Written by Nolan - January 21, 2020:
I started with typical teenage drugs like weed, psychedelics, and alcohol. At 15, I overdosed on acid (yes, it is possible). Police and EMT's had to tie me to a stretcher as my mom watched, scared to death, because I was making zero sense and acting totally insane. I even tried to jump out of the window, but luckily it only cracked.
That episode led to my first stint in rehab: 28 days at Charter in Louisville, KY.
I stayed clean for a couple years after that. But around 17, I started smoking pot again. I was working construction at the time, and ended up getting injured on the job. My dad came by to visit and sign my cast, and he asked me for some of my pain pills. I watched him chew up five blue Lortab 10’s. As soon as he left, I did the same thing. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Until then, I was taking them as prescribed. Obviously, I had no idea what was about to happen to me. An hour later, I remember thinking to myself: “This is how I want to feel for the rest of my life.”
Shortly thereafter, I discovered benzos. My first time taking Xanax and opiates together, I remember thinking: “No... THIS is how I want to feel for the rest of my life.”
I began mixing the two daily, and quickly destroyed my relationships with most of my family and friends. The only person I seemed to grow closer to was my father, whom I had bonded with over our love of pills. We were constantly trading them, and working together to score. I guess you could say it became “our thing.” But at 25—after I’d already blown two major record deals due to my addiction—my father called me to tell me he’d been arrested for selling Oxy’s to an undercover officer. Because he was already on parole at the time, he was facing a minimum of 20 years. He told me he wasn’t going back to jail, and that he had a 9 millimeter Beretta, which would solve all of his problems.
“You can’t call your son and say you’re gonna kill yourself!!!” I yelled into the phone. Then I hung up. He attempted to call back six times that night. I hit “ignore” every time.
The next day, I woke to the news that he’d shot himself, and had died at the hospital nine hours later.
Just seven days after his suicide, I flew to New York City to meet with EMI & Virgin Records. They signed me to a half-million-dollar deal on the spot. I was even added to their website—right next to Lenny Kravitz and The Rolling Stones. They sent me to the biggest studio in the country to work with one of the biggest producers in the world. In the middle of recording what was to be my major label debut, my mom’s house was totaled by an F3 tornado that passed through Goodlettsville (the home I’d been staying in prior to signing with Virgin). And in the meantime, my addiction was spiraling out of control. I was having pills mailed to the studio in candy boxes. They made me angry and crazy to the point that no one could tolerate me…. myself included. I could barely sing from all the vomiting, and my guitar playing was all over the place. Eventually, the producer informed the label that I was completely unmanageable. Virgin dropped me a few weeks later, and the record was never released.
Having already blown through most of my advance money, I was forced to return to Tennessee. My mother was able to purchase a new home with the insurance money she received after the tornado, and I moved into her basement. My addiction continued to accelerate, of course. But there was surprisingly little pushback from family or friends. Between the childhood abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my parents, the suicide of my father, the label dropping me, and my childhood home being torn to shreds by a tornado… well, let’s just say I had endured enough heartbreak to effectively play the “victim card” for a few more years. Most everyone seemed to just passively accept my addiction as a misguided-yet-understandable attempt at self-medicating. Even my mother resigned to the idea that I just needed time to grieve, and convinced herself I would come out of it soon enough…
But, of course, the situation only worsened. I fell asleep at the wheel following a three-day drug binge, and proceeded to drive the brand new car I’d purchased with the Virgin money off the road and into a heavily-wooded area. The car was totaled, but I somehow walked away without a scratch. Still, I couldn’t afford to have the vehicle fixed, and was now trapped in my mother’s basement with no way to get anywhere—not even to my dealer.
After learning a neighbor had Stage 4 stomach cancer, I approached him about buying his pain medication off of him (for a much lower price than street value, because he’d never sold to anyone before). He agreed, and went on to provide me with all the pills a junkie could ever dream of.
This accelerated my addiction even further. Eventually, snorting pills just wasn’t cutting it anymore, and I had to resort to shooting up. After injecting too much one afternoon, my mom found me passed out at my recording desk—a loaded spoon and needle right beside me. She kicked me out of her house that same day. I couch-surfed for as long as I could. But eventually, no one would allow me to stay with them. They all said they didn’t want me to die in their house. Even my drug dealer said I needed to go to rehab.
With nowhere left to go, I checked into a state run facility in Knoxville. Three days later, they kicked me out. So, I just pretended to be sober, and was somehow able to convince a small publishing company in Nashville to sign me. After a few months, however, they knew something was off with me (I had to wear long sleeve shirts in the summer to hide my track marks). My publisher, manager, and mother got together and staged an intervention. I was given an ultimatum: complete 28 days at Cumberland Heights, then do six months at a halfway house with random drug tests. Otherwise, I would be dropped immediately from the publishing contract. I burst into tears, grabbed the agreement, and signed it right there on the hood of my publisher’s truck.
I attempted to check into Cumberland that same night, but they were unable to admit me because I had an infection the size of a golf ball on my left arm where I had been shooting up. So, I was taken to the ER until cleared, then sent back to Cumberland. I was admitted on May 15th, 2010.
Now, even though I had said I would get sober, I really had no intention of staying that way. In my mind, I would simply “fake it until I made it.” I told myself I would pretend to love being sober until I got out of my publishing agreement, then get high all over again. But after two weeks at Cumberland with nothing in my system (the longest I’d gone without drugs or alcohol since I was 17), I had what they call a “spiritual awakening.”
I hit my knees in the chapel one afternoon, and asked God to remove my desire to drink and use drugs. And something strange happened when I walked out of that chapel… I realized I could smell the fresh cut grass for the first time since I was a teenager! I noticed how brightly the sun shone, and how beautiful the flowers were! And in that same moment, a double rainbow appeared over the horizon, and I experienced what it was like to be happy, joyous, and free for the first time in my adult life.
Needless to say, I was hooked after that. I dove head first into the big book, and went to 142 meetings in my first 90 days. I fell in love with AA & NA. With the help of my sponsor, I worked the 12 steps diligently. I even went on to sponsor four other guys. And three of them remain sober today!
I made it almost three years. But eventually, I stopped going to meetings in order to focus more on my music career and new romantic relationship. I convinced myself that I had been “cured,” and that I was a different person than before. Soon thereafter, all the same old insanities returned…
I smoked pot again, convincing myself that it wasn’t a drug—telling myself that as long as I didn’t drink, I was still sober. I even tried sharing my story at Cumberland the very next day, not anticipating the shame I would feel, nor realizing that my addiction was about to take me down once more. A couple months after that, I convinced myself that—since I had done so much step work and therapy, and because I was able to “control” my weed consumption—I would be able to drink “successfully.” And after a couple months of smoking and drinking “successfully,” I figured I could easily take one pain pill a month, so long as I followed a system I liked to call “meticulous melting.” And so, I would take an Oxy, then lie down on my bed with an alarm set to go off every two minutes (so I wouldn’t stop breathing if I nodded off). And I made sure not to mix any benzos with the pain pills (because I knew that’s how you OD). I figured if it was carefully planned out, and no one else was around... well, I wasn’t hurting anyone, was I?
Oh, yeah: I guess I forgot to mention I’d gotten back on the benzos, as well…
Then coke… then speed… then psychedelics.
Soon enough, I was right back where I’d ended up before. Only this time, with the 12 Steps branded in my brain. That’s not a fun experience: to know how beautiful life can be when you’re clean & sober, and to have to face the fact that you’ve thrown away years of sobriety. I was ashamed of myself, of course, and couldn’t stand the thought of walking back into a meeting and admitting to everyone I’d been lying to their faces for months…
It’s something I put off for nearly 7 years!
Somehow, I managed to survive… again. Though, not without consequence. I also managed to destroy every opportunity I’d worked so hard for in the process. I lost my publishing deal, my manager, and my lawyer. My friends eventually walked away, as well… because they had to. I was in self-sabotage mode. And in my mind, there was no slowing down. I had talked myself into believing that AA was a lie—that no one was really sober. And if they were, they were just taking advantage of new-comers, and hooking up behind closed doors.
I searched high and low for evidence that Bill W. was a fake, and developed a hatred for all things recovery…
Then, in August of 2018, I drank about 20 shots of tequila at a bonfire on the beach in California… then I began asking around for pills. I scored some Xanax bars, as well as two Oxy 30’s. My plan was to do one, lie down, “meticulously melt,” and save the other for the flight home. I snuck into the bathroom, crushed one up, and snorted it. It was the first time I’d snorted anything in a ages, and it burned like nothing I’d ever felt before.
When I walked out of the bathroom, the people who lived at the house asked me what I had been snorting. Apparently, they had been able to hear me through the door. I told them the truth (thank God!). That was the last thing I remember…
There was a cold blackness all around me after that—an empty silence, and a strange draft on my bare skin. I felt my throat and chest hurting as I came to. I was looking up from the floor with my shirt cut off, surrounded by EMT’s. I was completely confused. I heard a woman’s voice say, “You overdosed. You’ve been dead for 60 seconds”. It was difficult to speak. After a few seconds, I managed to mumble the words: “The pill was laced. I didn’t do enough to overdose…”
The main EMT (who had just pulled the breathing tube out of my windpipe) said, “You gotta come with us. The Narcan will wear off, and you might overdose again.” I told them I was fine, and that this wasn’t what it looked like. I told them that I was NOT a junkie. And that I had, in fact, been sober for many years.
They told me it was the hospital or jail.
So, I went with them, and they kept me alive.
The next morning I boarded my flight, still in total shock. I felt as if I had actually died on that floor the previous night, and that walking onto the plane was simply some post-mortem dream I was having in the morgue. It was enough of a scare to convince me to see a therapist again. I even relented to trying out an antidepressant—which is something that had been suggested to me by every doctor I’d ever seen.
I was prescribed Lexapro. But it gave me such horrible anxiety, I broke down and took a Xanax. Eventually, I was able to talk a Physician’s Assistant into calling me in a prescription for the drug. But I was still too terrified to use anything else, and managed to make it six months without a drink or weed.
I went to meetings and said I was sober. I was able to convince myself that because the Xanax was prescribed, it didn’t count. But not too long after that, I smoked pot again (of course). And eventually beer came back into my life (of course). And you probably know what happened next....
Somehow, someway—thanks to God, good family, and friends… and thanks to the Big Book, and my sponsor (who somehow never gave up on me)—I was able to walk into a meeting one day and say I needed help. I guess I could see the cycle of my addiction clearly for the very first time. I finally figured out it’s deception. My disease’s greatest gift is to convince me I don’t have a disease. And its greatest talent is to make me forget how bad life was when I was in active addiction.
After the meeting that night, my sponsor and dear friend, Mitzi Dawn, made some calls and got me into Oxford Treatment Center. I moved all my gear and furniture into storage, and took a greyhound to Mississippi. In two days, I’ll have eight months sober.
I have zero desire to drink or smoke pot again, because I KNOW what comes next. There’s just no denying it anymore. Still, I’m sure my disease will figure out a way to convince me otherwise, if I’m not painstaking about my recovery. “Cunning, baffling, and powerful,” is the greatest understatement ever made about the disease of addiction/alcoholism.
The main reason I’ve been sitting here writing this for the last two hours: it’s the only way I know how to keep my disease in a cage, far away from everyone I love... including myself.
My only goal in sharing this is to get across the message that it may seem fun in the beginning, but there’s never a happy ending… except through sobriety.