Battle With Addiction (Part 1), “Breaking Free: Joe’s Story”

I first met Joe about 7 years ago when he joined one of our Biggest Loser groups. He’d put on a significant amount of weight and wanted to take it off. He got into running, and worked hard enough to win that Biggest Loser, losing over 40 lbs in 12 weeks. In a year or so, he lost about 100 lbs.

At the time, I didn’t know Joe had struggled with dependence on drugs. Or that he’d been instrumental in getting a local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous (NA) going at the Human Resource Center (HRC). He has decided he needed to tell his story.

TD: How did you first get started using, and how old were you?
JOE: I first started when I was 10. I found a half empty bottle of vodka in a car, and drank a couple of shots from it. It gave me quite a buzz and I wanted to do that again. 

TD: So you kept drinking? How?
JOE: Yes, I just found half empty bottles and glasses that were sitting around. 

TD: Do you think people would be shocked to learn that you were only 10?
JOE: Well, to the average person, that might be a shock, but when I got into rehab, I learned this was pretty normal. I thought I was unique that I started at 10, but it was common. A lot of kids had even gotten started on drugs at that age. 

TD: You were what, in fourth grade?
JOE: Fourth or fifth. 

TD: When did you first start using drugs?
JOE: I was 12 when I first used pot, but it didn’t really appeal to me. 

TD: How did that come about?
JOE: A friend of mine had some pot he got from his brother. We just decided to go over to their house and do it.

TD: What about the hard stuff?
JOE: I was 18 and had just started in the service. They had some cocaine and I tried it. Then about a month later I did some LSD. Then I was 20, and one weekend, they had some crystal meth and I just did it. 

TD: How did it make you feel?
JOE: I had a sense of euphoria; was totally alert. I was able to stay up and drink all night and then go to work the next day with no problems. 

TD: How is it that people didn’t know?
JOE: It’s a myth that you lose weight right away, or your teeth. You can keep yourself clean. I was heavier; I made sure I ate. 

TD: So you kept on using. When did it start falling apart?
JOE: Yeah, I lost a marriage, lost a house, lost vehicles to pay for it. For awhile I drove a truck and had my own moving business, but I finally gave that up. I had a good job where I worked my way up and was about to become an assistant supervisor. One day, I went home for lunch, did some meth and just never went back. 

TD: How could you do that, throw it all away, knowing you were about to be promoted?
JOE: I just thought about it, and said, “You know what? I’d rather just stay here and get high.”

TD: So it got worse?
JOE: Yeah, my other main drug of choice was LSD. I kept drinking and using. But I always kept working. I had a strong work ethic and that helped keep me going. 

TD: It got bad. 
JOE: I had my first DUI in my 20’s and was up at the V. A. for 3 weeks. It’s God’s grace that I’m still here and can even think straight… Making it home and not knowing how I got there… One time I pointed a gun at my head, pulled the trigger, and we just heard a click, and looked at each other. The bullet just didn’t go off… That DUI, I missed the turn, and if it hadn’t been for a pole in the way, I’d of slammed into a house. They found me on the dashboard and thought I was dead. 

TD: But you got help. 
JOE: Yes, in my 30’s I checked myself into “Our House” in Charleston. I felt I’d had enough. I was clean and sober for a year after that. 

TD: What happened then?
JOE: I was helping a friend move and he had a dresser. One of the drawers just kind of slid open while we were moving it, and there was a square right there. We just looked at each other, and he said “I’m sorry man.” I said “I’m not, let’s put this down” so we did and that was it. 

TD: How did you finally get off it?
JOE: I just knew I needed to get away from it. There was some new stuff here that was pretty amazing. A combination of LSD and Meth. I just knew it would kill me if I did it. If I’d have done it in my heyday, I’d of killed myself for sure. 

TD: It was here in Paris?
JOE: Oh yeah.

TD: So you’ve been drug free how long?
JOE: 10 years. 

TD: What finally happened?
JOE: I wrote a goodbye letter to drugs. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I cried like a baby. But I knew I had to say goodbye to it. 

TD: But you still had a problem with alcohol. 
JOE: Yes. I’ve been sober now for 3 1/2 years. 

TD: What led to that?
JOE: Up until four years ago when I got my last DUI, I’d always gotten away with it. I was never really treated as a criminal; just got a slap on the hand. 

TD: This time it was different. 
JOE: I was arrested in my driveway in front of my son. Handcuffed, did a two hour stint in the county jail. My daughter gave me tough love and moved out. I finally said to myself, “Man, what are you doing?”

TD: What happened then?
JOE: I was pretty depressed for about four months. My girlfriend had left me. My daughter had left. I just went to work and came home and sat on my recliner for hours. Just sat there. I even got to where I’d timed the train schedules…

TD: And then?
JOE: Finally, it’s like God spoke to me and said, “Joe, stop being a wuss!” I realized it was just a DIU. I could deal with it. I went to HRC; started talking. I went to the outpatient meetings.

TD: What was different this time?
JOE: I was ready. Looking back, when I went to Our House it was for my mind. When I did Biggest Loser, losing 100 lbs, it got my body in shape. When I went to church as a teenager it got my soul in shape. But I never had worked on all three at the same time. This time I had the perfect balance: a son who stuck by me and a daughter who gave me tough love. 

TD: What do people need to know about addiction? 
JOE: You can love someone, you can beg and plead all you want, but until they’re ready to make the changes, it’s not going to happen.

TD: So what can we do?
JOE: All you can do is show them you care, show them you love ’em, but do NOT enable them. They’ll just use you. They’ll do anything and say anything. They’ll go anywhere to get it. Distance means nothing. Legality means nothing to someone that needs a fix.

TD: What’s it like needing something that bad?
JOE: How do you feel when you have to drink a gallon of Mt. Dew? Or just can’t stop smoking? Or sex. The legality issues aside. You get headaches, nauseous, just can’t take it. That’s how we feel. 

TD: Addiction’s addiction, whatever your method. Drugs, sex, working out, food…
JOE: That’s right.

Next week, we’ll hear from a couple people who’ve been successful in getting off drugs. Then we’ll talk with some families who haven’t been so lucky. we’ll hear from the survivors. 

By Tom Dolan

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