the resurrection

beforeandafter
The left is the height of my Meth use, December 2016 and the right is 130 days of sobriety, December 2018.

The Easter holiday has turned my focus on the idea of resurrection as it relates to my own life story.  Have you ever experienced death in a metaphorical sence?  There are experiences I’ve lived through, such as divorce, that have affected me on a mental level the same as enduring the death of a loved one.  The significance of the experience is the ending of familiar and the establishment of a new normal.  When we are jolted from our comfort zone, we have the choice to gain wisdom and build a better life or fight the change and be stuck for extended periods of time.  I have resurrected from these endings either emerging new and improved or damaged and stifled.  No matter my condition, though, something about me or my life died and I was forced to move forward.  Currently I am in a resurgent phase of my life as I re-establish the stability I once built as a father and contributing member of society.  I am resurrecting who I was, but rising from death having learned from destructive behaviors such as shame, selfishness, and lawlessness.

I can remember the death that led to this most recent season.

My eyes squinted from the sunlight streaming through the naked sliding glass door of my bedroom.  I was lying on the bare hardwood floor using my shirt as a pillow and my jacket as a blanket.  It was late January, but thankfully warm outside since there was no electricity.  I could hear the rustling of someone in the bathroom, the acoustics of the empty condo making it almost impossible to remain quiet.  Just like any other time I took the opportunity to sleep while actively addicted to Meth, waking up was confusing and terrifying.  Gasping, reaching for my phone to check the date and scan for important text messages, then frantically standing to survey the scene was all in my typical “morning” routine.

I had missed calls from an unknown number but no texts from my group of friends, and looking around my bedroom I saw one patio chair in the corner.  The sight of the chair evoked flashes of memories of the most recent random boy I had met.  We had spent the previous three days together and, as usual, I thought I was in love.  That must have been him in the bathroom.  I hurriedly scavenged my jacket pocket for my baggie.  “That f—er better not have stolen my stuff or my money!”  Standing there in a desolate condo, having slept on the bare floor without electricity, my first thought still revolved around my drug supply.  And where were my friends?  Why hadn’t I heard from them?

Two days prior, the boy in the bathroom and I had cashed a counterfeit check.  I had walked in to face the friendly staff at my local bank who had known me for years, decked out in my button-down Oxford and cardigan, and knowingly used their trust to cash a check made out to me from a made-up business.  This was a time when I found a new addiction–the  natural high of getting away with identity theft, forgery, and shoplifting.  I had allowed the drug to change me, and began using needles on a daily basis.

Who I was had slowly been dying.

Several months prior I had lost my job and consumed myself with theft and injecting Meth on a daily basis. I stopped paying my bills but all the while believing that I was on the verge of coming into large sums of money through my identity theft tactics.  The drug manipulated my brain so that I constantly believed lies in my own head.  Eventually my car was repossessed and I had received a final eviction notice.  I was to the point mentally where I didn’t grasp time nor did I understand the realities of adulthood that I had clearly established for decades of my life before Meth.  I found myself immersed in a group of friends whose only daily motivation was to make enough money to buy drugs and possibly food. This was my every-day life all the while convinced that I was going to come across some drug deal or theft scheme that would save me financially.  We even printed our own money at times.

My life had become death.

Somehow amidst the chaos, after cashing the forged check, I managed to pay movers to store the furniture and other belongings from my condo.  Looking back, I cannot remember how I had the coherence to make this happen.  I knew the eviction date was looming and I recall thinking that I would simply put my stuff away and sell it from the storage unit to make the money needed for rent and hey, I’ll just forge another check or maybe I can sell some of my drugs and I’ll start over with new furniture.  This particular morning, waking up on the floor, was eviction day.  The rustling in the bathroom ended up being preparations for our next injection, which as soon as I pulled the needle from my arm, there was a knock at the front door.  My landlord was standing there and I suppose seeing me in such a state–I can only imagine what I looked like–caused a tinge of sympathy.  He put his arm around me and very calmly said “Dallas, you have to leave today.  The Sheriff is on his way.  We’ve been calling you for days.  It’s time to go.” I was confused and tried to reason with the landlord that I had the money coming, pleading through desperate sobbing. It took the arrival of the Sheriff to make me grasp the notion that I had lost my home.  

As the Sheriff was escorting me out of the condo, I heard the boy rushing out the back door, never to be heard from again.  I stood on the street looking mournfully at my condo and as if attending a funeral, I said goodbye to the life I had worked so hard to build.  A few days later my eyes squinted from the sunlight streaming through naked limbs. I was lying on the bare ground using my shirt as a pillow and my jacket as a blanket.  I was homeless, my condo replaced by a tree near the airport.  Reaching for my phone, there were no texts or calls.  Next, I rose from the ground physically, but this time I allowed myself to die in the metaphorical sense.  I had arrived at the rock bottom of my life.  I accepted that it was time to put that season to rest and move forward.  As my fingers dialed my mom’s number to ask her to rescue me, I began the first step of a long resurrection process that has led me to where and who I am today.

This morning my eyes squinted from the sun coming through my kitchen window as I took cinnamon rolls from the oven for the kids’ breakfast and leisurely sipped coffee.  I am so grateful for the death that lead to this life.

 

 

the witching hour.

File_001Recently I have found myself wide-awake at 4:00 a.m.  Many mornings I will enjoy the solitude by sitting on the couch and staring out into the dark stillness of the night.  While looking at the shadows cascading into the living room from the street light, I noticed how they danced from the headlights of a slowly passing car.  I was reminded of my life as an active Meth addict.  This is the time of the night we used to call the “Witching Hour” as all the tweakers would be at their climax of deviancy. 

One particular witching hour came to mind, a time when I had been awake for four consecutive days, and the first time I can recall feeling out of control while actively using.  Turning off my bedroom lights, I got into bed and moving figures on my walls and ceiling immediately caught my attention.  Of course, being a part of the Meth social circles, I had heard all about the “Shadow People” from other addicts which were movements and figures that one would think they saw but were the result of sleep deprivation.  I had previously experienced swift movements caught in my peripheral or what looked like small animals diving into the street while I drove at night.  These were no big deal to me and I typically laughed at myself.

This time it was different.

These shadows took on three-dimensional shapes; an elephant, oddly shaped men, a large bird, and a gigantic flower.  I was frozen on my back, sinking into my mattress as I witnessed the animation before me.  I remember wiping my eyes and closing them tightly as I attempted to make what I knew to be illusions disappear. Eventually, I succumbed to the entertainment.  I was giggling like a child as the flower bent over and touched my nose, I was talking out loud to the elephant who had sat down beside one of the human figures.  I’m not sure how long this went on; Meth can cause a minute to feel like hours. 

When I try to reflect on the rest of the night, it comes to me in pieces and not necessarily chronologically.  I recall hearing loud rustling and voices outside in the back yard, and the night took a dark turn.  As if a villain had entered the scene in a child’s movie, the friendly shadows ran in fear after hearing the sounds outside.  Suddenly they were gone, replaced by the long stoic obscurities cast from my windows.  I sat up in bed, heart racing, and stricken by fear I had never felt and have never felt since.  The sounds were coming from a group of policemen who were positioned outside my bedroom (or so I believed).

My bedroom had sliding-glass doors that led onto the patio and back yard of my condo.  Beyond the curtains over the doors, I could see the stealthy movements of men flipping, running, sneaking…they were planning an assault on me.  I was frozen except for the erratic darting of my face toward every tiny sound outside, each time gasping.  And then, I could hear them in the house.  I began to sob.  I was so overcome with fear that I was having difficulty breathing and shaking so violently I couldn’t even grip my phone.  I inched my way to the very top center of my bed and curled into a fetal position.  I cried profusely and remember screaming out each time I would hear a twig break under the pressure of their boots or the crackle of their radio or their faint conniving whispers. 

Hopeless.  Fragile. Confused.  And completely out of control.      

The grip of fright felt as if I was being slowly smothered by a python.  I lay curled up, tensed, crying uncontrollably, with my face buried between my legs hoping I could drown out the noises.  There were several instances during the night when I desperately tried to seek help.  For some reason, maybe exhaustion or dehydration, when I was finally able to control the convulsions enough to hold my phone, I couldn’t remember how to make calls or send texts. Out of sheer habit from being high and scrolling apps on my phone, I managed to log into a dating app and sought out help from other people.  But who was going to rescue someone who was currently surrounded by the police?  At some point, I recorded a message using the “Voice Memos” function on my phone.  It was a plea for help referring to how the police were connected to my friends and family, I had been followed for days, and other irrational paranoia.  In my mind, I had sent that memo out like a S.O.S. to the Universe, but in reality it went nowhere.  Some time after day break, my body finally gave in to the pull of rest my body needed and I passed out.  I frantically woke up later that day, my muscles sore to the touch from the intensity of the night.  It took my sober mind several hours to piece it all together.  I had lost my shit.    

Up until this point of my drug use, I prided myself in being one of the few users who had control over their mind.  I wasn’t like most others: face-picking, schizophrenic, or violently paranoid.  I saw myself as an educated, level-headed man who understood reality versus drug-induced mind tricks.  What I have come to understand now is that Meth has a clever way of manipulating emotionally mature people like me into the false notion that they are making the decisions.  With those who aren’t as mentally advanced, it is easy to make them hear voices, see bugs crawling on their body, or think that the neighbor is recording their every move for the FBI.  The real challenge for Meth is to intricately deceive someone like me by utilizing their confidence, will, and intelligence against themselves.

Please understand that this drug is highly clever in the way it slithers into the synapses of the brain and quickly learns where and how to attack.  This strategy is individualized for each person as it studies patterns and writes new ones.  And, now that I am reflecting on my life history, I understand that my first addiction was to control.  Control is the high that enables me to feel good, safe, and powerful. This is why Meth and I had such a natural connection. It allowed me to feel as if I had complete control. All the while, as if a gifted marionettist, it knew exactly which strings to pull inside my brain to make me dance.

After I completely lost control that night, I began to analyze my thoughts and behaviors from an outside perspective and sought to understand what was slowly happening.  My mind was being hijacked; I was a puppet.  With that understanding, then began the labored and deliberate work of leaning in and taking back my mind from a chemical (and I believe spiritual) perpetrator.  The healing from the profound cerebral damage Meth has caused is the battle of a lifetime.  It still tries to attack me, even sitting alone on my couch in the middle of the night.  The memories flood, good or bad, which can lead to triggering the craving, and then my brain easily gives in to those marionette strings, those drug-forged synapse patterns.  But each time I deny those cravings, I am forging my own path, cutting the puppet strings, and authoring my life.

Even during the witching hour, sobriety has given me a new kind of control, one that is positive and produces a light that rids my world of the shadows that seek to destroy me.

 

humili-tea.

IIMG_0127 stood, stooped over the table, holding open the lid of a display box.  Inside the wooden box contained a grid of neatly arranged packages of vibrantly colored hot tea flavors.  An elderly woman peered through her glasses at the tea arrangement while slowly picking up each one, her long frail fingers inspecting the them as if she were handling rare gems.

“How about this one?” she would attempt to read the fine print of tea flavor and look up at me over the thick lenses, her eyes gray and seemingly empty.  “That’s the lavender you just asked me about.  It’s a lavender-flavored black tea. It has a small amount of caffeine.”

This was a recent sunny Saturday afternoon at the restaurant where I work.  I had just picked up several tables and was abnormally busy.  The anxiety inside me grew as out of my peripheral vision I saw my other guests looking around for me with empty drink glasses and the tell-tale signal of closed menus in front of them.  Meanwhile, the older woman in front of me slowly places the lavender tea back and is scanning the other four flavors she has already inspected.

This is the moment when my mind flashed back to three years prior.  I would have been enjoying a Saturday afternoon in the sun having fun with friends.  Maybe I would be hiking or traveling.  I would have been feeling good about myself as Friday afternoon I would have delivered a killer presentation to the executive board to wrap up the week.  That was my life before Meth.

Standing in an apron, sweat dripping down my back in the middle of a chaotic double shift while re-explaining that the orange box is camomile and “ma’am, I’m not sure if that would pare well with a cup of soup” is my life after Meth.  I became absorbed with self-pity, guilt, and shame.  Yes, I’ve accomplished insurmountable progress in the past 200+ days; I’ve remained sober, I’m in the last phase of rehab, and have created a stable financial situation for me and my family.  But…standing there in that moment I felt like a colossal failure.

Tears were welling up in my eyes as I closed the display box.  The lady had settled on a tea and now I had to switch into high-gear and salvage my other tables because my kids and I are dependent upon tips.  My body ached from the night before and 11:00 pm was many hours away.  ‘I’m doctor waiter.’ I thought to myself as I took the order at the next table.  ‘Here I stand with a doctorate waiting tables as I did 25 years ago.  Real nice.’

The day went on and the self-destructive self-talk ensued.  As I was clearing off the dishes from a table, a hand reached out and grabbed my wrist.  I looked up and a middle-aged blonde woman who I recognized as a regular guest of the restaurant was staring into my eyes with a stoic look that startled me.  At first, I thought she may be having a heart attack.

“You need to hear this.”  She was trembling and grasping my wrist.  “You are important and the work you do here is important.  I come here to escape the madness of my life and you are someone who helps me feel warm and appreciated.  Your smile and wit are sometimes the only chance I have during the week to laugh.  You matter to me.”  And with that, she let go of my wrist and went back to eating.

I slowly walked away from her trying to absorb what just happened and retain her powerful words.  I matter.  What I am doing is important. 

The lesson for me is that my addiction has taught me a new level of humbleness.  What I understand now is that living in a state of humility is being the best person I can be and giving my all regardless of the circumstance.  When I feel the pangs of self-pity or the weight of shame, humility is the edifying component that transforms my perspective and enables me to live in the moment, to live in gratefulness.

At this very moment, I will breathe in the peace that results from generating positive energy into the world and projecting light onto others; that peace is rare and I am fortunate to have found it.  Being humble means being grounded.

Before Meth my life was affluent, but empty; accomplished professionally but shallow and dark.  Recovery has shown me a new way of living, one that I would never have known without the experiences brought about by drug addiction.  I’m so grateful for the path I’ve taken.  I will gladly take an extra ten minutes to allow that elderly lady to choose her favorite flavor of tea. To her, the choice is of utmost importance and my patience with her is my gift back to the Universe.

 

closing the loop.

the crescent-shaped bench
The man who sat there six months ago had died and a higher version replaced him on that bench.

In the past, I’ve been annoyed when others used clichés to console me during deep emotional seasons when seeking (what I deem as) meaningful guidance. This used to be a complaint I voiced about AA and NA groups. For instance, I recall sobbing to a fellow addict about the fear of relapse, to which he replied “Keep coming back!” Huh? That’s not exactly the profound gem of wisdom I was expecting.

In the moment I decided that my fellow addict either had no idea what to say or didn’t care in general. As I’ve matured in my sobriety, I realize the implications of that phrase so it doesn’t seem so marginalized now.

Another cliché that has illuminated my journey lately is “closing the loop”. This is a phrase I heard at nauseam while working in the corporate world referring to finalizing a task, or assessing a project. I’ve come to realize the transformational growth that can result from closing a personal loop in my life, whether it be the act of amending wrongs I’ve committed or getting closure on unanswered questions. Let me add color by describing a recent closed loop:

It was a Friday night in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. Flashing neon and blaring music battled for center stage as the city streets flooded with roaring crowds. This level of stimulation could be overwhelming to anyone, so how much more was it to me, high on Meth and having been awake for nine days? Every beat of bass startled me to my core, strangers repeatedly ran into me shoulder to shoulder and I could hear my name being peppered in the conversations of passers-by all the way across the street. Sleep deprivation brought on a thick fog that blurred my environment until I was briefly convinced I was trapped inside an arcade game. Fright overwhelmed me.

I had just been forcibly pushed out of the back seat of a car in the midst of this chaos. I don’t recall now why my “friends” were upset with me, but I can remember flashes of them both turned around in their seats screaming from the front and I yelling back, grasping my travel bag containing the only possessions I had to my name. They drove off and I sat cross-legged on the pavement for what seemed like hours as the raging flood of strangers changed course to avoid me; no one stopped.

What now?

Where am I again? Looking up at the bright-colored lights atop the Duke Energy sky scraper, I thought “Oh, there’s the star on Mill Mountain. I’m in Roanoke.”

I was still in Charlotte. I had spent a considerable amount of time in Roanoke, Virginia over the prior few months.

The next three hours are still a blur. I can only recall flashes of images from that night. I walked aimlessly down the streets, looking for a safe haven. Paranoia made me believe that people were following me and plotting against me, so I had to find a spot that was hidden away where I could gather myself to get on my phone and figure out where I was going to go. One way or another I found a crescent-shaped bench where I felt safe enough to stop and devise a plan. Setting my bag down, I took out my phone and it had died.

There is not a word to describe the level of helplessness and panic that is felt by a meth addict with a dead phone.

I rummaged violently through my bag looking for the charger. I ended up turning the bag over and dumping everything out on the pavement. The charger had been left in the car. Within the fog of my mind I walked away from my pile of belongings, which contained my clothes, laptop, toiletries, etc. I went looking for a charger. I wandered the streets in the August humidity of the night for hours. I couldn’t find a charger and now I couldn’t find my way back to the crescent-shaped bench.

I was crashing.

The streets had practically emptied now as I stumbled through alleyways trying to piece together the layout of downtown Roanoke. I was looking for the “Circle in the Square” area because from there I could get my bearings. In reality, I was still in Charlotte. My shirt was soaked through and adhered to my skin, pants were literally dripping with sweat. My muscles were beginning to be overcome with fatigue. I remember standing in a parking lot frantically looking around, now sobbing, confused and never so hopeless.

Across the lot I could see the headlights of a police car. Somewhere in the corridors of my mind I reasoned that it was time to give up. I ended up turning myself in to that officer as I had a warrant for my arrest. That was the last day I used Meth.

After getting out of jail and working my way back into the resemblance of life, I would intermittently search for that bench. There were days when I had free time and would walk or eventually drive around trying to find that bench so I could achieve a sense of closure. I needed proof that something from that night was real; affirmation that I wasn’t totally crazy. There had to be a familiar crescent-shaped bench somewhere in uptown Charlotte.

Then last week, almost six months later, I parked to go into the salon where I used to get my hair cut as a sober man. Making that appointment felt like such a gratifying accomplishment and milestone of my recovery. On my way in I passed it. The bench. It was nestled in a hidden area positioned behind a fence and tree. I’ll bet I had chosen that area to hide from the crowds. I stood there staring at that bench, tears rolling as I recalled the desperation and fear of that night. I could see myself sitting there, scared and desperately searching for a phone charger. I sat on the bench, taking a deep breath of reflection and slowly recounted all I had faced and overcome over the previous six months. Through misty eyes I smiled as I looked up and saw the Duke Energy skyscraper. I knew where I was and where I was going.

The man who sat there six months ago had died and a higher version replaced him on that bench. And at exactly the right moment. The loop closed, and a new one began.  I would appreciate any comments or related closed loops you’d like to share. Comment below.

the moment.

Accompanying Video on YouTube

Balloons and confetti covered the stage as millions of people cheered.  With tears streaming down her face, Kelly Clarkson stepped forward to accept her place as the first American Idol.  Her original song summed up the scene best: “Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this!”  That one single moment, hearing her name called as the winner, has forever transformed her life.

Have you experienced those single snapshots in time that become vividly scribed into your memory?  That solitary experience that, no matter how many years pass, recalling it transports you there in an instant when time seemed to pause, sensed heightened, and the brain etching every finite detail.  How can one moment in time be so impactful that it changes the course of your life or alters your world view?

I experienced one of these moments as a child.  I was in the back of my dad’s pickup truck, wind blowing in my face as I stared into the passing pastures.  I had just learned our “father/son weekend” was now going to include his brother and several cases of beer.  He had turned to look back from the driver’s seat after unexpectedly stopping to pick up his brother and through the window shot a familiar nasty glance at me.   That was the moment I made the decision to keep my promises to my children and committed to make myself as opposite of him as possible.  That one moment altered the way I viewed the world, him, and how I chose to behave for years.

I could go on,  throughout my life’s timeline, pinpointing these epiphany moments.  I’ve learned that doing so helps me better understand the driving force behind my thought patterns and ultimately the resulting behaviors.  But the latest “moment” has been the most influential so far: when I made the decision to be sober.   `

It was an August day, the humidity was a thick, smothering blanket. The three of us, my kids and myself, were sweating as soon as we left my daughter’s car and began walking toward the greenway.  I had been released from jail earlier that day, and my daughter had been the only voice to answer my “collect call from a Mecklenburg County inmate”.  This had been the fourth time I found myself there in two years.  We were silent as we walked through the grass, I recall the distant sounds of a brook, birds singing, and children playing.

This was the first time I can remember feeling awkward around my own children; I hadn’t seen them in months after we were evicted from our home and I went out of state to “get my shit together.”  I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what I felt.  There was an overwhelming surge of emotion that I can only describe as a newfound release of the past and resolve for the future.  I clumsily stumbled over my words as I attempted to apologize and explain how I ended up in jail again. I hesitantly vowed to stay away from drugs because I had made that promise to them before and the words seemed hollow.

My daughter, not sure if it was the frustration of the heat or impatience with me, or a combination of all those things, abruptly stopped the awkward walk-and-talk.  I turned to see her standing in her best scolding stance: hands on her hips and head tilted, lips quivering.

“Dad.  It’s either Meth or us.  You decide.”

We all stood in silence.  My son’s eyes met mine with a dull sadness that I had not seen or maybe never noticed before that day.  He then looked down at the ground.  My daughter’s chest was heaving; surely it took a certain boldness for her to confront me in this way.

That’s the moment.  I let it go.

Mentally I finally made the choice, seeing the dire situation in a new way.  As my psyche experienced the epiphany, it manifested physically as I felt every muscle in my body seemed to melt.  That is the moment I take myself back to every time I have a craving or feel weak or faced with a temptation.  Imagery has played a major role in enabled me to stay sober for, as of this writing, over 160 days.

Was there a moment in time that made you decide to be sober?  If not, what are some factors that led you to break the hold of addiction?  I would really love to hear about it.

welcome.

intro.  beingdallas.com is a site which features a blog meant to create dialogue around addiction recovery based on my true life story.  My name is Dallas Bragg and you can read more about me here.

vision.  To share my personal recovery journey, to invite conversation regarding addiction-related topics, to add a layer of accountability to my sobriety.  Leave a positive legacy.

disclaimer.  Please know that by no means does this blog infer that I have the disease of addiction beat, nor am I an expert of sobriety.  I am just an imperfect man desiring to show up as a positive light in a darkened world, to be better every day.