King of the Bums

By GHXSTORIES 10/11/18

If you’re an addict like I am, then maybe you have these issues with self-esteem, fear, an enormous desire to be liked, an ego the size of Texas and hatred of anyone or anything you feel inferior to.

Man sits with crown on his head.
Congratulations, you’re the coolest kid in homeless rehab. image: © Andrey Kiselev |

I didn’t stroll into recovery willingly. The first time I ever got sober was definitely not by choice. It was a requirement lovingly handed down to me by the wonderful Florida Department of Corrections. They told me to get sober, piss clean once a week, and attend meetings or go to prison. I never wanted to stop using the first time. I just didn’t want to end up in jail. Sure, I had managed to destroy my life and ruin any meaningful relationship I ever had, but that wasn’t enough motivation to stop me from getting high. The fear of going up-the-road terrified me. The fear of walking into a state penitentiary and walking out a gang member with a face tattoo scared the living hell out of me.

Growing up, everyone always told me that I was a chameleon. I have the ability to effortlessly blend into any situation no matter the surroundings; it’s in the way I walk, the way I talk, reading someone’s body language and matching it with my own little nuances to make them feel comfortable, picking up on choice words in an individual’s vocabulary and using it myself. Whatever the scene is, I have the script. Needless to say, improvising comes easy for me. It’s no wonder that I became a musician and started performing regularly. The stage and the spotlight are my warm blanket.

The ability to improvise on the fly and blend in with any situation comes very handy when someone is trying to get high. When it comes to interacting with shady people on the streets and within your local dope-hole, the art of blending in and belonging is vital, not to mention the gift of gab. You got to get in, get it for the right price, and get out.

The problem is that this particular skill set can become a huge detriment when getting sober. The ability to acclimate to any surrounding can kill you if you’re in a setting that demands complete transparency. If you’re living in a halfway house with about a dozen different personalities, being able to get along is a big deal. Convincing the house manager that you’re making the right choices and not getting high is important. You need to be trusted, you need to blend in, and most important, you need to stay off everyone’s radar. You don’t need a random piss test to ruin the party now do you?

So here’s where the even bigger problem lies. If you’re an addict/alcoholic like I am, then maybe you have these deep core issues with self-esteem, personal acceptance, a huge amount of fear, thoughts of loneliness, an enormous desire to be liked, an ego the size of Texas and hatred towards anyone or anything you feel inferior to. I’ve heard it put this way and I’m sure you have too: We’re ego-maniacs with an inferiority complex.

Sounds like we have a little boy/girl deep within us that needs to grow up, doesn’t it? And when we stop putting mood- or mind-altering substances into our body, we’re put on a collision course with that inner child. This child is trapped inside of a full-grown adult trying to figure out how to stay sober because, let’s face it, arrested development is a real thing. The moment we started self-medicating was the moment we stopped growing up.

When I got to my first residential inpatient treatment center, I was placed smack-dab in the middle of this enormous community of junkies. Some trying to get sober, others trying to avoid jail-time, and others there simply because they had no place to call home. The little boy inside me was terrified. Will I fit in? Is anyone going to like me? Will I be able to stay and graduate in six months?

Immediately I did what I’ve been doing my whole life: I blended in. I got with the “winners” because that’s what was recommended and I started acting like them. I got into recovery because they were all about recovery. I was familiar with the recovery-lingo already so that wasn’t an issue. I attended groups, I went to meetings, and wouldn’t you know it, I started walking like them and talking just like them. I kept my secrets to myself, I did everything in my power to impress the powers-that-be and I made sure that everyone knew how talented I was. Luckily for me, they had a band there. And guess what? They needed a piano player. This is going to work out just fine. I’ll just join the band, avoid getting into trouble and skate my way to graduation.

I’ve heard people say in recovery that sometimes you’ve got to fake it until you make it. They say that with the hopes that somewhere along the way, all that faking slowly turns in a real desire to be different. But if you’re used to lying all the time and wearing masks just to be accepted, if you’re used to being that chameleon and reading from a script, all that faking never really turns into anything legit and fruitful for your recovery. You kind of just set yourself up for failure. And that’s exactly what I did.

I graduated the program, but I enjoyed my time there so much that I decided to stay for another six months. I did that until the treatment center hired me. Can you believe that? They hired me! What a joke.

I wasn’t ready. I didn’t do the work required to stay sober. I was just “that guy.” “Star Boy” is what my friends called me there. I remember my roommate calling me “The Chosen One.” This is bad. But I got exactly what I wanted, so why the heck am I so miserable? Maybe because I never worked on growing up. I never confronted my inner child and dealt with the real core issues of my addiction. Getting sober is easy. Sobriety in general is simple. It’s the emotional sobriety and uncovering the layers of who I am and learning to love myself that’s paramount. I robbed myself of that journey. I took myself out of the game by choosing to be the coolest guy in rehab.

Here’s the thing about this treatment center. This isn’t the one you find nestled on the beach with your peer-led-groups, full-body massages, custom fruit smoothies, etc. This is the rehab you go to when you’ve exhausted all other resources. The one you end up in when you can no longer afford the nice treatment centers you see advertised on this site. This is the last house on the left; the one that doesn’t cost a dime. The homeless rehab in the same neighborhood you’ve been getting high in.

Congratulations, you’re the coolest kid in homeless rehab. Everyone bow down to the king of the bums. You made it.

It’s no surprise that the day I moved out of the place is the day I got high. I didn’t see it coming… but I saw it coming. You know what I mean.

It wasn’t long before I found myself knocking on the doors of the same facility to let me back in. I had nowhere else to go and heroin yet again had beaten me to a pulp. I remember getting out of detox and walking up the sidewalk. This guy that works there stopped me while I was walking in and asked me what I was going to do different. It was a rhetorical question because he didn’t wait for my answer. What came next was the single most important piece of advice I ever received. He didn’t say anything I hadn’t heard before but it was the first time I truly heard it and received it. I had beaten myself emotionally with this last relapse so badly that I truly believe my ears finally opened up. I was ready to listen and do something different.

He told me to forget about who I was. Forget about everything I think I know because I know nothing. All I know how to do is get high. He told me that I don’t know how to get sober. He told me to shut the hell up and listen. He said I had to do this for me and nobody else. He told me that I’m not here to impress anyone or make friends. He reminded me that I suffer from a disease that wants me dead. He told me that I didn’t come to an indigent rehab to play music; I came there to get sober.

I love him for that. I aspire to be like him one day. I admire him. His tongue is sharp and his recovery is sharper. His words haunt me every day. They keep me in check while I learn how to deal with the little boy deep within my soul.

Slowly but surely, the masks are coming off. This uncomfortable yet beautiful journey of self-discovery is full of rewards. Today I choose to stay sober and enjoy them as they come my way; never throwing in the towel on the days I don’t hit the mark.

If nobody told you today that they love you, fuck it, there’s always tomorrow.

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GHXSTORIES is a recovering junkie and musical artist from Clearwater, FL who recklessly dances on the fringe of insanity. He currently resides in the Tampa Bay Area, where you'll most likely find him around town trying to gain some traction in sobriety. Fresh on the writing scene, his "Ghost Stories" aim to provoke and arouse through witty, raw, and sarcastic musings. Listen to him on SoundCloud and find him on Instagram and Facebook.