Home Featured News Just for today: a student’s battle with alcoholism

Just for today: a student’s battle with alcoholism

Jones with friends at the Raider Grille.  Photos by Jonathan D. Lopez
Jones with friends at the Raider Grille. Photos by Jonathan D. Lopez

By Stephen Jones – Collegiate Staff

Today is a day like any other. I’m finishing up my morning classes at Grand Rapids Community College, packing up my laptop, a notepad and a couple books. I usually try to grab lunch using my RaiderCard and then make my way to the bus stop. If it’s not a convenient time for me to go toward Central Station, I will usually hang out in the Raider Grille, use the Wi-Fi and apply for jobs. I don’t have a car, so the bus is really the only option. I have a restricted license as well, so even if I did have a car, transportation would be limited.

This is a mandatory mental routine and has proved to be the most effective for me. It’s amazing how much time you have on the bus to think about where you are in life. So I put in my ear buds and find solace in something ambient. Sometimes the silence is overwhelming. As I get off the bus and walk to my current home in the cold, I wish I was rich, I wish I was healthy, but really I just wish that wishes were real. As I enter the house I am met at the door by the house manager, we’ll call him Sable.

“You been drinking?” he asks.

“No,” I say, looking him right in the eyes, before walking around him to go to my room.

“Then you won’t mind breathing in this quick then.”

He holds out the breathalyzer that I am all too familiar with. I give a long sigh, then grab it and start breathing. I wait until the countdown reaches :02 and then start inhaling. At zero I began the five second exhale until I hear the two beeps that prove I am not a liar. Double zeros.

In your face, Sable.

I resume the hike upstairs to my room where I try to calm down, but I can still hear his voice through the door. “Hey, look I’m sorry. I’m glad your not drunk, we’re leaving for the North Club in two hours, ok?”

I don’t respond and put my ear buds back in.

The North Club is the biggest Alcoholic’s Anonymous building in Grand Rapids.

Jones reading in his bedroom at Touchstone, a recovery house.
Jones reading in his bedroom at Touchstone, a recovery residence in Grand Rapids.

The place I live in is a recovery residence, but I have no problem calling it what it really is, a halfway house. It’s called Touchstone and there are many rules, most of which are held to a strict standard. Wake up is at 7 a.m. everyday. I can’t leave the room unless it’s spotless, and the bed is made military style, minus the triangle crease. Before I can shower or eat breakfast there are morning chores. Right now I have to sweep and mop the upstairs and scrub anything made out of porcelain with bleach. Everything has to be done, and I have to be out of the house by 8:30 a.m. I can’t rush the chores either. If it’s not perfect I have to do everything all over again.

So when I leave the house every morning and wonder where I’m going to go that day, it’s a constant psychological battle to keep my thoughts from drifting to any time prior to that moment. It’s easy to feel sorry for myself, then I snap back to reality and remember that this is all my fault.

The thing that got me here is a love/hate relationship with personal destruction. It’s an ex-lover and a best friend, a best lover and an ex-friend, my personal demon is alcohol. I wasn’t always like this, aside from childhood pictures and videos, it’s hard to remember. The first time I got drunk was when I was 12 years old, and I’ll never forget it.

I was at a friend’s house, and his parents were gone. I thought this kid was really cool. “You want to see something awesome?” he said.

He proceeded to lead me to the downstairs fridge. He opened it to rows and rows of beer, Red Dog, not even a good brand. He handed me one and told me to drink it. I took a sip of it and almost puked. It tasted like piss.

“Keep drinking it,” he said, when he saw my face. “It’ll make you feel good.”

And so I did, slowly. As I was getting towards the bottom, I felt a little tingle, a numbness. The buzz. The feeling that would later destroy my entire life.

For the next couple years, I drank occasionally with my friends, but it was always beer and only on the weekends. Before high school there were no negative outcomes, just good times. I never thought that it would be anything less than that.

At 15 I started drinking more often. My sister was a senior, and I already knew a lot of her friends and occasionally got invited to party with them, I always pushed my limits. They introduced me to a lot of new things. I would try to drink and smoke as much as everyone. I did a lot of puking freshman year. My parents found out once or twice when I was too sick to handle myself, but they probably wrote it off as an isolated experience.

That summer, all the seniors graduated and moved on so I started hanging with my old friends more, and I introduced them to all the things I learned that past year. That fall, our sophomore grade was out of control. The principal spoke during chapel one week and said we were the worst grade he’s ever had since he started, and that we needed to pull it together.

Things got way off of track on Grandparents Day. It was a day with an extra long lunch. Some of my friends and I went to get Chinese food, on the way back we realized we still had a half hour. One of my friends said, “Hey, I know of this family owned liquor store that it’s really easy to steal liquor from.” It sounded like a good idea at the time.

Three of us were supposed to go in, I would carry the backpack, my friend would unzip it behind me and fill it, and the third person would distract the owner. I felt my friend slip a bottle into my bag and I started walking to the door, but he stopped me and said, “Wait, let’s get two.” I turned around and when he put the second bottle in the bag, it clinked against the first one, hard. There was only one exit, right by the register. We ran through the store, knocking things over, with a swearing old man running after us. As we drank the booze on the way back to school, we laughed.

The principal found us a short time later throwing supplies around the computer lab. Two of us were suspended, the rest were asked to leave. This is when my parents started to have concerns.

Somehow the school found out about the liquor store, too. I felt terrible. I didn’t want to leave all my friends. I didn’t feel bad about what I did, I was only sorry I got caught. I was grounded for a long time, and my parents moved me to another school that second semester. This sounded like a good decision at the time but things would only get worse.

That first semester was hard, I didn’t know anyone and I was depressed for most of it. It was easily three times the size of my old school. It was hard to make friends and I eventually gave up. So I isolated myself. I would show up to school stoned or drunk everyday and didn’t talk to anyone. This went on for a while.

Near the end of the school year, people started to notice my bloodshot eyes, or my slur. Kids started asking me questions and talking to me, and I was happy. I started getting invited places by all the wrong people. They were all trashy drug parties, but I didn’t care. I was just glad to have friends. By the end of that year I had a small group of friends, and I thought I was okay.

Some of my old friends came to join me at my new school. A lot of them saw what was going on, but didn’t bring it up.

We started drinking at school again. We decided to take shots in the bathroom every Wednesday before chapel, so we didn’t have to deal with the speaker. We called it “Wasted Wednesdays,” and it caught on fast. People started to hear about it, and our little circle in the bathroom became larger and larger.

We were nervous of the attention we got for it. I told a couple of my close friends the next day was a lot better. We switched to “Thirsty Thursdays.” Soon every day of the week had it’s own title and was dedicated to drinking. I had a reason to drink every day, nothing was stopping me from the inevitable spiral that I was blind to. I soon found myself taking shots alone in the bathroom.

Junior year, I did anything and everything. It was the wildest time of my life. The last taste I had of any mental and physical freedom was in 2012. We were smoking trip supreme (synthetic marijuana) in art class, mixing cough syrup and Sprite in the hallways, dropping acid before first hour, sniffing benzos off desks.

On top of all this I was still drinking almost everyday that whole year. It was the thing I looked forward to each day and my tolerance started to build. I needed more and more, and I began to function better on it.

I took all my tests and quizzes drunk, alcohol calmed my nerves and I maintained my grades. Alcohol just clicked for me. It soon got to the point that the days I didn’t bring alcohol, I would be all shaky and anxious, and people would ask me if I was on drugs. When I would drink, I would be calm and collected and people thought I was sober.

Senior year was a downward spiral. By the time the semester started, I did not look good. There wasn’t a single day I came to school sober. This was the year that I would wake up, and before I could even attempt to eat breakfast, I would need to get drunk.

My parents were catching on by this time. The only safe place to drink in the morning was the shower. I got drunk in the shower every morning, and it was the highlight of my day. I would drive to school, and smoke at least one bowl on the way. After second hour we had a break. By this time I needed another drink. I didn’t have time for my friends anymore. In the bathroom, I would slam seven or eight shots quick in five minutes, then head to third hour, relaxed.

I was the last person to find out that I was an alcoholic. All my friends and family knew, I thought I was doing this amazing job of handling myself. When I drank with my friends, I would drink twice as much as them, and some made comments about it. I started drinking alone before going out with them, so I could drink like the rest of them. Everyone still knew.

By lunchtime I would need to drink again. When school was out, I would run to my car and start pounding. I would drink the rest of the night until I blacked out, wake up sweating and shaky, then repeat. The morning was the worst, when I was sleeping it was the only time I couldn’t pour liquor into my body.

When morning came I would wake up manic, and grab the bottle. I needed one fifth a day, at least, to get the effects that I wanted. My anxiety was at an all time high. I was having panic attacks daily.

I was living in a mental prison. When I would drink excessively I wouldn’t feel drunk. When I wasn’t drinking, I was crying and shaking. Alcohol is the worst kind of withdrawal. Not because of its physical intensity, but because it is an addiction that brings personal emotion into the dry spell and craving, more so than any other drug.

Just absolute panic and anxiety, emotions are blown out of proportion. It’s like being wrapped in a bunch of wool blankets, put in a coffin, and buried six feet under ground. It is absolute irrational panic. No situation feels comfortable. The choices are: stay in the coffin, sweat and scream for five days and then they promise it will slowly get better. Or drink alcohol, and the blankets will unravel and the head of a shovel will hit the coffin.

When people drink it is usually to escape from something and the numbing effect you get from alcohol is perfect for it. I’m not sure why I drank. There will never be a good enough reason to drink to that effect. Guilt was a big reason I drank, as weird as that sounds.

With consistent drinking and not dealing with emotions as they come up, when you first attempt getting clean, years of those same emotions that you haven’t dealt with all rise up all at one time.

I thought it was the world’s fault, and if sobriety means panic attacks I never wanted to be sober ever again. It was too much pain. Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. My motto was moderation is for cowards.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself “Stop it! You’re a coward right now, you’re afraid to deal with your emotions, quit numbing yourself!” I thought I had it under control, but I realized I was trapped inside the bottle. Recently I’ve been pounding on the glass walls trying to get out.

That year a friend of mine killed himself. I thought a lot about what I could’ve done. When this happened it was like a shockwave.

It was a bad day, a bad week, and a bad month. Everything was going horrible. I hated society. I didn’t want to be a part of it.

I texted one of my close friends and expressed that I was scared I couldn’t do this, and I got yelled at back. The response was something like “I hope you do, that’s the most selfish thing you can do as a person.”

Today I know they were right, but at the time, I really needed to hear something along the lines of, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

That was it for me.

I stood up in the middle of class, I remember it was fifth hour, and walked out the door. I left school and walked down Plymouth, it was the springtime. I kept walking until I got to a graveyard. A girl from my school texted me and asked where I went and I told her, then tried to kill myself, just like my friend did.

I woke up to that girl and one of my best friends standing over me. My first thought was, “Shit, I’m alive.” They took me to one of their houses and took care of me instead of calling the police, which I was grateful for.

Going back to school was hard, a lot of people knew, and I already had anxiety to begin with. Each person’s eyes that I met I thought, “do they know?” My parents made me start seeing an addiction specialist, this is the very first sort of treatment I would ever have. It just went downhill from there.

I started getting in lots of fights. I had very aggressive behavior, depending on who you would ask, they might’ve phrased it as sociopathic tendencies.

I do not believe that I was a sociopath, its just like all the anger that I never addressed, and bottled up for years, came alive for five minutes during a fight.

I was 18 when I went to jail for the first time. I was only incarcerated for three days, but it felt like three weeks and I had to go through the coffin effects behind bars. I told myself I was never coming back, but when I got out I reverted to my old habits.

My reputation was tarnished, and that made me really sad. Not enough to stop though, of course. I thought to myself, “Hey people can’t think any worse of me.” Then the accident happened.

On a day like any other, I left campus to get lunch with some of my friends. I was driving and we were all drunk and smoking pot, and then someone pulled out nitrous oxide. When the can got to me I took a giant rip of it. The next thing I remember was waking up to screaming and yelling.

I hit my head hard, and I was confused. I opened my door and wobbled out to look at the car. The back end of my Chevrolet Blazer hit the side of a building.

There were six of us in the car that day, and my car can only hold five. One of my friends was in the bed and was thrown to the front. Two people had to go to the hospital. One suffered a broken arm, and the other had a severe concussion. Besides internal bruising and a minor concussion I was fine so were the other three.

My car was sent to the junkyard, I was expelled from school again, but the only thing that mattered was that I had lost the last shred of trust I had with my friends. The last bit of respect I was holding onto was gone.

I had people sending me hate texts, pictures, it was terrible, and I deserved all of it. This moment in time is more than just an accident. It was the beginning of what seemed like “no return.” The start of the darkest point in my life.

I didn’t talk to anyone for what seemed like forever. I got no calls or texts, almost like I was subtracted from society.

I wasn’t going to school anymore either, so all there was left was to drink. All day. Its the only thing that made sense anymore.

The feeling of loneliness I had was indescribable. I never left my room, except to walk to the store by my house to steal two fifths and then walk home, a couple times a week. I was a mess. I didn’t take care of myself at all, not that I did before.

Throw up stained all my clothes and I didn’t change them. When my phone died I left it uncharged, for weeks. My little sister cooked meals for me and brought them to my room. A 15-year-old girl was taking care of me. I was the lowest of low. I felt like scum. I tried to kill myself two more times during this period.

Life was done. It was just me and alcohol in a dark room. I was writing during this entire dark period, which was possibly the only good thing that came from any of it. I have booklets filled with lyrics, poetry, and fictional narratives. Alcohol was my escape, but writing was my escape from alcohol.

Then one day my miserable routine was interrupted by a surprise, a summons to appear in court. I could’ve gone away for years if I lost, just for being a drunken idiot. After a one-year court battle, I was finally charged with misdemeanor assault, and sentenced to 17 days in Kent County.

This was my third time there, and I wasn’t scared anymore. Some of the people that I was in there with the last time were still there and laughed when they saw me. I had made friends, and to be honest, I had a good time in jail that third time.

Jail saved my life. If it weren’t for jail I would still be in that dark room, or more likely in hell. It gave me just that couple weeks of sobriety that I would have never gotten in the real world, to finally see something else besides liquor.

It was terrible at first, to suddenly stop drinking. I stayed up for a couple nights at first and barely ate anything. But then as it started to get better, my thinking started to change.

The first week I was talking about all the drugs I did and bragging to the other inmates about what I was going to do when I got out. Then on Sunday, they had this speaker come to do a little sermon in a side room, and if anyone was interested they were welcome to get out of their cell and listen. Not very many people went, and I was debating whether I should or not.

I finally rang the buzzer to be let out. The man spoke about how he was put in a cell for believing in God in his country, and miraculously the gate broke down after lots of prayer. He said if you put everything in God and give it all to him, then he will take care of you no matter what. He loves you unconditionally, and longs for you to love him back.

When I heard this my brain melted. I’d only heard of miracles happening in the Bible. From that point on until I was released I started writing frantically, mostly letters to God.

I separated myself from everyone, I didn’t want to associate myself with them anymore, I was reading the Bible. I always hated reading the Bible, but I started to love it. The whole book of Psalms, (the longest book in Bible) is all poems. And they are beautiful.

I wish I could say that when I left jail my life changed and I stayed sober, but I can’t. When I got out my parents told me I couldn’t live at the house anymore, and they wouldn’t help me unless I went directly to rehab. I was already in that mindset anyway, so I agreed.

I went to Brighton Recovery Center, a fairly large facility. It was the rehab that Eminem went to. He donated a bunch of couches and wrote a quote on the smoke shack with – M.M under it.

I completed the program there and came back to Grand Rapids, and stayed sober for another month or so, then a friend offered me weed. I started smoking and then shortly after I was back to the bottle again. I’m not even sure how it happened, I just remember feeling the illusion of control. I told myself it had been a long time and I could handle a beer or two.

This kind of pattern repeated itself for a long time. It was a very frustrating time for my family, and for me.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I was insane.

Things never got back to the way they were in that dark period though. Every time I would relapse I would only let myself drink for a week or two before I checked myself back into another rehab. I’ve been to eight treatment facilities.

All these places were great, but I knew that I’d never be able to get sober unless I completely cut off all of my friends. I didn’t even have very many of them, but they all were actively using drugs. God opened up an opportunity for me though, and I took it. I got kicked out of one rehab facility for drinking, and the next rehab I went to was Florida Center for Recovery.

I stayed at FCR and finished the 30-day program. When I was done, I went to a halfway house down there. Florida is the number one recovery state in the nation. It seemed like every single person I met was in recovery.

I stayed in the halfway house for another two months and then got an apartment with a girl I met down there. We had a zero tolerance rule for everything, except cigarettes. Two months went by and things were going pretty smoothly.

One day I came home and she was nodded out on the couch. When she came to, I didn’t say anything at first, and then finally, I rolled up my sleeve and laid my arm on the table. She smiled, and then ran to her room to get her stuff.

My heroin use continued for a month or so, but the dependency never got anywhere near where I was with alcohol.

When I got back to Grand Rapids, I stayed at a friend’s house for about a month or so, and she gave me rides to school. I have not had a stable living situation in over two years, I stayed at a lot of friend’s houses and got used to going from couch to couch.

When I was at her house, we were smoking and drinking everyday, for about a month or so. I started to notice the insanity slowly creeping back in, and have done my best to prevent it.

I am finally back in school again, which is what I need. I was even taking classes that I loved, but the struggle to not drink continued, and I started struggling in the classes that I aspired to do well in.

Earlier in the semester I got in trouble with the GRCC campus police, for drinking and smoking in the parking ramp. This recent incident was embarrassing

Weeks ago I moved into another halfway house in Grand Rapids, that happens to be where I am at right now.

After two hours in my room, it reaches 7:30 p.m. and I walk downstairs.

“Everyone ready?” says the house manager.

I’m excited. Which is such a surprising change after being in and out of AA for about five years and not really getting much out of it.

At the meeting I listen intently as people pour their hearts out. There’s a feeling of security when you’re in those meetings that comes from the promise of anonymity. We all feel each person’s story because we have all been there in some way or another.

Going to AA is my favorite part of the day now. It’s the only place where I don’t feel separate from the world, but alive. There is an association in recovery called the Michigan Convention of Young People in AA (MCYPAA or Mickey-Paw). They have events all the time that are parties, except for everyone is sober. It’s a bunch of kids who have bettered their lives, and are connecting with each other without the use of substances.

I thought recovery was going to be a life of no fun. It’s not.

I haven’t been sober for very long, and I still have cravings all the time. This isn’t a story that says I’m all better and how much I’ve changed, because I’m not better. I’m still sick, and I hate thinking this but I could end up drunk and loaded on drugs tomorrow. So I can’t think like that.

Photo by Jonathan D. Lopez
Stephen Jones. Photo by Jonathan D. Lopez

All I know is that God has given me a second chance. More like a hundred, and he has been doing something miraculous in my life, and I’ve just been too drunk to see it.

Honestly, when I heard the message, “Don’t do drugs,” as a kid it just made me want to go out and do drugs. In reality everyone is different, and I don’t dare tell anyone what will work for their lives and what won’t.

I’ve never been close to my dad, so my relationship with my heavenly father has never been more important to me. He has saved my life, quite a few times.

I’ve overdosed and been in hospital beds just wanting to die so bad but he wouldn’t let me. I’ve been half conscious in ER rooms, and felt the presence of his love.

I’ve been anxiety gripped and sad for as long as I can remember. The only time that I actually feel happy is when I have a good relationship with God, it makes me feel like there is a purpose in my life.

He makes you able to feel like you’re not a sad story, even when it seems impossible. Without God there is no way I can stay sober, I know that for a fact, and I don’t know if I’m going to drink tomorrow.

I can’t think about that. The only thing I can worry about is today.

And I can have a peace of mind knowing that I’m not going to get drunk. Just for today.

If you or anyone you know needs help, visit the Grand Rapids Alano Club at 120 College Ave. NE, on the web at gralanoclub.org or by phone at (616) 456-5709.

Alternately, there are resources on campus in the couseling office on the third floor of the Student Center.

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