Desperation and Despair
By Bill Hanks
It was a terrifying night—one that I will never forget, nor one that I can ill afford too. Nothing particularly unusual occurred during the day that would lead me to believe that a life-altering experience would soon take place. Nothing unusual in a day in the life of a drug addict, that is. In reality, the experience was a tragedy that would set in motion the wheels of a transformation—somewhat like a Mouseketeer into Britney Spears. It was a profound episode that forced me, in desperation and despair, to acknowledge that there was, in fact, something truly wrong with me.
When I awoke from a blackout at four o’clock one Sunday morning in January 1996, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of my office building, with the Van Halen song “Running with the Devil” exploding through the speakers. (Looking back, the song spoke volumes about my life). Dressed in a mismatched three-piece business suit, I soon realized my warped state of mind was, in effect, reality turned up-side down . . . a so familiar place. I turned down the sound a few hundred decibels, and then asked my children, “Why are we here?” It was at this point the nightmare began—my six-year-old and seven-year-old were not in the car.
A frenzied foxhole prayer could not even begin to subdue the hopeless fear and panic that overcame me. I begged God, “Please let the children be back at the house.” Although the drive home was less than two miles, it seemed as if I was trapped in still motion. The image of two helpless children wandering aimlessly in a cold, dark deserted park played over and over in my head. When I finally pulled into my driveway, the headlights captured two kids peering out from behind the kitchen-window curtain. I remember thinking, “Thank you Lord—thank you for protecting them from me.”
I was relieved, even when the children confronted me with, “Dad, what’s wrong with you?” I was so scared, yet grateful for their safety. Because of me, the instincts—the survival skills of a six-year-old and seven-year-old had been put to the test. I told them that I was having a bad reaction to my medicines, which was partly true—I just didn’t mention the mass quantities involved. My son informed me that he had called their mother, and she was on her way to pick them up. I remember telling him, “You did the right thing . . . I’m proud of you.” Within moments, they were driving off with her—only to look back at me in bewilderment. My lone thought was that I’d probably never see them again—something their mother had just promised.
Although I was relieved that the children were in safe harbor, it did little to subdue my anguish. I was now alone with myself . . . and it was terrifying. “You f***ing monster,” I screamed when viewing the wretch in the mirror. “You’re insane,” the image cried back. “Please God; take me out of this self-induced misery.” Death was beginning to look like a pretty good option; the gun is in the sock drawer . . . now I was panicked.
Looking back, it was Divine intervention that got me to the hospital—where I checked myself into a treatment program and truly acknowledged for the first time . . . I’m a drug addict. That was 16 years ago.
I’m frequently asked if this is when I “hit bottom?” No, this was just another dreadful event that occurred while I was living in a bottom . . . albeit the event that led me into rehab. Actually, I had begun hitting bottom years earlier. Hitting bottom is not just blacking out with your kids or smashing into a toll booth on the Interstate. It’s not just about bar-hopping in Oklahoma City on a Friday night—then waking up in Shreveport, Louisiana, the next morning with no recollection as to how you got there. Hitting bottom is an inside deal, a state of mind, a way of living that reflects the insane thinking and behavior that is part and parcel the footprint of a disease called addiction.
Living in a bottom is tantamount to the universal definition of addiction: An uncontrollable compulsion to repeat abnormal behaviors regardless of their negative consequences.
Sixteen years ago I was a hopeless dopefiend. Today, I’m a dopeless hopefiend. The events of that Sunday morning have manifested into a self-help memoir titled “Serenity: It’s a God Deal” (finding your way to sobriety, sanity, and serenity). With book in hand, I teach “Recovery 101” to patients in treatment, having worked with approximately 15,000 patients to date. In addiction, I bring “awareness programs” to our young people as well as “knowledge and information” programs to moms and dads in order to give a better understanding about people like me and why we do the things we do.
Writing “Serenity” did two things for me: 1) It put me back in touch with the person I was before drugs and alcohol took over, and 2) the book put me in touch with the person I would like to become!