Between 2011 and 2014 I was working as a salesperson for a large biotech company. It was during these few years that my drug use really started to accelerate. I would spend most days using both cocaine and prescription opioids together, trying to find the optimal balance between the two.
On my lunch breaks, I would often run out to see my dealer and pick up more pills. Towards the end of my time at this company is when I made the transition from prescription opioids to the cheaper alternative, heroin, but I hadn’t yet fully made the switch during the time of this story.
I was spending — on average — a couple of hundred dollars per day to keep myself from being physically sick. It sounds like a lot of money to be spending every day but after a while it becomes easy.
I rarely purchased drugs in bulk. Doing so would have saved me time and money. Instead, I would almost always buy drugs on a daily basis. I think this fact is very psychologically important and I’ll expand on that later in this column.
My quarterly bonus checks were always immediately used to pay off drug debts and I was always broke. When I couldn’t come up with the cash, I leveraged credit.
The mile ‘high’ club
The company held large annual sales meetings to bring all of the sales reps and managers together. A few hundred sales reps would fly into that year’s chosen destination for several days of networking, recognitions, announcements, and celebrations.
Air travel has some unique challenges for those of us who are addicted to drugs. The TSA generally frowns upon finding drugs in your carry-on bag.
For this trip, I decided that the best plan was to fill an old prescription bottle for some benign medication in my name with different pills of my preference. The description of the pills on the bottle didn’t match the blue “perc 30s” inside but I was optimistic that nobody would bother to check.
I breezed through security and checked into my hotel. On the agenda for the first night was a large dinner and time for everyone to catch up after a year apart.
Before dinner, I crushed up two pills into a pile of fine blue powder and snorted it up into my right nostril in one swift motion. Although the pills were marketed and prescribed for physical pain, they worked exceptionally well for suppressing emotional pain.
Dinner was uneventful. I was so self-absorbed and emotionally numb during this part of my life that conversations were always boring and skipped across the surface. It reminds me of being a young boy and learning how to throw flat rocks in such a way that they would skim safely across the top of the pond instead of sinking deeper.
It was a learned skill from my childhood that paralleled another lesson I learned as a boy regarding my emotions. I learned how to skip my words across the surface of my interactions with other people, never dipping into the scary depths of vulnerability.
By the time everyone started making their way to the hotel bar, I was already pickled with a mixture of alcohol and oxycontin. Oxycontin ran through my blood and brain every day but I didn’t usually drink heavily.
It didn’t take long for me to get the idea in my head that cocaine would be a great addition to the night. I made this desire known to those around me, thinking they would be as enthusiastic as I was. I wasn’t met with the sort of comradery that I had hoped for, but the lack of a forceful objection gave me the green light to initiate the mission.
In a nice hotel full of professionals and executives, I was the drunk and high salesperson stumbling around looking for some blow. I asked the valet, but he was unwilling to help. The idea passed by and I moved onto even more inappropriate behavior.
At some point during conversation in a group of co-workers, I made it loudly known to someone I worked closely with, that I was planning to sleep with his wife. I don’t know why I said it the first time, let alone the half dozen more times I repeated it. His wife also happened to be an executive in our company. I didn’t even really want to — or plan to — sleep with her.
If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I was a massive jerk and I thank you for not punching me the mouth or getting me fired. I deserved both.
My night would eventually come to an end in my hotel room without cocaine or anyone’s wife. I sucked a few more pills up my nostrils and passed out.
The next morning, I woke up in time to catch the tail end of breakfast. The day ahead was full of group learning sessions designed to educate us on the latest information and get us motivated for the next quarter.
I filled my plate with powdered eggs and frozen sausage and sat down with a few friendly faces to fill my stomach. It didn’t take more than a few bites for me to realize that breakfast might not sit well. I started to sweat, and nausea came quickly barreling behind it. I excused myself and decided to walk back towards my hotel room.
The elevator doors had barely closed before vomit exploded from my mouth. Puke splashed off the marble floor and onto the surrounding walls. When the door reopened to revel my hotel room hallway, I was still staring in disbelief at the mess I had made. I exited the shuffled quickly down the hall towards my room.
Halfway down the long hallway nausea once again became too much to hold. I turned to my left where I found a room service cart neatly discarded outside someone’s room. Unable to control my body, I unleashed once again. I didn’t stop walking as I sprayed the cart and surrounding floor with my puke drive-by.
President’s Club winner
I woke up late in the afternoon. I had missed the day’s activities, but I rose just in time to shower and put on a fresh suit for the night’s event. The night was cheekily dubbed ‘prom’ because everyone dressed to the nines to have dinner and celebrate each other’s success with an awards ceremony.
For those of you who have never worked in sales, let me explain what President’s Club is. Many companies, especially ones with large sales teams, celebrate their top-performing salespeople with annual rewards such as vacations and Rolex watches. This group of top-achievers is typically referred to as ‘President’s Club’.
My arrival was met with a few comments about me cleaning up nice, or ‘looking better than last night’, but they were said mainly in jest and without any real consequences. I heard rumblings about the absurd amount of vomit found in the elevator and gave my best surprised-face. I, of course, knew nothing about it.
The event was held in a large room filled with round dining tables. In the back were the handful of audio-visual professionals producing the event, and the front of the room was filled by a large stage and podium, backed with expensive lighting and video screens. I found my table and my seat was conveniently marked with a name tag.
After dinner, my name and photo scrolled across the stage as it was officially announced that I was one of the company’s President Club winners. I would enjoy a vacation for two to a destination of my choice, fully paid for by the company. I irony of this is not lost on me. The vacation itself is a story that I’ll share another time.
There’s hope for ‘that guy’
At the beginning of this column, I referenced how I would always only purchase enough drugs to last a day or two at a time. Every day I would only purchase enough to get me through the night — because every day I wanted it to end. Every morning I would start over again and buy another supply to get me through just one more day.
I was snorting oxycontin before a work dinner, not because I thought it was a great idea and would make the night more fun, but to suppress the issues and emotions I faced every day. The issues I’m talking about go far beyond my failing marriage and financial issues at the time. I was covering up adverse childhood experiences that would shape my adult life more than I ever imagined possible.
I previously wrote about how almost everyone I’ve encountered with a Substance Use Disorder has also experienced trauma during their childhood. Those of us with childhood trauma have three ways we can deal with it. We can suppress it, we can re-enact the same behaviors as adults, or we can face it and work it out. I’ve already done the first two and now I’m working on the third.
During the time of this story, I was in the suppression phase of my story. Drugs and alcohol were never the actual issues. They were the tool I was using to cope with the issue. It would take me several more years before I learned new tools for dealing with my emotions.
I would eventually find a way to stop using drugs and my life has changed for the better because of it. Sobriety doesn’t fix you, but it will allow you some time to learn alternative ways to help yourself. If you were an out-of-control mess at this year’s holiday party, or you were a witness to a human train wreck, there’s still hope for ‘that guy’.