I came into the world in 1949. My father was a radio and TV repairman.The US army had trained him to be a radar technician during world war II, and he transferred the skills to civilian life. According to my parents, Peoria was a rather dismal depressed area at the time, and my father moved the family to southern California.
My early memories are fragments, snippets here and there. I remember asking my father if there was a God when I was very small. His answer was “I believe in a Supreme being.” But that is not to say our home was a religious one. At some point in my very early years I remember attending a Calvary Baptist Church with my parents, and even going to Sunday school. But my parents stopped going to Church for reasons which are not known to me. I do remember attending Sunday school but I was so young I cannot remember much of what went on.
Despite their occasional attendance at church, my home environment was less than Godly. Like many homes there was a war going on between Mom and Dad (if you were lucky enough to even have a Dad) and I became a casualty of that war.One morning when I was about 5 years old my younger brother (3 years old at that time ) and I were playing with wooden blocks in our bedroom. Vaguely I recall Mom and Dad had been fighting.Dad left the house and my brother and I continued playing with the wooden blocks. Mom came into the bedroom screaming, “I told you kids not to play with those blocks.” My brother said, “run!” and we both ran into different parts of the house. Mom cornered him in the service porch and I heard the screams as she beat him. Then there was a sinister silence. Then she came flying into the living room in a boiling rage. “Now, its your turn!” she said. And, indeed, it was my turn.
She held me tight with one arm and hit me with full force as I looked into her face. And it was a look of hatred I saw there. The beating seemed like it lasted forever. Every time she hit me my hate started to grow more intense..Her face was burned into my memory with hate. Finally, it was over and I crumpled to the ground in relief.
That evening my Father came home. Mom met him at the door and said, “The children have been really bad today.” Dad pointed to my bedroom and said in a loud disapproving tone, “Go to your room.” I was sent to my room for punishment. In my room I thought of the injustice of what was happening and I was filled with a consuming hatred toward my father. In one day Mom had introduced me to injustice, corrupted me with a spirit of hate, and turned me against my father.
The next day I woke up and came out of my room. Dad was at work. Mom asked me if I was going to be good and I responded, “Yes.” Her answer was “I thought you would say that.”
That was the worst time but there were others. It is true that the course of a man’s (or woman’s) life is determined by their early years. I don’t want this to sound like blame for it is not. It is truth, and an understanding of causes. These kind of traumas in childhood change the course of a persons life. Most of these memories were repressed out of my consciousness mind in order to cope. In later years the drugs would literally obliterate all memory of them.
Have you ever seen the cruelty of children and wonder how they got that way? When I was about 10 years old an incident happened that is worth telling. It was popular at that time to “pants” someone. A group of boys would find someone they didn’t like and pants them to humiliate them. I was with a group of boys who ran across a boy in our neighborhood, Jim T., and they decided to “pants” him. After they got him down on the ground they pulled his pants and underwear down exposing his genitals. I was already a smoker and I was seized by the impulse to burn him on the genitals with a lite cigarette and proceeded to do so. His faced grimaced in pain and he burned with resentment towards me. He had the same look of hate on his face that I had when my mom was beating me. I had become what I hated:. An agent of cruelty and injustice.
I was 15 when I first started using drugs. It was a weekend thing at first. Sniffing glue or smoking dope. I remember my first real drunk on wine and the attendant hangover the next day. I felt terrible. My brother- in- law was a male nurse and had access to amphetamines and gave me 2 cross-tops for the hangover; afterwords, I felt better, much much better. Amphetamines were added to the drugs I craved. He also had barbiturates and I began to use them. The 60`s were the time of Timothy Leary “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” It was the time of Jefferson Airplane, Dylan, and Donovan and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I read the Life magazine article about LSD and I wanted to try it. I did and I loved it. By the time I was 18. I was a glue sniffer, dope smoker, drinker, used upper and downers and hallucinogenics. As one Judge I appeared before said, “I don’t know where you’re going but your getting there fast.”
As I look back on it, I think the traumatic incidents in my life,especially the trauma with my mother, set me up for the drug addiction.I explain it like this:If you have a burnt finger and place it in a cool glass of water it feels “good.” Similarly, my conscience had been burned by hate and felt “good” when immersed in the chemical high of drugs.
It was a downward journey of crossing moral borders. I started using a needle because other people were doing it. At first I injected barbiturates.For a period of time I became a very heavy drinker while I went to college. I would go to school in the mornings and, in the afternoons shoplifted alcohol at the local supermarket. There was periodic use of amphetamines at this time also.I had become a very sick young man.
When school was over with I went to work again at the restaurant I used to work at. As fate would have it their was a waitress working there who was using heroin. As is probably obvious, I had no compunction about using any drug and was not averse to needles. The inevitable happened. I had my first fix of heroin. The experience wasn’t that great due to poor quality. But my second fix was powerful “China White” heroin and it made me feel powerful, gave me a sense of well-being, and made me feel like a God. That was the beginning of my heroin addiction.
Within a few months I was “strung-out” on heroin. I decided to quit and began going through withdrawal symptoms which are flue-like and include sleepless nights. Midway through the withdrawal symptoms I decided the hell with it and decided to burglarize another pharmacy. My running partner and connection thought that it was a dandy idea and drove me to the local pharmacy. I climbed on the roof and entered into the building through an air-conditioning vent I kicked out. I dropped into the store and began ransacking the shelves. Midway through the ransacking I heard a sound like mice scurrying which was the scuffle of police shoes on the vinyl floor getting into position. A voice rang out “Police Department, come out with your hands up.” And I did.
It was back to court. The same courthouse (but a different judge) where I had been convicted on a previous burglary. The judge looked at the record and correctly ascertained that my sentence of 43 days had been too light. I admitted to the Court that I was a heroin addict. The State of California had (and still has) a program of so-called “Treatment” for drug addicts. The first step is examination by Doctors that you are in danger of addiction and a threat to yourself and others. The Doctor examined me and saw marks on my arms and certified to the Court that I was indeed a drug addict. My sentence was a 7 year civil commitment to the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, CA run by the California Department of Corrections.
While there they did have me write an autobiography and I wrote as honestly as I could. At that time I couldn’t see any further than that my desire for acceptance was the cause of my addiction.The early childhood traumas of which I wrote earlier were completely buried in my subconscious at this time.Psychology calls this repression. I believe the incidents were so traumatic ,especially the one beating, that I coped with it by blocking it out of mind conscious mind. Then I covered it up with 14 years of drug use which made me almost completely oblivious to the incidents and the hate.
I do remember that there was one Corrections Lieutenant who said to me, “We don’t know what to do about you guys, We just keep you guys locked up and hope you’ll get tired of what your doing.” That was the admission by the Institution that they didn’t have the foggiest idea what caused addiction nor what to do about it. After being paroled I wasn’t out very long before I started using heroin again. And it was long before I was arrested and violated. My parole gave me a choice between CRC and a drug treatment program.
The first drug treatment program chosen for me was the Long Term Family Program at the Tarzana Psychiatric Hospital. I was somewhat shocked when I arrived there. My first view of the “Family” was in the cafeteria and it looked like a line of carnival sideshow freaks. The men had shaved heads and wore dresses. The women were wearing men’s clothes. Some were wearing paper bags over their heads with eye, nose and mouth holes. All were wearing cardboard sandwich board signs with crayon marked messages on them.It was a weird menagerie of bizarre design.
My first night there I was rudely awakened at 2:00 A.M. by our phase leader screaming, “Creep,creep, creep.” As I was to find out a “creep” meant to be awoken in the middle of the night for “therapy.” It is amazing what can be done to human beings in the name of “Therapy.” The first therapy was to stand on the wall. Standing on the wall was a big part of Tarzana. If you were ever stood in the corner as punishment as a child with your face against the wall, then you have a sense of standing on the wall. Usually it was from 10-30 minutes. However there were times when we stood on the wall for as long as 20 hours. This, of course, is cruelty and not therapy but that’s what they did. In the beginning I was not told a lot about the program except that I would have to have a lot of blind “faith” and that the program worked. Honestly, I don’t know if this sort of thing goes on at Tarzana now, but it certainly did then. Sleep deprivation, shaving heads, wearing dresses for men, standing in uncomfortable stress positions on the wall: all this was considered therapy. If you are wondering what all this had to do as “treatment” for drug addiction, you are not alone. 30 years later I’m still wondering
I split from Tarzana as soon as I thought my parole agent would not violate me (4 months). Although I tried to stay clean I was unable to do it. After another burglary arrest I ended back at CRC for the second time. At this time everyone in my life believed I was hopeless.
My stay at CRC this time was for about a year. During that time I started attending both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. I even attended church a few times while in the institution. Various churches and evangelists came in. I also listened on the radio to a radio ministry.
On my second parole I started attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Although there were Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Los Angeles, they were few and far between in 1977. And when I went to them not many people were staying clean at that time. So I found a home at Alcoholics Anonymous and began to find out what it was all about. I would not be honest unless I included the fact I attended a Christian Church which taught me many useful things: I needed all the help I could get.
For me, at least, resolving all this has taken a long time and a seemingly endless series of realizations,many painful. Even though I got off alcohol and drugs the traumas were buried in my subconscious. The hatred for my mother because of her abuse was repressed into my subconscious .Even when I remembered the abuse I was not conscious of the feelings of hatred. On a conscious level I experienced an attraction to women like my mother, especially look-alikes . This caused me untold misery. This phenomenon of repression is not unknown to psychiatry, although during my time in treatment programs, Alcholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous I learned nothing of this. Alcoholics Anonymous does make this statement:
“There are those too with grave mental and emotional problems. Some of these do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.”
~ Chapter 5,The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
This is as close as I can find in Recovery type literature referring to problems like mine. To this day it amazes me that I could walk around for 45 years with these feelings of hatred and not be conscious of them. And it took over 20 years of being off drugs and personal tragedy for the hatred to surface. Although I had thought I had forgiven my mother I had not. A very good spiritual counselor advised me to confront my mother with what she had done. I did confront her with the incidents of abuse and when I did I was surprised to find feelings of resentment surfacing, like a vapor rising. Although I had not yet truly forgiven my mother, she broke down into tears when confronted.
“I hope this wasn’t the reason you were on drugs,” she told me.
And indeed her cruelty was the reason. Now the reader may be thinking something like this, “Maybe that’s true of you, but not everybody was abused by their mother.” And that is true. But my experience in recovery (28 years) is that most alcoholics or drug addicts have been traumatized in some fashion, some not as severe as me but some worse. I would suggest that the thing that they all have in common is that they have been corrupted by their parents or parent substitutes to hate.
And perhaps all this suggests what the real cure for all this is Is it not forgiveness for those who have harmed us, realizing that they too were once innocent children who were equally traumatized?
It is difficult for me to explain how the mystery of forgiveness happened to me. After the feelings of hatred surfaced in my life, I did not know how to deal with them. I remember driving around alone in my car cursing my mother out in the hopes that somehow that would eventually relieve me of the hate. I would be around her and at times feel a subtle resentment as I looked at her.
One day, while driving on a country road, I came to the painful realization that I was selfish and had used the woman I had been engaged to. It was the most painful realization of my life and I felt like I was dying. I also realized that I had been attracted to her because of my early childhood traumas; recreating and reliving the trauma so to speak.
Another day I had a counseling session with a minister and confessed many of the sins (and more) that you have read here. Afterwords, I felt clean. The traumatic incidents that happened to me as a child no longer seemed important, and my anger towards my mother seemed gone..Now, is it any surprise to anyone that forgiveness (or repentance of hate) is the means by which childhood post-traumatic stress is cured along with all the myriad of problems (including addiction and alcoholism) which grow out of it. After all, what could be more Christian or Spiritual than that?