It had been an amazing day. I had stepped on stage in San Francisco and spoken to a thousand people. I made them laugh, I told them great things. I hung out all day with my coworkers, both old and new. We settled the affair with a great party.
I caught an Uber back to the hotel. I'll not tell lies, I was quite intoxicated.
As I stepped out of the Uber, I heard a small voice ask me for a dollar. I walked three steps, shrugged my shoulders and pulled out the $4 I had in my pocket. I turned around, walked back to her, and suddenly reality came unglued.
I stared into this young girls eyes and all I saw was pain buried in the back of a hoody. She was so small, so frail, so skinny. Her eyes were huge and they ate my soul. I placed my hand on her shoulder and handed her my $4.
"I hope it gets better." I told her.
"It just hurts too much today."
And, suddenly, I was looking at my sister. Same face, same eyes, same frailness.
I turned away and went into the hotel. But as I rode the elevator up to my floor the walls that I have built over the last few years began to crumble. I was crying before I reached my room. When I got inside, I was sobbing. Some dam had burst and all of the pain and worry and fear came exploding out in a violent torrent.
All I could see was my sister.
I bawled for a couple minutes then rushed out. I must have looked like a madman. The elevator couldn't go fast enough. I ran through the lobby and nearly ripped the door off the hinge.
"Oh my Lord, I can feed her, I can do something, please let me do something!" was the prayer screaming in my head.
But, she was gone. I could help her no more. I sent her on her way with a paltry $4. $4 to hold away the pain that ravaged her, to defend her from whatever demon was destroying her.
I am the oldest of 5. Addiction has claimed 3 of us, including me. I come from a family of addicts: grandfathers; cousins; brothers; sisters; we are riddled with addiction.
Our demons take many forms. Mine was amphetamines. At one point in my life, my whole world revolved around taking more and more adderral. I took doses that would kill most people and I raged for days like a madman.
I almost lost everything. My wife and my brand new son left me alone in a cave of an apartment to reassemble my life and my sanity. The walls dripped misery and hate as I battled myself and my body. It was the most horrible 9 months of my life.
I still cringe in fear thinking about that time.
My wife would later describe it like this: "When you had pills, you were so wonderful, you were the man I married. And then you'd run out and you'd be horrible." She dealt with me like that for years. She is a saint for not abandoning me and I honestly don't deserve her. What I put her through...
But, I escaped. Somehow, largely by the grace of God and by the fact that my wife refused to let me die but knew that she couldn't stick around, I made it. I beat the odds on a cold-turkey, but it hurt.
It took my body two years to recover. After years of abusing a stimulant, my body had no idea how to stay awake naturally. It was almost like having narcolepsy. I was always in a constant state of falling asleep. It was brutal.
But, I made it. I escaped.
I never set out to be an addict. If you want to know the truth, I'm better than that, right? All these family problems don't pertain to me because I'm OK.
Then, as I was in senior year of high school, they labeled me as ADHD. I started taking ritalin in college and it made such an amazing difference. I actually had a legitimate need for it.
I eventually swapped to adderall. Ritalin made me a bit mean, but with adderall, everything was great. I did really well in college (except o-chem...) and went on to grad school for computer science.
I was on a moderate dose, nothing major. But school was tough. I remember the day I took two. I was in a Barnes & Nobles studying and on a whim took two. That day, I discovered how good it could feel to take two.
As grad school progressed, I'd be in the computer lab into the wee hours of the night, popping adderall and coding away. It was perhaps one of happiest times of my life. Or, so I thought.
But it was OK, cause it was for a good cause and I was being super productive.
It took a while, but it eventually got out of control. The wheels started to come off the bus. I started running out sooner and sooner. By this time, I was out of school and looking for a job. I finally found one, along with a new doctor, and that doctor was more than happy to prescribe me more. And more. And more.
"I just don't feel like it's effective enough, can we up my dose?"
My mouth would water as I walked into the Walgreens just down the road from her office. The anticipation was incredible. The shame made me walk with my eyes lowered. These people knew me, they knew I had a problem. But the doctor said it was cool, so here we go again.
I walked into one of those pharmacies recently to have something else filled and one of the techs behind the counter remembered me. It had been nearly a decade. She smiled at me and called me by name. I asked her if she remembered me or if she was just looking at my script.
"Oh, no, I remember you." There was a sad shadow in her eyes. "But it seems like it's a better time now."
Addiction is a terrible disease. And make no mistake, it is a disease. People don't choose to be addicts. They just find there way there. It's like ambling through the dark and falling off a cliff by accident.
Can these people make better choices? Sure. But most folks don't realize the danger until the demon has sunk its claws deep.
Once the demon has you, nothing else matters. Only the demon holds your regard. It is all you think about, all you want, all you need. It consumes you whole.
That poor, sweet girl, she was fighting. She was fighting as hard as she could. I could see it in her eyes and it echoed in my soul. I remember that battle, I walked that battle for a long, long time. As I handed her money she was closer, maybe there, and she hated it. She didn't want to do what she was trying to do.
But she was going to do it.
"It just hurts too much today."
How do you fight yourself? How do you deny your body and your mind?
The greatest enemy is the self.