“Everything I’m going to tell you is one hundred percent God’s honest truth. Was I getting high? Yes. But, that has no influence on this story. Because there’s two ways I use Crystal Meth. One – just to get the energy out of it. Like getting wired on coffee. And two – when I take a dose in excess to get high out of my mind.”
I’ve been wanting to hear a story from Steven. Turns out, today’s my lucky day.
He wants to tell me about a specific event that happened ten month ago. Ten months ago, Steven was making promises to himself, his mother and God that he would never get sober. “I had failed too many times. I figured now my only option was to be the best drug addict I could be; enjoy the ride for as long as I could hang on.”
On this day he’s telling me about, Steven had pipes and drugs in either pocket, but wanted to rest before getting high. He found a moon-shaped, highly manicured plot of land tucked back from the highway, tossed down his belongings and settled in for an afternoon nap. His eyes had just closed when he heard a woman’s voice whisper, “No Steven, you can’t. The bear. Wake up. The bear.”
Having believed he was alone in this secluded area, Steven jumped to his feet, spinning in circles to find the woman who had whispered in his ear. But there was no woman. No man either. Just a full-grown bear charging straight towards him.
“I hated this, but my only option was to run towards the highway. If I could judge it just right, I wouldn’t get hit, but the bear would. But, then I look up and I see I’ve got a bigger problem than this bear—I’ve got me a State Trooper watching this whole thing go down. After some stop and go chasing, the bear runs off into the woods. I’m looking at the bear, the Trooper, the bear, the Trooper. I even pull both my cell phones out, holding one to the left and one to the right. Powered off, I could use the darkened screens like side-view mirrors. Bear, Trooper, bear, Trooper. I thought, if the Trooper comes after me, I’m following that bear. I didn’t care about the possible charges (shoot, I’d never caught one and it was probably about time I did), but there’s no way in hell I’m letting that cop get his hands on my drugs. After about a half hour, the Trooper left, the sun was going down and I got the hell out of there.”
Steven leans in, telling me about how he came back the next day. He holds up a photograph and slides it across my desk. It shows an impressively-large paw print in the grass, a few yards from where he had laid down to rest the day before. He goes on, telling me how he surveyed the area– no den, no clear indication of what direction the bear had come from. “So I’m giving up and then I stumble on this.” Steven pulls out a rock, displays it on the palm of his right hand, and with a controlled excitement, asks, “What do you see?” “Well Steven that rock looks remarkably like the head of a bear.” “Exactly.”
While I hold the rock up to light, turning it for the experience of multiple angles, Steven starts speaking, a bit quieter now that we’ve made it through the epinephrine phase of the story. “About three months later, I’m at this recovery meeting and I overhear a Native American woman talking about bears and she’s telling this guy about how when you experience a bear, it signifies a life changing event. Right then, I realized how many times I had put myself in danger; how reckless I had been in all areas of my life. And that’s when I made the decision to no longer be the best drug addict I could be; that I would start really trying to address my situation.”
Because Steven is referring to this experience as mystical, because he is now involved in a 12-step program of recovery, because we are currently sitting in a church, I ask Steven if he wants to share his thoughts on a higher power. His response might be one of my favorites thus far.
“I have knowledge of a higher power because I see a design. When the body is too hot, it sweats. It has its own cooling system. When the body needs something, it has cravings. What the body does not need, it has aversions to. All the detailed planning – eyelashes to protect the eyes, it goes on and on. And what is definite when you are looking at a design?” Steven is clearly smarter than me (our IQ tests prove it), so I sweat through his questions, but I think I’ve got this one. “What seems definite when I look at a design is that surely there must be a designer.” “Bingo.” Phew.
He continues. “I think a lot of the Bible has been twisted and translated. I think wealth and power are the primary agendas of all major religions. I think if you want to send a message across oceans and across time, you take something big, you make it small and you wrap it in a story. In the transfer of story, the bigger burden of responsibility rests on the receivers – those people’s ability to unwrap the stories, find the kernel; not to just translate word for word. You do that, you miss everything. You repeat a story, word for word, without really unpacking it…you get religion. What I know is that Jesus was a man. What I know is that his story was for the betterment of mankind. What I know is that I need to keep my morals and my values as close to his as I can.”
“And where does Haywood Street fit into your life?” I ask.
“Let me tell you about years ago when I attended the volunteer orientation and Pastor Brian knocked it out of the park. I remember he said –
‘If you’re offended by alcohol and drug abuse, you might not want to volunteer here. If you’re offended by foul language, an argument or a fight, you might not want to volunteer here.’
I couldn’t believe it! Instead of reelin’ ‘em in, he was weedin’ ‘em out! He said –
‘We respond to every situation on this campus the same way we think Jesus would.’
And I said, ‘Man I’m sold. I’ve finally found my church.’ This church is why I keep coming back to Asheville. It’s the only place I feel at home.”
Steven wants to stay sober. He also knows the pain that might have to be felt to do so. You don’t usually end up between a bear and a cop with drugs and pipes in either pocket for some real good and heart-warming reasons.
To stay sober, Steven might have to face his childhood of abuse and psychological manipulation. He might have to make peace with his five-year-old self who was loaded up on prescription stimulants and tranquilizers. He might have to feel his divorce, his estrangement from his son, the impressive contracts he had, and lost, serving as personal chef to the Seattle Seahawks, the Mariners, and Microsoft.
“It’s hard once you meet Meth. There’s just nothing in the world that comes close. If apple pie releases 50 units of dopamine and Cocaine releases up to 300, then Meth is taking you way past 1,000. So, it just becomes really hard to not get that relief when you know it’s there. Especially when you get a case of the fuckits – when you’re sitting there, and your life feels like watching your house burn down and when it gets to like 85 percent burned down you start to wonder — is it even worth going to get the hose?”
Steven wants to get back to helping others. He wants to cuss less. He wants to be an integral part of Haywood Street, the church that has not and will not give up on him.
I ask Steven if he knows that the Meth in our area is often cut with Fentanyl. He says he knows, but he trusts his dealer. I do not trust his dealer. I don’t trust his dealer at all.
What I do trust is Steven’s ability to stare down the metaphorical bears of his past. I trust that all of the wrestling competitions Steven won in his youth, will provide him with the discipline and grappling techniques that recovery from his disease is going to require. And I trust him to listen to the voice that met him on the side of a highway, ten months ago, and whispered, “Wake up, Steven. Wake up.”