by Jon Farrow
There are all kinds of addicts, I guess. We all have pain. And we all look for ways to make the pain go away.” – Sherman Alexie
It was a blindingly bright sunny day in Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 2010 as I boarded the plane that would take me home. As I found my seat, anxiety began to jar me as if I were already experiencing turbulence. In my hands was my DD-214 (Discharge from Active Duty), flooded with military jargon I couldn’t translate. The phrase I could read was written at the bottom of the page.
In bold black letters it read, “FAILURE TO ADAPT.” My eyes hovered and transfixed on the word “failure”. A word that never held as much meaning as it did in that moment.
My father had never said he was proud of me
I finally heard those words for the first time in my life, when I was about to leave for the United States Army basic training. It was a euphoric feeling to begin my journey. Now that it was over; would my father feel the same? Would he still be proud of me even though I mentally couldn’t handle it?
The plane finally landed in the middle of the night. The empty airport terminal was an ironic visual interpretation for how I felt inside. I was hoping to see my father greet me as I made my way to the airport pickup. When I had finally made it there, my grandparents greeted me with excitement.
As happy as I was to see them, my Dad’s absence pushed the pain closer to the surface.
The following day, I awoke to no communication from my father. Since I sold my car before I left for basic training, I asked my grandma if she would drive me to my father’s work on his lunch break to surprise him. I was expecting the same warm welcome my grandparents had given me the previous day. Instead I felt this dense, invisible, infinite, divide between us. Any attempt I made at striking a conversation was immediately stomped out like the last burning ember of a camp fire. Feeling defeated, I asked my grandma if we could leave.
Over the months that followed, I had difficultly securing employment because of the almost two-month gap in my employment history. The only job I could come across that didn’t care about the unfilled area on my resume, was as a cook at a strip club.
People would joke all the time that I was living a man’s dream
It was more like I was living a man’s personal hell. During my time working at the club, I saw the darkest, most appalling desires being lived out in front of me and began to notice the flicker of emptiness that the dancers hid behind fake smiles, obsessive make-up, and ostentatious wardrobes.
At the end of the every night pure bleach was poured on the stage and floors surrounding it. The smell that went with the disinfection of the disgust that transpired there will forever be burned into my nose.
To escape the putrid scent of this cleansing exercise, I would go down to the basement. The dancers usually hung out in their dressing rooms after hours and I would usually spend the rest of the night folding towels from the club laundry room. One particular night, one of the dancers was in the laundry room smoking a joint and I asked her for a hit and she obliged. I went back to folding towels while thinking, “What’s all the hype about?” Then it hit me. For the first time in a long time I felt nothing at all. Every single ounce of pain I ever felt just vanished.
From that point on, I went deeper down a very dangerous hole and lived a double life. No one was aware of my new remedy and continued to live my life the same as always, except now I had this itch that needed to be scratched in order to make it through my day. Living a life where your happiness is dependent on a substance eventually leads to the moment where it can no longer be maintained.
I realized that it had control over me and this whole time I never had control over myself. One night I was invited by mutual friends to a huge house party and decided to go. I made my way to a group of people I saw my friend with. and he ushered me to get in on the joint that was being passed around. Everyone giggled as they told me it was ridiculously strong. Jokingly I assured them that I was a professional. I could handle anything but didn’t realize until it hit me how wrong I was.
The walls around me begin to vibrate
And while it delivered the same euphoric rush, it was also accompanied by an overwhelming wave of anxiety. As the feeling began to consume me, I coolly asked what kind of bud it was. The group was synchronized in their giggles at the question. One of the members spoke up and told me it was dipped White Widow, a very strong strain of marijuana that has been laced with PCP and embalming fluid.
The feeling of anxiety began to smother me.
I stepped outside for a cigarette. In my mind I had to keep moving, because if I didn’t my heart would stop. As I walked and looked down at the sidewalk beneath me, it bounced back and forth–closer and then farther away like a yo-yo. I had felt this feeling before.
If I was going to pass out, it didn’t need to happen on an empty street in the middle of the night. I fought my body’s attempt at throwing in the towel as I rushed to my friend’s car. To this day I have no idea how I managed to get into that car. and don’t remember anything once getting in. When I regained consciousness, I fumbled through my phone and called my friend to come help me.
He was led me to a room where once again I lost consciousness. When coming to again, my friend and multiple others were around me and I pleaded for someone to take me to the hospital. My friend looked around at everyone in the group. The group then did the same to one another. They said they couldn’t take me. Panicked, I begged for someone to take me to the hospital and then again lost consciousness.
I awoke the next morning in the same room, confused as to where everyone had gone and drenched in sweat like I had just taken a swim in a pool. My head was throbbing as the sun pierced my eyes as I made my way down the stairs to the living room where the party was held. A couple of people from the party the night before were passed out on random pieces of furniture like throw blankets. My friend that took me to the party was not one of them.
Making my way outside, I was hoping my friend’s car was still there. To my surprise his parking spot was empt and I sat on the porch stairs perplexed at the events of the previous night. I needed to make a change. It started with a joint and I was going to make sure it ended with a joint.
I wish I could say that I had a picture perfect movie ending where I kicked the habit cold turkey and rode into the sunset.
Life isn’t like that unfortunately. I went through more challenges from that point on. Those challenges led me to eventually being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. With my diagnosis comes a whole new set of challenges that nine years later, I don’t mind taking on if it means I get to live a clean, stable, and healthy life.