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How Fiction Saved My Life This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , Kalamazoo, MI
There’s this feeling of perfect, utter anguish when you wake up and you realize you should be knocking on the smoking hot gates of Hell, ready to spend the rest of your spiritual existence sweating, hand in hand with sinners and shahs and soldiers and saints alike. Which is all kind of haunting and dismal because I’m inclined to believe that you should feel the exact opposite; you should feel solely gratitude and thanks—thanks that you were deemed worthy enough in the eyes of your deity of choice to be blessed with a second chance to make things right… or something. In my own case, I’ve been given this type of grace five different times having overdosed on four different substances in two different states demanding two trips to the hospital in the midst of four different friend groups, and I still don’t exactly understand why I’m not buried six feet deep in some pretty Midwestern cemetery. I try not to think about it. All I really know is that I’m alive, and now, thanks to a little collaboration between Death and Fate, I finally have a story worth telling.

In high school (at least in my small, deathly boring, Christian high school) I was not the typical sophomore. I loved being outside, going on moonlit adventures, and trying new things, while most of my friends were content staying home at night, playing Call of Duty and masturbating themselves to sleep in their parents’ basements.

My buddies Marcus and Riley were the exceptions. On a glorious, drizzly summer night at my house in western Michigan, Riley proposed that we watch a movie (for the sole purpose of killing time until my mom fell asleep) and then he’d drive us so we could go “pooling” at a nearby lake.

Pooling was this: first you’d go to a store, preferably one that’s open twenty-four hours (Wal-Mart or Meijer, usually), and buy inflatable kiddie pools. Following that, you’d inflate those pools to their capacity and set them on the shore of the body of water you chose to invade that night. You’d sit in your own designated pool and drift into the lake, listening to tunes from someone’s iPhone, having conversation, and relaxing for hours and hours and hours under the stars.

So that’s exactly what we decided on doing. Marcus’ dad had mentioned to him fairly recently that “Pulp Fiction” was his favorite movie, and I knew for sure that my brother Mason had it on DVD. He was out of town, so I went on a mini-quest to go find it in the labyrinth that was his bedroom.

Upon entering his room, I felt like Harry Potter in the third task of the “Goblet of Fire” story, trying to find one little magical chalice in a maze that seemed eternal. I searched to the left, to the right, up, down, upside down, right side up, inside, and outside, but still no luck. I opened Mason’s top desk drawer, and I’m not even sure why I did; the compartments were much too small to house a DVD, let alone a DVD case. Needless to say, I didn’t find it there either. But I did find what sparked my little three year dance with the Devil: ten little pink tablets with the number “20” imprinted on them, all inside the cellophane wrapping from a pack of cigarettes sealed shut with a lighter. With Mason’s laptop on the desk right there, I Googled what they were, and the answer came back to be a powerful painkiller called OxyContin. Every webpage that popped up was about abusing prescription drugs and getting high and the dangers of overdose and the price of it on the street and how it should be much more regulated. My family members were no strangers to drug abuse. Mason had stolen my speakers along with a pair of my mom’s earrings a few months earlier to buy cocaine, and my alcoholic cousin William had died of an overdose just a few years earlier. Neither of these developments were enough to get through my young and arrogant skull, however. I shrugged, said, “F*** it,” and downed four of them having no previous tolerance built up.

Three hours later, I threw up, passed out over the edge of my pool, and nearly drowned. Marcus and Riley, along with various Saint Mary’s Hospital staff, saved my life.

Chalk up overdose number one.

Even though my first experience with mind-altering substances was not a desirable one, I was hooked. My lust for pharmaceuticals, specifically these potent painkillers, escalated quickly. In about six months I was buying max-dosage tablets in bulk, crushing them up, and snorting lines in the school locker room. I had OD’ed two more times by then.

In about six more months, I had entirely forgotten who I was. Ingesting or inhaling a single drug every day of your pitiful existence, you eventually become who you are on that drug—a sort of non-clinical multiple personality—and the old you, the sober you, is completely lost. This moment of clarity came to me on a stormy May morning in 2012 after getting an email from PNC Bank telling me that I had run out of money.

I knew I had strayed away from the uniformity of the ordinary private school student, but I never thought I’d get to here.

If you’ve ever snorted a gram of OxyContin and then had a nine-millimeter Glock pointed at the side of your head because some stranger blinded by cocaine thought you were the one who f***ed his girlfriend the previous night, and especially if you enjoy the pleasure of a conscience-altered adrenaline rush like I do, it’s hard to go back to day-to-day life. This is what I call a peak, and everything’s just watered down after that. You wait and wait and wait for an event like that to find you again, but it never does. You have to find it.

The thing was… I didn’t have the motivation to search for anything like that. S***, I didn’t even have the ambition to get up and search for my car keys. My only motivation for the past year or so had all stemmed from the longing for those chalky colored tablets, and now they were unobtainable. Being that wound up, longing for something that was only a few dollar bills away, put my mind’s activity through the roof. As a result, I couldn’t sleep. I was given Clonidine and then Trazadone to help, but unfortunately for me, those weren’t the little pink and green tablets I desired. The ones I wanted were a little bigger, and the ones I wanted actually helped me sleep.

These long hours awake drove me mad. To cope, I threw myself into fiction—movies and books—rather than the arms of a loved one. Because of this chosen human absence, I developed a love for story and figments of fiction rather than living, breathing people. Being able to witness first-hand the stimulating and hectic lives of Colonel Kurtz and Captain Willard, Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, Jay Gatsby, Billy Pilgrim, Alex DeLarge, and Tyler Durden was like a dream that I never wanted to end.

After watching so many movies and reading so many books about both nothing and everything, I had a realization that my own story was much more interesting than many that I came to know. All it needed was a writer…

“My name’s William Fox, and I’m an addict,” I declared a few days later with an aching heart at a Twelve Step meeting I attended in a downtown church basement. I liked how my middle name sounded as opposed to my last (also, I really didn’t want to publicize the family name that I had been busy putting to shame). I only told my story one time even though I attended four meetings, but I guess that’s all it needed to take hold. Twenty minutes after I spoke, a middle-aged crack addict named Tina grabbed my arm while I was trying to grab a cup of coffee. She told me that my story had so many more elements to it than most. “It was a real, raw f***ing story,” as she put it—a story worth telling. She told me to write about it and get it out into the world so people could hear it for themselves.

Fighting back tears, I simply told her that I would. But for two reasons, I never did. First, the faculty from a Christian school, not to mention my parents, would not take it all too lightly if word about my secret life were to reach their close-minded ears. Second, I’d still get stuck looking in the mirror every morning, hating myself, too embarrassed and broken down to share about my roller-coaster ride though high school.

But now here I am sharing about my roller-coaster ride through high school.

One late night in December, my friend Jennifer sent me a song through Spotify called “Otherside,” written and performed by a hip-hop artist named Macklemore. She included a message saying it was all about addiction and the vocalist’s run-ins with substance abuse. I listened to it, and toward the end of the song he touched on this feeling that I got every single morning as I left the shower and was forced to stare myself in the face: “Thinkin’ I would never do that, not that drug / And growing up, nobody ever does / Until you’re stuck lookin’ in the mirror like / ‘I can’t believe what I’ve become! Swore I was goin’ to be someone!’ / And growing up everyone always does.”

That really does sum it up, and I cry like a f***ing baby every time I hear it.

Another late night (that same December, coincidentally), I started reading “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King. Even though I had read probably half-a-dozen of his books, I wasn’t aware that he had a major drug and alcohol problem himself – he even admits that he barely remembers writing “Cujo.” He ended up getting clean, and he now sums up this season of his life by saying this: “Creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what? We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.”

Looking up to Mr. King as an artistic inspiration after I read “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” in seventh grade, and fancying myself a creative person, this evoked a few tears as well.
Lastly, about five months ago, my dearly departed friend Aiden did too much cocaine and drove his Mustang into a tree while it was pouring rain.

I should feel like an appalling human being saying that one of my buddies from high school had to die in order for me to stitch my life back together, but in short – that, on top of the words of Stephen King and Macklemore – that’s what it took. It really was a long and agonizing process, but I rediscovered myself after these three events using the art of writing as a vessel. Closing my bedroom door, figuratively bleeding on the page—it was the only therapy that worked. I’ve relapsed, yes, more than a handful of times. And even though I’ll always be an addict, I’m currently a non-practicing one. I don’t need OxyContin or any other drug to get through the monotony of every day life; I find myself noticing new peaks every day! Who in their right mind would actually want the cold barrel of a handgun flush against their skull?

I’m forty-six days clean as of today, January 23, 2014. However, I’m not entirely sure what my future holds.

Don’t tell my mom.

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