Most of the people on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) who know me well are aware of the following events in my life, however, I wanted to put my feelings out here for "everybody" to read. I sincerely hope that it wasn't a mistake.|
Some of us saw more combat than others but ALL of us were willing to do our part and I know that in my heart I will always carry a special feeling toward all Vietnam Veterans! Most of us never talked about our experiences in Vietnam to our families or friends. I never uttered a word about it. My belief was that it was over and even if I did want to talk about it nobody could possibly have understood or really cared anyway. Most of us just remained quiet. We put it where we believed it belonged; in the past and we simply left it there.
I returned home in 1969 and everything I was once familiar with before Vietnam was now different. My friends had changed. I was surprised that many of my high school friends were using drugs. I felt out of place; I didn't feel comfortable with any of them--hell I didn't feel comfortable around anybody for that matter. None of my friends thought we belonged in Vietnam yet they used the good judgement not to talk about this at least in my presence.
I gave no thought to or understood any of the inevitable consequences when I first began using hard drugs; heroin! I realize now that my drug abuse was a desire not only to fit in with my former friends but more importantly, I was hoping that whatever in my life was making me feel so empty and at times very angry would just go away with drugs. Heroin didn't accomplish what I'd hoped it would. I still remained alone with my anger and my lonliness seemed unbearable at times. The euphoric feeling that warmed my body, however, quickly turned into a habit always leaving me with the painful withdrawls to contend with.
I remember the following incident quite clearly because I hadn't been using anything this particular day in 1973. In fact, I had been clean for a short while after spending several weeks in a detoxification center. My habit had simply gotten too expensive and detox was my only recourse; I didn't want to stop using dope...I simply couldn't afford it and I needed a rest. I'd been holding down a job as a drug counselor (yea, I know) in St. Paul, Minnesota and I'd met a friend there that I actually got along with (another Vietnam Vet). Jim would pull up to the rear of my apartment building and honk his car horn to get my attention. This particular day, however, when Jim drove up to the rear of my building and honked his horn I had a frightening experience. When I looked out the window and saw him sitting in his car, I was suddenly overcome with a paralyzing fear. My heart was racing; I was having trouble breathing and all I could manage was a waving gesture in his direction while closing the drapes. I heard him drive away. I had collapsed on the sofa and have no idea how long I sat there just staring ahead before asking myself, "What the hell just happened?" After having more "panic" attacks without any warning or absolutely no understanding why I was having them, I knew I needed to see a doctor.
I checked into the VA hospital in Minneapolis. After giving them my "personal history," the admitting physican immediately attributed the attacks to drug abuse. However, a couple of days later a psychiatrist talked with me and he attributed my attacks to some kind of mental disorder and so began a process of jumping from the drug ward to the psychiatric ward. Again, I don't know why but I didn't feel comfortable around the other drug addicts and the men on the psych floor were all much older than myself and I had little in common with them. I didn't experience any attacks while I was in the hospital yet I really never felt at ease with myself; I was always on edge about something. About two months later I left the hospital with absolutely no understanding about the panic attacks.
I immediately began using drugs and repeated drug overdoses landed me in different hospital emergency rooms. After my stomach was pumped, I was commited for several days of "observation." Medication for heroin withdrawl was seldom, if ever, given on psychiatric floors. After kicking habit after habit cold-turkey; experiencing the cold and invasive procedure used in emptying a stomach of all toxins, a "reasonable" thinking person would figure that it was time to stop using drugs! My mind was at the farthest point from being considered the property of a reasonable thinking person and I was simply too miserable not to stop using heroin.
I had lost my job years earlier and it wasn't long until I had sold everything I owned, including my guns that I slept with for protection from God knows what. I continued this way for seven more long and desperate years. My drug abuse stopped any daytime attacks, but it still didn't stop the sleepless nights, cold sweats and frightening nightmares. I'd lost any hope of gainful employment. I had left Minnesota and was living on the streets of New York City; addicted and homeless. I "choose" not to go into any of the sordid details about the 7 ensuing years but I will say that they were more than sickening! Those years were nothing more than a bare existance. Devoid of any feelings of humanity and controlled by a substance that knew no mercy, I roamed the streets of New York City and did what I had to do to, not only to stay alive but I did what I had to do to get the money necessary to stay "straight."
I had definitely reached "rock bottom!" Every addict is eventually confronted with their own "rock bottom." I knew I was at mine when I awoke from park benches, subway platforms, train stations or wherever I'd slept that night. After far too long of this existance I knew that I either had to get help real fast or I would be dead very soon. So after many years of overdoses, stabbings (one less than a half an inch from my heart), abcesses, anger, fear, helplessness, jail and an emotional pain that I can't even begin to describe, in December of 1979 I said "ENOUGH OF THIS." I signed myself into a 24 hour drug-free live-in therapeutic community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I spent over one year there. It was far from an easy year of my life but I did have clean sheets to sleep between every night. Group Marathons sometimes lasted for days at a time. I talked about many things I did while a drug addict and how I felt about myself as a person. I began to learn the social and coping skills I'd long forgotten. I began to form relationships with other people in the community and I talked about my feelings of anger and alienation. There were two other Vietnam Vets in the community and naturally we bonded yet strangely none of us ever talked about our experiences in Vietnam. Not while we were together, nor were they ever brought up in any of the groups we attended.
Nevertheless, I left the community absolutely drug free. I felt emotionally stronger and capable of re-entering the work force. After attending an eight week word processing course, I began work at different temp agencies in Manhattan. On several occasions I was offered permanent employment which was flattering but I enjoyed the freedom of working "temp." It wasn't long until I realized that a life without drugs was opening doors that previously hadn't even been there. Dating once again became a reality. Romance had actually entered my life! I walked the streets of New York City with my head held high, feeling that I'd really "conquered" the impossible. I knew that I'd been blessed by a far higher power and that I had been given a second chance at life and I was most definitely going to put it to good use.
Today I am a completely different person. Yes...I still have nightmares but I know that life is not a rose garden nor will it ever be one. I've grown in ways that I never thought possible. I'm obviously much happier and more stable and I like the person I see each morning when I look into the mirror while shaving. My memory isn't as good as I'd like it to be. I try to remember back to certain events many years ago but there's just no recollection of some things. I choose to believe that this is a blessing in a way. I have learned to accept it as one. I am 54 years old, I teach computer classes from my apartment across the street from Central Park in New York City. A city that at times can be a trial on anybody's patience, however, I just can't imagine myself living anyplace but this wonderful and exciting city. I enjoy writing, love fishing and when I get the chance there's nothing like a good friendly poker game on Saturday nights with friends in Greenwich Village. We all know that life has its ups and downs, but at times my life is pretty damn good!
Hopefully, after reading these words you have gained a better understanding of who Roy Stanford is. Thank you for reading this and, of course, any comments are always welcomed!
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Roy E. Stanford.
United States Marine Corps
We ALL worked together as one large unit." EMAIL
United States Marine Corps