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Opening the Gates

“Just Stop!”   That phrase had replaced more common conversational dialogue between people like “Good morning”,  “ What’s for lunch?” or the one I missed most, “I love you”.   I had become a numb to the repeated cries to “Just Stop!”  I knew I was getting worse; I didn’t need to hear about my progress regarding my self-destructive behaviors.  I knew I was a piece of shit, I didn’t need to be reminded every time I talked to my loved ones of how much potential I once had.  I knew that people had grown tired of me and had accepted the fact that I would soon be dead.  In fact, I believed that more times than not and even wished that on some occasions.  What I expected was to be treated like this from people who didn’t know me, but what I was surprised at was that those closest to me often judged me the harshest.  I get it, I really do.  I knew my friends and family were driven by fear of the worst possible outcome and stood to loose the most.  Call it the “tough love” approach if you must.  Regardless, my addiction had consumed not only me but also all the people around me.  Those that were lucky to be on the outer most concentric circle of my life were able to disappear into the unknown never to be seen or heard of again.  Those that remained close to me suffered the consequences by proxy and were anchored into a deep, dark, and helpless abyss filled with sadness and despair.  They, however, knew the way back to sanity for the never left it.  I was completely trapped and did not know if I would survive my addiction, or if I even wanted to. 


Although I had a great childhood and upbringing, my parents blamed themselves for something they did or did not do.  There was never a specific point of accountability but rather a pessimistic and looming thought they must have done something wrong.  I was able to pick up on their empathetic parental instincts and early on used that to my advantage.  It would always get me bailed out of a tough spot; provide me with an alibi, or the financial means to quench my ever-needy opiate receptors.   I soon realized the trend that the people closest to me would often enable me to keep getting away with things that I wanted to do, despite the caustic effects it was creating in my life.  Despite that, I used everyone around me to meet my addiction latent agenda because of no other reason than I could….. and it was easy. 


The thing about addicts is that we know we are addicted.   It usually starts off simple enough like social drinking or recreational drug use.  Sometimes it’s just a little pot on the weekends, sometimes its one of these to sleep better, one of those for this unrelenting back pain, and another prescription from my doctor because I really need it.  I was a little mix of all the above.  Through the cacophony of my all-consuming “extracurricular activities”, I graduated top ten in high school, 4 years of the college dean’s list, and successfully defended my dissertation to cap off graduate school.  While I would like to accept full credit for my academic accomplishments, it was really due to a well orchestrated and self-administered pharmacologic balancing act that would even make the best alchemist envious.   Sleep, wake, energy, relaxation, recreation, anxiety, confidence, depression, and self-esteem all controlled by exogenous chemicals.  What I failed to realize was that I had physically and mentally deteriorated to a state were acquaintances were leaving, friends were worried, and my family was crying.  By social standards, I was a success therefore believed I had things under control. 


To prove my family wrong, I would stop immediately and without trouble.  After years of using pills, I stopped completely.  That lasted no more than 8 hours.   I was immediately flooded with nausea, anxiety, fear, restlessness, and general discomfort.   I would sneak off to “pop a few pills” to stop the symptoms while simultaneously proclaiming to my family “See, I told you so”.  Their response was “Just Stop!”   I was out of control and now preferred to be alone.  When my family saw me, all they could say was “Please, Just Stop”.  I was working just to support my habit and gladly bartered suitable living conditions for my next fix.  When my dad found me sleeping in my car he looked at me with tear filled eyes and said, “ Just stop”. This went on for months and months.  After I was let go from my job, I quickly turned to the streets for a quicker and more affordable alternative.  I lost it all, my health, my friends, my financial security, all meaningful relationships, time, and most importantly, my will to survive.  I was incredibly shame filled.  You know the difference between shame and guilt?  Guilt means you feel bad because you did something bad and shame means you are a bad person because you did something bad.   In my mind, I was a bad person, a very, very bad person and didn’t deserve to be treated otherwise.  I was being told how bad I was for years and I found out that there was a pill for that too. 


I found my way into a treatment center because I literally had no other option.  I was living in my personal hell every day and everything I touched burned to the ground.  I needed to get help.  Ill never forget when the treatment center asked why I was there.  I said, “I have hit rock bottom”.  Without missing a beat, my counselor said, “While you are face first at your rock bottom, look around for the trap door, you can still go lower”.  That made all the difference to me at the time. 


I was asked to write this and share my experience and any advice I have.  I want to tell everyone that being an addict or an alcoholic is not fun.  It is a living hell.  We know we need help but if “Just Stop” was the answer, we would all do it.  It just doesn’t work like that.  I would encourage you to get help for yourselves before you try to help your loved one.  Make sure that YOU understand addiction and what to do to take care of yourself first and the addict only after that.  If you are struggling now, just know that you are not a bad person, you just got off track somewhere and need a hand up.  On March 23, 2017 I will celebrate 8 years of sobriety.  I am grateful, healthy, back on track, and did I say grateful?  Ill leave you with this final thought, being in recovery and living a healthy life does NOT open the gates of heaven to let you in, it opens the gates of HELL and let’s you out.  


Curtis L.

D.O.S. March 23, 2009


Opening the Gates is a story in the Perspective Series, presented by Parkdale Center.  Every story is a self-told personal account of someone struggling with, recovering from, or affected by addiction/alcoholism.  For more information on how to receive help or assist someone currently struggling, please visit  or call 1-888-883-8433