How Addiction Has Shaped My Life



Simply put: If you judge addicts you either A) don’t understand the first thing about addiction or B) you’re lying to yourself.

Have you ever found yourself binge eating an entire family size bag of Doritos because you’re stressed? That’s addiction. You lost control of yourself.

Have you ever spent an entire sunny Saturday binge watching a Netflix series? That’s addiction. You lost control of yourself.

Have you ever found yourself hitting refresh on Facebook or Reddit over and over again waiting for something new to popup? That’s addiction. You lost control of yourself.

Last week I missed a meeting. It was a meeting I was looking forward to and the person drove from Cleveland to Akron to come see me. It was a cold day and I was working on getting propane tanks for heaters to people sleeping outside that night. I lost track of time.

I was mortified. I have very little understanding and compassion for myself when I make mistakes.

Every nerve in my body was electrified in shame. My head was screaming at how stupid I was for letting this get away from me. I have had to become highly disciplined in order to function in society. I don’t forgive myself easily for slipping up.

I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in 15 years. But all I could think about was how much I wanted to get totally blottoed after this screw up.

I loved to drink to oblivion. It was like a temporary suicide. I could leave everything behind for about 12 hours. Nothing mattered. I never wanted to be comfortably numb. I wanted to be in a coma.

I do everything in excess.

When I took up running I ran marathons. When I got into movies I built a theater. When I got into homelessness we built a village.

I’ve learned that my addictive personality is never going away. I just have to always redirect it to something more socially acceptable.

That day I missed that meeting all I could do was sit in my pain and self hatred. Drinking could make it go away in an instant. I don’t care how well you learn how to manage your emotions nothing is as erasing as a drug. You just have to sit in your shit.

This is addiction.

It’s an escape. It’s an escape that negatively effects your life.

When you start avoiding your friends and family, when you start calling in sick to work, when you stay up too late, when you know you are seriously damaging your health your habit is turning into an addiction.

If you don’t want to face your own addictions maybe some of you are putting up psychological walls right now as I describe addictive actions that are hitting a little too close to home.

Do you know how many times I’ve heard someone say (myself included), “I don’t give myself much. This is just the one thing I do.”

A habit becomes an addiction when it starts hurting things you previously believed were important. Addictions have short term benefits that create long-term consequences.

Now. Let’s talk about Fentanyl.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. And carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

This power makes these drugs EXTREMELY addictive (if you live through taking them).

Take these unimaginably powerful drugs that will kill anyone with no tolerance and add to it: Systemic Hopelessness.

Take how I felt about missing that meeting and make it your entire life.

There is no way out. There is no job to look forward to. There is no hope of a “better life.” There is just nothing.

In the 1960s Akron was in all its glory. People still tell me about it in all it’s wonderful rubber goodness.

Factory jobs were everywhere. If you would just get your high school diploma or GED you were in the club. You could get a good job doing something meaningful. You were making things that contributed to society. On top of that you were taking care of your family. You were truly a “provider.”

If you live on the west side of Akron today you may not realize that once you go east or south of downtown you are entering the land of systemic hopelessness.

There’s no jobs that pay the bills. There’s just $8.15/hour service jobs. What’s the point? You are treated like shit, you will be fired for being 5 minutes late and you aren’t making ends meet. And that’s your life. That’s all you have. Oh… and you can only get those jobs if you have identification AND a high school diploma or GED. People who have lost all their identification or didn’t graduate need not even bother trying.

“Fuck that,” becomes your life’s mantra.

You don’t need a GED or an ID to make $20 giving a blow job to a guy as either a man or a woman. And $20 will get you high. And then you get to drop out. You get to forget that existential pointlessness and total hopelessness that is your life.

You also have to add to that the fact that you are now possessed by an evil spirit. Alcohol, opiates and speed talk to you.

They tell you that you deserve a break today. They tell you that there is no hope. They tell you that you are a worthless piece of shit. They tell you that you can’t function without them.

Between actual systemic hopelessness and drugged systemic hopelessness all you see is a desert of nothingness.

And don’t forget to add a heaping scoop of depression on top of this shit salad.

That’s where I enter back into the game.

I have everything. I have THE BEST wife. I have THE BEST kid. I am doing the most meaningful work you probably could ever hope to do. I have money. I go on vacations.

Sitting around thinking about what a waste of space I am on earth is one of my most popular hobbies.

I can’t get a fucking space to shelter 50 people. My inadequacy stares me in the face 24/7.

Read a few Existential authors and see if you don’t spend the rest of your life constantly weighing the pros and cons of throwing yourself off a bridge. Good luck leading a blissful ignorant life when Camus drops this bomb on you:  “there is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

And that’s the point. My absurd, meaningless existence is mostly theoretical. If it gets too bad I just hop a flight to Miami and lick my wounds on South Beach.

For these people there is no flight to Miami. There is nothing but an endless sea of ACTUAL meaningless absurdity.

In their lives there is either “Slow” or “Go.” You decide how you are going to cope with your life.

“Slow” is fentenyl and heroin. “Go” is meth and speed.

Some people like to mix and match depending on the day. Some people are true to one lifestyle.

“Slow” users just want to nod out. If I was into the drug scene that would be my choice.

But “Go” users want to get shit done. They dumpster dive all day. They scrap metal all night. They work constantly.

Believe it or not, I know WAY more “Go” users than “Slow” users. They are constantly working on their camps. They are constantly trying to sell items they’ve found (or sometimes stolen).

Despite an existence that looks nearly totally bleak they push forward. They work. They strive. They are productive, in their own way.

The human spirit will not go quietly into the night. Humans will fight and claw and push for something better.

These people just use a drug to keep them motivated. (If you are feeling a little judgy about meth users please keep in mind that the chemical differences between meth and Adderall are very small. My friends call Adderall “middle class meth.” College kids take it for a study aid and we give it to our kids to treat ADHD.)

That’s why we are working on our makerspaces in our houseless day center. Our houseless-run store is soft launching this Monday. We are going to open a bike shop very soon. Kenny Bolt has made 100 screen printed t-shirts to sell.

Entrepreneurship is the path. I’m not interested in getting these people “jobs.” They rarely work out. There are too many rules with too little reward.

But teaching them a skill they can sell on their own time and in their own way… that’s got potential.

That’s how I personally manage to make my way through life. In order to not completely sign off I have to do it my way.

We make our own meaning. In a world where meaninglessness, absurdity and pointlessness is staring you in the face every single day of your life you have no choice but to create your own meaning and usefulness. It’s basic human nature.

And that’s the story of addiction. There simply has to be something worth not being addicted for. We will never see even a small decline in drug use in Akron until we get rid of the systemic hopelessness that plagues at least 26% of our population that lives below the poverty line.

(The picture for this post is of me and Rocky bartending at Jouster’s Pub in Medina in 1999. She never had a problem drinking like I did. I’m quite sure I was drinking on the job in this picture.)