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We meet thousands of people in life and without fail, when you meet someone new they'll say, “So tell me about yourself,” and you'll awkwardly respond by mentioning a few recent things about yourself and ask them the same in return. I usually hate this question because I say something about how old I am, that I lived in New Zealand for a year or about how I moved across the country for school. This doesn’t really reveal anything about me, but it leaves people stuck on whatever I decided to share.
This made me realize that a lot of people know bits and pieces about my past and some even know a large chunk of it. Yet, I don’t think anyone knows the whole story or the struggles of my life. From my ‘straight’ phase, to coming out, to moving to a different country, to moving across the country. Addiction, lust, love, sex, travel, and lots of booze; I’m sure I seem young and relatively speaking, I am. But at only 27 I have experienced more than many people twice my age. So without further ado, here’s my first chapter of my life story.
Age 19, 2009: I knew I was gay and I had known since I was 12. That was when I first fantasized about a rumor about one of my male classmates dry humping another at his birthday sleepover. I spent the next 8 years trying hard to lie to myself and to the world by saying I was straight. I wanted to be straight so badly that I prayed and begged God to make me “normal.” I even tried to condition myself with edging (being on the verge of an orgasm) and then watching straight porn while I climaxed.
I “dated” a few girls, but of course, it never felt right and never lasted longer than a month. I stayed busy with work and school and getting stoned in the evening with my two best friends, Chad and Chaz (names changed). I told myself and others I didn’t have the time or want a relationship right now. Even though all I’ve ever wanted was my partner in crime. I had decided early on that if I couldn’t be straight, then I deserved to die alone in shame without ever divulging my innermost secret. I was bound and determined to take my secret to the grave even if that meant killing myself to do so, and as a result, I developed a lot of unhealthy coping skills to be able to deal with the shame and embarrassment.
I wanted everyone to think I was the perfect. I wanted all my friends and future girlfriends and their parents to think I was the perfect person for them. I wanted my parents to keep believing I was the smart non-fuckup they raised. And I wanted to make sure my grandmas still thought I was the perfect grandson, but to be perfect meant to not be gay.
I was completely obsessed with trying to make my life look perfect from the outside in, even if that meant dying inside. To distract myself from intrusive thoughts I would meticulously clean things like my car or room. I’d arrange, organize, and measure everything on my coffee table to be perfectly parallel, centered, and spaced.
When I had nothing to do or clean, pills, booze, and weed became a few of my favorite things. I used them to numb the pain of wanting to be dead; but see, that was the thing. I thought I was suicidal and wanted to die, but what I actually wanted was to pause life for a second and disassociate myself from my life, my friends, my family, and my problems. To forget who I was, essentially.
I have been on and off medication since I was 13 years old for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, insomnia, ADHD, and the list goes on. During this time I was prescribed Ambien for my insomnia. Ambien is a pretty scary drug because it causes amnesia in people who don’t go straight to bed after taking it. People will drive cars, eat large quantities of food, and even engage in sex and have no recollection of this whatsoever. For me, taking a pill gave me the feeling of having downed 10 vodka shots such that I felt loose, goofy, bubbly, and uncoordinated.
In my senior year of high school, I started smoking cannabis on the weekends with my best friend at the time. After we graduated, she left for college and instead of quitting, I just found more friends that smoked. It was always casual, social, and fun but as I learned the effects and how it interacted with Ambien, my body became more tolerant and it quickly turned into an every night thing for me.
I had to take one of them if not all of them in order to go to bed. Sometimes I would skip the Ambien and save them for my friends, but as my need to disassociate myself grew, my desire to share with friends dwindled. We would still all hang out but I’d lie and say I was going to bed early or excuse myself from the social gathering so I could pop an Ambien and smoke a bowl to pass out. I knew I couldn’t continue this lifestyle because my liver or kidneys would eventually fail from all the harsh chemicals and from mixing them with alcohol.
I started to notice a dependency on Ambien around the end of 2008. Alcoholism and addiction ran in my family. I had seen how these substances had affected their lives and one morning after feeling groggy and hungover from the prior night of my Ambien cocktail, I looked in the mirror and saw the path my life was heading and told myself I would not get a prescription refill of Ambien again. I did anyway.
Yes, I was eventually successful in my attempt to give up my nightly chemical cocktail to put me to sleep, but I wasn’t successful on my first attempt. It literally took YEARS. I kept failing, I kept making promises to myself, I kept making rules to limit my intake of alcohol or Ambien, I’d say this is the last time, but I kept fucking up.
I can specifically remember one night in particular where I didn’t want to smoke and I didn’t want to take an Ambien but after I got home from work, it was like I was on autopilot and just along for the ride.
I remember picking up my prescription bottle and thinking, “What am I doing? I don’t even want this, why am I taking this, I know I shouldn’t, why am I taking this? Just put it down, why am I taking this? Just stop!” and then tossed my head back and swallowed the pill dry. I then went to get my bong out of my closet and got it all prepared and went out to the garage to smoke.
I remember packing the bowl, saying the same thing I did about the Ambien, “What the fuck is wrong with you? I don’t even want this, why am I doing this? Do I have a problem? What if I’m addicted? Why am I still doing this? I need to stop. I know I need to, yet I’m still packing this fucking bowl…” But after I flick the lighter and inhale the earthy skunky smoke my mind instantly slows down from its worrying and anxiety and my body physically relaxes and as I exhale I think, “Ohhh, yeah…..this is whyyyy."
Please don’t think that it’s easy to just quit cold turkey or that all you have to do is have a strong will. Addiction affects over 23 million Americans and less than 10% seek help. I’m hesitant to even refer to this time in my life as an addiction because in comparison to other people who actually have substance problems, I never suffered withdrawals and mine never affected my job, school performance, family or goals. I was self-aware enough to see what was happening and I was lucky enough that I was eventually able to get myself under control all by myself. But that’s not the norm, that’s not most people, and it took me years to finally get my drinking under control. I was extremely lucky; not everyone is as lucky as me. If you or someone you know is suffering, seek help, talk to someone, please don’t sit there suffering alone in pain.
If you enjoyed this story, please like it or if you know someone who might like it or benefit from it feel free to share it with them. Subscribe to the blog and like my Facebook page Zak Awry to find out both why I chose to move to New Zealand and who inspired my decision to come out next week.