Day 152

By Aaron Emerson

I just hit the five month mark two days ago. Five months. Five months without a sip of beer, a pill or shot, even a puff of weed smoke. In the grand scheme of life, five months is nothing, but for me, it’s a damn miracle.

Just about a year ago I was at a point in my life where I just wanted to die. I didn’t want to commit suicide but I also wasn’t scared of dying from an overdose or getting killed in a botched drug deal or something. Man, oh man, it seems like a different life than how I’m living today.

On Sunday, I was hit with an Aaron Emerson recovery trifecta. I celebrated five months, my beloved Lions beat the Packers, and I got a raise at work. Yes, a fucking raise.

I’m 27 years old and have never gotten a raise at work. Truth be told, I haven’t ever truly held a job for more than a few months without my boss noticing signs that something was off. But today, my place of employment actually values me. Isn’t that crazy?

I don’t say all that to brag or to boast, saying “look at me! Look at how good I am doing!” I say it to perhaps spark a glimmer of hope within somebody else who happens to be walking the same path that I was just last year.

See, I got off heroin a few years ago and stayed off of it for over a year. My life improved vastly and I started this process of using my writings to spread hope and raise awareness. But I wasn’t truly getting down to the root causes of my alcoholism and addiction. I would go to a meeting once or twice a week and did some therapy, but that’s about it. I had a recovery coach, Phil Pavona, who did his part in saving my life and helped show me that recovery could be fun. But at that point in my life, I considered myself more of a drug addict than an alcoholic.

That was my downfall. Granted, I wasn’t drinking during that year of abstinence. But I eventually had a beer at a wedding, giving into peer pressure and rationalizing in my head “well, it’s just a beer. It’s not heroin.”  That beer ended up taking me down a road that almost led to death again.

I had to admit and accept that I can not control the use of any mind or mood altering chemicals. When I put alcohol or drugs into my body, something changes in my brain. I lose all control and don’t stop until I am faced with severe consequences. It was hard, but today I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I have people in my life guiding me, showing me how they did it and teaching me how powerful prayer is.

Just know that this is a lifetime thing. I will never be cured or be able to drink or drug in moderation. But I have fun today, I am grateful today, I have real friends today, and I am proud of myself today.

One thing I have always put in my blogs is that if you are alive, hope is alive. It is so fucking true! Don’t ever give up. No matter how hard things may seem, there are people out there who care about you. Surround yourself with people who love you. Take life one day at a time. Reach out when shit gets hard. You can do this and have a happy life. I promise.

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My Worst Day Clean Is Better Than My Best Day High

By John Mullin

“My worst day clean is better than my best day high.”

Such a cliché, I know. I never really understood what people meant when I use to hear that. I would think to myself “Yeah it sounds good but, I’ve had some pretty great days being high,” I thought anyways.
It wasn’t until this time in recovery I gave more thought to that saying. Yes, I did have some good times using, but every time I used it always involved some feeling of regret and shame in one way or another. I either had to do some hurtful act to someone in order to get my drugs, or I would get high wishing I didn’t have to exist in a life that revolved around getting a fix just to function throughout the day.
Beating myself up mentally, feeling like such a failure in life because I was a heroin addict in heavy active addiction. No self worth, covering up my track marks – that, over time, went from small dimples to craters – in fear of people judging me if they saw them. No true friends to hang around because they knew being around me meant potentially being taken advantage of. The lies, the oh-so many lies, way too many lies to even keep up with. Often getting caught in lies and getting upset with the person who catches you in a lie because it foiled your plan to get more dope. Shooting up then counting down the hours until you knew you would be sick again trying to figure out a means to prolong the inevitable sickness.
I know for me the amount of money I had made no difference. Sure, I could go cop enough dope to last me a couple days, but it seemed the more I had the more I needed to do at one time to even feel it. And my three day supply would dwindle down to nothing in a matter of hours. Then I was back on the phone calling my dealer complaining about the quality and begging for a front since I just spent all my money with him earlier that day. Great times huh?
Voicemails from the landlord saying how they need the rent since it’s two weeks late and you still owe a little bit from the past month. Prior to that you were homeless for a long stretch, sleeping under bridges in the dead of winter because you couldn’t get your dope in time to get to the shelter before it closes. The lowest you’ve ever felt in your entire life: you would think you wouldn’t allow yourself to return to that point. When you were blessed with the opportunity of having your own house and stable enough employment to secure your basic needs, why would you risk losing it all? Because you are an ADDICT. Your addict brain will convince you of anything to ensure that you stay sick. The disease of addiction is exactly what they say it is: Cunning, Baffling and Powerful.
I know today even if everything else in my life fails and falls apart, I can at least say I am clean, and for someone like me that is a win that trumps any and everything else. I know I won’t wake up the following day plotting and scheming on the ones I truly love and who truly love me to get another one, telling myself the lie addicts tell themselves over and over: “I just need one last one.” I’ve had my “last one” many, many times and it always concluded the same result, one more after that. This isn’t my first time in recovery, nor the longest amount of clean time I’ve had in my using career, but it is my first time in recovery where I truly wanted it. It takes what it takes and for me it took finally putting the shovel down and start climbing out of the hole I dug for myself. After numerous times relapsing I realized the bottom of that hole gets deeper and deeper. Today I am grateful to be able to just live in the moment and do the next right thing and put my trust in my higher power that he’s got me right where I need to be and everything I need will come in due time.
John Mullin is 27 years old from Lansing, Michigan. He’s a recovering addict who is finding himself after using heroin his entire adult life. He is a writer who enjoys writing poetry, lyrics and journaling. He wants to start making music again.

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Day 121

By Aaron Emerson

121 days without taking any type of drug or sip of alcohol. Four months. The longest my mind and body has gone without mood altering substances in years. I did stay sober for a year before; I even published a book full of my thoughts during that year. But this is different. There’s something deeper.

Deep is a place I don’t like to explore. But deep is where I must travel if I want to find recovery and peace. It’s said there are places in the ocean that humans haven’t explored. A depth so dark and frightening nobody can reach. The deeper you go, the more the pressure multiplies, crushing you.

How fitting. Things are better than they’ve ever been. There are days I feel complete. Sometimes – especially in the morning when I pray – I feel such an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I can hardly believe it. Huh? Aaron Emerson? This can’t be me.

On the contrary, some moments I need guidance. A nudge. Someone to tell me how to live life to simplicity. I need balance. I can’t get too confident but also need to prevent myself from getting down on myself. The latter is a challenge, when there is so much fresh guilt.

Some days my thoughts are scattered. This morning I was cheerful, happy to be sober and free from the bondage of addiction. An hour later, my mind wandered to my best friend Andrew, who died from an overdose this year. He was with me the first time I met my daughter. I missed her birth and the first year of her life, serving a year in jail. When I got out and had the opportunity to meet Melody, I was so nervous I asked him to go with me. He did. I still find it hard to accept he no longer wanders this earth.

I can truly feel God working in my life. Things are happening I can’t explain. The people who are placed in my life have zero to do with coincidence. They aren’t just simple supporting characters in a story, though they do more than their share of supporting.

I am sober today. I am in recovery today. I have amazing people in my life today. Just several months ago I was on the brink of suicide. I thought about it every day. I thought this world would be better off not having to deal with my thievery, addiction, lies and misery. Today, though, I have something to offer. I have a story and I’m sharing it. I am living today. Into the dark, deep sea I travel. It’s scary here, but nothing is too much for God.

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The Night Narcan Saved My Life

By Aaron Emerson

Ah, the good ol’ Narcan debate. If you follow any addiction blogs or websites, you have probably seen the arguments. On one side of the spectrum, Narcan saves lives. On the other, well, Narcan simply enables addicts to keep pushing the limits of more and more opiates, knowing a dose of Naloxone is in the medicine cabinet.

Me? I’m extremely passionate about this topic. Narcan literally saved my life. So when I see people arguing that expanded access to Narcan is just a crutch to enable addicts, I cringe. I take it personal, like my life wasn’t worth saving that frightening, cold night.

It started out as just a regular evening in the life of a heroin addict. You know, some cocaine in the afternoon and a shot of heroin at night to come down. I was in full blown addiction and I didn’t care about anything other than my next fix. But that night turned out to be different; I would instead only care about whether or not I would take my next breath.

After I took that shot of heroin, I immediately knew something was wrong. My heart started beating faster than it had ever beat. I started taking deep breaths, telling myself to calm down and not overthink. But then my heartbeat immediately reversed and I started feeling it slow down rapidly. Within 30 seconds, I was starting to fade in and out of consciousness and I stumbled out of my room to get help.

I came out and begged my mom to call the ambulance. I knew what was happening. The mixture of cocaine and heroin was too much for my system. I started panicking and almost crying. However, even that became a struggle. As I heard my parents begging 911 to send someone ASAP, I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and I passed out against the wall.

Inside, my last thoughts were full of fear. I knew this was it. All of the warnings of overdose and mixing drugs hit me all at the same time. I started begging God to save me. But then I remembered all the misery I was living in and I just gave up, accepting the reality that not existing anymore would be easier. Those were my last thoughts: glad for the pain to finally be over.

I woke up in an ambulance. And instead of waking up thankful to be alive, I immediately felt instant withdrawal. It was the worst withdrawal I had ever experienced in my life, like all of my dope sick episodes combined into one horrid, intense, devastating, painful experience. I was freezing cold, my body was shaking violently, it felt like an army of ants was crawling all over me, my stomach was turned inside out and I felt the most dreadful feeling of my entire life.

The EMT workers made it worse. They treated the experience like a stroll through the local park. And really, it probably was. They deal with overdoses every night. They are probably so far detached from trauma that taking a junkie to the hospital after an overdose is nothing to them. But it made it all the more worse, as my body was throwing itself against the sides of the ambulance, heaving uncontrollably, while they were just sitting there with a cold, plain expression on their face.

So there dispels the myth that opiate addicts have no problem doing too much dope because Narcan is always available. Hell no! Any heroin addict will tell you that Narcan is the LAST thing they want. The instant withdrawal it puts you in is worse than any heroin withdrawal. It is pure misery. I would never, ever want to be hit with a dose of Narcan again. I would actually beg anyone who tried to hit me with it to throw that shit away, because I’d rather take the risk of overdose than ever have to feel that withdrawal again.

The bottom line, though, is that if it wasn’t for that Narcan the Ingham County deputy hit me with that night, I wouldn’t be alive. The doctors at the hospital told me that if the deputy got there a minute or two later I probably wouldn’t have made it. My heart was shutting down. Cocaine is an upper that speeds up heart rate, while heroin is a downer that slows it down. So doing too much of both in the same time frame puts the heart in an almost impossible situation.

The Narcan was able to take the opiates out of my system, which allowed the hospital to monitor my stimulant levels until the cocaine exited my system.

I can not begin to explain how grateful I am for those police officers rushing to my aide. They got there before the ambulance and immediately hit me with Narcan. Legislation passed a few years ago allowed police officers to carry Narcan for those exact situations, because they often get to overdose scenes before EMTs. My parents said the Ingham County deputies treated the situation perfectly. They were courteous to them, showed concern and months later they even followed up to see how I was doing.

I ended up going to jail for a probation violation several months after all that happened. I got called out of my cell for a visit. When I walked out into the jail hallway, there stood an Ingham County deputy. All he said was that he remembered me from visiting my house on several occasions and heard I was in jail, waiting to go to rehab. He just wanted to offer encouragement and wish me well in rehab. He gave me his number and said I could call him if I ever needed someone to talk to. I was confused. Why would a random cop want to come visit me in jail? He deals with criminals all day, what was so special about me?

Once he left, the deputy working my jail unit asked me if I knew who he was. I said no, I don’t really remember ever seeing him. She said “he saved your life. He was the officer who Narcan’d you when you overdosed.” I gasped in shock. I was absolutely stunned. I didn’t remember him because I went unconscious before the cops arrived. What shocked me the most was the fact that he didn’t even tell me that he was the one who saved me. He didn’t want to take credit for just doing his job. But to me, he is a hero. He is the reason I am in recovery today, happier than I’ve ever been.

As I’m sitting out in my living room watching the Tigers, my daughter is at the kitchen table coloring, talking to herself like a seven year old. I am content. I am at peace. I just got a job in Mason and I am 83 days sober. I’m a good father today. I can’t help but think about that deputy, stopping to visit me at the jail. The guy who saved my life and didn’t even want to take credit. How courageous, gracious and humble. A true hero.

That is the story of how a widely debated drug, Naloxone, also called Narcan, saved my life. It is also the story of how expanded access to the drug and a heroic cop allowed a hopeless heroin addict to get his life together and build a new one. Yeah, Narcan enables addicts. It enables addicts to fucking live.

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Day 77

By Aaron Emerson

The other day I saw a quote that said, “I couldn’t find the light at the end of the tunnel so I lit that bitch up myself.”

How fitting. 77 days ago, I was thrown in jail. I was embarrassed, ashamed and numb. Jail is not a place that fosters an environment for recovery. It’s still the same old, dirty place that I remember from years ago. A week after getting placed in Post 1, a guy in the cell to the right of mine was jumped by two other inmates for a measly four dollars worth of commissary. His jaw was broken over three ramen noodles and a bag of chips. What can you say? It’s a place full of savages who are not well fed by the three provided meals. If you are a white boy in jail who orders a big store bag, you better be ready to scrap on a moment’s notice.

Though I slept most of my time away and wasn’t in there very long compared to my past stints, the incarceration and following stay in rehab was exactly what the doctor ordered. I never thought I’d stand in front of a judge at a probation review hearing and say a sentence mixed with jail and treatment was what I needed, but that’s exactly what I did a couple weeks after getting out.

People in my support system have noticed a change in me. I’ve been through this countless times, but I can honestly say I’ve never put this much effort and energy into my recovery. While in jail and rehab, I vowed every single day that when I got out I would do ANYTHING possible to stay sober this time. The 45 days away from home woke me up and helped me realize how fast life goes. It instilled a desperation within me that I’ve never experienced before.

I’m excited about being sober today. I’m working daily with two different sponsors and a recovery coach and am going to meetings once or twice a day.  Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, I’m getting involved in my faith more than ever before, too, going to church each Sunday and hanging out with other people in recovery. I ask God for strength each morning and thank him for sobriety every night. This last Tuesday, at my last Drug Court review hearing, I was promoted to Phase 2. My probation officer and outpatient therapist had amazing things to say about me, and for the first time in my life, a judge is telling me she is proud of me and encouraging me to keep it up. The last judge I had called me an animal and threw me away for a year, not offering any treatment after I relapsed on probation.

As I wrote in a blog last week, the hardest thing I’m doing today is working through my PTSD, something I’ve never done before. I don’t want to imply that everything in my life is all rainbows and butterflies. It’s not. It’s hard. It’s challenging sitting down with a therapist to talk about my feelings and PTSD. I still experience depression and anxiety, too. Things are not perfect, but I’m content. I’m at peace today.

I don’t think I could have gotten to this point if I wasn’t violated for my probation and put in jail. As mad as I was at myself at the time, it motivated me and, yes, forced me to make my own light in a tunnel full of darkness and pain. Sometimes it takes what it takes for an addict to get sober and fully embrace a fulltime recovery lifestyle. It can be so frightening for a hardcore addict to think about staying sober for the rest of their life. That’s why it’s so important to develop a mindset of living one day at a time and doing everything that we can within those 24 hours to stay sober. Some people get sober for the first time and embrace recovery forever. Others have to relapse countless times and experience a great amount of pain before they fully surrender. What matters the most is to continue trying, never giving up. I am truly seeking to learn from this last relapse. I am keeping that pain in the front of my mind, remembering it at all times, enabling me to experience gratitude on a daily basis. Life is not perfect today, but it is good! I have discovered the light that I never could find in the tunnel of addiction.

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