I Think I'll Take The Long Way
Three years ago I was an active duty Marine and I was in trouble. Big trouble. ALL CAPS trouble. I was newly divorced. Not so newly depressed. My addiction to alcohol, opiates, and other narcotics reached an event horizon. I was nearing the rock bottom suicide attempt in February of 2016 that would somehow turn it all around.
Somewhere near the end of 2015 I was an active duty Marine Major sitting in a classroom on the campus of the University of Virginia studying for my Masters Degree in Criminal Law. I had been selected by the Marine Corps as one of…I don’t quite remember, maybe 10 or 12 officers to attend a resident course here. I was about two years away from promotion to LtCo.l That was the rank I figured I’d retire at. I was recently divorced but I was slowly becoming social again. I was a lawyer at a top tier school taking a year off to get my shit together. There was a long list of reasons why, if you were looking in on my life from the outside, just at the surface, it would have looked like my future was bright and I could do no wrong. In hindsight I am baffled by my own ability to convince the world that everything in my life was coming up aces. Truth is, it was coming apart at the seams.
I had tried to get sober. When Naomi left in July of 2014 I started going to AA meetings. I thought that if I went to meetings Naomi would come back. I had learned my lesson I would try to rein in the drinking. It would never happen again. Insert yadda yadda or blah blah here. Alcohol was certainly a symptom but it was hardly the problem. At that point I was taking between 200-300 pain killers a month. Sometimes more if I could get down to Mexico without anyone knowing. The pain killer addiction quickly led me down a path that got progressively darker. Cocaine, heroin, prostitution, crystal meth…I barely recognized myself. Keep in mind I was still wearing a uniform and (most days) finding a way to make it to work. The painkiller problem started with a kidney stone in 2010 and grew like a monster unquestioned and unchecked for years. My physicians were so comfortable prescribing me increased dosages and quantities that they stopped having me make in person appointments. I was the senior defense attorney on base. I was an ultramarathon runner. I was almost always the first person to work. Despite my rapidly unraveling reality, I thought the world was convinced I was the most disciplined of the most disciplined. Maybe everyone just assumed I was responsible enough to ask for help.
Back to Charlottesville, 2015. Naomi and I were separated. The divorce wasn’t final. I had a few brief bouts of sobriety. 30 days here, 20 days there. Even made it to 60 legitimate clean and sober days. Those early days of relapse and try again were rough. I was so discouraged. I felt so defeated. I had been in denial of my addiction and how bad it had gotten for so long that when I woke up to the reality of the problem…when I TRIED to stop using and COULDN’T…fuck that almost ended me. I met a guy named Kurt S. while still going to meetings in Charlottesville. That friendship helped save my life. That’s a whole other story.
I always ended up using and drinking again. In the brief few months that I lived in Charlottesville, though I had some bright spots, things went from bad to worse. I had a neighbor who was also an addict and he had a few regular dealers set up. They became my dealers. I don’t know how I kept hiding this from the world. At the time, part of me was convinced that that version of me was the best I could do and, sadly, that that was the best that I deserved. I was trapped in a cycle of self sabotage that would take a tremendous amount of momentum to unstick. And as if on cue…
“Major Plagmann, can you please stay behind after class is dismissed.” That was the beginning of the end for. December, 2015. Two years later I would take an early exit from the Marine Corps, a few years before I had planned and under far more maligned circumstances.
I had been seeing a girl in Charlottesville. Things ended abruptly. She printed out our text message history and took it to my command. Technically, because my divorce was not final, I was having an affair…committing adultery. This is illegal in the military. An investigation ensued. This woman had also accused me of stealing a bottle of her pain pills, which, ironically enough given my history of addiction, I did not do. However, that accusation led to an investigation into my prescription drug history. NOW the military was concerned. NOW that I had potentially done something wrong they reckoned that I had been defrauding my doctors for years to get extra pills. In the span of weeks I was taken out of school, packed up and moved from Charlottesville to D.C., and placed in an office that was run by the persons in charge of the investigation that now threatened my career. The way I saw it, I was down to one way out.
One weekend in early 2016 I went down to my mom’s farm. She was going out of town and I would use it as a weekend in the county to relax and recharge. Within minutes of my mom leaving I had ingested almost every pill I brought with me. Very soon after that I felt myself dying. I loaded a gun and kept it with me just in case the pills didn’t work. As I faded I remember thinking “well I really don’t want to die but I can’t live like this…” and somehow I very briefly heard myself say “then don’t…don’t live like this.” I managed to call Emma…my sweet warrior angel of a best friend. She called the police. I was taken to a hospital.
My command was notified and I was ordered into an outpatient rehabilitation program. Three magical things happened while I was in rehab. Well, any number of magical things happened but lemme tell you about three of them. First, I got a psychiatrist who did not believe that I should be on 15 different medications for the rest of my life. That’s right. I was on up to 15 different meds. And in the military community that’s on the low end sometimes. I took medication for blood pressure, anxiety, depression, ADHD, pain, panic attacks, night mares, migraines, blurred vision, alcohol and opiate withdrawal, pills to go to sleep, pills to wake up….and on and on. He told me that as a 36 year old (at the time) man that was not a sustainable life for me. I was furious. I just wanted my pills. He just wanted me to get better. He ordered me to participate in the writing, art, and mindfulness groups. They also offered yoga. Eventually Dr. H got me off all of those meds. And little did I know that I would be reminded of him in a HUGE way while trekking through India. #foreshadowingmuch
Magical Thing #2: I was introduced to the poet Seema Reza. No two ways about it, Seema is responsible for saving my life at least once and I could easily make the argument for a bakers dozen of times that she’s pulled me away from the edge. Seema was the facilitator for the writing workshop that was held Wednesdays in rehab. The first thing I wrote about in Seema’s workshop was being raped as a child. I don’t know why. But that’s what I wrote about. And once I started to write everything started to shift. Through Seema I would meet some of the best friends I will ever know. Through Seema I would find a way to explore feelings instead of just feeling them and being hostage to their whimsy. To write about something, for me, was to really take ownership of it for maybe the first time.
Magical Thing #3: I was allowed to explore yoga. I was slowly developing a relationship with yoga. While I was in rehab the relationship grew immensely. I was able to train to receive my first teaching certification here in the US through YogaFit. YogaFit is where I met the woman who first told me about my Guru, Anand. When I left the military finally in December 2017, I was scheduled to travel to India to visit Anand’s ashram at Sattva Yoga Academy, and immerse myself in teacher training in the foothills of the Himalayas.
After rehab I was moved to a clinic that specializes in treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury. The time I spent there is maybe another story for another day.
Those two years in rehab and the brain injury clinic were some of the hardest of my life. Everything I had that I thought made me who I was was being stripped away. I was told that I wasn’t good enough, morally or physically, to be a Marine anymore. I had given so much and I was hurting so bad. I was so afraid and ashamed to ask for help.
So here I was. Taken down to nothing. Given new tools in writing and yoga to help me build a new me. Did I need to build something new? Who was I anyway? When the last vestiges of the old man were stripped away, when the uniform was peeled off for the last time, my wings finally started to grow.
Are you hurting? Are you ashamed? I know that feeling. That loneliness is unlike anything else. It’s indescribable. It is also there to teach us. And it is also not true. You are not alone. That feeling is a liar. Addiction and shame, they want us to stay alone and isolated. They want us to believe that no one will ever love us with a secret this big and this terrible. But, my dear friend, that is not true. That is only a voice in your head and that voice is created BY you in the egoic mind. It is not true. You are loved. You have never been alone. Your shame has no business here. All are welcome. Always.
Next post I’ll talk about Sattva Yoga and my journey into India and into self. In the meantime, if you feel inspired, please leave a comment and let’s talk.