#34 From Neil to Demi

When I was 3 years old, my biological father divorced my mom, causing my mom to have to raise me and my older brother(he is 2 yrs older) by herself. At least for a few years, until she met another man, who would come to adopt me and ultimately stain me with the last name I still have today. They got married when I was 8. He was a firefighter, and he seemed like a good guy for the first few years. In order to keep me and my brother in private school, my mom worked a hell of a lot and she wasn’t really around that much as a result. My stepdad worked every 3rd day as a fireman, so he was around a lot more than my mom was. When he was with my mom and my brother and I, he acted pretty decent. But behind closed doors, when my mom wasn’t there, he was severely verbally abusive, and more times than not this would segue into physical abuse.
It didn’t take long for me and my brother to become scared of him. We loved the days he worked and dreaded the days he came home, because usually my mom wouldn’t be there when he was, except for the evenings. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, because I don’t like to remember it. The one thing I want to highlight though, is because our real dad left us at an early age, so this was the only father figure we had ever really known. This was what we thought all dads were like.
His reign of terror lasted for 8 years, until one day he up and left my mom between one day and the next. He cleverly enlisted the help of some friends to help him move ALL of his possessions out of our house in a single day. We came home after our mom picked us up from school and every trace he ever lived there was gone. He left my mom a single note, detailing he had been cheating on her the entire marriage, and couldn’t handle the guilt anymore. She received the divorce agreement in the mail on Valentine’s Day. It destroyed her.
At the time, I was 16 and my brother was 18. My brother left shortly after that to join the Air Force, which basically gave me the title of man of the house. It was up to me to help put my mother back together. She was suicidal. She tried to kill herself several times. I remember one occasion she never came out of her room for 3 days. I thought she was dead. I was afraid to even go in the room for fear of what I might find.
Much to my surprise, she emerged from her room on the third day, and asked me what I wanted for dinner, as if nothing had happened at all. She denied my claims she’d been out for days. She never admitted (at the time) that she had tried to overdose, but one look in her bathroom and all the empty pill bottles told me all I needed to know. I was only 16, but I wasn’t dumb.
From this point on, I entered a period of my life where in order to take care of my mom, in order to shoulder all of the trauma, I shut myself down completely. I didn’t feel emotions, and nothing phased me. In my school during this time up until I graduated, two of my friends killed themselves and I didn’t shed a single tear. I told myself I was ‘strong’ for this. But I wasn’t, of course. I was just too much of a coward to face my emotions. Being numb was easier.
I got a full music scholarship to a local private college (I had played trombone from the time I was 8 up until I graduated high school), my mom and I moved to a new house to start over, and everything seemed great for once. Only, the drastic change of pace of college compared to high school made me realize I could easily not go to class if I didn’t want to. No one would call my mom and tell her I was in detention for skipping class. I kind of felt like my professors didn’t care. So I didn’t either. It didn’t take me long to start skipping classes, and eventually full days and then weeks. Needless to say, I failed out pretty fast.
My mom received the letter that I’d failed out of my first semester and lost my scholarship. She was furious at me for wasting the scholarship obviously, and she told me (since I was 18) I could do what I wanted, but I wouldn’t do it in her house. She kicked me out.
I moved in with my brother who had unfortunately not made the cut in the Air Force. He got honorably discharged after a little over a year, and he began partying hard and doing a lot of drugs with his friends.
It didn’t take me long to take to the partying lifestyle. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. From the age of 19 to 20 I had gone from never having done any drugs or having drank really in my life, to having done everything out there. I loved the escape that drugs provided. They further blocked the painful memories of my abusive stepdad, my mom’s breakdown, and my friends killing themselves.
I worked as a pizza deliveryman for 2 years, bouncing from job to job every few months cause I’d be too high to go to work, or I just didn’t want to. Drugs completely took over my life in a very short time.
If I was sober, I was miserable. I had to have SOME kind of illegal substance everyday, every night.
Doing drugs is an expensive habit to have at that age, and I quickly found the minimum wage I was making for pizza delivery and my tips were not cutting it. I started stealing money from my brother, stealing money from my friends, stealing PROPERTY from friends, just to be able to afford my habit.
My brother had a very close call one day when he totally blacked out while driving and rear ended someone going about 50 MPH. He suffered no injuries, miraculously, but he’d totaled his car, and the person he hit. This was my brother’s wake up call. He’d had a close call with death, and he was done with drugs.
I admired his decision, but did that mean I HAD to stop? No way. I wasn’t going to. Needless to say, after he learned of my theft of his money and things, he didn’t put up with me for much longer. He kicked me out as well.
At this time, I had a car, so I lived out of my car for a month while I saved up money (which took forever because of all the pills and other various drugs I would buy… they were priority) till I eventually was able to get my own place.
The next year saw me get kicked out of two different places, overdose multiple times – one time I was actually pronounced dead for 7 seconds in the ICU -, witness a few more friends fatally overdose, get my car stolen and get it back, and get robbed.
All the while, I was still working pizza delivery – though I was one of the worst employees there, taking forever to deliver pizzas because I was driving out of the way to score pills all the time – and amazingly, I didn’t see anything wrong with what I was doing.
But I wasn’t getting high anymore. I was just getting ‘not as low’ as I felt when I was sober.
At one point, I had driven my car into the ground to the point where it didn’t even start anymore (since I never maintained it because of my drug habit, which came first). I lost my pizza delivery job, obviously, and any hope of getting another one.
My mom was of course, no stranger to what I’d been up to, but allowed me to come and live with her again (and she had found a new husband during the preceding years I had been gone) if I promised to clean up my act and get a job. I didn’t. I lasted 4 days in which time I had stolen most all of her prescriptions out of her medicine cabinet, money from her new husband, and spent my days in a coma from everything I would take at night.
I then went to live with my dad. I’d seen him every so often throughout the years, visiting on weekends and stuff, but I’d never lived with him. Long story short, he didn’t put up with my lifestyle anymore than my mom did, though he didn’t care if I drank, since he had always been an alcoholic for my whole life.
For the first time, I was TRULY homeless. No car to sleep in. No family wanted anything to do with me. Most of my friends didn’t either. Another few months went by, ‘couch hopping’ to various friends houses until I wasn’t allowed at any of them.It was a miserable time. I couldn’t afford hardly any drugs since I had no income and my friends knew I’d steal from them so they kept everything locked up pretty well. I gradually cut down and eventually stopped using drugs. For a time.
One of my friends was dating a guy who was a semi truck driver at the time, who graciously allowed me to come on the road with him for a month. It was a fun experience, and I’ll never be able to repay him for giving me a place to sleep, someone to talk to, and someone to confide in. It kept me out of my own head, which was a place I hated to be. This was around the time Here We Go Again came out, and the reason I remember that is I remember seeing promo posters in Wal-Marts around the country for it.
I realize I failed to include Demi in the first part of this story, but I had of course been listening to her music and following her to the best of my ability (when homeless it’s hard to know too much of what’s going on in the world). I remember being in the same city she was in when on tour, and wishing I could go and see her, though at the time for the only reason that I was a big fan and I loved her voice. But again, I couldn’t afford to even EAT without my trucker friend paying for me, so this was a no go.
At the end of this month, we parted ways. I spent a few days wandering around my home town, sleeping outside, before I broke down and walked to my mom’s house and showed up on her doorstep one night in tears. She was of course HIGHLY skeptical as to whether or not she should let me live with her again, but I promised her I’d changed and I hadn’t done any drugs in months. I would be different this time.
This time lasted a little longer than the last.
One night when her and her husband were at a concert, I had taken some money she’d given me for groceries earlier in the day and bought as much alcohol as I could with it. I hadn’t drank in a while, and I knew they’d be gone the whole night so I was going to celebrate my sobriety… with drinking. Irony at it’s finest.
It was the worst idea I could have ever had. I usually mixed my alcohol with pills and other things – cocaine, ecstasy, weed, whatever I could get my hands on – so I wasn’t really used to just drinking a hell of a lot by itself. I became severely depressed. I contemplated my life. What had I accomplished? All of my friends were nearly graduated from college, my brother had gotten married, and here was me. Nursing a bottle by myself in my mom’s house cause I had nowhere else to go. No college. No aspirations. No future.
I tearfully walked into my mom’s bathroom and scraped together every pill there was and took them all, and downed the rest of the alcohol. I wanted to die.
I blacked out.
Thankfully (though at the time I hated it) my mom had come home earlier than expected from the concert and found me passed out on the floor. I awoke, half conscious, in the car while my mom drove me to the ER. I got my stomach pumped, and I faded in and out of consciousness for days as the doctors tried to save me.
I was Baker Act’d for trying to kill myself, and sent to a mental hospital. My mom was completely broken. She couldn’t even visit me in the mental hospital. I was such a disaster of a person. Here was the first time in my life where I couldn’t have even BEGGED to stay at someone’s house and be allowed. I truly had nowhere to go. I thought myself superior to the other patients at the hospital. I wasn’t as crazy as them, I told myself.
It was here, that I began cutting. I couldn’t get high, obviously. I couldn’t get drunk. The pain was different, but it was better than not feeling it. It was something. You might be wondering how I did it, because these places take away literally EVERYTHING you could possibly use to hurt yourself with. I had a paperclip that I would grind and sharpen on the concrete outside in the smoking area whenever we were allowed to smoke. It was easily hidden. I was very discreet when sharpening it.
While I was here, after a few days, a new person came into the hospital. A kid, about 18 years old, who I became fast friends with. We bided our time for about 2 weeks, until I was released with him. He allowed me to come live with him. Which, as it turned out, wasn’t really a place to live at all. He did the same thing I did, couch hopping different friends houses. I was comfortable with the lifestyle.
I’m not going to go into much detail with this adventure, other than it turned out he was part of a gang in the area, and I was inducted into it, and we participated in a lot of illegal activities. Suffice it to say, I was given access to drugs again with the money we made in… questionable ways, and I was off to the races again. He wasn’t a huge drug fan. He left me for dead one night, ditching me and I never heard from him again.
Back to square one.
I walked about 30 miles into downtown and checked into a homeless shelter. I spent a few months literally doing nothing other than sleeping in the shelter, walking around during the day wasting time, and sleeping again. Drugs were of course easily found, so I did them. I got involved with a lot of shady people, I got robbed, I got jumped, but I still never found reason to stop using. Until I met an older man who was on probation for drug use, who had been making money in legitimate ways – selling hearts and crosses he made out of palm tree leaves – and saving up money to get out of the shelter and move in. He offered me a place to stay with him under one condition: no drugs.
That was it for me. I couldn’t go much lower. I was tired of sleeping outside. I was tired of sleeping in a disgusting shelter. I was tired of going through so much for so little, in the way of getting high. I was done. I even stopped cutting.
Our plan lasted pretty well for a few months. We both got part time jobs at Burger King, and we slowly began renting to own furniture for our duplex. We even had spare money. I finally bought a cell phone for the first time in over a year and a half (which I used mostly to check up on Demi’s twitter and not much else). I started talking to my friends. I started talking to my parents. I told them all I was gonna be okay. I’d finally found a way out of the darkness.
Until my roommate relapsed hard one day. He violated his probation and got sent to jail for a month. I struggled to pay the bills, and I worked his shift AND mine in his absence, until he got released. I was disappointed in him for relapsing, since I hadn’t and I’d kept up my end of the deal, but I was still happy to have his company again. We of course would drink beer every now and then, but it never got too out of hand.
He relapsed again. So much so he went on a crack binge for 2 days straight, and slowly pawned everything we had until we had nothing left. All of my hard work, all of OUR hard work. Gone. In 2 days.
He had violated probation again, and he skipped town. I went back to the shelter. It was at this time I learned of an adult rehabilitation center that the shelter (a salvation army shelter) ran. It was a much nicer place to stay, it was a 6 month program, and I liked the security of it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after that 6 months, but hopefully I’d get some guidance.
Near the end of my time there, I learned of Demi going into rehab (I would use my cell phone when I was allowed it once a week to check twitter and see what she was doing, she was my escape from reality). I’d also bought a small mp3 player which I loaded with various music, but of course my favorite was her 2 albums. I’d listen to them going to sleep nearly every night in rehab.
I was devastated to hear the reasons of her going into rehab, but at the time I was immensely proud of her for doing so. I missed her twitter updates for sure, but I knew it was for a good cause. I still listened to her music, and I certainly didn’t look down on her for doing what she did. I even wrote her several letters which would never be sent. I don’t know why. It helped me feel like I had a purpose, I guess. It made me feel like I had a bond with her. We were both in rehab, for differing reasons.
During my time in rehab, one of my roommates (they came and went regularly, relapsing and leaving the center, or leaving and overdosing and dying) I learned was an ex-drill sergeant from the Army. He basically took me under his wing. I was 23 at the time, and he said that was far too young for me to be in a place like this. He asked me if I had ever thought about joining the military. In truth, I had tried to join the Navy a few years prior, but obviously that didn’t go very far because of my rampant drug use. I told him basically ‘sure, why not’. I mean, I had no other plan after I left the center. Serving the country that had done a lot for me in my life, and in my homelessness (the shelter funded by tax dollars for instance) seemed like the right thing to do.
He made some calls and got me set up with a recruiter. I enlisted in November of 2010 to go to basic training in May of 2011.
My dad allowed me to stay at his house once more after seeing me graduate the rehab program, until I went to basic. Demi left rehab not long after I did.
From there, after I finished basic and started my training schools for my job in the Army and got my freedom back, I was able to listen to music again. I listened to Skyscraper for the first time on my bus ride to my training school from basic training. I was incredibly excited to hear Demi’s new album, and I anxiously awaited it while I went through my training school. I bought it as soon as it released later that year, and while admittedly some of the songs took some time to grow on me, it was a great addition to my ‘Demi playlist’ I would listen to all the time.
I graduated my training school and got sent to my first unit in the regular army, on February 2nd of 2012. I deployed to Afghanistan on February 26th. Demi’s music helped me immeasurably throughout the duration of the 8 months I spent there. It provided that same escape it had in rehab. I would drown out the sounds of helicopters, gunfire, and general commotion of living in a war zone, with her music every night.
I was only able to get on the internet maybe a few times a week, in the recreation center on the base I was stationed at. I sent Demi a tweet one time telling her I wanted to thank her for her music and her story, and how much it helped me. I don’t think she ever saw it. But that was okay. I still felt like she was there with me, each and every night, singing me to sleep, making me forget the horrors I saw and heard about on a daily basis.
When I got back from the deployment, we had a memorial ceremony for all of the brothers in arms we lost while we there. And this, was a pinnacle moment in my life. For the first time since I was 16 and had shut down completely, my walls fell down. I’ll never forget the moment it happened. The parents of the fallen soldiers sang Amazing Grace. Slowly everyone in the ceremony joined in.
It chilled me to the bone. It awoke something in me. A dam burst, all my repressed memories and pain came flooding back all at once – almost 10 years worth.
To this day I am still recovering from that moment, and learning to live with my emotions again. It will be a long battle, and some days are better than others, but it’s a battle worth fighting I know.
Recently, as you probably know, Demi responded to the picture I took with her recent album and added a brief synopsis of how much she has helped me and followed me on twitter. I still can’t describe how awesome that feels. I feel like I’ve been through so much WITH her, but to have her acknowledge me after so many years… it’s just… incredible.
But all of you guys that have followed me as a result of seeing my brief story and have given me encouragement… I really can’t ever thank you enough. It means so much to me. I know there are the haters whose sole purpose in life is to provide ignorant and arbitrary discouragement to others, but they don’t affect me.
Those who support me, and especially with Demi by my side (figuratively) far outweigh them. And I won’t ever be able to fully express in words how much that means to me.
So I just wanted to share the most complete version of my story I could with you all (as complete as could be without writing a novel, haha). I hope it helps someone. I love you all.

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