15June

My Story, by Eric Miller

My Story, by Eric Miller

My name is Eric Miller, and I’m a person in long-term recovery. What that means to me is that it has been eight years since I last depended on drugs and alcohol to escape from my life.

Looking backward, it seems like a blink of an eye. 

But I remember looking ahead and thinking, “I can’t do this.”
No one plans to become a drug addict. All I knew was that drugs and alcohol made me feel strong and capable, funny and smart, sociable and loveable. It was the answer to all my problems. And it almost destroyed my life.

When did it all spiral out of control?

I don’t think I ever did any of this casually. From my earliest memories, fitting in and keeping up was always hard for me. If I were a kid today, they probably would have called it ADHD. Back then, it was just a lack of focus.

But lots of people lack focus.

Just to be clear, I come from a nice Jewish family, in a nice suburban home. I’m the youngest of four children, the cutest little redheaded boy you can imagine. Old ladies would stop my mom in the grocery store just to pinch my cheeks.

It was third grade at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy when the teachers started to notice I wasn’t quite measuring up. My homework was never ready, which pushed my anxiety through the roof. Sunday nights were the worst, because I knew I wasn’t ready.

It was almost a relief to learn it was a learning disability. Something we could fix. And what I recognize now as a marker for a potential addict. It’s hard to explain how simply going to a “special class” can make you feel like you go to a different school.

But I managed. I wasn’t a great student; I did what I had to, to get by. And by the time I got to high school, I was back on track.

Then one day, walking to school, I found a $20 bill on the ground.  I was with my friends and decided that what we needed was to have a party, and I would get the booze. So, I got my neighbor to buy two big bottles, one of Southern Comfort and one of Jack Daniels.

Everyone else had a drink or maybe two. But me?

I drank until I passed out. I was so sick, you would think I would never drink again. But what I really thought was, I have to learn to do this better. And I did, while picking up another marker of a potential addict.

In 10th grade, it was cigarettes. I got a car and was so cool. I wasn’t hanging out with the same high school friends; I hung out with a much cooler crowd. After cigarettes, marijuana wasn’t a big stretch. My problems were solved. 

In 11th grade, I found a program where I could study for a semester in Israel, which was great. Everyone smokes cigarettes in Israel, and there is no drinking age. And I was 6,000 miles away from my parents.

When I got back, since cigarettes and pot were OK, what’s next?

Cocaine.

This felt right. I was immediately more focused and could get my homework done, get good grades and party every night.  I never thought to ask… Were my friends getting high every night?

Another marker of addiction.

By the 12th grade, I had enough credits to leave high school a year early and start freshman year at Dekalb Community College. Now feeling neither in high school nor in college, I still hedge on which year I graduated.

But I had plenty of drugs, and school wasn’t that hard. I don’t remember when everyone else applied to go away to college. I wanted to go to George Washington, but I never finished the application. 

What happened to all that focus I had found?

Would more cocaine help?

I ended up at UGA. Still, I felt on the side lines. Neither in nor out. I did OK. I made good friends, joined a fraternity and I was one of the top partiers in my class. There were a lot of partiers in my class. 

And just like everyone else, I took my place in the world. I almost got away with it too. A steady climb up the ladder. Jobs, relationships, money, cars, just like you’d expect. I even stopped the hard drugs. Smoking a little pot every day, and a having few cocktails every day, it was working. 

Until it wasn’t.

The question I want you to think about is this: What will you do when life happens? When your friends or your father dies? When your relationship hits the rocks, and you find yourself alone?

What are you going to do when no one else is really looking?

And the addict returns.

I went back to one of my first loves. I’ve always liked uppers more than downers, and when a friend turned me on to crystal meth… well, it was like seeing sunshine for the first time. If you only knew what it was like to live in my head, you’d like it too.

I was back, feeling sharp. I was looking good. I didn’t think this would ever end. True love lasts forever. Doesn’t it?

I don’t know what to tell you. The tide was swift and strong. I was erratic and abusive, unreliable and explosive. I was too late to meet up for a family vacation because I was too high to get packed. Once I was two hours late to Shabbat dinner, and I arrived with a cold hostile stare that dared anyone to call me out.

Not even the police who arrived with guns blazing (get down, get down, get down) and a search warrant in their hand could convince me things weren’t working anymore.

I thought, I just have to learn how to manage it better.

Let’s ramp it up before we give in.

It isn’t your consequences that get you sober. You have to see into the future, you have to play the tape to the end. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. A guy in my house has a panic attack at 5 a.m.

I was supposed to meet the family for another family trip at 7 a.m.  But I had to call an ambulance. Which came with a policeman who was walking around my house, and I knew it was over. I had to get sober. Or else the next time it would be me.

So when I got back, I ran away from home. I wouldn’t be able to get sober there. I went to a hotel for five days and cried my eyes out, watched pay per view and called the only guy I ever knew who had gotten clean and sober.

And I went to my first CMA meeting —AA for meth addicts.

I did 90 meetings in 90 days, just like my sponsor asked. And I did it again, and I did it again, and I did it again. I’m very good at counting. 

As of this morning, I have 2930 days of sobriety.

Slightly more than eight years.

Sometimes that number scares me. The higher it goes, the more I have to lose. I’m just one day away from hitting bottom.

I know my addiction waits for me to stumble. It wants to take me down.

I know so many people who didn’t make it.

Does my life look like I had dreamed in high school? No.

My life and my work revolve around my recovery. Getting sober has meant getting in touch with my core and finding that ability to focus.

Just a few years ago, I was sitting at the Community of Caring lunch for Jewish Family & Career Services, when I heard someone talk about the HAMSA program. Until that moment, it had never occurred to me there could be a Jewish response to addiction and recovery. I was so moved by the presentation, I vowed to make a connection with the program.

It was b’sherit, meant to be.

My work with HAMSA has introduced me to people across our community who take addiction seriously, who understand its impact. They have become an important part of my recovery and I of theirs. Together we can make an impact.

We reach out with education and prevention. We teach in the schools and synagogues. We offer counseling, support groups and community programs to create a family that provides a real safety net.

Today I am a better son, a better brother, a better boyfriend. I have reconnected with my community and found a new purpose and a new dream.

I often get to talk to groups of students and parents about addiction and recovery. One of the most important messages I try to get across to the kids is this: 

If you need to do drugs to be like your friends, you need new friends. 

And, If you know anyone you think may be facing these struggles – have them call me. Today.

Drugs and alcohol may have co-opted my dreams, but I’m the lucky one. I survived. Just barely.
 

Written by Eric Miller, Posted in Counseling Services

About the Author

Eric Miller

Eric Miller

In recovery since 2008, Eric has a great deal of knowledge about substance abuse. He couples his experience with his observant Jewish upbringing to offer a Jewish lens to the issues of addiction and sobriety.