Addiction: It's Not Just For the Depraved Anymore

Fun, fun, fun 'til the bank takes your credit away.
by Homer Lester Teabury


2015-10-25. Some homeless suffer real physical and/or mental illnesses, and are incapable of untangling the red tape required to get themselves the services they need. These forgotten people don't belong among those described here, and deserve everybody's help.
What's Your Addiction?
Calculating dismal probabilities

I formerly insisted on being called The Professor, but once again I am a student--set back several grades in life's classroom, to relearn forgotten lessons of the Fool--a naive dreamer whose snowballing story would cause you to shudder if you knew all. Although not freakishly ugly or a doddering old fossil yet, it is only a matter of time until the Fool's wages are totaled and tendered upon me. The truths I tell may save you from hell on Earth, but they will have little effect on the true junky.

The wages of sin are death; but the price of sin is negotiable for rich and poor alike.  Payment in punishment is not limited to the poor.  However, persons who have slipped into the homeless class get the lion's share of pain.  Why?

Homeless persons have one thing in common: a fatal weakness that controls their lives, usually an addiction.  Some are helpless in the face of alcohol and/or drugs. Readers have seen these types of inverted individuals: the booze actually drinks them; the meth smokes them.  Still others one encounters hopping between emergency shelters are pathological liars, incorrigible thieves, or wanted men.  None are secret millionaires.  

Curiously, at the end of the day, when these forgotten men (and women) return to their shelters for the night, the atmosphere is as polite and restrained as a ladies' tea party. Given the opportunity to shower, eat, and dress in clean clothes, these desperados trot out their best manners so they won't be kicked back out into the street.

Thank you, Sir!
You've never heard such a mannerly bunch: please, thank you, excuse me.  Oh no--you first!  Let me get that for you!, etc.  Butter wouldn't melt in the mouths of these bums, so mild do they become.  On the outside, however, it is a different story.

Track a homeless person for long enough, and you'll discover their fatal attraction. It may take a while, but eventually your forgotten person will conform to the simple explanation given by Jean Bergen, Director of Marshalltown's House of Compassion: "these guys are homeless for a reason."  

I think I'll just sleep here tonight.
Those enslaved by booze or dope are the easiest to detect.  You can smell them approaching; and presumably, they are the easiest to reform.  Abundant resources for rehabilitation exist, probably within walking distance. Their humiliating bouts of drunkenness occur within at all strata of society, because alcohol is a legal drug. The world is full of drunks and junkies, and not all of them are homeless, either.  Most can recover, and some actually do.

Old Homeless T (that would be me) has personally run the gamut of substance addictions, beginning with acute alcoholism, early on.  As a gift for my 18th birthday, the feds rolled back the legal age for alcohol consumption to 18. I took to dark bars in the mid-afternoon, in the company of an experienced floozy, like a duck to water. Within five years, I was having black-outs.  

I could not abide the small-talk of Alcoholics Anonymous, so my doctor prescribed Anabuse to treat my problem drinking. One pill a day makes alcohol consumption so nauseating that I dared not drink. No sweat. I never could take the hangovers anyway--for me, part and parcel of the whole toxic business.  I stopped, and that was 44 years ago.  

True to addiction's versatility, I developed a replacement: the mellow habituation of marijuana. I must say that chronic pot-smoking was the least-damaging habit I had, and by current moves to legalization, it appears I was right.  Further, I believe that the high affective suggestability produced by its smoking (or other means of ingestion) is a neglected instrument of social rehabilitation, in addition to its other known medical benefits. 

However, the draconian approach to drug-law enforcement in Iowa ruled out that chronic lifestyle for me, prontoLike a weasel in a box, my addictive bent was continually gnawing its way through reasoned behavior into new areas of disrepute, where it could trap itself all over again.  The next bender I took up involved abuse of prescription drugs.  I pursued another addiction, this one legal and funded by my health insurance, to opiates. I developed the unethical cunning to procure twice the prescribed number of pills, first through prescriptions electronically transmitted to the onsite pharmacy, and then by presenting the paper version of the script given me by my doctor at a different pharmacy. My horrible habit showed a degeneracy most unbecoming, but I now know that I was never alone. 

Like Rush Limbaugh, I had discovered the superlatively confident state of Shakespeare's infinite nutshell--of opiates, a space Rush expanded until his medicine had become a sickness in its own right.  I am inclined to believe that his blathering conservatism is a by-product of his addictive personality.

And me?  Well, I was never caught purchasing 4,000 of the bliss pills in a parking lot. Yet before long, the English Instructor (who one day would become Homeless T) was downing 15-30 Vicodin tablets daily (10mg/250!) ostensibly to stem the coughing of resistant whooping cough--but more truly, just enjoying the ride. With an assist from my steroid inhaler, I flew through my life as a college instructor for a year of positive nasal swabs. 

Even that serious drug-abuse was not impossible to escape, or even very hard. By a calculated stepping down from my Limbaugh-sized doses over the course of 8 - 10 weeks, I was able to give up my pill-head status painlessly. Since then, I never looked back--at least as regards legal narcotics. Curiously, it was the ingredient acetaminophen that makes Vicodin-abuse potentially lethal and motivated me to save my own life by sparing my liver.

It's the pure addicts, like the one I have become now, who have the hardest time recovering.  None of the aforementioned substances is what rendered me homeless, jobless, friendless and generally unbeloved.  No, my present lack of address, job, car, clothes, food and friends is due to a purer sort of addiction--pure, because it requires no ingested substance, and resides as an inherent potential in the natural neurochemistry of the brain. My years of impoverished wandering might never had been, were it not for the continuing fatal attraction which draws me still to compulsive gambling--an addiction that knocked me down to below zero on the socioeconomic scale.  

Others were affected by my selfish descent too: children, friends, employers, and others on a daily basis, whom I dunned for gambling money. Alas, my second, much younger wife shared my habit of "self-destitution" in the casinos--the thrill of betting that never spends itself, and retires to latency only when the gambler has exactly no money left.  As you may surmise, an absolutely impecunious state rules out activities like eating, gassing up the car, paying bills, or buying gifts for kids.  

It is also a fast way to lose weight, if you can take the starvation, but it is necessary to lose absolutely everything first. This includes the jar of pickles in the fridge, the half-consumed box of saltines, and often, the entire kitchen. Between me and my wife, we were slim, if broke all of the time.

Maybe you caught sight of us aimlessly wandering around the parking lot of some casino, apparently looking for something.  What we sought were the coins and bills lost by other patrons on the ground. It was great exercise, and a swell way to get some fresh air, but usually yielded us only about eight cents for each hour of searching.  Didn't we arrive with over $300.00?  How could it be gone after only twenty minutes? 

A Paradox: Neurological researchers using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of brain activity have studied the minds of compulsive gamblers and discovered, surprisingly, that the emotional stimulus sine qua non is loss. Such is what lights up circuits in compulsive gamblers like a never-ending pinball machine. 

The Brain Loves Losing

That being the case, my wife and I practically lived in a fun-house arcade. But enough story-telling. Let me feel sorry for myself, and offer some sound, heroin-shooting advice.

When I reflect over years of poor judgment and my willingness to roll in the muck and mud of silent shame, it makes me want to destroy myself, or at least to excise that low cunning portion of me that directs addictive behavior. God help me, it's all true: I have fallen in love with the pain the madness of gambling and loss. I pray to overcome this most pure of nasty addictions. If I can emerge from this, I can make it through anything.  

The truth is I still cannot control myself.  It is May of 2016 as I revise this piece--first drafted in 2006.  I presently have $2.54 to my name, piles of debt, nothing to eat, and not a friend in sight. It's the toughest to kick.  

Readers have the right to gloat a little, if he or she has maintained a truly stable environment. But heed this advice from one who has run the gamut: if you seek the mottled glamour of addiction, take up a safe habit--like heroin habituation or outrageous sexual perversion with strangers in public restrooms.  In the long run, you will be better off with a milder form of poison. 

As a less tactful person might say--what's your addiction?