Last week when I posted about my daughter going to a doctor for medication for her ADD a friend from elementary school posted a comment to me on Facebook. He said he supported my decision to give her meds because he was a recovering heroin addict who had suffered from ADD his whole life and never knew it until he was in recovery. I was totally shocked. This guy, Dave, was everyone’s “boy next door.” Sweet, brown haired kid I went to school with from kindergarten through high school.
I don’t remember him ever getting in trouble or having problems in school, he just seemed like a cute, nice guy that got along with most everybody. At least that was my perception of him and I couldn’t get his comment out of my head all day. How did this guy become a heroin addict and then actually have the strength and will power to get clean? You know the odds of that are like 100,000 to one or something crazy. It is almost an impossible feat.
I inbox messaged him and asked if I could interview him for my blog. He readily agreed and we met on Wednesday to talk. I have never interviewed anyone before but I really felt compelled to share the story of what lead him down the path of addiction and back over “the wall” towards his current life which includes a beautiful supportive wife, an adorable daughter and a thriving business.
As he started talking about his experiences in elementary school, he first recalled his horrible memories of 4th grade. I wasn’t surprised he went straight to talking about 4th grade because it is super typical for bright kids who have ADD to start suffering in that grade and we had a really intense, rigid teacher. Unfortunately for Dave, our teacher, Ms. Diener, was over the top strict and never saw any grey areas. You either did everything her way or your were ridiculed and punished. Because I was a crazy rule follower I quickly became the teacher’s pet, but I do remember her being unfairly mean to some of the other children and I was super grateful she liked me because I was terrified of getting on her bad side. Because Dave had troubles getting his homework done, she tormented him. It makes me sick to think of how horrible that must have been for him and the other children she had no compassion for just because they weren’t able to be” perfect”.
In today’s society most parents wouldn’t tolerate their child being treated like that but even though Dave’s Mom was a PTA Mom and really involved in our school and saw the teacher’s bad methods she wasn’t really sure how to handle the situation. You see Dave’s Mom did the best she could but she too suffered from depression, dyslexia and ADD. She had her own anxieties and difficulties in navigating certain situations. Dave’s Dad also suffered from serious depression and ADD so as much as both his parents loved him then and still do now, he was on his own in trying to figure out why he was always in trouble with his teachers and couldn’t quite seem to fit in.
In the beginning, he knew he was smart and every night as he sat down to do his homework, he just couldn’t get it done no matter what he did. He didn’t live in a structured environment and couldn’t figure out how to pull himself together and get his work done. He remembers making promises to himself, “tomorrow I will do better, but tomorrow never came.” After years of feeling frustrated with his inability to accomplish what he wanted in school, his self esteem started to really suffer.
He got to the point where every time he walked into a room, he believed he wasn’t as worthy as everyone else in the room. He took this perception of himself as a truth and was certain he was less than everyone, and everyone else knew it too.
When he was in 8th grade his Dad went into a serious depression and Dave’s Mom, the sunshine in his world, had to stop being a stay at home and go out and find a job. So even though she hadn’t been able to help him be more successful in school she had physically always been there loving and supporting him as best she could but now she couldn’t be around as much.
Some how Dave managed to keep on the pretty straight and narrow and scrap through high school, graduating by a narrow margin. He admits to partying like every other teenager and trying drugs a few times, “but he never wanted to be that guy.” That stoner, druggie, party guy. He wanted to be better and do better, yet he couldn’t figure out how.
After high school graduation it seemed as if “everyone left”. All his friends went off to college and he had no idea what to do with his life or how to even go about getting into college. He knew he wanted to go to college but his high school GPA was below a “C” average and he was lost. He was depressed but didn’t even realize what depression was or that it was affecting his life.
After a few months he he got a job at the Cannery and started taking classes at OCC. He decided to take the classes that interested him, so he started with Cultural anthropology. He loved the class and found it super interesting and appeared to be doing well until the first test came along. He knew the class was graded on a curve. After the first test he walked into class and saw on the board, “the curve” and it was really high. He instantly felt defeated and mumbled to himself as he walked to his seat, “he could never get a good grade with that curve.” Funny enough the teacher heard his mumblings and rewarded him with a huge smile when she handed him back his exam and said, “you set the curve, Dave.” It was like a light when on in his head, “I guess I am smart.” He proceeded to get a really high A in that class and signed up for more anthropology and biology classes. He figured out that he was really great in science. Despite his success in these classes, he couldn’t seem to handle the other required classes that he needed to get into university. He kept going to school and working but wasn’t quite getting anywhere.
He and his best friend decided to take a 6 month trip around the world once his friend got out of the Navy. He saved enough money and off they went for the time of their lives but like all good things, the trip finally came to an end. His friend moved to Santa Cruz and after a few months of really feeling lost and depressed again, Dave decided to follow him to Santa Cruz. He suddenly found himself hanging with a surfer stoner crowd and was still having a hard time getting his act together. He met a really great girl and fell in love and when it eventually didn’t work out he spiraled into the worst depression of his life.
He remembers feeling more pain and hurt than he had ever experienced in his life and he didn’t know why. He didn’t know he was in a depression, he just kept wondering how everyone else could keep going and living their lives while in such pain. He assumed everyone else felt this same heavy weight piled on their body every minute of every day. Once again, some how he slowly found his way out of this black hole and started taking classes again and working.
It was after this time period that someone offered him heroin. He had been offered drugs plenty of times before and wasn’t interested much, but for some reason this time, he didn’t even hesitate, he said “yes”. He remembers feeling so bad and so down that he assumed nothing could make him feel worse, so why not try it. He tried the heroin and felt incredible. For the first time in his life he was without pain in his soul. I have learned this is called self medicating. As you can imagine, he started using once a week and then after he got a girlfriend who also liked to use heroin, the downward cycle to becoming a serious addict started. They eventually started using everyday and Dave lost his job but for the first time in his life, his mood was stabilized. Yes, his life was a mess and he was an addict but somehow during this time in his life he was able to apply to UC Santa Cruz and was actually accepted. He was finally on the way to achieving his dream of attending University as a microbiology major but he couldn’t hold it together.
Both families finally did an intervention on Dave and his girlfriend, or rather they scooped them up and brought them home. Dave came back to Newport and went cold turkey at his parents house without therapy, drugs or any other help. He described the withdrawal from heroin as the most tortuous, hellish experience of his life. Unlike what people may believe you don’t sleep when you are withdrawing from heroin. He was up for 8 days straight until he was finally able to sleep. After a month of fighting through the withdrawal, he was able to start assimilating back into society.
After this phase he finally realized he needed some help and went to a psychiatrist. The doctor diagnosed him with ADD and gave him some meds to try. The meds made him feel really crappy and he started drinking. Because this psychiatrist wasn’t helping much, he eventually quit the meds, stopped seeing the doctor and switched his addiction from heroin to alcohol.
He was holding down a job as a bartender and had met a really nice girl, his current wife when he decided he needed to get away from being a bartender. He knew he wanted a future with this woman, so he switched careers. He went to the local pond shop and for some reason the guy there really took a liking to Dave and taught him how to build water features from the ground up instead of trying to hire him for minimum wage. And so Dave started building water features, ponds, waterfalls and everything in the middle for people. He was quickly a success because he loved his work and was really good at what he did. He saved his money and eventually bought his girlfriend an engagement ring and they got married.
Once married, they decided to get out of town and move away to Washington to start a new life together. Dave was still drinking at this point and had his ups and downs with depression but on the whole he was doing great for him but not as good as he wanted for his future. One morning after all night of partying with a friend, while his wife was out of town he had a wake up call. It was a beautiful snowy morning in Washington and as Dave looked around and saw all the beauty around him he realized he hated the fact that he had been up all night partying. It was like his body was desecrating the beauty around him. He felt this hated the alcohol and all the drugs he had done over the years. He wanted to be a better person for himself and his wife. They both deserved more. That night he went to an AA meeting and he has never drank since.
He is totally sober and living the life he always wanted. Of course he still has his battles and is currently working with a good psychiatrist to try and get his meds in line because he has learned that is really important to keeping his moods and life going the way he wants.
Why did I just tell you Dave’s life story? Because he believes that if he would have received proper help with his ADD and depression as a child, his life would have taken a different path. He learned from doctors and therapy as have I from research that “ADDers are generally no more likely than non-ADDers to experiment with drugs, ” up until age 15. From this age on, rates of abuse and dependency skyrocket. Half of all adults with untreated ADHD will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. ADDitude magazine article March 2007
So I know I have been on an ADD warpath lately but I just didn’t realize how much ADHD/ADD could affect a person’s life. Having ADD doesn’t just affect your progress in school, but every aspect of your life because it screws with your self esteem to the point where it can become non-existent.
Dave also taught me that if you don’t get help from a good doctor, it is no help at all. Finding a good psychiatrist that specializes in ADHD and is willing to change medications quickly if they make you feel like crap is super important. Lots of these doctors prescribe stuff and say “see you next month.” That isn’t a good doctor.
So in conclusion I am going to give my friend Dave a plug for his water feature business, aqualifeponds.com because he is amazingly talented and I want to THANK HIM for allowing me to share his incredible success story. Thank you Dave!