Addiction, Recovery & Staying Sane in the Pandemic

Holding an alligator in front of an ad for one of my favorite drinks back in the day. I’ll be telling my story of addiction and recovery on Thursday, February 24th at 7pm during my next monthly Any Question online gathering, and doing my best to support anyone in attendance who would like to share wisdom from their own struggles.

Most people probably find recovery through a 12 step group, but the support those groups provide can sometimes be found in other places, too. I didn’t even realize I had many of those resources in place when I hit my bottom, but fortunately I had just enough elements in place to help keep me clean and sober for almost exactly two years now.

I now know how lucky I was since my sobriety coincided with the pandemic. I know I wouldn’t be here now if I had continued drinking in 2020. My support group during that time of transition was the Here & Now Project. Those guys made me feel good. Not only did they show me (without saying it) that things could be worse, but they really supported who I was and how I was feeling.

That group is the prime example of how I keep finding that I’m going through the 12 steps by accident with the support of friends. Just last week, after day 4 of being filmed in the Tacoma Little Theater for my documentary, and finally done telling how I survived my 20s despite alcoholism and addiction to pain meds, a friend there said, “that was a great 5th step.” I looked at him and asked, “Oh, which one is that again?”

My story might be unique in that I didn’t have even one drink or exposure to any illegal drugs until I was 21. On the other hand, I’ve heard that my birth parents were addicts, and I was on countless prescription meds throughout my childhood, including various pain killers.

Alcohol worked like no other pain killer I ever had before because it also numbed the mental pain. I didn’t have a care in the world … until it made things way worse.

When my parents brought me out for a drink on my 21st birthday, it wasn’t really the start of the story. It goes way back, to the predisposition I was probably born with, and the countless hospitalizations and traumatic surgeries I experienced, as well as the heartbreaks and deep depression I fell into during Jr. High School – a story I’ll share in as a blog post and Any Question online gathering topic later this year.

If I told my story as a 5th step, it would probably start on the day I graduated from high school. That was a really hard moment for me. I didn’t want to be there. Most of my classmates already had plans. They were excited about life, celebrating with friends and family, hugging each other, and there I was.

The whole experience made me feel worthless, seeing beautiful classmates in their gowns and looking like they had a ton of support. I had support from my family but it didn’t seem the same. I don’t know, maybe it’s that my grandma had just passed away so it just wasn’t a good time for me all around.

I know I didn’t want to be around people that day, because when people are all happy and celebrating and you’re not, the feeling is overwhelming. It’s sad to watch that. I guess I wasn’t really proud of myself. I got this diploma in my hand, and I didn’t know what the hell for. I went home and put it in a drawer somewhere, and I’ve never fiddled with it since. It had no meaning to me.

Mostly, it’s that I didn’t have any prospects. After my graduation, I just went back home and played x-box. The only thing I liked about graduation was that I didn’t have to go back to high school. I guess me making it through was a big accomplishment, especially since I already felt “done” after jr. high. Friends congratulated me, but then they went on their way and communication ended. As is probably the norm, I ever heard from most of them again.

My parents and me faking being happy at my graduation.

I still struggle with that feeling of loss in comparison to others. Most of the people I thought were friends left, went straight to college, got married, started a family, worked hard, got cars and a house, accomplished all this stuff. And yes, as you might be thinking as you read this, it was especially hard to see all those beautiful women who did that, who I would have loved to do all that with, but who would never give me time of day.

When you lose purpose and meaning in life, that’s the worst feeling in the world. It’s dangerous, and you become careless and numb. You don’ really think about anything but not wanting to be here on this planet anymore. It takes a lot of pain and loss to get into that frame of mind, and once you do, it’s hard to get out .

It took me so long to find myself, to love myself. I couldn’t relate to anyone from graduation day onward, and those feelings set the stage for my drinking years. I liked that all those people who I talked with all the time sitting next to me in class were now succeeding, but knowing they would leave me in the dust was rough.

That’s why discovering bars was good for me, where women and men alike would talk to me again. I was getting invited out, I was cool. But guess what, then I quit that two years ago, so they quit me too, just like after high school. Once again, I wasn’t doing what my peers were doing. I don’t drive, smoke, drink, have money, and all the people I know do. The difference between graduation day and the night I quit drinking is that I’ve started to come to terms with it.

I don’t want to give people the impression that alcohol is all bad, it’s just that some people have a problem with it. Like if you have depression, mixing that with alcohol is bad, which is what I did. Some people don’t have depression – they have a fantastic time, and stay in control of themselves. Alcohol isn’t horrible in and of itself. I know I liked it! Doing it too much is the problem.

So back to my 5th step. It was fun and I was happy at first. But as I became addicted, I turned into a mad, angry, and sad drunk. My mom continued to be my primary caregiver, and unfortunately, she got the brunt of the anger. She would have to come down to the bars to pick me up, and I wouldn’t want to leave to go home to stare at the walls again. I’d be mad and sad, and always get in arguments with my dad, angry with him most of the time.

It got bad, really bad. At times the police would get involved. When the bartender would cut me off, I just wouldn’t want to hear that, so I definitely had some words. That’s what I would do, and of course just like anyone else, if a person gets like that they would have to call the police. They would come, make me go outside, call my mom to pick me up. There were many bad incidents, and bridges burned.

Heading down the boardwalk to a bar in Seaside. Not a good idea.

One of the worst was the time my parents took me to Seaside, Oregon. It was just supposed to be a good get-away. We didn’t realize the room my dad reserved was just a small one with one bed, so I got a fold-up bed. I was thinking to myself “I’m in this tiny room with my parents, no friends, no girlfriend, and everything about life sucks.” I felt horrible.

So I told them I was going to go out to the beach, but I found a bar, drank half the night, came back to the hotel room, and I don’t remember a whole lot, but my mom was really upset not knowing where I was out so late, and of course freaked out. Meanwhile I was really drunk, so she set me off because when a person is drunk, they’re not in control with themselves or their emotions, and I totally flipped out.

I decided to go back out and find another bar, but the bars were closed. My mom found me and dragged me back into the room, and I was cussing her out. The people next door could hear it all, and the police came. I settled down a bit after they came in, and not expecting to see someone like me, the cop was completely speechless. He had no idea that I was physically disabled. That wasn’t what he was expecting, so he took a report and left.

I put my mom through a lot of hell that night, and I’ll never be able to take those moments back, no matter what I do moving forward, even if I did every one of the 12 steps. I can’t re-do that night or any night. In fact, I’m surprised I’m even able to write about it now. My mom is everything to me. The fact that alcohol can turn someone into that, it shows how bad addiction can be.

A huge part of me getting sober was so that I wouldn’t put my mom or anyone else through anything like that again. I came to that realization while being hospitalized for a few days for a kidney infection (no doubt alcohol induced) and I tell that whole story in my documentary (and might again during the online gathering next Thursday if I can hold it together) but let’s just say that when I was finally discharged and went outside, I had never seen the sky so blue, or the grass so green, sober for the first time in years.

Me and Max, the dog who saved me.

If people don’t have the right kind of support from family and friends, we just self-terminate, and that’s what I was doing. I don’t know if people know how close to the edge I was from making a huge mistake, and every time I go down that mental road again, I think about what would happen to my dog Max if something happened.

To this day I still struggle with anxiety, depression, and that alone feeling, but I have Max and he kinda fills that. Like I said at the start of this post, I was lucky to have just enough elements in place to stay clean and sober for a difficult first few days, then weeks, and finally months, until in the second year, being clean and sober was my regular lifestyle.

I guess the key word for me became “want.” I finally wanted something else, and was willing to face the difficult work. If you’re struggling, there’s a lot you have to do. A lot of people go for a few days or a week without a drink or drug, but then I sometimes ask them:

“Have you taken care of the root of the issue during that time, like what made you drink in the first place? Now you’re sober and the process needs to be worked on, and that will require staying away from people who are toxic, and that might even mean you’ve had a friend for years, but that person may be an alcoholic or addict, so and you’ll have to get away from them unless they join you in sobriety.”

I think that’s the hardest part, and another hard part is to self-evaluate (do the 4th step), owning up to mistakes, even facing something that happened 20 years ago you never recovered from, and go immediately into counseling or some kind of treatment plan. If not counseling, finding someone who is mature enough to stay unattached, non-judgemental, and can separate the wheat from the chaff.

It took me a year to get rid of the thoughts of wanting to drink, but as time moved on, things got better and better, but never perfect. You have to fill that pothole of addiction with other things, but it depends how deep that pothole is. If it’s really deep, you might have to get really serious and move to another town, or another state to do recovery work.

But people relapse again and again. I have a lot of friends in recovery – or were and then relapsed – and they post about it all the time, like “man, I hate this and I just want to be clean and stay sober, but I can’t do it.” Because it is hard, and the reason it’s hard is that you’re depressed, full of anxiety, not accepting help, getting defensive, or maybe just aren’t serious about it and don’t really want it more than the drink or drug. It’s even been important for me to steer clear of people who relapse for a while in order to stay sane myself – it’s not helpful to any of us if I don’t do what I need.

Even now it’s not easy to stay away from the bars. People don’t call, don’t want to hang out. It takes a while to find new friends and fill that old pothole. You have to get a whole new set of people and a new environment. For me it started with my dog Max, and video games, movies and TV – the things that got me through all my childhood health crises – the things I like to do. Concentrate on those, find a new hobby or three. I started collecting Funk Pops. I don’t care, become addicted to something less harmful if you have to, something a little more healthy than before.

Needless to say, this blog post is to prepare me for this month’s Any Question online gathering on the topic of addiction, recovery and staying sane in the pandemic. I don’t have a magic wand, so people will have to make their own changes, but what people need to realize is that talking about it is actually therapeutic for the speaker and getting it out there. I hope you’ll join me in sharing your story.

Published by Matt Budzak

My name is Matt Budzak, and I was born in Tacoma WA and raised In Puyallup. I am a Double amputee trying to make a differance

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