Godless Paradise

1,653 days. That’s how long he had been clean.

Clean is a term which befits the state of sobriety, because when you’re an addict, anything else eventually starts to feel very dirty indeed. Jack’s drug of choice had evolved (or rather degenerated) from speed and crack cocaine to opiates — the whole weed phase was skipped — making copious use of Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Percocet and the like.

Painkillers will take the pain away and then your soul along with it.

By the time he’d moved up (down?) to heroin, Jack weighed all of 115 pounds soaking wet — standing five feet nine inches tall — and wore that same grimly vacant stare you see in photos of World War I veterans who were the first to suffer from shell shock. His hair was mangy, tangled and unwashed, track marks littering his forearms like roadkill on a country backroad.

Jack had taken up residence in a crackhouse on the outskirts of Boston, near Dorchester. Given name: John Patrick Meyers. Born 27 July, 1982 in Brighton, MA. Irish Catholic (technically). Single (decidedly). High school graduate (barely). College dropout. Angst ridden middle child. Lover of baseball. Hater of the Yankees. Once bright, athletic and creative. Recovering addict. Relapsed addict.

236 weeks of hard earned sobriety — now a thing of the past.

It happened at the beginning of fall, the relapse. Having been passed up for a small time promotion at the real estate development company he’d been employed by since getting clean, Jack finally found his excuse to justify a substance fueled backslide. He failed to see any real benefits of sobriety in the grand scheme of things, seeing as he saw himself alone in the world without a successful career or relationship. His logic — bred by an opioid addled mind — dictated a reliance on junk as being more sensible than one on the people around him.

Drugs will never leave you, after all.

Crawling up into the spoon, then sliding out through the needle, Jack found salvation, something easy, tangible and attainable. The only thing you have to worry about as an addict is your next fix; it really is that simple. Work, relationships, and other such responsibilities fade into the hazy ether of the real world. Your arm becomes the portal to a realm of freedom and otherworldly bliss, your veins a highway to junkie heaven. Heroin addiction is a full time job, and it pays dividends.

There was a fire. When Jack was a child, maybe six or seven, the neighbor’s apartment went up due to some sort of electrical malfunction — back then his family lived in an old, somewhat dilapidated building with faulty wiring in South Boston. Almost everyone managed to get out unscathed, save for the forgotten middle child, who would always bear burn marks on his hands and wrists from grabbing a white hot door knob in mad panic.

So every time he shot up, watching the needle drain, feeling the hot junk seep into his very being, those burns were the last thing he would see before fading into the godless paradise that is a heroin trip. They would remind him of life’s inherent pain, its requisite suffering; and helped him embrace the entitlement involved in running from said on the treacherous road to relapse. Albeit crippling, there is real safety to be found in surrender.

Narcotics Anonymous was formed in 1953; it is the second largest twelve step organization in existence. The steps read as follows:

1. We admitted we were powerless over narcotics — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

In spite of having been raised Catholic, Jack resented the pious nature of these proven steps to recovery, thinking their predication on Faith silly and reductive. He found solace and peace in the sense of community provided by NA, but resented the notion that his hard earned sobriety was being granted by God’s will and not his own.

The first meeting he attended moved him deeply — most of them did — even though he never worked up the nerve to share. Jack couldn’t help but tear up when hearing about others’ journey to recovery, and he wanted to talk about his own struggles with addiction, but so harrowing was the extent of his peers’ maladies that he couldn’t bring himself to confess to shooting horse as a mere consequence of losing out on $3.50 an hour.

54 months of blessed clarity were sacrificed in the name of getting high.

The meetings’ leader was a hulking, bearded townie by the name of Sean, who was in the habit of chain-smoking menthol cigarettes while talking loudly and avidly about hockey on breaks. He had this coarse brand of humor that made it easier for people to get comfortable talking about the heavier stuff, and an unmistakable Southie accent which amplified said humor to maximum effect. Sean spent hours after every meeting keeping members company who weren’t ready to leave, whether that meant drinking cheap coffee and shooting the shit, or holding them in his arms until they stopped crying. Sean was Jack’s friend, mentor, and sponsor.

He may as well have been Jack’s savior.

After using again, Jack came to his sponsor first, who, of course, responded kindly and with heartfelt empathy. As he was well versed in the hardships of relapse, Sean knew that Jack wouldn’t be given to talking about all of his shit right away, but made himself available, nonetheless (in the event that he might just need someone to listen absent any judgment).

They talked about the fire, about how its overt symbolism and vast destruction still haunted Jack to this day, leaving him forever scarred. He admitted to Sean that he had never really recovered from losing his childhood home, and that he still thought about it — that irretrievable sense of loss — all the time, especially as he was tying off.

So they made a trip out to Southie, to the site of the fire, to ground zero. Jack had clawed his way to 72 hours of sobriety with the help of Sean, methadone and what little willpower he had left to claim. Shivering in the warm summer air, the junkie looked up from the sidewalk at shiny new condominiums which stood atop the remains of the house he’d grown up in. Sean put his arm around Jack’s shoulder, remaining supportive in silence as sponsor, brother and kindred spirit.

Truth be told, there wasn’t much else he could do.

Now back on the road to sobriety, Jack became aware that while Day 2 may be painful, it’s a hell of a lot better than ground zero.

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