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Tin foil halo: My life as a heroin-addicted Angels writer

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The opioid crisis is real, and it is indiscriminate about who it will try and put six feet under. This is my story; this is my experience, strength and hope.

If you’re a regular reader of this site, or if you’re a longtime Halos Heaven community member, or both, then you’ve probably noticed something was missing in this year’s coverage of the 2018 Angels squad. Actually...not “something”, but rather “someone”. For the past 43 days, I’ve been absent from the site, both in my typical writing duties, behind-the-scenes EIC duties, and in the day-to-day fellowshipping that typically accompanies me logging on to HH.

I owe all of you an explanation, and I owe you a story, and I owe you an apology. This is not something that was decided upon with a light touch, or without hours of deliberation...and hours of tears. If ever there was a horrible time to step away for that length of time, it would be right as spring training was wrapping up, and the Halos were about to take the MLB by storm with their new look lineup, including the amazing Shohei Ohtani and other new recruits like Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler. The excitement was in the air; fans had the hairs on their arms standing at attention.

I, on the other hand, just wanted life to end.

I was flirting with death on a daily basis, hoping the thorny, black grim reaper would just stop playing games and take me, once and for all, to a hell that I was certain I deserved. As the southland prepared for the boys to come back from Tempe, I was crying and hating myself with the intensity of a billion dying stars. I had done well to mask my pain, and obscure the truth with coat after coat of thick, sludgy lies, but I was truthful of one thing and one thing only: I was trapped in a seemingly infinite loop of depression and addiction and I was hellbent on taking myself out of this world, on my own misguided and foolish terms.

By the time I had begun my little departure from this site, I had been smoking black tar heroin, every day, for about a year, and by the time March rolled around, I was simply waiting for that one round of selfish self-medication to sweep me into the eternal dustbin in which I was sure my black soul belonged.

This is my story, it is the truth; my name is Josh and I am an addict.

July 29th, 2017

The Angels, on this day, came from behind (as was their typical modus operandi in that hallowed Team of Destiny season) to beat the Blue Jays by the score of 6-5. I was about a week or so removed from getting married and getting back to the daily grind, home from my honeymoon with my new bride and settling into domestic bliss.

Well, scratch that last part. As I sat down to write the post-game for that day, I had already been to my connect’s house, in the Stanton/Buena Park area of Orange County, and had picked up about a half gram of black tar heroin. There was no such thing as domestic bliss at that point, because while most other newlyweds were in that comfy, lotus-eating haze of shared, undying love, my new wife and I were at vicious odds with each other over my drug use. When we first started dating, I was about a year clean from my previous addiction, which was primarily that cruel fellow named Alcohol. An everyday drinker for pretty much a decade, I was suddenly sober and feeling ebullient, shot out of a cannon and seeing things click into place for the first time in my life.

A lot of my regular readers will attest to my transformation, and pretty much all of them were champions of my fairly-public battle with booze, offering endless encouragement and digital high fives for support.

But by the time we actually got married, things had changed drastically. After having about three and a half years of sobriety, I hit some rough patches in life, and also couldn’t deal with the newfound emotions and anxieties and illnesses that were now bubbling up to the top of my mind.

It started with Norcos, then progressed to Roxies (both are fairly potent painkillers, in case you were blissfully unaware), and it was just a matter of “when”, not “if”, that I’d turn pro in my opiates addiction, and just face down the H in a fucked up Thunderdome facsimile. I didn’t want to tell anybody right then and there that I was getting loaded on heroin, nor did I have the courage to help myself or reach out for said help.

Instead, I was high on black most days. When I had proposed to my fiance, I was high on black. When we actually got married, she knew I was high, and to this day, she can’t think of our ceremony without also thinking of my eyes, shot out like an itinerant carnival game, and then breaking down in a heap.

So you can imagine that, when we got home, things were not all that kosher and she began to see that she had made a mistake, perhaps, by inadvertantly marrying a drug addict who was still out running and gunning. I went and copped immediately when we got home from the honeymoon, and I’m sure I was high while watching the Angels rally to beat the Blue Jays. That’s just how deep I was, and how much of a scumbag I had become.

September 2nd 2017

Another great Angels comeback, and another time that I was only marginally doing my duties, checking out at certain times to make sure I had time for my other full-time job: Being a heroin addict. It’s a lot more time consuming than any non-junkie would think, really. You have to get up early most days, and get to your connect’s house before work (if you have a job, like I did, at least). Some days, he’s not up, or he’s only PARTIALLY in a smack stupor and you spend a couple hours trying to rouse him just in hopes that he is on deck with a gram or so.

Many times, you wake him up, or if you’re lucky, he’s already up from the night before (typically with the help of a two-foot water bong with a glass bowl attached, filled with a tiny puddle of crystal meth, torched until bubbling through the murky percolation and exhaled in a dense, chemical fog throughout the connect’s room or garage or wherever he happens to be conducting his business at the time). Of course, maybe you get him up and then find out that you have to go to HIS connect’s house, usually in an even rougher neighborhood than the one you already find yourself in, and in your glorious tunnel vision, you offer to give him a ride.

That time, and it’s like that with most dealers or purveyors of fine, black poison, really begins to add up quickly. Next thing you know, you’re late for work or you’re late getting a story published. These molasses-paced transactions begin to add up during the day, because if you’re any addict worth their weight in fine, Coachella powder, then you are probably going to need to go back more than once, repeating the infuriating process all over again.

By now, though, your boss has probably noticed and given you waking papers. Bosses can handle your tardy and/or culpable behavior bullshit in the mornings, I’ve found, but calling out a few other times per day, on the regular, is a recipe for disaster. Then again it’s all a recipe for disaster, and knowing as much never stopped me from shirking normal duties in favor of gathering all of the volatile ingredients necessary to bake up that particular flavor of epochal implosion.

Back to the game the Halos played on this day: C.J. Cron was having an amazing game, carrying them on his back (the Angels would soon get rid of him via trade to pay him back for his efforts), meanwhile I was having a fit of the nods (nodding out, in place, uncontrollably...it’s like sleep, but different, and dumber) a junkie phenomenon with which addicts have a love and hate relationship. If your dope is good, you welcome that leaden head like a holy epiphany, your head bowing down to placate a combustible creator.

Nodding out can be a detriment, as well, though. Many addicts have drawers filled with pajama pants and comfy shorts adorned with an array of tiny holes caused by unwatched or uncontrolled cigarette ashes, the falling of white-hot glass pieces, or perhaps an errant torch flame. On days when work must be done, I am not a fan of those nods, but I would power through, I had no choice really, and I’d be stoked on whatever fight the Halos put up and served to the opposition.

Once again, the Team of Destiny Angels came back from the brink, in dramatic fashion, but that was no matter to me; I was high on this day, not enjoying the comeback like a regular person, but instead I was sobbing as I stared at, and smoked, that falling meteor of dark, opiate-filled ooze, it laying on a piece of foil to make it smokable, to make it calm my reticence for living, slinking into my heart, embalming my brain.

December 9th 2017

This was the day that Shohei Ohtani decided to sign with the Angels, which admittedly gave me one of my rare bouts of exhilaration I’d experience in 2017. It was especially rare to be that stoked so late into the year, because by then, my disease was in full force, my judgement and rational thinking completely circumnavigated by my desire to burn everything around me down to brass tacks. But Ohtani gave me a charge, albeit short-lived; I was having fun writing about baseball again, and I was proud of my favorite MLB franchise, looking forward next spring already, with an unreal anticipation.

I was back on a baseball-fueled cloud, but it was short-lived; I was, of course, intensely aware of the term “short-lived” by that point. Once you get hooked on something like heroin, every time you find relief from the self-styled brutality of the world around you, you know deep down that there is a correction coming...a punitive paroxysm that becomes your event horizon, the addiction the accretion disk, the black hole, the nothing, all wrapped into the corner of plastic grocery bag, the opened end twisted up, lit on fire, and stamped out to seal your doom.

The fall/winter had already been as jarring as I was prepared to handle, as I had not only come clean to my mom about my drug usage, as well as a potential genesis for said drug usage (childhood trauma and abuse, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, OCD, a general sense of foreboding evil about the world), all of which was unbeknownst to her, but I also had pushed things to the natural limit and conclusion with the woman who, just months earlier, had said “I do” to a surreptitious smack lover in a small Las Vegas chapel.

There were fights on most days, and most nights, and sometimes in the mornings. I was told how bad of a husband I was, and how I was as lowly a bit of scum as they came, and the only response I had to any of these righteous indignations was to agree in total; I knew I was worthless, it didn’t take seeing loved ones crying, til they were physically ill, to know that. It just served to make me hate myself even more than I’d previously thought possible. That would then lead me to go back to the connect’s place, and hope that this time I would OD and the misery would subside.

That fall/winter period was also when I tried, fruitlessly, to kick on my own, multiple times. “Kicking”, to yet again serve as a bridge from the uninitiated to the full-blown addict via druggie word explanations, refers to when a junkie tries to get that poison out of their system, and if you’ve ever seen it portrayed on movies or television, just imagine whatever scene is popping up in your head and make it 1000x more excruciating. Yes, you want to rip your own skin off or bash your skull against a nearby wall, in hopes it knocks you out for a few hours, but the underrated part of the kicking process is all mental.

You imagine words or phrases or people or places, vividly and thoroughly, and these things repeat over and over in your head, til they are rote, and you beg the unknown force of the universe, or God, to amplify the physical pain in exchange for giving your thought process a respite. So, that’s what I did. I tried kicking, on my own, on multiple occasions, and made it, at most, maybe 3 days at a time, a handful of times, that November through February period.

There was no amount of Angels news that was going to save me, or make me forget how hopeless my life had become. Everything was falling apart, and as I would make my loved ones fall into tearful heaps every night, as I would go aggro when my stash was found and flushed, as I roamed decrepit streets that flanked the faux-western visage of Knott’s Berry Farm at 3 a.m, hoping there is a fix out there to save me from throwing up all over myself and then painting my windshield blood red, I would weep and beg for an unspeakable sweet release for which I, thankfully, lacked the resolve and guts to give to myself.

March 5 2018

It was hell on Earth, in my over-analytical head. I felt like I had tried to fit in with the universe, but was shut down at every tip of the hat or extended hand. Everything was falling apart. Then, after a stint at a dual-diagnosis program at St. Joseph’s in Orange, during which I relapsed multiple times, my wife, the woman who now had my last name, and who I had given a migraine condition and stress-related weight loss, put a bag of my clothes on our back porch and told me that I was no longer allowed in our home.

Boundaries were set, and it was at that time, when I was literally heading over to go buy a pittance of black tar with what little money I had left on me, that I cried and cried and cried, and while I had been falling for longer than I thought possible, my rock bottom could now be felt, sussed out, reckoned with...never before, in my previous 37 years, had I ever wanted to disappear, to just vanish suddenly from my environs, the universe, than I did right then.

In a bit of insanely tear-jerking coincidence, Elliott Smith’s “Needle In The Hay” came on my Google Music playlist, and the street and freeway ahead of me became a pinpoint, my view being that of one from the bottom of a grave that was a mile deep in the ground and 12 inches wide.

Your hand on his arm The hay stack charm around your neck

Strung out and thin Calling some friend trying to cash some check

He’s acting dumb That’s what you’ve come to expect

Needle in the hay Needle in the hay Needle in the hay Needle in the hay

He’s wearing yer clothes Head down to toes a reaction to you

You say you know what he did But you idiot kid You don’t have a clue

Sometimes they just get caught in the eye

You’re pulling him through

“Needle In The Hay”

Elliott Smith

March 8th 2017

If you’re one who excels at context clues or figuring out the endings of movies you’ve never seen before, then you can surmise that this little story of mine can’t be all wretchedness and ruination; there is indeed some salvation. It was on this day that I went with family to check myself into rehab, as I knew there was no more room for me to run and gun, there was no fuel left in my tank to keep up in the ramshackle race known as heroin addiction. I was spent; in the parlance of those certain magical rooms where recovery unfolds and makes itself available to even the most skeptical and hesitant a junkie, I had become powerless; holy fuck, was my life unmanageable, there was no two ways about it.

I put the finishing touches on some season preview pieces I had been writing, then I packed a bag and went to disappear from the world for an indeterminate amount of time. I fought tooth and nail to stay in contact with the outside world, but the kind people at the detox/intake center knew better. They knew I’d have my mind elsewhere, and that the last thing I’d want to do is tweet or write about the Angels’ spring training foibles and come-ups. They were right. I spent 12 days in detox, the first four or five spent writhing in a bed, kicking my legs sporadically as if I were riding some barbarous, invisible bronco, wishing and praying for some sleep that lasted longer than 30 minutes at a time.

You buy the ticket, you take the ride, indeed.

After those first four or five days, though, I began to feel the ebullient, effusive spirit percolating inside my head. There were some more ups and downs ahead for me in my first days of recovery, sure, but for the first time in MONTHS, the depression, the despondence, was clearing. I still couldn’t stand to watch Angels games on tv, though, and checking into Twitter or Halos Heaven was an odd, distressing affair; it was a trigger, pretty much, as it represented a world from which I’d just been given a reprieve, the same world that managed to grind me down to a repugnant shell of myself.

So I stayed away, until I thought I could handle it again. Now, with the Angels’ season in full swing, and me having just completed not only 12 days in detox, but 30 days in a residential IOP program, as well as currently having a room in an amazing sober living house, I feel like it was high time to get back to the land of the living. It was time to get back to my life, with an unreal and ethereal 45 days of clean time under my belt, 45 days which I’m as grateful for as a man can possibly be grateful for something which he can’t reach out and grab or know with his eyes and heart only. If I don’t have these 45 days, then I have a box in the ground; that’s what the current opioid crisis means, people, make no mistake.

People have been dying all around me, addicts who were suffering some calamitous cruise down their private river Styx, and yet I’m still here. No matter how much I tempted that particular god of chaos and death, I cheated him and got out. For now, at least. I’ve got much work to do yet, but that’s why I’m here, telling my story.

Why?

“It’s not about knowin where you are. It’s about thinkin you got there without takin anything with you. Your notions about startin over. Or anybody’s. You don’t start over. That’s what it’s about. Ever step you take is forever. You can’t make it go away. None of it. You understand what I’m sayin?

You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday don’t count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else. You might think you could run away and change your name and I don’t know what all. Start over. And then one mornin you wake up and look at the ceilin and guess who’s layin there?

-Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men

Why am I putting this out in the world, my dark secret, my double life, my duplicitous nature and streak of lying, stealing, championing the seedier sides of my life and the shady characters I’d surrounded myself with? Accountability, mainly, but also to liberate myself. I can’t be afraid of the world finding out what’s in my soul, if my soul is already know to the world. I’m an addict...I had been an alcoholic, and many knew that, but now they also know that I’m an addict down to my marrow.

It’s also important, to me, that the Halos Heaven community, or even the SB Nation/baseball/worldwide community as a whole, know where I was, but also who I am and how much this all means to me. I no longer hate myself, or want to spit in the mirror when I catch my reflection. Today, I’m happy and healthy and I’m fighting for my life. You all need to know that, in my opinion. Maybe this will be something I wish I could take back, or it’ll morph into some sort of cyber scarlet letter that hounds future opportunities or closes doors and their thresholds to me forever. I don’t care. I want to be honest; honesty will keep me alive, among other things, and I can’t just come back to my duties without pouring all of this out.

That’s not to mention the fact that we, as a country, are facing something pernicious and insidious and it’s commonly referred to as the opioid crisis. We all want to react solemnly to the stories of ODs and tragic deaths we see wrought from that evil on a daily basis, but if we’re going to combat that scourge, then we also must take into account the idea that it’s EVERYWHERE.

Here I am, living proof, that its tentacles can reach in and grab even the safest of demographics or social strata. We’re all potential victims, but as for why that is, I’m saving that for a bigger piece of writing that I’m working on...but believe me when I say that shit is as real as it gets, and the things I’ve seen while in rehab have shaken me to my core.

Enough of that, though. What matters most now is this: I’m sorry for losing sight of all that was important, and for going to the depths that I did, in search of an answer that would’ve upset many of you, and utterly destroyed everybody that loves me. I just want to be happy, clean and writing until my fingers hurt, be it baseball or otherwise. I’ve got so much to live for still, and that includes all of the friendships I’ve made through this job.

You don’t know how good it is to be back, in every meaningful way possible.