What has been one of the most challenging things you’ve experienced or are currently experiencing?
“Probably drug addiction.”
Tell me about that.
“Since I was fourteen years old, the first time I ever tried it, I’ve been intermittently addicted to crystal meth. The past four years, it’s been pretty consecutive other than the four months that I spent in jail two years ago. I guess that’s the gist of it.”
When did you start using it?
“I was about fourteen years old. I used to do it every other weekend with a group of shitty friends that I had made.”
What was going on in your life at that time?
“I had just lost my best friend, who was like my brother; we grew up together. He died from complications due to diabetes. I saw that they were using it and I had taken Adderall before. I thought it was like Adderall, except you could snort it or smoke it, and I thought that’s always fun. I recognized that they were carefree on it, and I wanted to be like that, so I did it.”
What was it like the first time you got high?
“It was sketchy and I was on edge. I don’t know if you’ve done any sort of upper, but it’s intense. It actually made me feel disgusting for a while. I felt really gross the entire time and then coming down was awful, but something inside me wanted to do it again, so I did. It disconnected me from the world. All that really mattered was scribbling on a piece of paper for hours on end. I guess it was really getting lost in reality.”
How did your life unfold—were you in school at that time?
“It kind of caused me to ‘fail out’ of high school; I didn’t drop out, but failed out pretty bad. I had to retake my sophomore year on the computer and graduated at the bottom of my class because of it, or the choices I made while on it. I don’t really know if I was in control or not then.”
You talked about jail—how did you end up there?
“I got arrested leaving a drug deal in June 2015 and then, after my parents bailed me out, I stopped going to court for the probation sentence and a year and a half later, they picked me up at my older brother’s apartment at 11:00 p.m. Six bounty hunters apprehended me and then I spent the next four months in Montgomery County. I was there for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s, and almost my birthday, all behind bars.”
What was that like?
“Honestly, it wasn’t that bad. It was pretty shitty and I was very confined. I was in a sixteen-man room for the most part. It was me and fifteen other people, all in a big-ass room full of bunk beds, having to stare at each other all day.”
Where did that lead you to mentally? Did you process anything in your mind about where you had been, where you wanted to go, where you were?
“I just wanted out. It kind of made me feel like an animal. In Texas, I don’t know what it’s like anywhere else, but you become state property when you’re incarcerated; you lose all your rights. Basically, you’re a body with a name. You’re not a human in there. It’s weird.”
How long ago was that?
“It was January 2017.”
Where did you end up when you were released?
“Back to my older brother’s, and he does dope too. I went right back to where I started, or stopped at midway.”
So, you were sober and clean in jail?
“Yes, while I was there.”
Did you go through withdrawal?
“I slept for the first four days. I didn’t eat or use the restroom; I just slept.”
So, you get out, move back in with your brother, and get right back into it?
“The night that I got out, I used.”
What’s your relationship like with your family, aside from your brother?
“I don’t talk to them, only whenever they speak to me and, even then, it’s usually just my mom, and it’s like once every two weeks, sometimes twice.”
What are those conversations like?
“I love you, I miss you. I love you too, I miss you too.”
Do they live locally?
“They live about two hours away.”
Do they kind of push you away due to your addiction?
“I alienated myself because I knew I’m not anyone a parent could be proud of—that’s how I feel. Because of my problem, and I don’t want them to see me like this and I won’t let them. So, I pushed myself away from them.”
Have you done that with close friends as well?
“I’ve done it with everyone.”
So, who are you associating with, dealers and other users?
“Yeah. I dated this dude for almost a year and he basically isolated himself away from me recently because of it. That really fucked me up a little bit because I feel like I put so much into it, but really it was just me high as hell, overthinking everything, all the time, slowly dissipating into nothing.”
It’s got to be a pretty lonely feeling to be that isolated.
“Yeah, but you’re never really alone when you’re a drug addict.”
Because you’re connecting with your substance.
“I’m perfectly fine with being alone, but I’m not okay with how lonely I am most times.”
Are you scared at all to continue down this path?
“Yeah, because I don’t know where my life’s going. So, I just get high and it’s like ‘where are you going now?’ to go get high.”
How can you afford to get high?
“My best friend sells it. My only friend just happens to be a drug dealer.”
Are you performing any sort of acts or anything in exchange?
“No, no, no; we’re just really good friends and misery loves company. He’s basically in the same spot I’m in.”
What are some of the things you’ve lost along the way through these years of addiction?
“Honestly, I lost my sanity, a lot of good friends, and a close tie with my family. I lost my car. I lost my license. Somehow I lost my social security card, but I don’t think that had anything to do with drugs. I lost my apartment, but that was at the beginning so that’s not a big deal.”
Where are you living now?
“I live with my friend, Pat, who is also a drug addict, but he’s a more functioning one, I should say. He’s held a job for four years and his addiction is kind of new and, ironically enough, I’m the first one he ever tried it with, which is kind of funny or fucked up.”
Have you ever been in any situations where you felt like your life was being threatened?
“No, not really. Not that I can think of, but I don’t know … no.”
How’s your judgment when you’re high?
“You can rationalize just about anything. For the most part, I would say it’s pretty good. There are dumb people who get addicted to drugs and there are people who are addicted to drugs who already have a good grip on reality and are able to make the right decisions or rational ones at least, but I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff.”
What are some of the stupid things that you’ve done?
“Not put the filter on a vacuum cleaner and small things like that. I’ve never done anything really stupid like rob anyone. I did, however, one time throw a brick through a window. I was super pissed off at the person who lived at the apartment and, in a fit of rage due to addiction or substance use, I picked up what was closest to me, which happed to be a chipped piece of concrete by the curb and chucked it threw the window. I don’t know how’s that going to fix it, but it made me feel better. It was really stupid.”
Prior to losing your friend, had you experienced any sort of obstacles early on in your life that taught you some coping skills to deal with grief, pain, or challenging experiences?
“To isolate; that’s all I’ve ever really known. Get over it and, if you can’t, shut up about it. That’s what I was basically taught.”
Do you want to stop?
“Yes and no. Crystal meth is the only thing that’s kept a roof over my head while, at the same time, it’s kept me on the edge of losing that. It’s the only thing that sort of keeps me connected with the real world because I have friends and acquaintances who use and who keep me from going insane living alone. At the same time, those people come and go. Those people aren’t necessarily friends you want to keep around; they’re people who are just going to bring you down because they’re going to keep you high. I’m aware of that but, at the same time, I can’t stop. So, yes and no. I was sober for about a month and moved to New Mexico with my ex. That didn’t turn out well, obviously. He flew me back here on a last-minute, overnight flight and I started using again.”
How old are you now?
So, you’ve been using for ten years?
Any issues with your health?
“No, not that I know of. I probably have shaky hands, but so does everybody.”
Do you sleep?
“Yeah, every night, which is kind of an achievement really if you’re a crackhead like me. I’ve kind of plateaued. I’ve reached a level of tolerance that makes me have a normal sleeping schedule, which is something you really don’t want to be but, at the same time, I’m glad I’m there because now I’m normal-ish. I don’t look cracked out.”
What’s your biggest fear?
“Dying—not from drug use, though I guess that would suck too, but just dying in general, because I don’t know what’s going to happen after that. Maybe my biggest fear is actually not knowing and being unaware.”
In contrast, do you feel like you’re living?
“I feel like I’ve been dead since I was about twelve, but I don’t think that had anything to do with drugs, but the realization of how fucked up the world really is. I think I’m living in a way—I get to do shit that not everybody gets to do, like not have to work, I’m able to explore the city, and that’s what I do every day. I go to different parts of the city and sketch around, but I’m probably not really living, not in a way that’s (I guess) savory.”
Did you grow up here?
“No. I grew up two hours northeast, in a little town, Cold Springs, with about 900 people, and that’s consolidated because it’s a bunch of small towns put together.”
What brought you to Houston?
“Drugs. I bounced from circle of users to circle of users to circle of users until I ended up in Kingwood. Kingwood is right on the outskirts of Houston. I just migrated over here, made friends wherever I could, and now I’m here.”
When you agreed to do the interview, did you have any idea that you’d be talking about this?
“No, not at all. I honestly had no idea what it would be about. I was just like ‘an interview, okay, that’s fine.’ I thought maybe it was going to be ‘how do you feel about Houston’ or some sort of typical bullshit interview, but I didn’t think it would make me open my eyes to shit I’ve been closing them to or haven’t said out loud in a while. I’ve said this stuff before, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”
How does it feel to hear yourself expressing these things?
“It kind of pisses me off.”
In what way? You’re pissed at yourself?
“Yeah, because I know I’m just going to go get high afterwards.”
Are you high now?
“No. I used, but I’m not high. I guess that’s high; I don’t really know. The last time I used was about six hours ago. I get high and then there’s other days where I just get by and, today, is a just a get by day because I didn’t do too much of it.”
What happens if you don’t use?
“I sleep and I’m dead to the world basically, which is probably what I am now, but in a different way because I’m asleep. I’ve slept for thirty-six hours straight before and my friends have asked if I had a bladder infection, and I said that I was good, just tired. When I woke up, I had muscular atrophy, where I couldn’t really feel much, and then I’d just waddle around until I found food, and then I was good.”
Would you say you’re depressed?
“Probably clinically. I used to take Pristiq, but it didn’t mix well with my meth use, so I cold turkey stopped taking it after about six months. It’s a serotonin replacement or something, but I thought it was kind of bullshit. I’ve been told before by friends that I’ve been manic; they would say ‘wow, you’re pretty manic’ and I’d say ‘yeah, I know.’”
Do you think you were like that before the drugs or has that manifested since?
“Half and half. I’ve always been kind of bipolar-ish, but this has really intensified it or brought it to a meniscus versus overflowing. If it was overflowed, I’d probably be in prison, but it’s definitely got to that point.”
What keeps you in that elevated state?
“Being aware that I’d probably go to prison, so to stay at a constant ‘that’s okay.’ It’s not necessarily the way anybody would want to live.”
What were you like as a child?
“I didn’t take ‘no’ as an answer. I wasn’t a spoiled brat or handed everything I wanted, but I didn’t have to ask for much. I never really had to go without anything. My parents weren’t wealthy, but they were comfortable, and have been that way as long as I can remember. For the most part, I’d say I was a pretty happy kid.”
How did you meet your friend who died?
“We were neighbors. He was like my brother. I don’t have close ties or close relationships with anybody like I did with him. He was the first person I could ever really say was my best friend. When you’re a kid, grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents’ and grandparents’ friends die, and you say ‘oh, that’s sad.’ But, when your fourteen-year-old best friend dies, basically out of the blue, he just wakes up one morning and then he’s dead … That shit really happens, people die, people who you know die, people you’re close with die, and it’s hard. It sucks pretty bad, especially when you’re that young and you don’t really know how to take it in. You know how you’re supposed to take it in, you know how people do it, and you see it in movies, but there’s something inside of you that dies too, and you can’t wake it up. Josh was my best friend and was like a brother to me. We did just about everything together.”
What would you say to him if he was here now?
“That I’m sorry. I would tell him that I’m sorry because, at this point, I would have probably alienated myself from him too. I guess given if he had left and came back. Yeah, I would tell him that I was sorry because I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted to see me like this.”
What do you think he would say to you?
“I don’t know. He’d probably call me an idiot, but I’m not sure.”
If you could go back to your twelve- or fourteen-year-old self in that time in your life, as the adult you are now, what would you say to that child?
“Don’t do it. You’re going to fuck up. Don’t do it, but that twelve- or fourteen-year-old probably wouldn’t listen anyway. He’d probably think that I was stupid because ‘no’ is not an answer and ‘don’t’ is not a reason.”
What were you passionate about at that age?
“I really liked art and liked to draw. I haven’t actually picked up a pen or pencil and drawn anything since I was about seventeen. My senior year of high school was a pretty heavy usage year. I was focused on doing that versus something that made me happy.”
How does it feel when you’re drawing or creating something?
“It’s instant gratification, kind of like vacuuming is to me now. I did it, it’s there, that’s something I did, it’s something I completed on my own, other people get to see it, I get to see it, know that it’s done, know that I did it, and I like it. It’s a successful feeling, but I haven’t felt that in a minute.”
Did you have any other outlets that you felt a connection to?
“I listened to music a lot. Even now, I listen to music all the time. I never played any instruments and I’m not really talented in any other way, but I like music.”
Do you write at all?
“No, not at all. I don’t even remember the last time I wrote something down. My handwriting probably looks like someone trying to write with their left hand. I’m not used to a pencil or pen; it’s unfamiliar.”
What’s the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up?
“I drink coffee sometimes; that or Coke, which is terrible for you. I eat, smoke a cigarette, and then smoke dope (I guess use).”
Have you ever felt hopeless and suicidal?
“Yes, at least twice a week. I feel like I’ve reached a point where there’s no way of turning around. I’m twenty-four years old and I already hold a drug possession felony. No one’s going to want to hire me, so I haven’t tried to look anymore. I have basically no friends, especially if I were to stop. My family and I aren’t really close and they don’t want to help me anyway. I feel like there’s not a good enough reason to want to keep living but, at the same time, I’m kind of too much of a pussy to kill myself.”
So, you’re just kind of slowly and passively doing it through using drugs every day and not taking care of yourself.
Is this what you thought you’d be doing tonight?
“No. I knew I was going to be doing an interview, but didn’t think it would be such a reflective one.”
If there was someone else out there listening to this or reading this who could relate to where you are in your life and where you’ve been, and possibly feeling hopeless or numb, or even just alone, what message would you want them to hear and know?
“That they’re not alone. There are other people just as fucked up as you are. I have a really bad mouth, it’s probably just another side effect of drug use. They’re not the only ones who feel nothing or like they are that.”
Is there any part of you that sees a different future for yourself other than your situation right now?
“Yeah, but it’s all sort of hazy. If I were to try to picture it, I couldn’t put the pieces together. It’s more like an audio clip. I can hear myself ‘all right, you’re sober, you’re good, life’s okay,’ but I can’t actually see it. It’s like there’s someone with my voice telling me that, but I don’t see it with my own eyes or inside my own head. I can’t picture it and to me that just tells me it’s not a thing. If you can see it, you can achieve it, and I can’t see it.”
Is it possible that that’s faith? Do you have faith?
“I have something; I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if I’m pessimistic or I’m realistic, but I don’t think I have faith in myself; that’s what it is.”
“Why should I? Maybe I just doubt myself more than I have faith in myself.”
All the various skills you’ve developed to sustain what you’re doing today could be used in the opposite direction to sustain you in a way that you might thrive.
“I’ve managed to be able to live without any sort of resources other than the kindness of strangers for the past three years, so that’s good; that makes me something.”
“I’m probably evil. I don’t think I’m a bad person for it—surviving strictly on the kindness of others. It sounds terrible when you say it like that. I’m just getting by how I can.”
What would give you hope?
“Probably better resources. If I knew there would be something to catch me whenever I fell off this horrible plane ride of whatever it is I’m going through now. If there was a safety net that would give me hope. Now knowing that I would hit rock bottom and fall to my death if I were to stop, I won’t stop because of that. If there was something to catch me, and if I knew it would be okay and there was a better support system other than the people who are constantly throwing dope in my pipe, then I probably would stop.”
It’s hard to see that in any situation. I can only speak for myself, but for me, I could never see what was going to catch me either, whether I continued to perpetuate self-destruction and didn’t want to not feel pain anymore, but didn’t know how to end it without inflicting more pain on myself, or to follow my heart and intuition and move in the other direction. My life started to change when I listened to my heart and moved in the other direction, but it was just as scary because I couldn’t see how I was going to have the resources I needed and somehow (and I’m not a believer in your traditional God or any type of religion) miraculously I had what I needed when I needed it. It didn’t ever come in the way I expected it to, and yet it was there, some sort of ground beneath my feet, and that gave me faith and restored my faith that if I had enough courage to continue to be vulnerable, enough to step out of my old behaviors, to step out of the routine, and step out of the comfort, even if it is perpetuating discomfort—somehow it’s familiar so it’s comfortable—if I had the vulnerability and courage to do that, something would catch me. I remember early on looking for people who were going to save me or thinking that all these various opportunities that presented themselves were going to be the quick fix that would save me. What I continued to learn, and to repeat over and over again through making that mistake of thinking someone else was going to save me, is that I had the power to save myself all the while. All the resources I needed were within me. I had to think them into reality: thought, action, reality. Yet somehow, we train ourselves to think it’s going to come the opposite way, that it comes from the outside in, but that wasn’t my experience. I don’t know if that makes any sense to you.
I can relate to that feeling of being stuck. You know you want to get off that ride, but you don’t know if there will be anything to catch you if you’re to get off. So, you stay stuck.
“I made up this fun little terminology of being plateaued. You’ve reached a level where there’s nothing much around other than the great distance between you and the ground and it’s not high enough to put you up in the clouds where you need to be. So, you’re there, drifting above the surface of rock bottom and normalcy.”
It’s like being in limbo.
“Yeah, or purgatory. I live in purgatory. Actually, it might be hell. I live in gray, very gray, not a whole lot of color there.”
Are there moments where you see or feel color in your life?
“There’s a lot of blue and, when it’s not blue, it’s red but, for the most part, it’s gray. I don’t really feel much but, whenever I do, it’s usually just sadness. I get so sad and I feel like I can’t do much about it, so again, I get angry, then I get so mad that I cry and that makes me even more sad, and then I’m mad that I’m crying, so it’s purple or gray. It’s not really a colorful journey—this life. It’s like an old-school comic book, it’s all grayscale with a little blue and a little red.”
What do you know about the process of grieving?
“I don’t. I know that it sucks. I don’t know how to get over it. You can either sweep it under the rug or you can actually deal with it, and I’ve just been sweeping it under the rug. Anything that I’ve ever lost, I’ve been ‘all right, shut that down, shut that down’ and only ever pick up where I left off, which is having it suck basically, whenever someone lifts that rug up for me ‘thanks.’ So, I guess I don’t know much about the process of grieving.”
I’m not particularly sure about the order, but there are five stages of grief. I think you’ve mentioned a few of them, like the deep sadness, the anger, and there’s a stage of blame, transferring that uncomfortable feeling onto someone else, making them responsible for your suffering. There’s also acceptance, which I think is a hard one to come to; we avoid a lot by repressing. As long as we can keep it stuffed down, we don’t have to look at it or accept that it happened. Until we do that, we’re not truly moving on, whether it’s grief or trauma. I had a woman tell me in an interview, and it’s very profound, she said when she started to heal the trauma, the addictions started to go away, and that really stuck with me. I believe that we continue to connect with whatever our substance is, whether it’s our phones, drugs, alcohol, money, or sex, to avoid looking at the wound, but the only way to heal a wound is to treat it with compassion and kindness.
“Not a big band aid?”
No. I know in our culture and in our families, we’re taught to discharge pain, to move away from it, and stuff it down.
“The sun gives you a sunburn, stay away from it kind of thing.”
Yes, but growth, transformation, awareness, wisdom, empathy, joy, and love are all qualities that are developed through leaning into pain and discomfort, not from running away from it. Everything that we long for—that sense of real meaningful connection, fulfillment, sustenance in our life, and purpose—is on the other side of that pain, and there’s no way to skip over it or go around it.
“You got to go through it and deal with it.”
Yeah. It’s shitty. I don’t know what’s worse, spending your lifetime running away from it or feeling shitty for a period of time, then having some relief, and maybe recognizing that you’re resilient, you do have potential, and there is more to life than this grayscale and constant fear of when is the bottom going to drop out.
“I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom a couple of times, like literally scraping my teeth on its surface is where I’ll probably want to stop but, at the same time, I’ve probably hit that part too. It seems like chilling at the mantle.”
Do you have a favorite song lyric, mantra, or something that someone has said to you, maybe even your friend or your parents, that has stuck with you that you’d like to share?
“There are lyrics to a song that says ‘if you talk me out of my needs and stitch me up at the seams then I can live in my dreams’.”
What’s that mean to you?
“It’s kind of sad, if you think about it. If I didn’t have to do the things I have to do, then I’d be happy. If I didn’t have to wake up and get high, I’d probably be okay or if I didn’t require x amount of blah, blah, blah then I’d be cool, things would be okay, and life would be a dream. But, that’s not how it is and I’m living a nightmare. Yeah, talk me out of my needs and stitch me up at the seams, I can live in my dreams.”
Do you think it’s possible to heal?
“Yeah. You just got to rip off that band aid I was telling you about. I don’t know. I feel like, metaphorically, my band aid is waterproof and I don’t want to pull it off because it really hurts, and I don’t want to deal with it, so I slowly pick at it, but eventually I just stick it back on. Yeah, it’s possible to heal; tons of people do it, right?”
Yes. It’s a matter of surrendering. It’s like showing up and saying ‘I don’t know how this is going to turn out.’
“But doing it anyway.”
Yeah. That’s courage, right?
“Yeah. I don’t think I have much of that. Like I said earlier, the fear of the unknown, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it, so I don’t try it.”
What’s worse? It seems like you have more to lose by continuing and knowing that the rest of your life may look like it does right now or there’s a risk that you may feel some discomfort for a while, but there’s a chance that things could get better.
“I don’t know. I should probably stop using, because it’s not helping me. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s hurting me either, but that’s probably the drugs talking.”
Who would be the first person you would call, if you were to make that choice?
“I’d probably call my mom. Yeah, that’s probably who I’d call. I’d probably tell her to come get me. I’ve done it before. I’ve told her ‘I need you to come get me. I need you to fuckin’ stop what you’re doing and come get me’ and she has; she would do it in a heartbeat. The last time I called her and said that was about three years ago. I’m not too sure how or if she would be okay with it or how she would go about it, but I’d call her. I need to call her actually.
“Not only for that, but I miss my family a little bit, a lot. I haven’t seen them. I spent that one Christmas in jail, but the two after that—I didn’t go, the one before that—I didn’t go. I haven’t been home in so long. I haven’t actually seen my mom in a year—that sucks. For a long time, she was my best friend. She was always a shoulder and an ear. It’s been a while, a long time.”
I hope you do make that phone call.
“We Snapchat sometimes, which is kind of weird. We’re actually Snapchat friends, but I haven’t snapchatted her in about six months. I sent her a text about two weeks ago, and that’s about it. I haven’t heard her voice in a long time. I can still remember what she sounds like, which is kind of surprising. Usually whenever I cut things off like that, I completely disconnect from it. I don’t know what they look like. I don’t know what they feel like. I remember her and her voice; it’s weird.”
Do you think she would answer the phone now if you called?
“She’s probably asleep right now, but yeah she might answer. If not, she would text me ‘what?’, but I think she would answer.”
I hope you make that call after this interview. How has it felt to talk about these thoughts, feelings, and experiences with me tonight?
“Surprisingly, not bad. Like I said, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. At the beginning, I thought it was probably going to be annoying, but I didn’t find it that annoying because there was a level of comfort versus judgment. I didn’t feel very judged at all.”
It’s a beautiful thing, you being vulnerable.
“Is that what this is?”
Yeah, and you being met with empathy. It kind of kills shame, which I think feeds addiction.
“Probably, yeah, needing to hide something.”
It’s a heavy weight.
“It will suffocate you. That’s always good.”
It’s lethal; it really is. Do you think it’s possible by sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences so courageously tonight, as you are, that someone on the receiving end gains some hope, inspiration, or at least a sense that they’re not alone?
“I would hope so, because this wasn’t that easy to do. Yeah, I think they probably could if they aren’t stubborn assholes like me, and listen all the way through. Because if I were handed this to listen to, read, or watch, I’d probably stop paying attention halfway through; depending on my state of mind I might say ‘I don’t want to hear that.’ If I actually listened to it or if someone like me listened to it from A to B, they’d probably like it; they’d probably get it.”
Yeah. Thank you.
“Thank you. You’re welcome.”
I’m really proud of you. This was a really courageous thing to do and you skipped right into it.
“I ripped the band aid off that time.”
You did. I hope you’ll continue to do that.
“There’s a bunch of open blisters and sores here—this sounds so weird.”