September 1st, 2016 is my clean (sobriety) date. I went to prison on September 3rd, 2013, so the last time I used drugs was during my incarceration.
When I went in, I had no intention of getting clean. I knew I was never going to sell drugs again, but using was a different story.
My last night in Minneapolis before I left for prison, I went to a rave. There were DJs playing music, lights … and plenty of drugs.
With prison waiting for me two days later, I had my excuse for one last blow-out night. I drank unsafe amounts of alcohol, ate Molly (ecstasy), snorted cocaine, and had unprotected sex with a complete stranger. I wasn’t concerned about the future. All I cared about was myself and how I could numb my insecurity and fear.
In my first three years in prison, I drank alcohol, smoked K2 (a synthetic chemical that is sprayed onto paper or cardboard and smoked to experience a high), and did whatever I felt like doing.
K2 is the most-used drug in prison. It’s supposed to be like weed, but from my experience, it’s nothing like it. I’ve seen people on K2 frozen in the same spot for hours on end. I watched one guy on it lick the floor, and another strip naked. That stuff doesn’t happen to people on weed.
The way I figured it, I went to prison for selling drugs, not using them. So I thought, as long as I never sell drugs again, I don’t have to worry about going back in. So getting clean wasn’t the plan.
September 1st, 2016, didn’t carry any significance at the time. I didn’t know it was Day 1. I only knew I wanted to put my drug use on hold.
I was a few years into a 7-year prison sentence and I didn’t want to extend my stay any longer by getting caught using inside. Around that same time, I’d also promised my mom not to do anything illegal in prison or jeopardize any of my good-time. I stopped using to keep that promise.
In 2018, two big shifts happened: I started treatment and I started to share my story on my sister’s blog, construction2style. That’s when my life started to change.
Treatment showed me how much damage I had caused with my drug use. I received several victim impact letters while I was in treatment and the four most painful were from the four most important people in my life, besides Melrose: my mom, sister, brother, and grandmother.
Each person described how they felt during my years of heavy drug use and criminal behavior. They wrote about the emptiness and terror of not knowing whether I was alive or dead. They questioned if I even cared.
One told me it was my last chance and another had the money I owed them detailed down to the penny. They all told me that the lies hurt the most. They described the damage I’d already done to my daughter, just by going to jail. They detailed all the things she missed and all the things she went through because I wasn’t there.
Every time I shared a letter during treatment, I broke down crying. I felt sick to read them out loud, hopeless even. A mess of shame and guilt at the same time.
It was all stuff I already knew but had never had the courage to face. It was horribly painful but something else happened: a little weight was lifted and I began to heal.
Writing became my passion over those last years of my incarceration and in writing, I discovered myself. I uncovered what I was scared of, what I was good at, and how I need to be held accountable. Writing showed me that all my actions have impacted me or others and until I correct or amend those actions, I won’t move forward.
I wrote about the insecurities that held me back my whole life. I wrote about using drugs to cope with tough times. And by sharing it all on the blog, I received support from complete strangers who only know me through my story, yet believe in me. That’s why in my post, Self-doubt, I say that I’m lucky. Not only am I alive after all I’ve been through but I have so many still standing in my corner.
The program and my sponsors continue to push me to heal and become a better person. My first sponsor inside was Dennis Cockerham and he played a huge role in getting me moving in the right direction. Now that I’m out, it’s Ray Hansen. I’ll need his support since clean and sober outside is harder than inside and it will be even harder when I’m not restricted to my house.
My sponsors have shown and continue to show me things I don’t see. They point out when the old me comes back for a visit. They force me to do things I don’t want to do. They push me to make amends to people I’ve wronged. They keep me involved in my recovery because being clean and sober is only the first step.
Clean and sober is my chance for freedom, but not just from jail. I was imprisoned by my choices long before I was incarcerated.
Clean and sober means the chance for freedom from my past, my demons, my deeds, my insecurities, my self-doubt, my fears. I’m not there yet. Four years in and I still want to, go to a rave and use drugs, and sleep with somebody I don’t know.
But someday that will change, I hope, but each day I get further from those impulses and cravings and that’s the process. Even though I’m not yet totally free, each day I move a little closer.
Most importantly, clean and sober means having a real relationship with my daughter, Melrose. It means giving her a good chance of making better choices than I did. It means an opportunity to be successful — personally and professionally.
It means being able to hold a job, be reliable, and make a contribution. It means reaching my full potential. It means helping others. It means helping me.
To reach these goals means two meetings a week, with time spent on working the steps, and then turning those steps into action.
The meetings remind me that I’m not alone and that others who’ve been through what I’m going through, are there to help. The steps are like my writing: they allow self-discovery, bring out my true feelings, and expose my buried thoughts. Then moving those insights into action is what it’s all about — if it doesn’t translate, it’s all for nothing.
My mom recently asked my sister, “How long will Noah have to do all this treatment stuff and go to these meetings.”
The answer: “As long as you want me to be clean and sober.”
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