Victim to drug addiction gives hope

Wendy Ballard

I never thought I’d end up a drug addict. For years I kept my job, my friends, and was a part of my family. For over a decade, no one knew. I had it all under control.

It started out as part of dieting and exercise. There were doctors in Los Angeles I could go to and obtain prescriptions for anything I could look up in the library Physicians Desk Reference.

Soon the doctor bills kept going up. The trip to L.A. was less fun, more work, and it occurred to me I could economize. I could save money and skip over all those pesky doctor visits and the search for a pharmacy that would fill those triplicate prescriptions. I could buy locally.

I had to economize, mostly because the drugs ate up over 20 percent of my income. They were no longer occasional performance enhancers. They had become my primary coping mechanism, and the only way I could function was to be sure I had either meth or a three day weekend to recover. Then I needed to allow myself a week to recover. Eventually, drugs became everything to me. They governed when I got up, where I went, who I saw and what I did. Once the supply of drugs and the means to get them became over 50 percent of my income, I found myself homeless.

That is the real trap of chemical romances. Drugs start out as a fun short cut to joy, stamina, exhilaration and confidence. Then they become a way to feel good. Not great, but good, and better than anything else I had going on. Better, and especially easier. Taking drugs was easier than dealing with my feelings or actually succeeding at anything. Then after a while you take them just to feel OK and frighteningly quickly, you take them just to feel not quite so awful. That’s the bottom of the pit, and it’s hard to find a way out.

It took years of being arrested, fined and incarcerated for me to face my addiction. It took more than one round of rehab and years of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings assigned by the courts for me to even begin to consider a life without drugs and alcohol. I would get off the stuff for a year at a time, only to be sucked back in by that promise of an easier, softer way.

After seven or eight years of sleeping every four or five days, my addiction was obvious, and my mental faculties began to fray. I messed up the computer system of a really big company, and lost my job because I’d been fooling around with the system after hours, high as a kite. I had begun to spiral down toward the drain.

Eventually, I managed to get myself sentenced to 11 months at Orange County Jail. I had been taking hormones for endometriosis, a painful and embarrassing medical condition. The doctors in jail refused to allow me to continue my medication, and my condition worsened to the point of requiring a total abdominal hysterectomy.

After I got out of jail, I got it together for a while. Eventually I found a place to live and got a job. But the guys at work were all meth heads. After a year or so, I started using regularly again, and in a terribly short time I was back to using as much as before.

I hit my bottom when, after being arrested while driving around with a pipe and bag of dope on the seat next to me, I woke up in OCJ and realized that I was behind bars yet again, and would lose everything I had so painfully regained: my little rented room, my job and my cat. My father and my sister would yet again need to send me money for soap and toothpaste. I had jacked up my life.

Then I had that moment of clarity that I had heard about in all those AA meetings. I saw that the mess of my life was due to my choice to use drugs instead of slugging it out with life on life’s terms. I had to admit my life was out of control. I knew that AA and NA were not enough by themselves, at least not for me. I realized that, eventually, it would always come down to just me and a choice. I had to learn a new way of being, living and making choices.

It has been said that God looks after fools, drunks and Irishmen. I would insist that drug addicts be added to the list. I was an atheist at the beginning of my journey back to a real life, and it took the constant intervention of the higher power in my life for me to notice the coincidences that kept showing up were not coincidental at all.

Thanks to California’s enlightened legislation, I was sent to the Proposition 36 intervention program. As a result, I was instructed by a series of teachers, each with some insight or technique that helped me with the process of healing. For me, this was not just a physical healing. I needed to heal emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I began to participate in my recovery and started to embrace my instructions instead of resisting them. I shut up and showed up. I didn’t pick up so I wouldn’t use. I gave up my drug buddies, my dumpster diving and other old behavior. I practiced thinking new thoughts, thinking in new ways. I dealt with the pain, examined my history and reclaimed my future. I changed.

One of the counselors was particularly impressive. I grew to want what she had: a life that made a difference. She saw something in me, and convinced me of my own potential. At one point in a group meeting, she jokingly suggested that I could run the session on my own. It was a comment that stuck with me. She had planted a seed.

Because of Prop. 36 I did not lose my home or my cat and I found other jobs. After I graduated from the program, I stayed clear of meth, but still had some struggles with alcohol and marijuana. I was unsatisfied with work. I knew I had the speaking abilities to succeed in AA, but I lacked an essential harmony with the program that kept me from giving myself to it absolutely.

AA and NA are awesome programs, effective and dynamic, that offer an enormous number of people a place in a united community, and adept at working to change lives for the better. I have huge respect for these programs, and could not have attained my recovery without their help, but some how it just wasn’t the right fit.

So I drifted for a while and started contemplating just what it was I wanted from life. Who did I want to become? How could I attain my goals?

Even in recovery, disasters still struck. I lost my job, which I had begun to enjoy and hoped to build a future in. I was a 50-year-old former felon, hard to employ at the best of times, and the job market was down. I was looking at a fast food chain and minimum wage paychecks when I got a notice saying I qualified for unemployment compensation. All at once I got the idea to return to college and finally get my Associates Degree.

I went to the library and looked up Saddleback College. I made an appointment with Peggy Dakin, head of the Human Services department, who outlined what courses I needed for an Alcohol and Drug Studies certificate. I filled out my FAFSA and applied for financial aid. I love my life today. It is fulfilling and interesting. I am pursuing to be a counselor to work with people struggling with alcohol and drug problems. I am an intern at a facility working with Prop. 36 clients. I am, and will be, a part of trend away from incarceration and toward treatment. I am creating an amazing future where I will be able to put my skills and talents toward a cause I believe in.

Goethe said there is a power in beginnings. I was gifted by a portion of that power in my return to college, and although it has meant giving up a lot materially in order to excel in school, I know it was the right decision for me. I have made almost straight A’s this time around, and enjoy everything about school. I have made new friends and am inspired by my instructors.

Over and over, help has appeared as if by magic, exactly when I needed it most. From the loan from a professor for a textbook I could not afford, to free copies the Career Center allowed me to make when I could not afford to pay. I have been repeatedly blessed. I have been able to re-form all my obstacles into challenges, and find useful lessons in even the deepest discouragement. I have shared the lesson that Thomas Edison taught a saucy young newspaper reporter who asked him to describe the process of inventing the light bulb. Edison admitted that he had tried over a thousand different substances in order to find a durable filament that was sufficiently incandescent.

“Wow!” breathed the young reporter. “What did it feel like, to fail a thousand times?”

Edison drew himself up to his full height and frowned down at the reporter. “Young man, I did not fail once. I am Thomas Edison, and I invented the light bulb. It merely turned out to be a thousand step process.”

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