I was being robbed. The man in my house was robbing me. I run into the street, banging on a neighbor’s door. No one answers. Another door. No answer.
Another door, no answer. WHY AREN’T THEY ANSWERING ME? I AM BEING ROBBED!
Finally, the cops came, thank God.
While doing their job clearing and securing my house, they find drug paraphernalia and the drugs. They start by talking to the other man that was in the house and heard his side of the story. They decided to take the both of us to the station to sort everything out. Once we arrived, he went into one room and I went into another. For some reason one of my hands was cuffed to a bench. I was confused over this and DEMANDED an answer.
“WHY are you doing this to ME?”
Little did I realize at the time, they were restraining me because they had been called about a man with a gun. How did the police know to come? The man in the house had called them. Why didn’t he just leave? Because he couldn’t. I had slashed three of his tires so he couldn’t leave.
Why?! Because – I have a Winchester 30-30 rifle in one hand and a bayonet in the other. It is 5:30 on a Sunday morning, and I’m running up down the street with no shirt or shoes on, stark raving mad after having been awake for 4 days high on crystal meth.
I was in that room cuffed to the bench for what seemed like hours, getting increasingly madder and madder and yelling at the cameras in the ceiling. Eventually four cops came into the room. I will never forget the next words out of their mouths:
“Sir, you are being charged with…”
And they started to read a list of eight or nine charges against me. Still, in manic disbelief, I resisted the truth.
“WHAT, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I was the one being robbed!”
After the embarrassment of being fingerprinted, my hands, feet, and waist were fully shackled. Then, the mugshot! With that shameful flash of the camera, I flashed back 15 years…
I am having my picture taken in my Army Class A military uniform. I looked good and felt great in that uniform. I was in top physical condition and at the top of my career. Within a few years, I would retire from the Army as a Sergeant First Class after 20 years of proud service to our country. I had marched in Memorial Day parades and was revered at my local VFW. And now, I am being shuffled into a courtroom for an arraignment, as an emaciated, strung out mess with delusions so fantastic that I believed them.
As I faced the judge, and the charges are being read out loud in a courtroom filled with strangers, I’m crying my eyes out. The court officer begins to read charges of: terroristic threats, possession of weapons with intent, involuntary servitude, false imprisonment, simple assault, criminal mischief, possession of controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
As I listened, the reality of the situation finally starts to register and the denial and disbelief gave way to horror. I was going to jail, and I wanted to die…
I was stripped of my civilian clothes, had the cavity search and a medical exam, then had my intake into the jail done. I was given a suicide suit crudely named, THE TURTLE SUIT which was nothing more than a large piece of padded material with Velcro strips on it, so I didn’t hurt myself. This of course meant I was headed to the psych ward. The handcuffs went back on, and I was assigned a cell. As I was shuffled down the hallway to my cell, the Velcro on the turtle suit wouldn’t stay fastened and was falling off me. Here I am among strangers in a jail watching me stumble half naked down a hallway toward my awaiting cell.
Once the door shut and locked behind me, overwhelming exhaustion and despair set in. The lights were on all day and night 24/7—I was on a suicide watch. I could only muster up enough strength to get up and get my food at the cell door when it came. I felt total despair – how was I ever going to get out of this situation? My life had become so twisted and distorted. The thoughts of my family flashed through my still racing mind. I had burnt every bridge I ever had with them as it stood. Suicide seemed like an answer…but frankly I was so broken and hopeless I couldn’t even manage trying that. Besides, I was being monitored 24/7 by the guards.
I have no idea how long I had been in that cell – was it a few hours…was it a few days, I just didn’t know and I didn’t care… eventually someone banged on my cell door – the ward psychiatrist. He was there to see his newest patient. We briefly talked about my condition and care, then he told me he would be back tomorrow, and we would talk some more. His manner was firm but not ugly, on guard but not combative. In the midst of my despair, I at least felt like I had someone and something to look forward to, his daily visit. As alone as I felt, I had an ally, even though I didn’t feel like talking to him or anyone else. I barely wanted to be around myself.
There were other inmates that were assigned to watch me through the slatted window of the cell door to make sure I didn’t try to hurt myself. After a few days of detoxing, I slowly started to talk to my babysitters as they were called. They started to convey to me what to do to survive in jail. First, be responsive and respectful to the guards on duty. I stayed humble, I was respectful to my babysitters and the guards. Second, act like I was part of life again. The quicker I did so, the quicker I would get regular jail clothes instead of the turtle suit I have been wearing. I would make my bed, clean my cell and stayed alert. The fog started to lift, and before I knew it, I was permitted to be taken off of suicide watch by the psychiatrist which meant I was given regular jail clothes to replace the turtle suit. Definite progress.
As I sobered up, one fearful thought nagged at me – what is going to happen when people in my neighborhood hear what I had done? How was I going to look my friends and neighbors in the eye again without shame?
It was breakfast time the morning after coming off suicide watch, the cell door opened. In stepped a guard. “Do you know who I am?” the CO said. “No,” I replied.
He proceeded to identify himself to me. He was one of the volunteer firefighters who knew me from marching in the Memorial Day parades that I was in. As soon as I placed him, I became horrified at the thought that there was a guard that worked in this god forsaken jail that knew me. He was someone from my neighborhood. That overwhelming feeling of fear and shame just gripped me. There was that possibility that he would be sitting gossiping about me at the very VFW I marched for. But sitting in jail, I could do nothing about it. Little did I know at the time my story had already been covered by the local newspapers. What was done was done. And I had done it.
I was no stranger to the judicial system by any means. I had racked up several DUIs over a 20-year period and knew the system well. The usual sequence for me always went like this: jail, lawyers, money, summons, hearing, rehabs to appease the courts, probation and fines then back on the streets. But, this time it was different. Thanks to the keen eye of the psychiatric staff, a miracle happened when the doctor saw something in me that I had never realized. While trying to interview me about my military history I would become very withdrawn and silent.
After a couple of sessions, he asked me, “Do you know what PTSD is?”
I said, “I’ve heard of the term before but I’m not sure just what it is.”
“I think you have it,” and he started to explain to me what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was. “You don’t need to be in a jail,” he said, “you need psychiatric help for PTSD.”
That diagnosis afforded me a bed at an army medical center. While there at the rehab, I met other vets who had some of the same problems and symptoms I was having. In therapy, I mentioned how the smell of burnt oil or plastic would trigger severe memories of my combat experiences. I would immediately have this overwhelming feeling of fear and want to flee the area. I would isolate at home and drink. Most of the time I just drank to pass out, I didn’t want to dream, I wanted to suppress the nightmares and recurring thoughts of war.
When I went to AA, I could relate to some extent. Alcohol was my first love, but once I ventured into crystal meth use, it took precedence over alcohol. When I found crystal meth, I thought I had found my best friend. The effect of the speed would allow me to stay up for days and bypass sleep and the nightmares, night sweats, and panic attacks. I was hooked. I already knew the consequences of meth use from earlier rehabs but I chose to do it anyway.
I gradually gravitated to CMA because I could relate more to what was being shared there — the things I was hiding from, the paranoia, seeing things and people that weren’t really there — I could relate to all these things. It seemed like CMA dealt more with what was going on in my life. I felt like I had a home.
In CMA, one of the topics we talk a lot about is sex and how much a part of our using that was. In AA they didn’t talk about all the places the drugs took us, and the “I’ll never do that” stuff, lying to friends and doing things I would never do on alcohol because I wanted crystal more than I wanted alcohol. In CMA we go into that in depth.
It wasn’t until I was ready to let go of my pain, that the psychiatrist and I could continue to work through the pain. I had the choice to suppress the information and shortchange myself in the long run; however, his interest and compassion outranked my insanity and insecurities.
After a few months in the Army hospital, I left and truly started my journey in sobriety. I attribute the work I did there and the work I’m doing today, as a key to my sobriety. The worst part of jail was the sitting and waiting – waiting for food, showers, visits from anyone, staff or relatives, waiting for that door to even open to be in the communal area, waiting to even be able to interact with others. But, for me, just that one relationship I made with the psychiatrist was the one my spirit needed to awaken me and truly start to live. I’ve come a long way from living in that shithole in South Philly and eating condiments for breakfast, lunch and dinner because I had spent all my money on drugs.
The best part of jail was the camaraderie among some of the staff and other inmates. I learned that I am not alone – ever. That we need one another. That I can feel a connection to another human being, even under desperate circumstances.
Once I re-entered society, I started going to fellowship meetings at a local community center to continue working on my alcoholism. It was at this community center one day that I noticed another meeting letting out just before our meeting.
“What meeting is that?” I asked a fellow.
“CMA – Crystal Meth Anonymous,” he replied.
I needed to find out more about this meeting. After all, it was crystal meth that landed me in jail and brought me to my knees. Instinctively, I attended the next CMA meeting. At my very first meeting, I knew and felt I was home. For the first time in my life, I could relate to people. I felt safe. So, I made it my home group. After going to several meetings and listening to what people were saying, I found a great sponsor. I found someone I felt comfortable with and I could relate to. I thought I was unique, and nobody was like me or would understand me. But once I found this sponsor, I found out I wasn’t unique and that we all were sent down the same dark path. He could relate to the paranoia, the sex drive and the insanity. This made my recovery easier just to be able to talk about things that I didn’t think I could tell anyone about. Me, this big burly military guy! My sponsor was able to tell me I wasn’t as unique as I thought I was. He pulled things out of me I thought I couldn’t express to anyone before, the things I was too ashamed to tell anyone.
So, after getting a sponsor, I got right to work on the Twelve Steps and into service. I try to help others who still suffer from crystal meth. I have sponsees that I’m taking through the Steps. I find that to be the most rewarding part of my sobriety. Today, I live one day at a time and stay in service, helping the newcomer who is struggling. I try to take as many commitments as I can. I started off by doing service at my home group, and then at the VA hospital. I took some commitments, told my story for H&I, and then branched out into other roles, like H&I chair and serving as Delegate for our Area.
I have also been able to create a network of places to send people: sober houses, halfway houses, etc. I gathered a network of recovery friends. My recovery network helps so I didn’t need people, places and things from my past. A lot of young people are getting out of rehab and are afraid to talk about it. I can tell my story and make them feel like they’re among friends that understand. I still stay plugged in with the vets and the VA hospital. I still feel like I have a lot of work to do. I’m not going to walk around like I know everything, because I don’t. I don’t want to ever think that I “have this” because I don’t. I’m just one drink or drug away from losing everything: my recovery, my family and my dreams.
It’s been over four and a half years since that horrible morning. Today I look back at that life I had been existing in, not living in. No more!! Today, I live…one day at a time.