By Charlotte Morelli
When Jeff was young he was always getting into trouble, seeking attention so that his father would intervene. Discipline became a mechanism for Jeff to unify his divorced parents. When he was nine years old, he snuck behind the family’s wet bar and became acquainted with a bottle of Schnapps. Jeff remembers twisting off the lid and taking his first sips: “I remember it giving me this warm fuzzy feeling, to the point where all the negative thoughts running through my head about my parents splitting up kind of just disappeared. Right then and there I knew– this is a good feeling.”
Jeff progressed onto marijuana and kept drinking as he entered high school, subduing that pain he felt relief from when he tasted his first sip of Schnapps. He entered a relationship that was long lasting, until it wasn’t. When Jeff and his girlfriend broke up, that same pain cameback. This time, he turned to harder stuff to numb his emotions. “Pills really numbed the pain,”Jeff says. “They made me feel good. I didn’t have to feel bad anymore.” But looking back, Jeff sees his drug use as an attempt at evading humanity. “I was using drugs as an escape, to help me get through all the pain and heartache and misery that a person goes through throughout life. I didn’t like that pain, and I was taking the easy way out,” he says.
Jeff eventually progressed to cocaine, and cocaine progressed to heroin. He joined the military, thinking that doing so would ‘fix’ the problem. Jeff was eventually kicked out of the military as his drug use pressed on. “I couldn’t stop,” Jeff says. “If I stopped, I would feel sick.”
After being with someone for ten years, Jeff got married in his late twenties. “I thought marriage would fix me,” he says. “But it didn’t. It just got worse.” After two years, his wife found out about Jeff’s intravenous heroin usage and left. Jeff admitted himself into an addiction treatment center, hoping his recovery would save his marriage and prompt his wife to comeback. “I didn’t do it for me,” he says. “I did it hoping she would come back to me, and it didn’t happen.” Jeff stayed at the treatment center for one year, and met his second wife nine months later. He decided to start fresh somewhere new. “I moved to Texas, thinking a new place would change me as well,” he says. Jeff immediately went back to substance abuse. “Moving around wasn’t the solution. Getting married wasn’t the solution. Joining the service wasn’t the solution.”Jeff became involved with someone else for eight years, in a relationship he described as being extremely toxic. He managed to hold down a job while maintaining his drug usage, until he realized that the girl he was with was shooting up heroin– so he started doing it again, too. It was August of 2019 and Jeff was laying on the floor of his New Orleans apartment. He took a look around. “I saw the syringes, I saw the dirty dishes, the clothes on the bed. Just a verybad environment,” he says. Jeff spoke out loud when he said, “God, if you can pull me out of this, I’ll never look back.”
Jeff awoke the next day with excruciating neck pain. 911 was called and an ambulance took Jeff to the hospital. After multiple tests including an MRI and CAT scan, doctors concluded Jeff would never walk again. He had a Goliath-sized abscess in his spinal cord. Upon hearing this devastating news, Jeff’s body went into shock. “My hearing went out, and my body was trembling,” he says. “How the hell did I get myself into this situation? This is not supposed to happen to me. You never think that shit can happen to you.”
Jeff’s years of drug use had spurred a bacterial infection under the surface of his skin. The infection subsequently spurred the abscess, which upon discovery required surgery– thus crystallizing the possibility of Jeff never being able to walk again. Jeff awaited anesthesia as theanguish of not being able to use his legs when he woke up washed over him. After the surgery, Jeff apprehensively wiggled his toes with success. He then moved his legs, and realized that he was going to be okay. “I think it was God’s way of pulling me out of it,” Jeff says.
“That was my spiritual experience. That was God doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself,” Jeff says. “You have to believe in something that is bigger than you that can pull you out of this. If you don’t, the chances are slim to none.”
Following his hospital stay Jeff checked himself in at a 28 day facility for treatment.
Following his time at the 28 day facility, Jeff returned to his first addiction treatment center, where he stayed for 5 months, learning the steps of the program. “The drugs are just the symptom, they’re not the problem,” Jeff says. “You take the drugs out of the equation and youstill have all the negative defects inside. I had to overcome that, like a normal person, because a normal person wouldn’t turn to drugs– they’d work through the problem.”
Matthew, a recovering addict who now works at his former treatment center as a technician, concurs that sobriety doesn’t fix your problems– it merely reveals them. “I kind of thought getting sober would make everything better,” Matthew says. “But the thing is that when I got sober, there were all these problems left behind that I never dealt with, that had gotten worse and worse as the years went on.”
Drugs provided Matthew an avenue to social acceptance. “When you’re a child, you really only need your parents,” Matthew says. “Then there’s this shift where suddenly, thethoughts of your peers matter. I didn’t have a peer group, and I couldn’t adjust to that situation.”But suddenly Matthew fit into a group– the group of kids who were using drugs and alcohol.“ Suddenly I had this instant fix to the way I was feeling for not fitting in,” Matthew says about the drugs. “Suddenly, I fit in,” Matthew says in regards to the people doing drugs. “It was sort of a double win,” Matthew says.
Matthew describes the pain he felt from not being able to accept himself. “I wish I would’ve known it was okay to be the way I was. I wish I knew it was okay to be homosexual, for one, but I wish I knew the things I liked were okay. I’m not just talking about sexuality, but also the things I found interesting– I wish I knew it was okay to be a nerd, I wish I knew it was okay to be myself.” Each human faces their own demons– none of us is exempt from that.
These days, Jeff is devoting his time to helping others that are in need of help. “Getting out of yourself, being selfless, that’s the thing,” Jeff says. “I feel recovered, and the obsession isgone. I see the newcomers, and I help the newcomers out.” Jeff works through his daily routine, where he meditates in the morning and prays, thanking God that he has another day to live. Jeff was raised Catholic, but he describes his religious upbringing as “a sheep followinganother:” “It didn’t mean too much to me as a kid. I hated it actually.” He now sees his spirituality as something entirely different. “I believe in God, and I believe that if you have agood heart, are a good person, and help others, that’s the answer to life. You try to do the right thing. If you don’t do the right thing and you mess up, you got to make it right, and you got to doit today.”
Following his recovery, Jeff started working at a thrift store that was connected to atreatment center in Metairie. Newcomers would come in, and he’d try to help them cope with life, because as Jeff says, “You’ve got to get back into the real world and deal with life on life’s terms. It’s difficult for a newcomer because they’re used to not doing that shit. When the going gets tough, they’re used to turning to drugs.”
Jeff made drugs his answer to any and all of life’s questions. “Using drugs and alcohol wasn’t just a thing I did when the going got tough,” Jeff says. “I used any excuse to get loaded. If it’s sunny outside, if it’s raining outside– any excuse to cosign my own bullshit.”
Jeff sees solutions in better treatment facilities, specifically ones that are available to people with low income and no insurance. In addition to changes in accessibility and quality of care, Jeff says education is the key. “If someone is a drug addict, they’re going to be a drugaddict no matter what,” he says. “It’s just a matter of what they’re taught at a young age, about what they need to do about it. They should talk about it in school and at a young age.”
Most importantly, Jeff urges people to seek help from others. “Certain people have to hit that certain point where enough is enough,” he says. “If you’ve got a problem, you’ve got to seek out help. You’re not alone, there’s other people out there, there is hope. You can get better, life can get better without drugs.”