How I Hid My Addiction in My Professional Life

Going to college and starting a career were goals of mine from a very young age. Though much of this has to do with the norms of society as well as guidance from my parents, I made higher education and a career a very personal choice as well. I wanted to expand my knowledge and do something I was proud of. I never had any idea that using drugs could ultimately tear down everything I had spent almost a decade building. But that was exactly what it did.

College is really where I needed to begin hiding my extracurricular activities. While high school had been mostly reserved for drinking and smoking pot, I discovered cocaine while attending night classes. My days were erratic. I was living in Pasadena, working in Azusa and going to class in Monrovia, all with ever-changing schedules. Cocaine allowed me to have that burst of energy whenever I needed it. If I had a project due the next day, I would stay up all night. I did this often. I was a Dean’s List student but I would often show up to class late.

Christina, Stacy and myself 6 months before I got sober.

Christina, Stacy and myself 6 months before I got sober.

Despite this, I excelled; I loved my chosen field of graphic design and it showed. I made a few rules for myself, though. I would never, ever, use on campus. If I had any drugs on me, they would be locked inside of the glove box in my car. I would never use inside of my car, only ever in a bathroom or some other protected and controlled environment. It was as much about not getting arrested as it was about my friends and family not finding out. Which, really, was the same thing.

In spite of all my attempts and controlling my addiction, God had other plans for me. Toward the tail end of my time at college, I was working as a Lab Assistant in the campus computer lab. My job was to safeguard expensive computer and video equipment as well as help other students who were just learning some of the programs. I decided to leave the lab unattended until my replacement showed up one night in order to sell someone drugs. My replacement never showed up and I was subsequently fired, graduating by the skin of my teeth. Little did I know how this type of judgment and thinking would haunt me years later.

After graduation I spent much of the next year looking to begin my career in both graphic design and heroin addiction. By the time I landed a job at a well-known worldwide non-profit, I had already attempted to get off heroin through using methadone. I stayed on methadone maintenance with a very low dose in order to prevent from getting sick during the day, yet able to continue to use every few days and still attain a high. The issue with this was that I needed to visit the clinic each morning, as I was never testing negative in order to attain a take-home prescription. I fixed this in what I thought was an incredible idea: I moved next door to the clinic.

For the majority of my career, that was exactly how it went. I enjoyed my work, and had amazing co-workers who were very passionate about their field. I didn’t even feel as if I was living any kind of a lie at that point, I simply was doing what I wanted to do and from what I could tell, it was working. I received promotions, more responsibilities and was praised often for my work. I didn’t know it, but my ego was taking over and I had very little humility left. Entitlement was the bane of my existence but I wasn’t able to recognize that. Sure, I resented having to go to the clinic, but I was also able to use the way I wanted to, which, to me, was priceless.

Me, my sister and two cousins after a year and a half sober.

Me, my sister and two cousins after a year and a half sober.

I made rules for myself at work just as I had done for college, but I began to notice I would keep crossing the lines in the sand I had drawn. I never wanted to use on a workday. That changed to using only after work. Then using only before or after work. Only use during lunch, but go home. Use in my car, but drive somewhere else. Use in the parking lot, even if it wasn’t lunch. Use in the bathroom, whenever I need to. By the time I was fired from this job, I was quite literally peeking over the top of my cubicle to see if anyone was around before I put a needle in my arm.

Toward my last year, the progression had really caught up with me. I wanted to get high every day and the cost of methadone made it impossible to do both. So I quit methadone. I had been wearing long shirts every day, my personal hygiene was terrible and quite honestly, I didn’t care if anyone found out any longer. I felt as if my job needed me, and there would be nothing they could do about it even if they found out. I was living in a fantasy world and everyone knew it but me. I was arrested twice; the second time I did not show up for work the next day, which concerned two of my good friends, Stacy and Christina (pictured above). I attribute my ability to stay sober today largely to the fact that these two people cared enough about me to do something, long after I had stopped caring about myself.

I was subsequently fired a month later for various reasons, all of which stemmed from my addiction. Despite all of my attempts to control and limit the exposure of my drug use, ultimately I was unable to have a professional life with the types of choices I was making. I had always kidded myself that my job and career were the most important things to me but was unable to see just how much my addiction had taken hold. I am now able to enjoy my career without the hindrance of needing to get high and am more passionate than ever about the work that I do. I am grateful for my experience though, as it has helped me realize just what I need to do in order to change my life.

 

4 Comments
  • Martha
    Posted at 07:40h, 10 October Reply

    Derek,

    This is a great article and will really shed light on what someone goes through to hide their addiction. Good info for parents. Thanks for your honesty.

  • Mary Broussard
    Posted at 17:26h, 13 October Reply

    Another beautiful story of recovery…courage and strength…

  • Adam Klein
    Posted at 15:22h, 25 November Reply

    I am very happy to read this, as someone who lived with you before you got sober I saw and dealt with some of the fallout from being around someone in their addiction. Congrats on two years sober.

    • Derek Free
      Posted at 12:33h, 26 November Reply

      Thanks Adam. It means a lot to me to hear this from you. You were kind to me even when at times I didn’t deserve it. I hope all is well with you and Forrest.

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