The intense pain first hit just before I opened my eyes and realized that I was in the ICU. I had no idea where I was or how I got there, let alone what brought me there. I looked around the room, completely dazed and thoroughly confused when a nurse walked in. I don’t think I have ever seen a nastier look on anyone’s face; it was filled with disdain and outright hatred. She finally spoke. “You piece of shit. You deserve to rot in jail.” I had no idea why she said that, but I knew deep down that my cocaine addiction was to blame.
Apparently, I had fallen asleep at the wheel of my car, going 65 mph, and slammed head-on into a wall. I could have killed myself of course, but the nurse’s reaction was because I could have killed others. As the toxicology test had confirmed, I was loaded with cocaine and another narcotic, and clearly a drug addict. Unbelievably, my injuries, while severe, were not life-threatening and even though they had to cut me out of the car, I basically walked away from the accident.
When I went to the state-run tow yard to collect personal items from my trunk, the guy on duty said, “sorry for your loss.” He did not believe that anyone could have walked away from the accident given the state that the car was in. Once he found out that I was the driver, he refused to let me see the car – he retrieved my things and I left, looking pale as a ghost. On my way out, I called my dealer to let him know I was on the way to score more cocaine.
It was 1998. The accident occurred following a failed marriage where my addiction had even caused me to miss our engagement party. My stint at rehab didn’t work; in fact, I came out with the name and telephone number of a new dealer. My wife of one year left me without a backward glance. It was devastating.
My level of addiction was so abysmal that neither a disastrous marriage nor a horrific, life-threatening accident could deter me. Cocaine had infiltrated my life, my brain, and my consciousness, completely eradicating any sense of right and wrong. Cocaine eliminated the knot I had had in my stomach since the age of nine when my father died and my mother, devastated by his loss, lost her ability to be the loving parent she had always been. My younger brother went off the deep end, wreaking havoc on the house, my mother, and our entire lives. Alone, lonely and confused, I did everything I could to survive, but the knot remained.
Somehow during the early years, I developed a mantra, “I can do this.” This simple four-word sentence took me through a terrible childhood, a baseball career where I played professionally in the Dominican Republic, a successful harness racing career and a prosperous sales vocation in a variety of industries. As an athlete, drugs were off limits; in fact, I didn’t even understand why anyone would use an artificial substance particularly when it could kill you. But after several failed relationships, work-related challenges and shocking revelations about family matters, a friend’s introduction to cocaine eliminated my knot completely and sent me spiraling downward into a 24-year affair with the white powder – and a total loss of myself.
My “I can do this mantra” somehow enabled me to support myself and my cocaine habit, fostered a further addiction to women and sex and even enabled me to marry again and start a family. I had momentary lapses in cocaine use, but not enough to sustain a healthy relationship or be a good father to my two daughters. I didn’t really know what a healthy relationship was; I knew that I loved my wife and my girls but I didn’t know how to share my fears or how to communicate any of my feelings whatsoever. This led to a lack of empathy and with the insidious disease of cocaine addiction driving my actions; my life was a disaster waiting to happen.
After five years of marriage, my wife filed for divorce and petitioned the court for an order of protection. It should have been shattering to be told that you can no longer see your children and while it hurt immeasurably, the addiction had control. The court ruled against me and ordered that I must be tested weekly with negative results for six months straight before the order could be lifted. I really tried. I made it to three months before relapsing.
After I destroyed a friend’s apartment during drug-induced hysteria, I happened to hear a message left by my therapist. She said, “Alan, Please call. You are going to die.” Somehow, I “heard” it. I was as low as I could be; barred from my seeing my daughters, without a wife, without a home, fired from my job; no one to care. I dug down as deep as I could and found my mantra; “I can do this.”
Some call this hitting bottom. I call it a miracle. Focusing on my daughters and realizing that I didn’t want to leave them without a father, like mine had done to me, I rejoined the Program, got a sponsor and went to as many meetings as I could every day. I said to myself over and over, “I am strong, I got this, and nothing will stop me.” Every time I thought about going to buy I called my sponsor. Every time I felt even the least bit of weakness begin to creep in I went to a meeting. I called and spoke to my girls every day and the sound of their sweet voices spurred me on. I didn’t want to die and I knew that was exactly what would happen if I kept going. I had finally lost everything, realized I was in dire need of help and accepted it.
The word that comes to mind is Perseverance. I’ve always had it, but it was misdirected. I was now using it to overcome my addiction. Every day was a new day. I didn’t focus on the long-term (that would have been too overwhelming); I just focused on one day at a time. And I allowed myself to feel good about making it through each day not using. One day, I woke up and a year had gone by. I was astounded and emboldened to keep going.
When I look back at how my life unfolded, the loss of my father, the downfall of my mother and brother, my own self–image hidden behind a mask, I realize that although my mother “checked out” of my life when my father died, in my earlier years she had given me an incredible amount of love, a genuine feeling of being proud of who I was and who I might become, and the feeling that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. She may have had her limitations in dealing with my father’s death, but she had already made her mark. Today I am proud to say that I am ten years sober and have a wonderful relationship with my daughters. I have started a speaking career on the perils of addiction, focusing on high school and college students, and am embarking on a proactive program for college athletic departments to identify, treat and prevent drug addiction from taking our young people’s lives. Giving back is my constant reminder of how lucky I am and how wonderful life can be when you are sober, healthy and happy.