.
Getting sober from alcohol wasn’t hard and I didn’t have the withdrawal issues I thought I would. However, being sober caused me a lot of anxiety. I finally started to reflect on what piece of shit I had been. I was actually upset when my long-time druggie friends talked about girls in a rude and demeaning manner. I started to think of meat eating as profoundly wrong. I was worried about my future and where I was going to live after I left my parent’s house.
Two months later, on October 15th, after returning from Mcdonald’s after consuming a massive amount of DXM, I huffed a sharpie in my bed and got intense closed eye visuals. I started thinking about the endless millions of pigs that go through slaughterhouses, realizing that I had no idea how to save them, that there was nothing I could do. I opened my eyes and stared at my lightbulb and started seeing a rainbow of colors in it. My lightbulb said, “Hi. This is God. Is that so hard to believe?!?” I felt like I scrambled the rest of the message by thinking, and I thought about my aunt who had told me she’d been praying for me.
I heard her saying, “Please, Michael, please stop drinking Robitussin,” and saw two hands pressed together. That was the last time I ever used cough medicine. I would like to qualify all this by saying that I was tripping balls and I had been hearing plenty of voices like that that had said things that were clearly false. For those of you with stronger faith, you’ll probably be more inclined to think it was God helping me, but personally I don’t bother to try and figure it out. I was taking drugs that made me trip balls and that’s what happened, so it seems like hallucinations to me. When I thought I was Jesus, I actually prayed often, more than I ever had before or since, so I think it might have been God. If it was God, he’s probably frustrated that I don’t believe it was him. I suppose it’s not that hard to choose to believe something.
Not using dextromethorphan did not fix all my problems. I was 21, lived with my parents, had no job, and wasn’t going to school. I spent most of my time in my room doing nothing of particular value. I had no girlfriend and had never been able to maintain a relationship for longer than a few weeks. It would be a long time before I was actually successful in life. At about the same time that I quit cough medicine, I also became a vegetarian and have been since. I am very proud of this and it was the first major improvement over my drug-using self, who did little of value for others.
In January, I got a job at Kroger bagging groceries. I worked there for two weeks and spent the money I made on an ounce of weed. I was still hanging out with my friends from the rock band, who were potheads and not really good to me or good for me. I started smoking weed every day for a while and just watching Netflix constantly. In February I drank every day for three weeks. The major chemical messing up my mind had gone, but there were plenty of substitutes for me to use. I still kept trying to get sober and had some success.
In June, I went to my friend Matt’s house and he was drinking. I told him I’d been sober for 15 days, but he got me to drink anyway, although it was something I strongly wanted as well. I also purchased and snorted some of his Wellbutrin, which stimulated me to the point where I didn’t feel the alcohol as much. I ended up taking the last beer his grandfather ever made out of his fridge and when he found out he punched me in the mouth and I had to walk home.
That’s what made me decide to go to AA. It would be a few weeks before I did, I went the day after having a dream where something told me I needed to be with like-minded people. It was AA that really helped me change as a person, have extended success with sobriety, and improve my life. Attending AA led at least partially to me getting a car, a job, and a girlfriend. It put me into a community of people who supported me with my goal of not using or drinking.
I can’t exactly go into detail about my journey there, because it’s an anonymous program. But in a nutshell, the AA program is about confronting your past, finding out what your character flaws are, then apologizing to those you’ve hurt and improving your character in every possible way you can. It’s the change from being a selfish person to someone who strives to be good that allows for the mental change that supports sobriety.
On August 1, I drank for the last time in 2012. In August, I met Casey, a roofer who I have worked with and now live with, who is also one of my best friends. At the end of September, I met my girlfriend who I have been with since. In October, I bought my first car. Until Thanksgiving, I had actual, pure sobriety. No drugs, no drinking, not even smoking cigarettes. It is clearly not a coincidence that I got an actual life during this period, with things of value that I had earned myself.
It was the first time in 7 years that I had been sober that long and I am very proud of that. My parents and family are proud of me too and they say they have seen a big change in me. I no longer steal from them or make them worry about me. I’ve regained friends that didn’t want to be around me because of my drug use. The people I’m around don’t use me for money or drugs and don’t just sit around smoking out of a bong all day.
My greatest accomplishment in all this is probably the change in mindset. I used to think I would keep drinking Robitussin and getting high forever. It was my primary goal in life. I used to say, “Robitussin is the future.” Today, Robitussin is not my future, nor is any other drug. I now understand that drug abuse is costly (in terms of money and many other things) and unnecessary. I used to need a drug to feel good and when I didn’t have any I couldn’t be fully happy. Now I just feel normal and good most of the time. Honestly, being able to feel decent all the time is way better than feeling extremely good sometimes and then bad during the comedown or withdrawals. To anyone who wants to quit drugs, I would tell them that although you may feel crappy for a while after stopping, possibly for months, in the long run you’ll just be way happier.
Since I quit using drugs, I have gotten a degree from a great college, made my money doing what I love (writing), found love and kept it, found a community of others who are focused on sobriety to support me, and made my family proud. To anyone who has a drug problem, I recommend getting help. If you are keeping it a secret, you need to tell people. They will find out anyway if they haven’t already. If it’s not a huge problem yet, there’s a high chance it will be if you give it enough time. If you have an addiction problem, attending AA or NA, talking to your family or doctor (who can prescribe helpful medications!) and staying away from the people you use or drink with can change your life.
Featured Photo Credit: Drugs by Gregor Fischer on Flickr