A Young Man’s Journey Through Addiction

By Jack Agatston…

I’m only 22 years old. I’m constantly reminded of that whenever I talk to people about my past struggles with drug addiction. In treatment centers and 12 step meetings people tell me “you’re so young I wish I would have gotten sober at your age, but there is no way I could’ve stopped back then”. I appreciate the sentiment and I understand that I am very lucky I’ve had the resources available to me to get sober at my age, but I don’t feel very young anymore. There is a certain duality to it I suppose. Sometimes I do still feel like a 13 year old who started smoking because he thought it would make him seem a little cooler, and sometimes it feels like I’ve been sober for ten years. While neither of those things are true my mind has a way of playing funny tricks on me.

The High School Years

I have a great deal of respect for anyone who can get sober in their first attempt. It is no easy task to stay sober, especially when you don’t have a few relapses to look back on to remind yourself how bad things get. I have been to a number of detox and treatment centers, spent a number of nights in jail, and been kicked out of my fair share of sober living homes. I first was sent to treatment when I was 16 years old. If you would’ve asked me if I thought I was a drug addict I would’ve shrugged. “All my friends get high, it makes me feel better”. Back then I thought getting high every day was harmless. I didn’t like the feeling of being sober and it was socially acceptable for me to get high, as my friend group generally felt the same way. I also didn’t do any “hard” drugs so I could justify my use as a teenager who likes to smoke weed and get drunk. I spent around 15 months straight in treatment from 16 to 17 years old, starting at a mental and behavioral hospital and finishing at a therapeutic boarding school. I started using within a week of returning home for my senior year of high school. I had more justifications for my use than I could count, but I mainly stuck with blaming my use on an addictive personality and self medication.

Off To College

I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, the first time I thought about taking my own life was when I was 12. So I believed that once I grew out of my depression I would be able to use with more control. Due to that belief I moved out of my hometown for college and went out to Colorado to find happiness. While I knew a few people from my boarding school who lived there, it was a very difficult transition for me. I knew what it was like to move to a new place and have to make new friends because I went to boarding school, but my boarding school only had around 100 students so it wasn’t very overwhelming. Being in an entirely new state where I only knew around 4 people was stressful. I never thought I suffered from anxiety because I was comfortable in my hometown. I had my friends and family to make me feel at home. Things weren’t like that in Colorado. The people that I did eventually end up falling in with liked to use heavily and so did I. Their drug choices were different but I didn’t care, I used whatever I could. After a few months of frequent cocaine use, one of my friends roommates offered me a xanax. I proceeded to black out for the next 3 days. When I came to, I was taken aback. I hadn’t experienced anything of that severity before. That didn’t stop me from trying xanax again. The feeling I got from xanax was what I had been looking for from drugs since I was 13. It quieted all the constant noise going on in my mind. I could finally sit still and be with myself without panic. I quickly became attached to that feeling.

Continued Progression of My Addiction

I moved back home after just one semester of college in Colorado. A recurring theme in my life was changing my environment whenever things got bad. It couldn’t be the drug use I lost control of, or my mental health worsening. There were always external reasons why I felt the way I did. I found myself in treatment again, but I didn’t truly want to get sober –  I just ran out of options. I couldn’t hold a job and college was out of the question because that required attending class. None of my friends wanted to be around me anymore and I burnt every bridge I could.

Still I went back to using once I got home from a 6 month stint in treatment. It was more of the same for me. Fights with friends, stealing from my family, getting into trouble with the law. It culminated in an arrest in which I ended spending the worst days of my life in a jail detox cell. I begged my parents to bail me out, but they only agreed on the condition that I guaranteed I would go back to rehab. As my story goes on things get pretty tiring. I wish I could say I saw the light and stayed sober after experiencing rock bottom in that jail cell but that’s not the case.

Hitting My Bottom

Since I wasn’t going to treatment because I wanted to get sober, but rather using it as a get out of jail free card, everytime I went to treatment it was like a drug addict networking conference. I’d hear stories about other addicts drug use and it would appeal to me. That led to my desire to use heroin. It gave me a feeling similar to the one xanax gave me, but stronger. Heroin was the final blow that brought me to a place of complete desperation. Losing friends at a rapid pace and being sicker than I ever had been became my reality. And it was everywhere to be found, as I was located in the heart of The Atlanta Heroin Triangle, one of the epicenters of the national opioid epidemic.

Even through all of the pain and suffering, the insanity of addiction still tempted me. It wasn’t until one night where I left a 12 step meeting to go pick up heroin that things changed. A friend of mine called me while I was on the way to pick it up talked to me through one of the most intense cravings of my life. I was lucky that night I had someone there for me to talk me off the ledge. The friend who was going to provide me with the drugs was not. He thought he had heroin, but what he really had was a lethal dose of fentanyl. He overdosed and died, which was devastating for me.

Finding Sobriety — How AA Helped

Since that day I have stayed sober. It hasn’t been easy but things have gotten much better for me. I have been able to be present in life and have found freedom from the things that have been weighing me down for as long as I can remember. I finally feel like  I’m able to find a place in the world and can help others who struggle with the things that I’ve dealt with.

I’ve had to swallow my pride many times in sobriety, because in order to stay sober I have had to reach out and ask for help many times. I like to convince myself that I can do everything on my own but recovery requires me to get out of my head and involved with others. I went to my first AA meeting when I was pretty young, around 16 years old, and I harbored a resentment towards the people that told me it was the best way to find lasting sobriety. I never have liked getting told what to do and every AA meeting reinforced that feeling that I was different than my friends. It took me awhile to get over that feeling but once I finally put my feelings to the side and worked the program I saw results. Building a network of people that understand the things I went through firsthand has been the most important ingredient in my recovery. They are able to talk me through those tough days and cravings. I’ve also been able to build a relationship with a higher power through working the 12 steps which gives me relief every day. Prayer and meditation keep me grounded and focussed even as I get farther and farther away from the last time I used drugs and alcohol. To the person who may still be struggling with addiction, everyone’s program of recovery is going to look a little different. I have found what works for me but the most important part is consistency. It’s because I do these things everyday, even if it’s only a quick prayer and a phone call to a fellow addict, that I’m able to find success in recovery.



One thought on “A Young Man’s Journey Through Addiction

  1. Janet November 18, 2019 at 9:55 pm #

    Hello Jack,
    It’s been a while since I visited this Memoir page and I have read your posting several times today. Your Memoir is so powerful and honest… I want to thank you for sharing this. As the mother of an addict I am always drawn to the truth, and you express your experience in such a straightforward and insightful way. I am so sorry to read that you had to endure so much pain and the struggle with addiction. You write with such clarity, and not hype, about the progression of the drugs in your life and the fall out it creates. I am honestly so happy to read that you did find your floor and start on the complex, demanding, personal journey of recovery. I was especially interested in reading about your perspective and experience with AA. Again, so honest. It does take a long time to find the inner connections to the things that work. Your story is full of openness and hope. Thank you.

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