The road to sobriety: homelessness versus rehab

This is the first part of a three-part getting sober series, which explores some of the more memorable moments that led up to my sobriety date, Dec. 19, 2008.

People often ask me how I got sober. It’s a difficult question to answer. The truth: I have no idea.

I didn’t decide one day to get sober and then set off to accomplish the task. No, for years my life was shit and I knew it. Yet I was torn between two contradictory thoughts: One, heroin had ruined my life and I needed to get clean; two, that being loaded on heroin was better than life sober and worth the consequences. The latter thought always won. Heroin just seemed better than everything else. If it had been up to me, I would’ve stayed high forever. A life of sobriety could always wait until tomorrow. But tomorrow never came. Until the one day that it did. While I can’t tell you why it happened, I can tell you what happened.

At 24, I was strung out on heroin, meaning I shot dope daily. If I failed to inject heroin for just one day, I would get violently ill, both physically and mentally. For the next five years, I did my best, or worst, to remain high. I couldn’t stop using. And when I did manage to scrape together more than a handful of clean days, which were few and far between, I did so because I found myself in a tough position where getting sober was the only way out.

One of those times was at the jail farm, which I recounted last week, but in the end I had no intention of really staying sober once I was released. I thought the punishment entitled me to have another drug run.

The other two times began with rehab. And during both experiences, I really wanted to stay sober.

“Rinker, roll it up,” the jailer yelled. I rolled my sleeping mat up and got ready to be released. I was so excited to get it out. I had just done three days in the county jail, a sentence I got for trying to a steal a power drill from a department store. It was my first time in jail. It was the longest time I had gone without heroin and I missed it. I had great fantasies about what I would do when I got out. First, I would go steal some sporting shorts from the nearby gym and then sell them to the kitchen help of some taqueria. Then I would call my dealer and get loaded. I had never before pulled a hustle like this one, but had heard about it from an inmate, who offered lots of junkie advice. I planned on giving it a try. The anticipation was killing me.

The sheriff’s deputy led me away from the jail pods, down the hallway and into a little a room where I changed into my street clothes. I was released. I couldn’t wait to hit the streets and get loaded. I stepped into the waiting room heading for the door and there stood my parents. I was dumbfounded.

They needed to talk. We went outside. It was a grey morning with a gentle rain. I bummed a cigarette off my dad and took a deep drag. My first smoke out of jail wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I hoped.

My parents weren’t there to take me home. I needed help. They offered two choices. I could either go directly to rehab or I could wander off and find a bush to live in. I needed to think. Was living in a bush really that bad? I really wanted to get heroin, but being homeless and having to fend for myself sounded miserable. I was beaten and I knew it. I gave in and decided on rehab.

I got in their car and we drove straight to a treatment center.

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  • I chose the bush