Unmanageable and Powerless

A man's painful journey through addiction...

In my years spent chasing after what I thought was a way to exist, I've run into a lot of life. In all the desperate, frantic and scary chaos, a lot of stories come up.

I could tell you about waiting urgently on Toronto street corners, in below freezing weather, gloveless and snivelling, broke, waiting for someone who promised to be on time with something that would, momentarily, take away my great self-induced pain…

I could tell you about one of the last times I used, awaking from a blackout in a College Street bathroom stall, and realizing that I should have been somewhere hours before to meet the lady that I was living with. Afraid of what she would think, and scared of getting in trouble, I took my kryptonite bike lock and smacked my forehead a few times, producing a deep gash. All this, just so I could say I was in a terrible accident. Honesty, at that time, was not my best suit.

This kind of stuff, being mentally, physically, and spiritually broken, has been commonplace…

I'll tell you briefly about how my addiction, my alcoholism, has affected my WORK life, FAMILY life, my RELATIONSHIPS, and my ROMANTIC life.

Today, along with some other power that is bigger than me - one that I cannot entirely define - I am coming through this devil called addiction that's owned me - mind, body and soul - for the better part of 20 years.

…My name is Tim Masterson, I am 39 years of age and I am addicted, quite simply, to MORE; more of what I like, what feels good, caring little if it is killing me. I live for the moment; immediate gratification is my middle name. (Actually, it's Eric. That's also what I do; make light of a situation, deflect with humour to protect myself.) I've learnt, in my recovery, that I have a wildly dysfunctional relationship with my own thinking, and am married, for as long as I can remember, to CHAOS, SELF-SABOTAGE, SELF-WILL RUN-RIOT, MANIPULATION, AND GETTING MORE OF WHAT I KNOW I ABSOLUTELY NEED NOW, REGARDLESS OF WHO IT AFFECTS.

…Today, Friday August 17th 2007, I have 153 days of Sobriety, 5 months, 3 days, 14 hours and something seconds, but really, who's counting? I am definitely counting. Just for today, I can say, that I am not at the mercy of that thing that drove me for a lot of years to consistently kill myself.

…Just for today, I don't need to be angry with myself for not having the courage to commit that last selfish act - suicide.

…I'll ask you to remember just one thing as I recount some of my personal story - my very best thinking got me here. Many of these things I recall inspired dread in me and amazed me. They were intriguing, frightening and dangerous, but really, for some reason, still unclear to me. They were not enough to scare me off the way they should have. In mentally retracing the events that have led up to this day, a lot of extreme and distressing and lonely situations come up.

I'm guilty of writing rotten checks to bookstores, cabbing to used book stores to get what cash I could for them, racing through intersections, sweating holes in my shoes, scared and alone, all in order to get loaded. And it seeming like a perfectly good decision at the time…

I could tell you about one of my many stints at a recovery-type institution, and NOT being ready to quit. I learned the exact time at which to escape - between '12 Step Meetings' and 'Life 101 Classes' – to do my daily substance sniffing and injections, sneaking two alleys up and over in the sweltering summer downtown heat to the Laundromat where 'Pedro and the Boys' dealt, quite fruitfully, in tar heroin.

…of being up at 4 A.M., fidgeting and depleted, unable to sleep from the same old withdrawal game, sitting out on a blackened fire escape (a spot I discovered up at the fifth floor window to rock back and forth), twitching, and considering various game plans that were not working…


Addicts don't take breaks. There are no time outs; you are constantly scheming, manipulating, lying, sincerely believing that you are doing the very best you can, with what you have to work with. I needed my drugs to function in the world; I believed it just would not be fun without them.

While trying to recover, out in California, during one of my worse relapses, I still couldn't manage - for the life of me – to shoot up properly. I'd pay strangers to get in my druggie spook-mobile to play the role of a nurse. It would've been funny if I had uniforms for them to change into or something. Handing them my last 3 or 4 dollars became the norm. What was left went to gassing up my car and sometimes food. How I never got stabbed or jacked, I don't have that information. One day, as I was driving my white convertible down a central California city alley, with yet another homeless junkie hanging out my passenger window yelling obscenities, it occurred to me that this was not the way God had intended me to be of love and service.

If you always do what you've done, you're going to get what you've always got.

…You tell yourself you have a handle on it, that it's not so bad. You catch yourself checking out a bleeding, now scarring arm, blisters reddening, things swelling where they shouldn't. And those twitches you now have…you remember a time, earlier, more innocent days, when they weren't part of the package.

I could tell you about the multiple times I threw myself at the mercy of emergency rooms too busy and too involved to be bothered with my unglamorous suicidal cries, sending me right back out the automated doors, with a bill to be paid…then driving around the next couple hours, trying to resist the pull of that handy, quick turn into oncoming, speeding traffic.

I remember getting kicked out of The Royal Palms Rehabilitation Facility. I was dubbed 'Crafty' by many staff and counsellors there, and was also told to not take it as a compliment…But that's what I do. I make light of my situation. I tell myself it's not so bad. I'm judgmental and uncaring towards others, think of only me, and convince myself that living just off the freeway, in those bushes, isn't THAT BAD because I have a comforter and a radio, and my "freedom" (ha, ha) and that it could be a lot worse. (?)

…Anyway, they mentioned I was "insufficiently committed to the course of action that would be required to remove substances from my lifestyle". At each morning meeting, moments before we began chores and tasks for the day, this counsellor there used to bark the lines, "Losers do what they want to do. Winners do what they have to do." I wasn't listening. I was out the back door - busy not being a winner. From what I could surmise, that was the best time to sneak down the alley, to my motley crew of druggie street buddies, while everyone else was busy being told how to not end up like me.

…A great deal of my life has been spent not feeling as though I was anything close to a WINNER. I saw myself as a desperate resourceful Junkie, maybe, and occasionally talented, having potential. But these positive qualities, rearing their heads briefly, served only to keep me from hitting my bottom. None of that sounded like the word WINNER.

WINNERS don't beg for money in Kensington Market.

…Winners don't stand in front of Chevron gas stations and lie about needing money for gas…

…Winners don't overdose, get rushed to hospitals and - once they come back to life - get up quickly, remove the attached the cords and wires and rush out of there to get back in the game…

…Being 35, ending up broken and really uncertain of what to do, and back at my mom's house, in the dead doldrums of winter, in small town Lindsay, I began to write of my perilous times, out there in the world - an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.

I saw myself as unique, different and special, words that are death of an alcoholic. I never felt that I could do the things necessary to RECOVER. I never knew how to live another kind of life. I didn't see how that was going to work for me. I did not have the language of recovery:

The word SURRENDER was not in my vocabulary.


…I've been in the lowest of the low recovery places. Costa Mesa, Charlie Street is a real bottom-feeding place. Guys projectile vomit through meetings and meals. This Salvation Army is church-like auditorium. It is a flophouse with 75 or so other guys that aggravate, break rules and have questionable, cringe-worthy aromas. I recall blue plastic floor mats and bunk beads, early risings, and grotesque loneliness, now unshakable.

…I've also been at the other end of the spectrum. Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena, California could be considered a recovery retreat and spa, paid for by the Musician's Union in Hollywood. One month costs $34,180.38, and that was in American funds! First, they detox you. The worst of it lasts about 5 days, give or take seven or eight hours, but who's counting? I was.

Did I get through anything there? Learn Life Lessons? Make changes that would keep me from mercilessly repeating self-destructive situations?

AND will those lonesome lessons protect me in the real world on a day-to-day basis?

Sadly, no.

…Christmas day was like death for me; stupid families coming to visit their loved ones…some grotesque garden party. Just a couple days before I was going to be released…I kind of escaped.

…After a month clean and getting through, I was homeless, at the front gates, no one to pick me up. I spent Christmas morning dragging my suitcases and garbage bags through the neighbourhood, catching glimpses of pretty bungalows along the boulevard, families inside, being thankful, and me, feeling sorry for myself and hating how everything stunk of fucking pine. It would have been a very pretty scene, if I weren't me.

I NEEDED, absolutely NEEDED to medicate.

They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same situations over and over and expecting different results. That was me.


…Know this: it is impossible for a non-addict - somebody who has not got the disease of alcoholism - to comprehend the almost religious quality of addiction. The depth to which someone is enmeshed in the drug and the drug sub-community of heroin, cocaine, pills - whatever your pleasure, is absolutely something that transcends calculation. Every conceivable aspect of life becomes translated into that person's substance equation. It's beyond rational cost accounting.

A choice between using and anything else is no choice at all. So, what to do?


Today I want to stay clean more than I want to use. What changed? What happened?

Here's how It shifted for me…

I'll tell you about a morning this past January …

I woke to the clickety-click tick-tock of this annoying, tooth-rattling second hand timepiece that hung on my wall. The tenant before me had left it behind. After a night of strangers making crack cocaine in my newly-moved-into, fresh-start, Parkdale sobriety home, what made sense to me - like never before - was there was no worse feeling or pain or paranoia and freaked-outedness than that morning.

I felt done.

Scared was not the word…wanting to burst into tears and crawl out of my mind and skin, shaky beyond belief, my heart racing…I yelled at these guys (I think I freaked them out). I said I was going to call the cops or an ambulance or something, I wanted nothing they had, and I was insane. I took a shower, hunkered down in my robe, thought of how alone I was in the world and I prayed like a bastard, under my sheets, to something. I cared very little for what he/she/it was, I just cared that 'the something' was not me. This was a first.

…It was about this time that I put my tail between my legs (which is a funny image) and returned to the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, with nothing new or different to report. It was still horrifying, the disease, OUT THERE

So, this time I was ready and willing…

…I would have to humble myself, SURRENDER, begin taking certain steps, show up to meetings, get what a guy I knew - that used to live like me – had gotten. I had to make the decision to take certain steps, to go to any lengths for THE CHANGE. I showed up in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous knowing one thing: I no longer wanted what I had.

I KNOW pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.

I can comprehend it.

I have learned that when you took away my solution - the drugs - I was left with me. And that is the problem. They say that self-knowledge avails us nothing, but I tell you, I knew my disease painfully well. That armed me. I knew how low I was and dead I felt. I had some very useful self-knowledge that I could use to recover.

This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful.

I have a daily reprieve, contingent on my spiritual maintenance. Each day that I wake up, I ask for help and how I can be of service.

The point is that I am willing to grow along spiritual lines and I have to ask for FEAR to be removed every day. The praying thing.

My job, (everyone needs a job) also, my magic talent, I can be miserable anywhere (!)

Today…and what I started to do…

I have commitments. I have friends. My brain needed a good scrubbing. Today, I'm involved, whereas I used to be someone who spent my life being entirely alone. I have people who I can call, people who I see every day that are just like me. There's some kind of power in sharing what is going on with me and having someone identify with me. If you've identified with anything I've said today, well then, I guess you're a winner!

By Tim Masterson

Written as part of the Voices From the Street project

Publication Date: