I never intended to become an addict. I really didn’t, but all my heroes and role models were drunks and junkies. Most kids grow up and want to be firefighters, cops, or baseball players, but I wanted to be a cross between Jack Kerouac, Charlie Parker, Charles Bukowski, David Bowie, Sam Peckinpah, and Jackson Pollock. I just wanted to be a filmmaking artist who wrote gritty novels and played avant-garde music on the side while maintaining a cool drug and alcohol habit. These men were brilliant in so many ways and I badly wanted to be like them but unfortunately, I did not have the talent they did. What I did have was a taste for liquor and a willingness to experiment. I could still emulate the part of my heroes that was available to me without having to work at actually becoming a writer or musician. So, at 15 I decided that drinking beer in the woods with my friends would put me on the path to life I wanted. Man was I wrong.
My hometown of Park Ridge, NJ is a very small town, exactly 2.6 square miles, and about 25 miles from Midtown Manhattan where everyone knows everyone. Small towns can feel suffocating for a 13-year-old, especially when everyone has expectations of you, and you don’t like yourself. My parents were there for me, but I never told them how I felt ‘less than,’ and I was too scared to tell my friends for fear they would mock me. My relationship with my father also changed tremendously during this time. He is a good dad, and I could always count on him, but he stopped hugging me or telling me he loved me. Although I knew he loved me, this just produced feelings that I was unlovable.
Around 15, I made new friends, and I was really having fun with some older kids. One of them just got a driver’s license so we had a freedom I had not known! These friends introduced me to new music, movies, and clothes, and it was exciting. No one ever made fun of me, as I was a good student, I did not have a curfew, and we spent nights at Starbucks and Tower Records. I really wanted a girlfriend. I had crushes on a lot of girls and if I ever said anything I could predict their answers, “Bob you are such a nice guy and I just don’t feel that way, but we can still be friends” or something like that. What does a hopeless romantic, hormonal, teenager do after rejection? Suck it up and try again? No, I would cry and be devastated. I cringe when I think about the kid I was. All I wanted was someone other than family to love me. Alcohol helped the feelings of rejection and feeling unloved.
Warm Bud Ice in the woods behind the baseball field! It was gross, and it did not go down easy, but it went down nonetheless, and by the 4th beer, I was laughing, giggling, joking, and I felt warm. There was no sadness or anxiety and for the first time in a few years, I liked myself. I found a solution to my problems: I just had to drink as often as I could. The weekends became about finding a spot and something to drink. We got booze from someone’s older brother or by asking someone outside the convenience store, but eventually after a trip to the city and a spur-of-the-moment purchase of a fake ID, I was the booze guy. The Colorado fake license I had lasted me almost five years and allowed all of us to drink whatever we wanted! I had a full beard and longer hair at 15 so I easily passed for my early twenties, and I rarely got carded. My grades were ok, I had an afterschool job, and I did a couple of extracurriculars, so everyone left me alone. Another night in the woods introduced me to my new friend, Mary Jane.
I spent remainder of my time in high school in a smoky marijuana stupor. A normal day consisted of a wake and bake, school, cutting for a longer lunch and another session, and then immediately smoking again after school. A few teachers would comment on my slipping grades and lack of participation, but I was still a mediocre B student and never got in trouble except for tardiness, lots of tardiness. Thinking back on the time, I have no idea how I floated through life without any consequences. On one particularly bad morning, one teacher approached me and said, “Mr. Beischer, if I did not know you, I would think you were using drugs.” My bloodshot eyes were trying to maintain eye contact and I was trying hard not to laugh. Although I thought I had earned the trust of teachers in previous years, others tried to talk to me about “floating through life” and “not amounting to anything.” I was nice and listened, but I definitely doubled my smoke intake.
Going to college was not an option after an argument with my parents and 18-year-old me thinking I knew what was best. I also just did not have the money or the interest in filling out FASFA forms. I worked part-time at a Motophoto in the town and hung out with my friends. We were all drinking, smoking, listening to great music, laughing, and just having a fun summer night in the woods when my friend D, from a different group, asked if anyone wanted to drive to North Carolina with him the following evening and stay at his parent’s beach house for a week. I quit my job because they would not give me the time off, and we began driving. At some point, he took out a pill bottle and gave me two little pills. I was informed that I will like them so much that I will become addicted and to be careful. Yep, that was the truth because we spent the week high and drunk, and it was one of the best times of my life. We became best friends down there, but it was cemented when an eighteen-wheeler almost killed us on Router 95 in Virginia. I was hooked on opiates, and I would struggle with them for the next 23 years of my life.
Life as an Adult in Addiction
My life for the next few years consisted of getting high with my friend, who was also my main connection, going to the mall, movies, shows, hanging in the city, or his house. There was not a pill I wouldn’t put in my mouth. Pills made me feel normal and complete. I liked the feeling of being warm, calm, happy, dopey, and energetic at the same time. If I was sad, they would make me happy. If I was tired, they would wake me up. If I was anxious, they would calm me down. It was crazy how these little pills changed me into the normal person I always wanted to be! Although not an everyday user, I knew I was going down the road of addiction because of some compulsive behaviors, like chasing the FedEx truck across town because I missed the drop-off, and that after a day or two without something, I would feel sick. At that time, it didn’t matter, as I was having fun and it felt amazing.
At age 20, D moved to the West Coast to be with a girl, and I lost my connection, so I needed to either stop or figure it out. Apparently, according to a coworker, I was turning yellow, was cranky, depressed, and “not myself.” I did not know who I was without drugs, and I really did not want to find out. I called my parents. I was crying telling them that I was a drug addict that really needed help. My dad told me that I wasn’t a junkie because he saw plenty of junkies in the Army, and my mom really didn’t say anything. I tried NA for a few meetings, and I hated it, but I made friends with two guys about 4 years younger than me, and by the end of the meeting, we were talking about dope. The following day I was talking about getting high with one of these guys and he asked for a ride to Paterson. I obliged because I had nothing going on and wanted to see what all the hubbub was about. On that first trip, we had 4 bags: 2 for me and 2 for him. He shot up; the amount of time it took to find a vein in between his toes was gut-wrenching and I knew I would never do that. He told me to snort a line. Nothing, snort another, nothing but a little warmer, snort another, and I just realized I blew half a bag of heroin. I was at peace and spent every other day for the next four years in Paterson buying bags.
At the time, heroin was the best thing that happened to me. It took away all the negative feelings from childhood trauma, being mocked and bullied, and gave me self-esteem and confidence. My friends were awesome, and I had a lot of fun, but they all had significant others and I felt lonely. I only had one girlfriend in high school for a month, a casual hook-up, and one intimate experience. Dope became my dating substitute, but I wanted more from my life. Heroin is REALLY hard to kick! The mental aspect is hard enough without the constant cravings and warm happy feeling it provided but the physical side was disgusting. There was no flu that I’ve ever had that I could compare it to. Sounds were too loud, lights were too bright, constantly sweating to the point I looked fresh out of a shower with clothes on, fever and chills, body pain, nasty attitude, tired but unable to sleep, and my stomach ejected things in ways it never had. No one told me how bad it was going to be. Illegal Subutex helped and it took three attempts. I was rid of heroin, but I was not a sober person. Being a drug addict was my persona. I think the saying is, “Everyone has something,” and my thing was numbing my pain through alcohol, occasional cocaine, weed, and pills. Life was rather stagnant for a couple of years. Friends came and went, there were great times, and there were lonely times, and I was slowly losing hope for anything more. That is until I met my best friend’s girlfriend’s sister.
Meeting My Wife
At 24, I met a girl when out with friends at a local bar. She was my type: pretty, funny, and smart, and she seemed into me. Never before have I had a girl show interest in me and if they did, I would not have known so this was new. I was nervous and had butterflies in my stomach and honestly, I was confused. One thing led to another, and we go back to her house to talk in a private quiet spot, where we talked, made out a bit, exchanged numbers and I went home. My gut told me to call her right away, but I was told by my dude friends with game to wait a while. The next night, we had coffee at Dunkin Donuts and continued to talk. She was wonderful and amazing. All I wanted to do was be clean for her.
I told my first lie to my soon-to-be wife that night at Dunkin Donuts. The topic of drug use came up and I told her I had a previous problem with heroin in my early twenties. As we dated, I continued my drinking, smoking, and pill use, but did not show her this side of myself. The more serious we got the more she picked up on my friend D and I being weird together. I would lie, not answer my phone, or just be shady. She would wonder if I was cheating, which I was, except I was cheating on her with my addiction. I should have asked her for help then, but I was afraid she would leave me because I lied to her and I loved someone and they loved me, and I did not want to lose her. About a year into our relationship, we went to see a matinee at the movie theater. On this particular day, I took more Ultram than I normally do and the only thing I remember was the trailers, then waking up in an ambulance. Yeah, I had my first seizure. Did I have a history of seizures or any neurological issues? No. Did I overdose as a friend of mine did? Oh yeah! I overdosed on drugs that I had a bottle full of in my pocket. Did my brain worry first about my condition and my girlfriend? No. My addict ass needed to hide the drugs until I could smuggle them out somehow without losing them because I was not ready for that. Eventually, I got them out and was able to concentrate on what was happening to us. I knew there was only one cause for my issue, but I let the doctors do what they do because I couldn’t tell the truth yet. I was prescribed a medication and sent on my way and life was good until I had another non-drug related seizure and another. Neurologists struggled to help find the correct dosages of medications to stop having grand mal seizures. Two years later, after our wedding and getting on my wife’s insurance, I found a great doctor that I still see and she diagnosed me with Lyme Disease, and told me I had been infected since before my first seizure. Diagnosis made it easy for me to justify withdrawal behavior.
Here we are, newlyweds! Constant antibiotics and seizure medications, vitamins, this pill, that pill, test after test, and all the horrible side effects to go with them. One of those pills was Klonopin and I took it to help with the seizures but also for my anxiety. Trust me, this will be important later. Life was horrible for my wife, and it should have been the best time of our lives together. I medically lost my driver’s license, so my depression was very bad and unpredictable. I would attempt to go to work, but my brain would go crazy, and I was losing my grip. My memory was also affected due to the seizures, so I do not remember much of this time, and part of me is glad that I don’t have to relive it, but the other part is upset because my wife had and must relive it alone.
My drug use was sporadic at best most of the time as I would get high on a Friday or Saturday night, but never the entire weekend unless it was a special occasion. I cut back my drinking a lot as well trading in the beer for a sifter of something and I would not overdo it. Taking advantage of social events was a good excuse to drink hard. Open-bar weddings were the best because I could get loose without spending a ton of money and it was socially acceptable.
By the age of 30, my back hurt more than normal. I was scared. My neurologist blamed the pain on Lyme Disease and prescribed me Ultram. So, there I am with a nice supply of a synthetic opioid painkiller, that helped with my fears and the pain. I assume, like most of us, I ran out a few days early. Even though my insurance company would approve my refill the pharmacist refused to do it. Anger was my go-to emotion to deal with confrontational situations before I got clean, and I was not nice to this guy who worked in a pharmacy. Here I am, in pain, driving a few towns away, in a snowstorm, to get my pills. As I wait eagerly on line for my fix, I see my friend’s girlfriend, who tells my wife she sees me there. Of course, my observant and astute wife asked if it was an emergency or if I ran out and my stuttering and wandering answer was enough to sound the alarm and I had to confess to being back on painkillers. That did not go over well but I tried to stop. After I began urinating blood, I was referred to a urologist. I had kidney stones; one was so large that it was blocking my ureter and my one kidney was failing.
Procedures to restore kidney function provided a new opportunity for an opiate prescription. Although dates are foggy, migraines, panic attacks, joint pain, and seizure activity in my brain left me unable to work. I had to stop working and applied for permanent disability. After 3 years and a hearing with a judge, I was declared disabled and was awarded a $13,000 lump sum back payment. Looking back, I was a miserable person, and I had no idea who I was or what I was doing. I wasted that money. My wife made me tell my doctors that I was an addict and was not allowed to be prescribed painkillers under any circumstance.
On July 9th, 2017, my son was born. The first time I saw that little baby boy I knew that my life’s purpose was to protect, raise, and love him. Since I was not working it was an easy decision for me to be a stay-at-home dad. Honestly, I was nervous but with my wife’s help, I was able to be the best dad I could be. I would put Holden in the jogging stroller and walk roughly 9 miles a day. We would go to Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, the library, or the park. I had a strict schedule that I needed to keep otherwise I would freak out and I must have been terrible to live with. When he got a little older, we joined the YWCA and I would drop him off at Child Watch and I would go to the gym, then we would go to my friend’s comic book shop, get lunch, head home, go for a walk, and finally take a nap. I feel like I didn’t have time for drugs, but I was still stressed and every other weekend I would hang out with my friend, get high, smoke cigarettes, and play music. I really loved my life, but all our lives were about to go through the wringer.
Getting Through the Pandemic
What do you do with a kid when stores are closed, and playground gates get locked? I think lots of parents’ kids were asking that question. Covid-19 and the subsequent shutdown turned the world upside down and trying to figure it out was hard and stressful. I thought I was the only person in the world suffering. Obviously, everyone was struggling but, in my head, it was all about me. I knew my wife was having a miserable go of it with her job and I hope I supported her, but I know I did not give it 100%. My friend, about 6 months before the pandemic, told me about this totally legal way to get high, not as good as pills or dope, but enough to block those feelings. Kratom is a plant-based drug that can be bought in convenience stores and comes in powder, capsules, or liquid shots. Taking a large dose of kratom mimics the effects of opiates, and a smaller dose gives a boost of energy. Well, when the lockdown started, I knew I would not be seeing my friend, so no weekend drugs, and I do not drink anymore, so I had to find a way to get high, and I remembered the Kratom. I was able to buy it at a gas station convenience store 2 minutes from my house and they stayed open during the pandemic.
When I was a heroin addict, I was not a “junkie.” I didn’t lie, cheat, steal, or hurt people in any way. Maybe it was because I was single and kept it mostly a secret from people, but I was functioning back then. Kratom, a legal drug that I could buy at the store almost destroyed my life. The physical withdrawal from kratom was not bad. It felt like a bad cold for a day or two with a little bit of an upset stomach, but nothing like I experienced from heroin or OxyContin. However, I was so mentally addicted that I could not stop thinking about it, when I would get my next fix, how I was going to buy it, or anything that had to do with kratom. I was spending upwards of $120 a day, sometimes less, and I only bought one thing, a concentrated liquid shot. Imagine a 5 Hour Energy Drink, but it tastes much worse and gets you high.
When restrictions were lifted, I did not stop using it. Turns out my friend no longer had his connection anymore, so he was also using kratom but smoked pot too. With no more pills and not wanting to try to find a connection or go back to heroin my only choice was to continue kratom. Well, to do that I had to become someone I did not think I would ever be, a junkie. I stole $9000 from my little boy’s bank account, would overcharge customers at my friend’s shop, and kept the difference, I sold every one of value that I own, I forged checks, and would steal my wife’s debit card. I am sure I did more, but I just cannot remember. My wife knew I had a problem, but I do not think she understood the extent of it and she tried to get me help. I went to a great drug counselor every week and I went to Mountainside’s Ramsey IOP, but I just lied to everyone and kept using. That is until May 8th, 2022.
April had been a very bad month as I went to my wife’s family’s house in the Carolinas for a week, and I ran out of Kratom on my second day there. Luckily for me, I also met up with a friend and he took me to a smoke shop that had kratom I thought I bought enough to last but it was not. I basically spent the trip sleeping, angry, depressed, and as I found out later, miserable to be with. My only concern was getting high and my needs. I was a selfish jerk, but I had absolutely no idea I was. In my head, I was being a good guest, brother-in-law, father, and husband but in reality, I was the exact opposite. When we returned, life back home was no better as I had ruined my wife’s time with her family and my way of dealing with stress and confrontation was to get high and run away from problems. All our savings was wasted on Kratom, and I sold most of my belongings. I was angry.
On May 7th, my best friend confronted me about what I was doing at his store when volunteering. He told me that he knew I was using, it and I should not volunteer anymore. I felt ashamed and became depressed. The next morning, it was Mother’s Day. I do not remember much of what happened, but something in my head told me I was done with life. I wanted my wife to take my son to soccer alone, but my son begged me to go. When we got back to the house, I told my wife I needed her to take my son to the food store. While she was there, I could not stand another minute alive, and I wrote about half of a suicide note. My plan was to slit my wrists in the bathtub after leaving a note on the front door telling my wife to not let my son in the house. Instead, I forged my wife’s check, went to buy Kratom, got high and cried. When my wife returned, I told her to send our son to my aunt’s. I thought my wife was going to yell at me, but instead, she went into therapist mode and got me into rehab.
May 9th, 2022 is my sober date, the day I arrived at Mountainside and made a conscious decision to change my life. I had never been as scared as I was during the intake and first few minutes in detox, but the staff was so kind, and other clients were very welcoming that I quickly lost my fear and began to feel I was where I needed to be. I previously mentioned that I was taking prescribed Klonopin, well to get into residential I had to kick that as well as everything else in my body. Benzo withdrawals are terrible and life-threatening without help, and I was miserable, sweating constantly, stomach pain, dizziness, nausea, tiredness, and other symptoms, but the detox staff were so nice that I never felt alone or scared. I was in detox for 11 days, and most people are in there for 7, but even though I wasn’t a daily heroin or pill addict anymore the length of my use, combined with the kratom, and benzos made my case a little different. I spent most of my time on the smoke porch with the other smokers, but I also had acupuncture every other day, did puzzles, read, watched TV, and socialized with some great people. I eventually made it to the PAWS building and I can’t remember feeling that well since I was a kid. I was sleeping well, eating well, exercising, and being social. Honestly, I was having a great time when I should have been freaking out. A few days later I was in residential, and it was amazing! Mountainside is such a beautiful place run by kind and caring people that I could go on and on about, but to simplify, they saved my life, and I am forever grateful. Calling home was important to me and I tried to talk to my wife and son every night, but it hurt sometimes because I know she was upset and struggling and he missed me, however, I needed to hear their voices because I missed them so much. I assumed that rehab would either be terrible and scary, dirty, old, and overcrowded with patients that did not choose to be there, or incredibly posh and expensive where I would be too pampered. Mountainside was in the middle, strict enough, surrounded by beauty, and staffed by truly awesome people. I was given the opportunity and tools I needed to live in the real world, and so far, I have been thriving and life keeps getting better every day.
My wife was under so much stress and pressure while I was gone that I had to go home on my release day even though I would have loved to stay longer. When I walked out the door to meet them and my little boy ran to me, I broke down crying because all the guilt washed over me, but I was also experiencing pure joy as I hugged and kissed them for the first time in a month. My son was in my arms, and I held him tight, picked him up, and gave him the biggest bear hug. He handed me a small pile of handmade recovery gifts and a scrapbook that showed their adventures while I was gone. After a few goodbyes, it was time to live and restart my life as a sober person.
Heading Home in Recovery
Coming home was not easy, but it was necessary for recovery. I have never felt better in my entire life! I no longer have panic attacks, terrible depressive episodes, migraines, or seizure activity, and I no longer take as many pills as I used to. Who knew my health would improve once I stopped destroying my body? It was suggested to make it to a recovery meeting as soon as I got home, but I needed time with my family, and the groups weren’t going anywhere, so the next day I went to my first AA meeting in town. I did not feel out of place in the meeting, but I was nervous and sat alone, but I was greeted by a lot of people. There were a few other meetings that I went to, but because I my schedule I was only able to attend three per week. Eventually, I felt more comfortable at my Sunday meeting and sat down with a group of people and that meeting became my home group. There was a group conscious a few weeks after I made it my home group and the coffee commitment were available. I am still making coffee today and it has been the best! I have met so many people, and because I have a commitment, I never miss a meeting. Eventually, I found a sponsor and we meet weekly. I am going through the steps slowly and thoroughly and am currently working on steps 4 and 5. I call or text him almost every day, and he has been a very important person in my recovery.
There have been so many amazing things that have happened to me in my year in recovery. When I was in Canaan I made a list of goals, some of them were simple like playing golf again while some were pipe dreams, but the one that came from nowhere was going to college. I floated through high school. Honestly, I hated it, but I did well enough to get accepted to a few good schools, but I had a breakdown my senior year and my parents did not want me to go away, and I did not want to stay home, so I took a year off. A year later I took a few classes and passed half of them, realized I would never thrive in a school environment, and took a gap of 21 years. Something changed in me, and I wanted to give back to other addicts what was given to me: another chance at life, and the only way I could do that was by earning a degree. I am a 41-year-old college freshman, and I am a straight-A student for the first time in my life, and I want to maintain my GPA.
College is not the only part of my life that has changed. I had to limit contact with one of my best friends because our relationship was not healthy. It was incredibly hard, and I fell back to some old patterns so we could meet up, but I have made sure to honor my wife’s wishes and only occasionally text with him. My MO was to say “no” to everything unless I knew I could be high or get drunk, and if I said yes, I would be miserable. But now I say yes and look forward to having fun new experiences with my family. I am amazed how without drugs I am a normal human being, people actually enjoy my company, and I truly love myself. Almost my entire life I was a staunch atheist, partly because I was raised without religion, and partly because I thought God was a form of magic used to control humanity, but something amazing and important happened to me at Mountainside. On multiple occasions, during different spiritual wellness groups, I actually saw that something exists that is greater than myself. Whether it be tarot cards, choosing artwork that says something about you, or meditation, I felt an energy that connects us to each other, nature, and the universe. I was not aware that I needed this spirit until I went deeper into AA and needed a Higher Power, and for the first time in my life, I actually had one, and it had made my step work, and the program, much easier. I am forever grateful to Mountainside, the staff, the other clients, my son, my wife, and the people that helped her while I was gone. I know that with time my life will be beyond my wildest dreams, and I will get all the cash and prizes that have been eluding me because of my drug use, but most importantly my family will be strong, together, and loved.
Thank you, Alyssa, Ed, Rich, Pat, Ricky, Levi, Dr. Dwenger, Laura, Sophia, Kristina, Sarah, Tara, Ryan, and everyone that works at Mountainside. I am forever grateful, and I will never forget what you did for me.