This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Dea Bala started meeting people via a Craigslist ad in 2014 and has been documenting their lives ever since. By listening to their stories — anonymously and for free — she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. In sharing them with you, she wants to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. To share your story with Helena, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read prior Confessions here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
“I was born an alcoholic — it just took a while to find the alcohol.”
Alcoholism is a disease and it’s passed on from parent to child. I was born with the gene because there are drinkers on both sides of the family. I firmly believe this: I was born an alcoholic — it just took a while to find the alcohol.
I was eight or nine when I had my first drink during one of my parents’ parties. Everyone around me was drinking and I just wanted to know what it was all about. I started drinking on a regular basis — once or twice a week — when I was 13. I started dabbling in drugs at 14. I was a full-fledged alcoholic and addict at 15.
My father retired from the Army and things went downhill quick. My parents split and my mom and sister moved out. My mom was the disciplinarian. I stayed with my dad. He was working all the time so there was very little adult supervision. I remember one night — we were sitting in the living room, watching TV. My dad was smoking and I don’t know what got into me but I just reached for his packet and lit one up. And he kind of just looked at me, sized me up. And he nodded at me and went back to watching TV. From then on, I started smoking on a regular basis. Hell, my dad was buying me the smokes. I guess he didn’t think it was a big deal.
When I was around 18, I realized I was dealing with more than just addiction. I was dealing with depression, which is still something I’m working out. I’d always had small “occurrences” when I just didn’t feel right. But that turned into spending days in bed, sleeping 20 hours a day, not eating, isolating, not working. I felt useless and worthless and extremely sad — like, what’s the point? I’ve had suicidal thoughts. This past spring is the closest I’ve ever gotten. I don’t own firearms for that reason: because I know that’s how I’d go. I get down and if there was a gun at hand, I’d want to try something.
I went to Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time around the same time, at 18, but it wasn’t until I turned 32 when I really started working the program with a little success. In the meantime, I managed to get married and have kids while being a full-fledged addict. At Christmastime in 1999 or 2000, my oldest must have been 4 or 5. I had been drinking and smoking crack and I was passed out at the foot of her bed and she was cuddled up against me. I’d gone in there to tell her how worthless her mother — my now ex-wife — was. My wife usually took all the shit I’d dish out to her, physical and psychological. But that night she hit me and called the cops. And that was the beginning of a steep decline.
My favorite drug was cocaine. It was incredibly destructive: it took me less than one year to go from paying the bills to homelessness. I did crack cocaine too; that’s the worst one. I tried PCP, which can make you violent, especially if you’re on it for a long time. I used to love dippers. You’d get some “juice” — a vial of liquid PCP that usually came in a vanilla extract bottle — and a cigarette, preferably non-menthol. You’d take the filter out of the cigarette and replace it with a bit of cardboard, and then dip the tip of it in the juice. You give it a couple of drags to make sure the liquid soaks through the tobacco, and then you let it dry out. Once it’s dry, you light it up off of the tip of another cigarette so that it doesn't blow up. And then you’re good for a while — my friend and I once drove all night, over 800 miles, going nowhere.
Man, I think of these days and I feel like they’re far enough of a memory to feel surreal, but still close enough where I can taste the appeal of the drugs. Anyways, these days, I do the best I can. I’m ambivalent about other people. I hate them but I also know I want to be a part of them. I work now, so that helps. I started volunteering at a drop-in center and then eventually they hired me full time. It’s a clean, state-funded, safe space that promotes recovery in a state where the addiction rate is over 25 percent. It’s wild. People in these parts are into what’s called “Hillbilly Heroin” — they crush up and melt oxycontin and shoot it up. Seeing what it does to others is enough, most days, to keep me clean. Other days, I have to try a little bit harder.