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The Smile

The Smile

How well can you ever really know someone? As I sat down with the Director of Admissions of Buckeye Recovery Network that is the question that weighed heavily on my mind. Matt Keogh is the gatekeeper of our company and the one that everyone speaks with before coming here.  

Matt-Keogh

The Smile

How well can you ever really know someone? As I sat down with the Director of Admissions of Buckeye Recovery Network that is the question that weighed heavily on my mind. Matt Keogh is the gatekeeper of our Company; the phone answering work-horse who was tasked with convincing men and women that leaving their home-states behind to travel to our quaint treatment center in Southern California could potentially be a decision that transforms their lives. It wasn’t a hard sell, considering Matt himself had made that very decision nearly four years ago and arrived in California with a soul withered to shreds by his love affair with Jim Beam and Miller Lite. Like myself, he accomplished the seemingly impossible and built a life from the ashes of sadness and defeat. BRN played a crucial role in his recovery and he, like everyone who works here, knows the entire staff on a personal level far beyond the standard confines of traditional employment. I believe that this is what makes him so good at his job. When you sell something you truly believe in it does not feel like your selling anything at all. If you feel as though you are making the world a better place every time you dial the phone why wouldn’t you work 12 hours a day? He truly believes in the work he is doing and is universally known as the happiest person on the face of the earth.

He never stops smiling. This is not hyperbole for the sake of my writing. Now you can say “maybe he just smiles for his job as an admissions director” and I am to here to tell you that it oddly goes so much further beyond that. I have been Matt Keogh’s roommate for nearly a year so out of all the interviews I have done or will do with Buckeye Recovery Network this is easily the most intimate and comprehensive of them all. Matt Keogh smiles while he works. He smiles while he cooks dinner. He smiles while he does the dishes. He smiles while he fills out his taxes. I am certain that if you teleported into his bedroom at 3 am you would find Matt curled up in his bed with a giant toothy smile plastered on his face. I think that was what flared my curiosity when I imagined the possibility of this interview. It of course was not the smile or the happiness that interested me. Instead, it was the desire to learn the truth behind the smile. The nature of who I am is to understand what is beneath the surface; always skulking around the Land of Oz with my magnifying glass, desperately searching for the man that was surely hidden behind the curtain.

These interviews were written to uncover why the employees of BRN are driven to work in the field of substance abuse but I would be lying if I said I did not have ulterior motives with Matt. What sadness and heartbreak could lead to someone who constantly made a point of exuding so much joy at every turn of his existence. Maybe it is the reason I love to write so much, that I am always looking to poke holes in the fairytale. Always looking to prove Cinderella planted her glass slipper strategically as she left the dance and that Pinocchio was just a hallucination of Geppetto’s dementia-ridden brain. I think its clearly a reflection of my struggles with despair and life in general that I cannot accept a smile as just a smile. The clown at the circus may make the entire audience erupt in raucous laughter while I sit expressionless, attempting to physiologically unpack the series of unfortunate traumas that would lead a grown man to a career of makeup and colored jumpsuits.

Matt Keogh was born in Long Island, New York. He is 30 years old with a full oak-brown beard and dark-blue eyes reminiscent of the pacific ocean. He is roughly 5 foot 10 and looks like someone you would allow to house-sit for you while you go on vacation without so much as a second thought about something going awry. Ever since I have known him, he has been the hardest working person I have ever met. At first, his work ethic was less of a quality to admire and more of the proverbial thorn in my paw as I attempted to climb the ladder of our company.  Both of us worked in entry-level positions and it was nearly impossible to keep up with his production. If a task needed to be handled he would volunteer without hesitation nor consideration for the time it would take and the difficulty of it. He would not only accomplish whatever it is was asked but also he did it all with a smile. He was always making me look bad. I have never been the best at taking direction or doing things by the book. Matt would memorize “the book” and live and die by the rules. He was the perfect employee; never once daring to even so slightly color even the slightest bit outside the lines. Meanwhile I was spending a large chunk of my time trying to secure boxing fights throughout Southern California and moonlighting as a freelance breathing meditation instructor. My mind would be pushed and pulled by romantic relationships and a passion for writing. I would see Matt and I saw in him a model of consistency, efficiency, and focus that I have never known. Watching his bright white smile from afar as I rode a daily roller-coaster of emotional uncertainty; my face a revolving door of expression fluctuating rapidly through an endless spectrum of feelings.

We were never close, that is until he became Director of Admissions and I an Operations Director for the company. In the training our predecessors gave us before moving on to the next phases of their career, they made it abundantly clear that operations and admissions needed to have incredible synergy for the company to flourish. That the synergy that exists between the two departments is the life-blood that will fuel great success for our treatment center. Matt tasked with finding prospective patients who fit the criteria of our program and myself with the guidance of those patients once they have admitted into our universe of recovery. I would be molding many of the operational pieces that we could utilize to improve our ability to manage clients and help them change their lives. Matt taking those pieces and making sure to emphatically explain them to addicts and families across the country. Convincing them the structure I created is a necessary building block in the recovery of an addict. Matt was Heimdall guarding the bridge and I was Thor greeting junkies and booze-hounds in the halls of Valhalla.

Although our methods and personalities were wildly different we both shared common denominators that tied us together and continues to do so until this day. Ambition, a concrete belief in what Buckeye has to offer, and an unwavering desire to help people. If we were both challenged to travel to China on foot with the end result somehow magically being that the world would change for the better, we would both leave immediately and without hesitation. However, our methods would contrast. Matt would Forrest Gump his way across the globe with a never-ending smile and dark blue eyes. Greeting the inhabitants of this planet pleasantly along the way and making friends with sailors and fishermen who would gladly ferry him across the oceans and seas. Meanwhile, I would be manically attempting to dig through the center of the earth with raw and blistered hands, desperately trying to create a short-cut that turns out to be a dire over-complication of a simple equation.

When our prior Director of Operations told me of the necessity of a close relationship between myself and Matthew, I jokingly said “he will be the best man at my wedding one day”. Little did I know that I would end up not only working with him but also living with him. Little did I know that through the strength of his character and the profound impact he has had on me over the years that the statement was true. If I were to get married tomorrow you would see him standing to the side of me and my bride. Dressed immaculately with a giant smile to match.

Matt told me about growing up in Long Island with one sister and five brothers. I pressed him immediately asking if it was hard being one of seven and if his parents had a hard time giving attention to all of them. “No, actually I think that they gave me more attention for some reason.” He told me of growing up in an Irish Catholic household where weekends were spent at the beach with his mother and siblings. He told me of friends long-ago forgotten and a kindergarten romance that resulted in his first kiss. “We didn’t make out or anything” Is how he finished that topic of discussion. He stated that he was always close to his brothers and sister. I attempted to extract some kind of family disfunction during his childhood but every invasive question was met with a confident answer of serenity and functionality. Every inquisition into his childhood was retorted with stories of family bonding, vacations, and quaint summers. He did not, by my perception, seem to be distorting the truth or concealing information. When Matt spoke of beach trips with his mother, his dark blue eyes would drift to the ceiling of his office and more calmness than usual beset upon his already gentle tone. After spending time searching for the smoking gun in his youth that would surely explain his alcoholism later in life, as-well-as the sadness that surely lived behind his smile I realized that I was not going to find it. Simply because it did not exist. I then realized that his pain and darkness in life must be a result of the dastardly antics of his drinking years.

He spoke of his first drink. “My first drink was probably about 12. I drank at a family party or something. Snuck some beers.” I asked him if he committed this rebellious infraction alone and he replied with simply “Ya alone” but the memory was hazy and he could not recall any specifics. When Matt spoke of his first real drunk his face lit up. This was his trademark Bill Wilson “I have arrived moment”. Every alcoholic has one. The night where you feel like alcohol is the missing ingredient that will transform the pumpkin that is your life until a beautifully designed horse-drawn carriage. Matt drank 12 peppermint cosmos at the age of thirteen and had the night of his life. Waking up the next morning with a vicious hangover and confusion of how he could have gotten throw-up on the ceiling. His drinking would takeoff from there but slowly and surely. More of a story of the traditional American high school experience of partying on weekends with his brothers and friends. Drinking on weekends and sneaking into New York bars. Keeping up with his brother’s trajectories and never having moments of true concern for his well-being.

When I asked him when his drinking began to scare him he took a more somber posture then I am used to seeing from him. The smile still there but lessened to a dull. “I think it was about 20 or 21. Everyone else was going to class and I would stay home every day to drink.” I asked him how this made him feel and replied simply with “Disappointed in myself.” I was upset with his lack of struggle thus far in the interview and what I perceived to be a calculated evasion of truth. I bluntly said to Matt “You have an avoidance of conflict in your life today and you have an avoidance of conflict in your memories. You’re an alcoholic and you burnt your fucking life to the ground.” He snapped back with “I do avoid conflict in my life but I’m trying to dig in. You know me. I’m trying to dig in but there’s nothing there.” It was maybe the most serious I had ever seen him before he realized the conflict I had created. He had failed to avoid it. The smile quickly returned to his face accompanied by a nervous chuckle. I tried to go even deeper as I sensed that he was vulnerable as I believed the façade was about to finally crumble. I asked him with the sternest, most piercing tone I could muster “What’s the worst thing you have ever done. Your entire life. The thing that keeps you awake at night.” He replied “Obviously the DUI. At the point, I didn’t have a license and I was in fear of going to jail. That was one of the worst points in my life.” That was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting an answer of poetry and sadness. Something so insidious that I would have to leave it out of this article and never speak of it to anyone. A DUI is an incredibly unpleasant and sad occurrence for sure, but in our world of recovery, it is usually the ice-breaker a recovering alcoholic would use before diving into stories of grand-larceny or panhandling.   

It was about a half-hour into the interview where Matt gave me some of the more philosophical insights that I have ever heard from him. He talked about dropping out of school without his parent’s knowledge. He would get on a random subway every day and drink while his parents assumed he was In class. He would ride the train for the entire day and was just simply existing for the sake of existing. “Pretending to go to school and pretending to go to work. Either steal my mom’s wine or buy some forties to start the day. Living at my parent’s house before getting sober. I know there’s life out there but it’s just too far away. To difficult.” It was genuine sadness he was speaking of and when he spoke the smile surely was extinguished from his face but only momentarily before returning to the ray of sunshine I knew him as. It wasn’t an overwhelming torment he spoke of but instead a crippling fear of the world and the conflict that lived within it. It was pain that was the result of his alcoholism and inability to stop drinking but had nothing to do with some cataclysmic event or powerful narrative.

Matt’s oldest brother is an ER doctor. The two other oldest are lawyers. His immediate younger brother is a Michelin star chef. His youngest just graduated Maritime school with the desire to become a ship captain. His sister was a successful event planner before getting married and having her happily ever after. The Keoghs are an incredibly successful family. While each brother was priming themselves to pursue their greatest passions, he was drinking 40 ounces in New York City. Riding subways into oblivion and deftly afraid to enter a world of conflict that he did not want to face. I asked him if he feels like he is making up for lost time after he finally sobered up. He repeated the question slowly and exhaled before saying “I don’t have a degree. This work experience only started a few years ago. I am 30 years old and trying to make a career.” Another simple answer devoid of narrative weight or anything literarily profound.

The truth of the matter is that this interview was more revealing of myself then it was of Matt. My unrelenting pursuit of truth had obscured me from truth itself. Listening to the recording of the interview I could hear how feverishly I attempted to press his buttons and dig into his soul. How manically I was digging to the center of the earth with raw and blistered hands. It is now becoming clearer that I search for blemishes on the beautiful simplicities of this world to justify the demons that live within my soul. If everyone’s past is filled with ghosts then that would allow me to sleep at night with the ones that haunt my own. My own over-complicated mind taking the trivial and increasing the focus on the microscope until I can’t even see what I’m looking at.  Missing the beauty of the forest because I cant look past the ugliness of a tree. With all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one. There was no destructive event or family dynamic that sparked the kindling of Matt’s alcoholism. He drank for the first time and he loved the way it made him feel. Then he couldn’t stop. His family loved him unconditionally and they were always there for him. Things got rough from his drinking and he faced consequences. He needed to change his life and get sober. He did. In the end, the power of Matt’s narrative comes from the complete lack of one. The fact that alcoholism doesn’t need to be tied to some Shakespearian tragedy and can truly corrupt even the best of us. Sometimes those things are there if you look for them. However sometimes you pull back the curtain in the land of Oz and you will find that it is you yourself who is standing there.

 

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The Minimalist

The Minimalist

Parham Nematollah (Chief Operating Officer)

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Chad Steinetz

Chad Steinetz

Blog Writer and Director of Operations for Buckeye Recovery Network

The Minimalist

I always wanted to interview the staff at Buckeye Recovery Network. After all, I had been apart of Buckeye consistently since the day I first arrived in California to get sober nearly three and a half years ago. Perspective is something that is constantly shifting based on the variables of time and vantage-point. I had come to BRN (Buckeye Recovery Network) with 22 days of sobriety to seek treatment for a vicious addiction to heroin, which at that point,  had derailed every dream and ambition I ever had. 6 months of process groups, therapy, counseling, and self-care within the confines of BRN truly changed my life. It was not the sunshine and palm trees of southern California that restored order and balance to my troubled mind. As beautiful as the scenery is, it could easily have provided the backdrop for a further descent into madness instead of true recovery. It surely wasn’t the building itself that allowed me to finally sleep at night. A small, discrete, and grey chunk of concrete sitting quietly in a bustling surf-town next to the beach in Orange County California. It positively had nothing to do with my thinking or ideas, which had been contorted and construed by years of drug abuse, emotional trauma, and criminal mischief. No, the true authors of my recovery were the people of Buckeye Recovery Network. You see in the midst of the beautiful weather and palm trees; sitting inside the grey chunk of concrete in the bustling surf-town is a team of people that gave a fuck. They took a broken, confused, and scared boy and gave me the tools to pursue freedom in my life. So, as I write this 3 and a half years later as a proud employee of the company that gave me so much, I now have the privilege of working with them to do the same for many others.  

  I have wanted to interview each employee of BRN for some time now and decided to begin with the leader of us all. His name is Parham Nematollah and he is the Chief Operating Officer of this organization. As we sat down for the interview on a rainy Thursday morning he described his role within the organization more brilliantly than I ever could have. As the ultimate decision-maker and driving force behind the treatment provided at BRN I jokingly described him as the conductor of our facility. He chuckled momentarily before a more serious expression straightened his gaze and lifted his chin. He said, “A great conductor will tell you that his musicians are his instruments and that a great conductor is one who uses all his instruments in perfect unison.” He is the conductor. The employees that work at BRN are his instruments. The recovery of countless men and women under his tutelage is the music. How beautiful that music truly is.

Parham is a 6 foot 3 Iranian man with jet black wavy hair that is consistently slicked backward with precision and force. The only variable I have ever found in his appearance is the amount of product in his hair on any given day. You know a man is consistent when the only observation of inconsistency is the varying level of hair gel he uses. Everything else about him is as guaranteed as death and taxes. No matter where you are on this planet you can be sure that he is somewhere dressed in all black, feverishly dreaming of his aspirations, quoting Persian poets and backing it all up with an unrelenting work ethic. If you ask him why he is always in all black clothing you are inviting yourself into a ten-minute conversation regarding the success of icons like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. He will tell you that the truly successful dreamers and pioneers will limit their choices regarding anything personally aesthetic as it will allow for more focus on the choices that truly matter such as navigating an industry or directing a company. Parham’s office is the smallest one in the entire company. You will open the door and find a 7 by 7 room with two small wooden chairs separated by roughly 5 feet of space. You will find 3 blank walls and a fourth dotted with pictures of the high school basketball teams he has coached. You will find a computer raised in the air for him to type while standing and a small generic oil diffusor. That is all. Minimalist.

I have known Parham for years now. He had aided in my recovery from drugs and alcohol but had more so been a professional mentor in my career. I would sit in his miniature office for countless hours throughout the week. He would coach me on how to achieve my goals and handle situations that I had no experience with. Considering my only job history before recovery was as a pizza delivery boy, let’s just say his presence was and is, continually invaluable to me. My first real interaction with him was as a patient. He came into our counselor’s room following a process group between me and five other clients. He asked us what we liked and didn’t like about the program. So, we told him. He asked us what we would change about the schedule and group times. So, we told him. Then an amazing thing took place that until that point had never transpired in my many encounters with authority figures. He listened to our genuine feedback and he made nearly every adjustment that we were asking for. I’m still fighting to have burrito Wednesday every day of the week but alas you can’t win them all. He won me over a bit that day. The tall Iranian in all black, sitting on a dainty wooden stool and intently listening to the recommendations of a bunch of newly sober crackheads, junkies, and booze-hounds. The minimalist.

That was my concern for the interview. As I navigated the 15-minute drive from my apartment to our clinical building I was filled with excitement at the prospect of getting such an intimate setting to pick the mind of someone who has played such a huge role in my life. However, I was also uneasy about what I would get out of this man who seemed to have developed a knack for de-escalation. He was, after all, a minimalist in many more ways than the material world. No matter how big a problem a client was facing, whether it be legal uncertainty, family tragedy, financial ruin, or miscellaneous catastrophe; Parham would speak in truth and simplicity. He could, through years of practice, convince you that the burning building you just ran out of was necessarily incinerated in-order to clear the plot of land for you to build the beautiful home that will house your future children and gorgeous spouse. He had a calculated way with words. His speech cadence and tone were as consistent as his wardrobe. Soft, tempered, and confident. When I interview someone, I am not looking for soft and tempered. I am not looking for the calculated and cadence. I am surely not looking for a minimalist.

I sat down in the bare vacuum of his office and pressed play on a recording device. For one hour, twenty-six minutes, and thirty-four seconds we spoke about everything under the sun. From addiction to recovery. From early childhood in Iran to life in America. From a societal outcast to a smooth-talking leader of a company. Nothing about it was minimal. Parham was born in Iran 6 years after the Iranian revolution. His brother was born in the year of the revolution. What this means is that his parents lived through a seismic societal and cultural shift that saw the Iranian people thrust into their current age of right-wing religious extremism. Parham’s recollection of his early years’ ages one to five could only be remembered by him as “loud and blurry” as Iran was at war with Iraq and was dealing with bombings of Saddam Hussein daily. He remembered the sounds of the sirens going off that would alert him and his family to escape into bunkers. His family moved around constantly during this time out of fear for their safety. He then moved to California with his brother and mother when he was five. His father remained in Iran. He spoke of this time fondly. “That really began the Americanized version of me. I was obsessed with GI Joes and Ninja turtles.” He described getting a taste of the western world before being moved back to Iran at the age of 9. Ripped away from his Saturday morning cartoons to be placed in a religious and strict Iranian society at a pivotal point in his childhood. He went into vivid detail about his inability to fit into a society he no longer related to. At 15 he would return to the United States permanently with his Mother but it would be years before his father would join him. He would once again struggle to adapt to his new surroundings and adolescents in America.

Two general themes revealed themselves to me during our one hour, twenty-six minute, and thirty-four-second conversation. I had been given fragments of stories and bits of the puzzle of this man’s journey over the years. I never once had a complete picture of why he is the way he is. A Six foot three Iranian minimalist with 12 years of sobriety and the task of running a treatment facility in Huntington Beach California doesn’t just happen by accident. We are all molded and shaped by the experiences we face on our journeys through this world. His experience is one that was forged in never truly belonging. I have never been to Iran. I do have enough knowledge to know that it is quite possibly one of the starkest cultural comparisons to American culture that exists. To be vacillating between the two at pivotal moments in one’s development would be taxing, to say the least.

When he spoke of his addiction to a multitude of substances and how it developed, he frequently spoke of an evolving and shifting identity. He stated that he would go as far as to pretend he was from New York City and wear Knicks jerseys to help sell the ruse. He spoke of changing friends groups over and over. He spoke of moving to Carbondale, Illinois for several months to once again attempt a fresh start only to fail miserably. In front of me was a man that for the first part of his life had never known stability in any sense. His outside environment was one that would shift as the inner works of his being followed suit. To go back and forth from the basins of Iran to the sandy beaches of Southern California. To go from the Persian kid who couldn’t fit in in America, to the American kid who couldn’t fit-in in Iran. Back and forth a couple of times.

Suddenly I had a clearer and truer understanding of the man who sat before me. Buckeye Recovery Network is a treatment center that regularly gets patients from all over this country. I came from New Jersey. I had never been west of Michigan before coming here for treatment. Many others like me arrive here shellshocked by the sudden terror of so much change. It is only fitting that we are greeted by a man who knows that feeling so intimately. Parham has an uncanny ability to help our clients and staff with adapting to a new environment and a new lifestyle. He has this ability because he has done it more than anyone else I have ever met. Treatment can be a chaotic place where nothing seems to go as planned because you are dealing with men and women at their most vulnerable. I can’t think of a better person to run a treatment center than someone who was avoiding bombings in the Iraqi/Iranian war for the first five years of his life.

The second theme that stuck out to me was his relationship with his father. His tumultuous past with his father and inability to connect to him was something that came up at varying stages in our conversation. As a young man, he held resentment towards his father for moving him back to Iran after getting a taste of a sega genesis and an American life. It wouldn’t be till years into his recovery that he realized that his father had desperately wanted to stay in Iran to be close to his own father. Parham’s Grandfather who was ill at the time. He talked about his father living in Iran whilst his mother and brother lived in America during his high school years. Parham told me that his father only attended one single high school basketball game of his career. I asked him how he played that night and he said: “I can’t remember”. I assume he didn’t have the game of his life. He used his mother as a buffer to convey messages to his father as only she could translate Parham’s troubled alcoholic thoughts into something digestible.

Parham does a lot at BRN. He has to manage an entire facility and its staff. Often you will find him spread thin. Out of everything I have ever witnessed him attempt or achieve, I have never seen him more focused on anything than his family education and support group. What began as an in-person weekly group designed to help families understand their addict loved ones has become a border-line obsession for Parham. When Covid-19 forced us to video conference the entire group out the masses he became fixated on offering the highest quality experience possible. After an initial session where the video was grainy and the audio quality was muffled, he immediately acquired a high-quality camera that would broadcast his slicked-back hair with razor-sharp clarity. He obtained a clip-on microphone that captures his soft and tempered tone with crisp perfection. Just as inevitable as the rising sun,  you can find Parham dressed in all black every Saturday at 10 am. You will find him giving families the tools they so desperately need to aid in the recovery of their loved ones living with the illness of addiction.

When I asked Parham what his father and his relationship is like today he smiled and lifted his chin. “It’s really good. Maybe it’s always been good. I think maybe its perception thing and my mind was all twisted.” I asked him if his father ever did anything differently to improve his side of the relationship. He said, “He started showing up to a family process group every Wednesday night at my treatment center”. Suddenly I was provided with another stroke of the paintbrush that was finally giving order and weight to a personality that a first glance seemed slightly neurotic and obsessive. Here is someone that has dedicated his life to providing people a sense of belonging that he desperately missed as a child. Here is an addict who never fit in and found his place in the world. Here is a son who never could connect properly to his father until someone like him created a program to help families do that very thing. Here is a man who has faced adversity and won. A gangly Persian with slicked-back hair. The minimalist whose impact is anything but minimal.

 

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It was a Tuesday

It was a Tuesday

My life changed on a Tuesday.

It was a tuesday

My life changed on a Tuesday. I was a freshman in college and up until that point, I had glided fairly neatly upon the middle-class, suburban tracks that brought me from a small farm town in New Jersey to an upper west side college campus in New York City. I was a partier but nothing in my life up until this point was too far out of bounds. I would drink and smoke weed on weekends with the lacrosse team and although I drank like a fish, I had no issues staying on the straight and narrow Monday-Friday. I had experience with painkillers resulting from a surgery I had when I was 13 years old and I knew back then that opiates were something that provided me immense pleasure, however, that is a story for a different time. I had snorted cocaine nine or ten times by this point and the feeling that provided me, although momentarily pleasant, ultimately became uncomfortable. Fifteen minutes after a line I would become irritable and would wish I could unzip my human skin and exit my body.  A friend on the lacrosse team had given me a number to a weed delivery-man named Daniel. This is before marijuana use had become as accepted as it is today and the concept of a dealer delivering grass to your doorstep was a novel and exciting one. The first time Daniel showed up at my apartment he made it immediately clear that he offered a world beyond marijuana delivery. He told me bluntly that he could deliver me any mind-altering chemical my heart desired.

The next word out of my mouth was simply “Oxy?”, and so it began. A journey through sickness, violence, crime, and self-destruction that would one-day conclude with my salvation and provide me the ability to sit down and write this article. Daniel was the first of a long list of drug dealers I would utilize for my needs over the next five years. He was not nearly the most memorable of drug-slinging character I had encountered however as a high school sweetheart will always hold the special place of being my first.

Daniel was a roughly 30-year-old Asian man with jet black hair and a flat broad nose. He drove a black Lexus SUV that was always immaculate, with perfectly manicured leather seats and carpet that somehow always looked as though it had just been shampooed and vacuumed moments before he arrived. Whenever I saw him was always wearing some kind of vibrant garments such as a leopard print jacket or fluorescent pink pants. He consistently fashioned a solid gold Rolex on his right wrist that the sun would glare off of as he maneuvered his vehicle around the bustling traffic of the city. I would text message him something along the lines of “2 blues” and he would quickly reply the same thing every single time: “Kopy” with a K. Fifteen minutes or so later I would get a message saying “here” and would briskly jog down three flights of stairs in my apartment building to hop in his car. He would spin around the block and we would make the exchange before dropping me off conveniently back at my front door. It was that easy.

Daniel and I never spoke much. Once he was drunk and told me he was celebrating the birth of his son. That was as deep as our conversations ever went. I still remember the first pill or “blue” I bought from him. A “blue” was a 30mg Oxycodone. All you had to do was apply about ten pounds of pressure with the flat side of a credit card and it would quickly transform into a fine powder that you could inhale up your nose. I bought one “blue” from Daniel off the corner on 222nd and Broadway on the upper west side of the Bronx. I held it in my clutched grasp without so much as looking at it until I had retreated to my apartment and was safely away from the noise of the streets. I retrieved a plate from my kitchen and took a seat on my couch. I crushed it up and chopped it into 4 perfectly symmetrical lines and paused momentarily to admire the vibrant blue craftsmanship at my fingertips. I snorted all four lines with a rolled-up one-dollar bill that had seen better days. All that remained in my loosening clutches was a blue stained, circular piece of white china. It was a Tuesday.

It is funny how a singular moment in our lives can seem so trivial at the time but years later can echo in your mind because of the impact it makes. You can only appreciate those moments thanks to the passage of time. It’s funny how the memory of blue skies and sunshine hold so much more weight when you’re lost in the 100 mph winds of a hurricane. I kicked my legs up on my coffee table and every care and concern I ever had in my 19 years of life vanished in an instant. Since my earliest childhood memories, I always felt as though I had been naked in front of the world. Every room I walked into I felt as though every person was staring at me. Every time someone laughed and I didn’t hear the joke, I knew it was about me. Every day I struggled to see a place where I fit into this chaotic universe. But on that Tuesday I found my invisibility cloak.

All the voices in my head were mine and mine alone. Opiates where the proverbial mute button to my crowded soul. Those four lines did for me what my parents, friends, possessions, video games, social status, and girlfriends could never do. I often describe my life like this. There is a jigsaw puzzle of life that is given to me at birth. I open it up and I pour it on the floor. I start to put together this thing and everything fits and snaps together exactly as it should. This life puzzle comes together beautifully until there is one piece left. The last piece in the puzzle is me and when I attempt to finish it with this final piece it doesn’t fit. I don’t fit. They gave me a defective puzzle where my edges are wrong. When I would use opiates, they acted as a file that would shave and whittle the edges of me, and suddenly, I fit. The issue is that drugs never stop working and they continue to grind and file the edges of me over the years of my abuse. One day you wake up and realize that there is nothing left to file down because there is nothing left at all. My hardships and struggles over the next 4 years blur together like a series of b-list made-for-tv movies obscured by reoccurring static. Nothing stands out in my mind like that first real high.

When your loved ones keep going back to the drugs that you see so obviously robbing them of their soul, I believe this is why. When I remember my addiction; the psychiatric wards, sleepless nights, endless terror, and broken dreams, those memories neatly shuffled to the darkest corners of my mind and swiftly replaced by that experience on a regular Tuesday when I was younger. There was no police knocking at my door, no financial ruin, no withdrawing, and no impending doom. I was enrolled in college and playing a division one sport. I had a beautiful girlfriend and a bright future. I had no idea that I was about to lose every single one of those things. I was blindfolded at the edge of a cliff. I had no intention of buying opiates from Daniel the next day or the day after that but that is exactly what happened. I would wake up day after day with no clear intention to get high but on some level, I knew. I knew that I was naked for the world to see and I had found a cure. I knew that I had found an invisibility cloak; it was 30 dollars and it fit like a glove. I would navigate my busy schedule and the second I found a pocket of time with myself, those voices in my head would start again. I wasn’t good enough, she doesn’t love me, I will never be happy. My fingers, as if possessed by demons, would dance across my phone screen and find Daniel’s contact on my phone. Driving endless circles on New York streets in a black Lexus, desperate to mute it all for one more day. I found my refuge in a cramped apartment, huddled over blue-stained white china with no idea the edge of the cliff was just a step away, and I was in a sprinters stance.

Some years later, I remember using heroin in a Starbucks bathroom. I  had just shoplifted from a Toys R Us so I could trade Barbie dolls and action figures to my drug dealer. He got last-minute Christmas gifts for his three children and I got ten wax bags of ‘invisibility’. It was a fair trade. His name was Anthony and was roughly the 500th new Daniel I had done business with. I remember opening up the door to that bathroom and walking through the coffee shop with the world on mute. Each step I took the volume went up; step by step, louder and louder. Years of abuse had shortened the life span of my magic medicine. By the time I walked out the door, just in a matter of minutes, I was naked again. Within minutes my invisibility cloak had evaporated completely and left me alone with me; a scary place to be. I slid into the passenger seat of a silver Dodge Charger, turned to my junkie companion, and said: “that wasn’t enough”. He nodded and agreed. We began to scheme for our next fix.

This is the problem with addiction and why it is so hard for someone who isn’t an addict to understand. I am not chasing a “High”; that is a simplification of a much deeper and more pervasive issue. I am chasing a version of me that exists only in my mind. I am chasing a version of Chad that can dance at parties and talk to pretty girls. A version of Chad that knows exactly what to say and when to say it. A version that believes in himself and doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks. I am not trying to ruin lives, destroy my family, other families, and my future. That is simply a byproduct of my desperate search for meaning in a world that seemingly has none.

Imagine that the moment you were born you are chained away in a dark room. Imagine one day you escaped and saw the sunlight for the first time. You felt its warmth on your face and saw the beauty of an unexplored world. Then imagine being dragged back to that room and chained away at the end of that day. What would you do to escape again? My mom asked me once on a somber drive back from the psych ward, “Don’t you think this has gone too far? Where are you going to draw the line?”. I didn’t answer. There was no line. There was nowhere to stop. I was chasing what I thought was freedom and self-confidence while simultaneously losing it. The chance to fit in the puzzle of life even just for a moment had created a place where consequences became secondary. I am not addicted to drugs; I am addicted too belonging. I was never chasing a high; I was chasing the black leather of Daniel’s Lexus and the blue stained china on the Upper Westside. I was endlessly chasing those 4 blue lines and what they offered me. It was a Tuesday.

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Dear Addict

Dear Addict

A letter to your parents, children, friends, family, loved ones and YOU

Dear addict, a letter written by Chad Steinetz

Dear Addict, this is a letter to you

Screaming at god and friends that turn blue

You are not invisible, at least not to me

The fringes of this world that no one can see

Muting your dreams; while cranking agony to eleven

The path to hell beginning at the gates of heaven

 

Dear Addict, this letter is for your mom

Clutching a rosary and reciting that psalm

I see her by the phone terrified of what’s next

The sleepless nights and that unanswered text

Watching the lines on her face deepen like ditches

Reaggravated wounds and the ripping of stitches

 

Dear Addict, this letter is for your son

Tears in his eyes while you’re off on your run

Staring out the window and waiting for you

Wondering what is false and what could be true

Seeing the world through eyes that are clear

Not yet filled with resentment or crippled with fear

 

Dear Addict, this letter is for your friend

Denying the cash you asked him to lend

Asking where you went and how far you fell

Witnessing a deal with the devil – too easy a sell

Staring at black eyes, windows that are draped

Portals to the void where your soul has escaped

 

Dear Addict, this letter is for your dad

Missing the lost child that he once had

Forgotten Christmases and the birth of fear

Lonely nights and the death of cheer

Remembering a child with a future of gold

Wrong turn to the auction where that future was sold

 

Dear Addict, this letter is for your daughter

Watching self-destruction; a lamb to the slaughter

Half-finished cigarettes masked with perfume

Fearing the demons that live in your room

You say “Tomorrow will be different” and it’s hope that your sending

But tomorrow is a re-run and she knows the ending

 

Dear Addict, this letter is for your dealer

Blood-stained hands, disguised as your healer

Mysterious brown powders / pockets of pressed pills

Exchanging misery for the last of your bills

Hook, line and sinker he watches you dance

The snake charmer; the witch doctor you’re under his trance

 

Dear Addict, this letter is for your memories

Your greatest of friends and the worst of your enemies

Written in invisible ink that is not always kind

They can be erased and edited within your own mind

It’s a sobering thought, a wound with a suture

That the past is just as uncertain as the future

 

Dear Addict, this letter is to me

Knowing that recovery isn’t free

It takes a lot of courage and a little bit of hope

Not as tasty as beer or as quick as dope

You will laugh a lot but you will also cry

You will have to be honest with yourself instead of lie

When god closes a door there is a window that’s open

And if the window is closed then the glass must be broken

Hope is to be felt, something that the eye cannot see

For no matter how tough a lock there is always a key

As helpless as you feel and dark the horizon

Behind a mountain to climb there is a sun that is rising

There is freedom from your pain I promise you this

A beautiful world and a lifetime of bliss

Say goodbye to what you are and dream of what could be

For the thing is, whether you know it or not – I am you and you are me

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I am not a Reliable Narrator

I am not a reliable narrator

I had a childhood that was, by most measures, picturesque and ideal. Two strong parents who would read me bedtime stories and drive me to soccer practice. A pair of older siblings who I idolized and emulated as we navigated our way through the triumphs and pitfalls of youth.

I am not a reliable narrator

 

I had a childhood that was, by most measures, picturesque and ideal. Two strong parents who would read me bedtime stories and drive me to soccer practice. A pair of older siblings who I idolized and emulated as we navigated our way through the triumphs and pitfalls of youth. I remember the rattle of a creaky wagon as it lurched its way through a pumpkin patch on Halloween. I remember the Christmas morning when I turned the corner into my living room to see the BMX bike I wanted so badly, perched beneath an intricately decorated tree that seemed bigger than life itself. The foggy New Jersey mornings driving to elementary school with my dad, where I prayed we would hit that one last red light so that we could play another game of I SPY before the day started. The smell of birch and charcoal every summer when my family would open the car door after a six-hour drive to my grandparents’ house in Vermont. The elation of making the travel basketball team for the first time and the ensuing frustration of never getting any playing time. Cradling a newborn puppy in my arms like a priceless gem as my mom drove us home from the breeder. My first sleepover when my friends and I watched an R rated movie and felt as though we were rebels of the most dastardly order, living on the edge as we stayed alert to any indication of being discovered in our mischief.

              These moments all live on but as the vaguest of blurs within my cluttered mind. Years, months, days, and moments that are lost in the echoes of existence. Remembered only in the ways that my brain chooses to arrange the fragments of a life I have surely lived but have mostly forgotten. The days march forward and my mind contorts and molds the memories of my childhood into something that is not even real. Holidays and family dinners. Vacations and bike rides. Tears and deep never-ending laughter. All exist as a deep fever dream that passes through my consciousness momentarily when invoked by a mystified and profound sense of confused DejaVu. For a moment I travel back in time and I am there. A small boy with a blank slate, a sense of wonder, and a simplicity of life and happiness. Then it is gone.

              When I was fifteen years old I watched my brother and sister live out their high school years as rambunctious rebels. They were repeatedly caught drinking alcohol, smoking pot, and defying my parent’s direct orders. My brother specifically was quickly becoming my idol. He always had friends coming and going from our home and seemed to gain popularity with no effort. He had beautiful girlfriends and witty jokes; strong broad shoulders and sports accolades. I was rail-thin, covered in acne, and couldn’t so much as engage in a conversation with a brick wall let alone a girl or a potential friend. I remember finding a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey under his bed and contemplating taking a sip of his magic tonic that could potentially turn me from a meek boy into the superhero that I perceived him to be. To drink that day would have been bold, and I was far from it.

              It would be a year later at 15 when I finally would work up the courage to make my first foray into alcohol. I was a freshman in high school and was invited to a party for the first time. I knew the entire week that when Saturday would arrive that I would finally drink and I knew that I would love it. The night came and in a dusty unfinished basement, I took a shot of ice-cold bottom shelf vodka. Then I took 9 more. I became something that night. I had arrived. I laughed harder than I ever laughed, talked smoother than I ever talked, and felt alive in a way that is indescribable in words. I ended up passed out face first in my throw up. It was the greatest night of my life. When I remember that night I am transported there. The rush of reckless youth pumping through my veins and sound of cheerful defiance ringing my ears.

              Following that night, drinking became my bridge to relevance and notoriety. I would eagerly anticipate where we would drink on Fridays and Saturdays so I could come alive, pull daring stunts and talk to pretty girls. I began to smoke weed shortly after. Very quickly I would turn that into a habitable everyday occurrence. I would smoke before school and in between classes. Shuffling my feet through my school’s halls with bleary eyes and slumped shoulders. A soldier in the midst of going AWOL. My music taste changed. I began to fall in love with the Jim Morrisons and Kurt Cobains of the world. The tortured minds and a troubled mischievous soul had a mesmerizing allure. I would watch movies like Scarface and Blow on repeat; subconsciously brewing jealousy for the lifestyles of the anti-heroes, criminals, and hoodlums of the pop-culture universe I was submersing myself in. I listened to the Album “Dirt” by Alice in Chains so many times that I could recite every word. I fell in love with artists and media that depicted struggles of the soul, moral confusion, and nihilism. I still to this day don’t know why I wanted those things so badly. I suppose the frail boy with acne who couldn’t hold a conversation continued to live within me and hungered for mystery, intrigue, and excitement.

              Nearly ten years later I would wake up in a detox shaking violently from heroin withdraw. I had become everything that I had wanted, and it was unadulterated misery. I had broken many laws, run from the police, done every drug I could find, and become but a husk of an actual human. What do you do when you wake up one day and you have become everything you ever wanted but you realize that it was all a mistake? What do you do when you wake up one day and you realize that when you traded innocence and youth for excitement and chaos that you have made an irreparable error for which there is no return? I will tell you that in my experience I was filled with fear and regret that flooded my being wholly, completely, and without reprieve. I stretched out of my detox bed and my legs felt so weak they could barely hold the meek weight of my body. I began to quite literally suck the polyester pockets of my thick winter jacket in hopes that fentanyl residue somehow existed there from the sloppy handling of my drugs in the days prior. The pockets were flavorless, fentanyl-less and my sickness continued onward. The cold detox floor was designed with an intricate design of tile depicting a spiral of light grey squares that looked eerily similar to the tile of my childhood homes foyer. For a moment I was there again. My brother, sister and I just kids sitting on the floor, fumbling with boxes of meticulously colored Christmas decorations. The smell of my mother’s cooking lofting through the air and the beautiful melody of my father’s piano playing echoing in the deepest bowels of my eardrum. Then it was gone.

              Time is a rally car careening down a desolate peak with bald tires and slashed break lines. We all live with the past behind us however, we will never live within it. The good and the bad. In that detox I had nothing. No money, no hope, and no desire to continue onward in an unforgiving and cold world. All I had left was a mind that raced with a variety of memories that I would vacillate between like I was flipping through distorted cable channels. I remembered my first day of high school and felt the sensation of terror infused uncertainty in the pit of my stomach. I remembered my first kiss with Jayne at 15 and the sweat that enveloped my palms. I remembered my first psychiatric ward at 19 and felt the sharp pain of a Thorazine shot in my ass. I remembered calm childhood summer nights playing in the yard and dope sick winter mornings of my late adolescents. I remembered dreams and aspirations long ago forgotten. I remembered regret and failure that had crushed me under the weight of the world. I remembered love, sadness, victory, and defeat. Then I blinked and I was back. Sitting in detox with my life in ruin. Sitting in detox with a future marred by total uncertainty.

              Here’s the thing. The golden moments of my childhood that I previously mentioned, the pumpkin patches and the family vacations, are not at all grounded in truth. I am not a reliable narrator. The truth of the matter is that I make an unconscious choice to remember my childhood as a wonderful and innocent place. It allows me to escape to somewhere beautiful in my mind as an aversion to whatever the present reality is offering me at any given moment. When I forcibly remove the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and recall that time with pure honesty, I become unsettled. Even as a small boy my mind raced with anxiety and uncertainty.

              I was slightly overweight as a kid and I would never want to go to school because of my inability to connect with my classmates. I dealt with bullying daily and the worst had come from my own older brother. He would belittle me daily and poke at my insecurities with the precision of a brain surgeon. Every vacation my family I ever went on I would isolate myself way in a hotel room or a cruise cabin for the entirety of the trip. I would somehow come back from the Bahamas or Jamaica paler than when I arrived there. My mother would drink at night and become an entirely different person. At my first sleepover in 5th grade, she fell over on my basement floor in front of my prospective friends, filling me with shame and embarrassment. I didn’t do very well in school and had to be evaluated for ADHD on several occasions due to concerns expressed by my grade-school teachers. I despised taking off my shirt in front of anyone and would consistently get changed for gym class in bathrooms stalls to avoid doing so in the locker room. My parents would fight and scream at each other on a nearly nightly basis and my father would rarely sleep in the same bed as my mom. I was terrified of the dark and used to sleep with all the lights on in my room. I would sit in my bed every night and dream of the future.

              I would live there. What would I be like when I am older? When I cried due to my lack of friends my mother would console me by telling me that I would grow up to be bigger, stronger, and more handsome than all the children that shunned me from their social circles. I would imagine being an adult with the freedom to live life as I wanted to. I would imagine being fully grown, fit, and successful. I could feel the sun on my skin as I traveled the world and the wind on my face as I drove a car for the first time. I was filled with a rush of excitement when I thought of seeing my beautiful date when I would finally go to my senior prom one day. I could close my eyes and see a future where no one could tell me what to do or how to do it. I could see myself in my twenties; tall, handsome and perfectly fitting into a bustling and interesting world. Then I would blink and it was gone. I would be back. A chubby young boy who felt like an alien dressed up in a human costume. Lying in bed with all the lights on in constant fear of the demons that lived in my room. My ears privy to the faint echoes of my mother’s drunken insults being hurled at my father.

              I have never really been here. I am a time traveler. It’s a sobering thought, that the past is just as uncertain as the future is. Regardless of where I go in my head, it always seems that anything is a better alternative to the reality of the present moment. That is the true conflict of my soul. That is what drugs and alcohol did for me. It turned off the time machine in my head and finally put me in the now. I would use heroin and instantly past and future evaporated. I would be forced into my present body by the chemical eruption that was taking place in my brain. The consequences of my addiction ceased to mean anything as “tomorrow” became but a hollow specter of nothingness devoid of meaning. The drugs wear off and suddenly the past and future come alive. Raised from the dead by the insidious reaper of sobriety.

              For me, that was the true crux of winning my battle with addiction and gaining long term sobriety. Sitting in that detox in New Jersey I was enveloped by a war with time itself. As the effects of my intoxicants left my body, the hands on the clock began to march forward and I had to begin a journey of facing the blunt realities of existence. Looking behind me and realizing the things I had done and the people I had hurt. The friends that had died and the mistakes I had made. The missed opportunities and utter failures. Failing out of school. Robbing my dying grandfather. Stealing my mother’s jewelry. Check fraud and grand larceny. In front of me was a path of equal scrutiny. What would I do with my life? How will I repair these relationships? How will I ever work a real job or have a normal life? What do I do when I get out of this detox? What’s next? Who even am I?

              Time is a rally car careening down a desolate peak with bald tires and slashed break lines. My physical body may be in the driver seat but my thoughts live elsewhere. I simultaneously am at the peak I came from as well as off the edge of the cliff I am heading for. The present moment is but the tip of a needle sandwiched between two infinite oceans of ambiguity. I am over 3 years into my journey of sobriety. Through trials and tribulations based upon following a path of spirituality, I have become acutely aware that my mind wants me to exist anywhere except the present moment. A close friend and mentor of mine always quotes John Milton and says “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

              I am not a reliable narrator. My sobriety has been the self-realization that the avoidance of the present is my greatest struggle. The past occurred but only in the ways, I choose to remember it. The future is as real as the ghost that lived in my closet as a kid. Yet let to my own devices I will choose to live in those places. In alcoholics anonymous, they say “one day at a time” meaning that the only thing you have to concern yourself with is the present moment. It is right on the money. Sometimes I find myself closing my eyes and being in that pumpkin patch. I will hear the screaming of my intoxicated mother. I will feel the Thorazine shot. I will see the spiral tiled floor of my detox. I will see myself married and in a beautiful house somewhere with a family. I will be enveloped by the pain of older age and imagine working jobs that don’t yet exist. Then I blink and it is gone. I am back in the present moment. However these days I am not upset by that. I have crafted a present moment where I am proud of who I am. On the good days and the bad, true peace is finally being able to turn off the time machine in my head.

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