Everyone got a bronze coin for graduating drug rehab. Well, at least they did at the one I went to. All the ceremonies were the same. The coin is passed around among the patients. Each person then holds the coin, rubs it between their fingers and says something like: “I put strength and hope in this coin to help you stay sober.”
I attended many of these ceremonies. Sometimes, I said heartfelt inspirational words; other times I spit out sarcastic, witty one-liners. I can’t remember what people said during my graduation, and the bronze coin full of hopeful words was lost long ago.
I only lasted two weeks out in the real word before I was consumed again by the obsession to use heroin. Other people from my graduating class lasted even shorter. A handful of them threw a graduation party where they all shot up heroin and cocaine.
The odds of staying sober are grim. It’s thought that only about two to three percent of the people who attend rehab actually stay sober for any serious length of time. Those percentages can be applied to any 12-step or drug rehabilitation program. While the numbers aren’t entirely accurate, because it’s hard to track addiction patterns over the course of someone’s lifetime, they do shed light on the seriousness of alcoholism and drug addiction. Most alcoholics and addicts don’t stay sober.
While the tools rehab taught me were soon forgotten, I did make a few friends there and we continued to meet up after graduation. One guy had the good connections. He took me to the spot outside of town near the railroad tracks and introduced me to the drug dealers who sold dope for half the normal price. Another one of the guys from rehab had never even shot heroin, so a couple of us junkies showed him the ropes.
We hung out together for just a month or two until the darkness of the disease took hold, and we each went down our own horrible path alone. The guy with the good drug hookups left town, and the junkie novice went to jail for year on a non-drug related conviction. I stayed put and shot more and more dope all alone in a trailer.
About a year later, the junkie novice called me. It was his first day out of jail and he wanted to get high but didn’t know where to buy it. I was busy. I was packing my car and getting ready to leave town for good to go live with my parents. He said he would split the dope with me if I could get it. I never turned down free heroin. He picked me up at my trailer and we drove down to the train tracks. We walked down the trails and found the drug dealers in the forest near a big redwood tree. I bought the dope with his money and then introduced him to the sketchy dealers. Everything was cool. He was in.
He dropped me off by my car and I never saw him again. I left town that day and started on the path of sobriety.
When I was a year sober, I got an unexpected call from an old rehab friend, the one who introduced me to the drug dealers on the tracks. He had been sober a year too. But he had some bad news. The junkie novice, our friend, had hanged himself in jail. He was dead. I was shocked and saddened. I thought back to that day I introduced him to the cheap heroin drug dealers. After I left town, he must have blazed the junkie path hard, going in and out of jail. I guess it was too much for him, so he ended it.
I never imagined that I would be the one to get sober and he would be the one to kill himself because of drugs. He was a smart and funny guy, who seemed like he had so much more potential for living life normally than I did.
Life, death, drugs, alcohol — none of it makes sense. I’ve come to learn that life isn’t about good or bad, right and wrong. No one deserves anything. We all just get what we get. Today, I’m grateful for what I have. Well, most of the time. At least I’m not the spoiled, ungrateful little brat I used to be. But it took a long time and a lot of pain before I ever considered I might be the problem and that I needed to change my perspective. I know only one thing: As long as I don’t take a drink or a drug, I have a chance of living and enjoying my life.
I want to thank everyone who read my column and supported me. My story is by no means special or unique. Many people have even greater heartbreaking and inspirational stories to tell. And every time that I hear a drug addict or alcoholic share their story, I’m reminded that I’m not alone.