In the Blink of a Bloodshot Eye

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| This is the 486th story of Our Life Logs |


Addiction isn’t picky. Trust me. You can come from family dinners and a good education and still fall into dependence. I sure as hell did.

Section Break-Mountains

I was born in 1962 in Coshocton, Ohio. By the time I was about 10, we moved down to Cincinnati where I had a happy life, two loving parents with good jobs, and two older brothers. I was a smart kid; I was in jazz band; I wrote for the school paper; I went to a good college where I majored in journalism and minored in jazz and law. These are all ordinary things.

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Me, age 7.

I’m sure you’re thinking college is where it all started, what, with the stereotypical party lifestyle. Like many of my peers, I indulged back then, but it was never out of hand. Sure, I was always the last to leave the parties, but that was also because I had such a high tolerance. Yet even with my tolerance, I was responsible about drinking if I was the driver. I always knew my limit.

After college, I jumped into my career in radio and eventually worked my way up to a cushy job in Washington DC with NBC Radio News. I had a great house, a brand-new Mercedes, and I’d come home from work to mull it all over with a nice bottle of wine. Sure, the refills became more frequent over time, but it was no big deal. I had limits. Boundaries. Like any young and single adult in the ’90s, I attended clubs and get-togethers to meet people and would try a few different party drugs here and there out of curiosity. Trust me, those late nights with friends and colleagues are not where my story begins.

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On the job, summer of ’84.

It does begin, however, on President’s Day weekend, February 2001.

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If you’re not familiar, President’s Day weekend is like a DC Mardi Gras. With four days off in a row, all the ties are loosened and all the pant-suit people fill the bars like goldfish to a bowl. And naturally, I swam that way too. After I left work on Sunday at 11:30pm, I joined the festivities. Now, at the network, my days off were Monday and Tuesday, so this government-issued holiday made me feel like a college student on a Saturday night. I wasn’t, of course. I was 38, well-established in my field, and had, you know, responsibilities.

A couple of drinks later, one of my friends invited me to his place (an after-party, if you will) for a little cocaine. Some of you are probably thinking, it’s very hard to have just a little cocaine, don’t you think? Well, you’re right. One minute, my friend and I began smoking, and in the blink of a bloodshot eye, the weekend was over. I stumbled off his porch steps on Tuesday afternoon in a satisfied daze.

Two weeks went by, and on Sunday, my friend offered to do a “little more” cocaine with me on my days off. Out I went. Then a week went by. Another offer. Out I went. Another week. Another offer. He just had to say the word and I was out the door. Every Tuesday afternoon, I shuffled back home and willed myself to wake up on Wednesday morning for work. In the beginning, I would. After a few binges, however, my responsibilities seemed a little more casual, and I began to get home later and call in sick.

Then my friend called on a Tuesday. For a second, I let the temptation linger. Could I make it work? Could I have one more night out? No. I shook my head. “I can’t man, I’ve gotta work.”

I hung up the phone and started getting ready for bed. Sure, I had said no. But my mind raced around the idea of another hit and the sensation of feeling high and mighty and fearless. I couldn’t get to sleep after that. I half-listened for the phone to ring again with another invitation that never came. That night, I was in trouble and I had no idea. Well, maybe I did. It wouldn’t have mattered either way.

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Me, 2001.

By July, I had fallen completely into my crack addiction, sometimes taking it six days in a row and still going to work. That new doubled salary? Almost all of it went to coke. I smoked up a new car, a new house, I lost my job because I called off one too many times, and (despite a hefty severance check) my house was being foreclosed.

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In July 2002, a friend of mine was planning to come over to help me move my stuff out. The night before, I smoked crack like usual, felt kind of funny, and passed out. I woke up to the sound of my doorbell. I felt strange and my legs felt like pins and needles. Hearing the doorbell again, I hopped out of bed. Except instead of landing on my feet, I collapsed to the ground. Fear splintered through me as I tried to will my legs to move. Oh god, what’s happening to me? I didn’t know, but I knew I needed help. I crawled to the door as fast as I could, terrified my friend would leave before I got to him. Finally, I reached the door and used all my strength to reach the doorknob and pull it open. The moment my friend saw me, he burst into action and called 911.

Given that I’d felt strange from the crack the night before, I thought it was a bad batch. It wasn’t though. The doctors thought that I’d had a stroke, but it wasn’t quite that. They never distinctly determined what had happened, but they did know that the drugs hadn’t caused it. Although it may not have helped. My legs were running with dead nerves and I was told that I’d have to learn to walk again. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I could have died. To keep an eye on my progress, I was in the hospital for two weeks.

My family was informed of what had happened including what was in my blood. My parents never knew about my vices. Whenever I called, I’d lie about how great I was doing. I was such a good son all my life they had no reason to not believe me. Now their trust and image of me were tainted forever.

One of my friends offered to take me in if I promised not to use. I kept that promise the first few days, but when he went back to work, I was hobbling down to the corner to meet my dealer. After a week, my friend couldn’t take it anymore. I was like a child; I couldn’t be left alone. With no other option, I had to return to Cincinnati to live with my parents.

Section Break-Mountains

Because of the incident, I couldn’t work or drive and I had no connections. I had reached rock bottom with no choice but to heal. From July to November, I stayed clean, focusing on my recovery. I learned to walk again, and I got the clearance to drive once more. My parents usually spent the colder months in Florida and because it seemed I was staying clean, they decided to make their usual trip after Christmas.

By January, I had found a job at Channel 5. Although I had something to occupy my time in the day, I was bored and lonely every minute outside the office. I was looking for company, and what better place to find it than at the bar? I know, I know. Not a great choice. But I thought it made perfect sense back then.

Do you remember how I was in college? I “knew my limits.” I’d stop at two drinks and get ready to go home. But suddenly, I was unable to count. That’s what happens when your “give-a-shit” is busted. Consequences weren’t on my radar. I’d simply replaced narcotics with booze, eventually smearing my record with (not one but) two DUIs. I lost my job at Channel 5 and my new beginning. My parents were utterly livid.

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Home (i.e. my parents’ basement) was torture. The more my parents questioned why their middle-aged son was such a fuck up (which is a fair question), the more I got so down on myself. Yes, I was a drug addict, and they had every right to berate me as they drove me around to every court-ordered meeting I was allotted, but it didn’t feel good. In fact, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One time after a class for “responsible driving”, I decided not to wait on my father who was coming to take me back home. Instead, I went on a walk through the crime and drug-infested streets of Over-The-Rhine (OTR). As I walked the streets, I told myself, if I run into a crack dealer, then it’s fate. What do you think happened? Did the stars align? Oh yeah, they were already in a single-file row. Before I knew it, I was back on cocaine.

I called my elderly parents from a crack house on Main Street at four o’clock in the morning. Instead of telling me to fuck off, they got out of bed to get me. In hindsight, that was kind. But in the moment, I was just a mess trying not to let the silence slice me to pieces.

Section Break-Mountains

Feeling like they had no other options, my parents put me into a 12-step addiction program the next day. It was obvious to everyone around me that I did not want to join this program. I didn’t want help. When people introduced themselves by name followed by, “I’m an addict” I felt sick each time. I would never call myself an addict. I didn’t think I was like these people. When it was my turn, I just said, “I’m Doug.” I thought no one’s story was like mine, so I couldn’t relate. After one of the meetings, I took another OTR stroll and got high. That was June 4, 2003.

The following Monday at a meeting, June 9th, I was nasty to everyone, telling people I didn’t believe that any of them were really clean. After class, a guy approached me and offered to take me home. I begrudgingly agreed and, on the drive, he began telling me his story. He didn’t leave any of the shameful details out and as he spoke more I noticed just how similar our stories were. The wall I’d built around myself broke down, and suddenly, I was telling this guy stuff about my addiction I hadn’t told a soul. I told him about DC, about my OTR strolls, and he nodded patiently as I got it all out. When I was finished, he issued a challenge. “Next time you go to a responsible driving class, don’t go to OTR. See if you can make it home after the lawyer’s office.” Whatever.

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As I left my next DUI class, I remembered the challenge. Could I really do it? Turn my back on drugs and use the money for what it was meant for? I stood on the street in thought. I could go left and buy some crack, or I could go right, catch the bus, and go home. That day, I made a choice. I turned right. That day, I didn’t use.

I was so shocked by the amount of self-control I’d possessed that I called the guy up as soon as I got home. “I didn’t go left!” I said, “I’ve never done that before. So, you’re my sponsor now.” Since that day, I haven’t used cocaine. I’ve been clean for the last 16 years and I have the same sponsor.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. Getting clean and staying clean wasn’t easy, and I fought my sponsor every step of the way, but I came out on the other side. Every time I had the urge to use, I’d give him a call. I started actually accepting help from the 12-step program and making my amends to those I’ve hurt. I tried finding jobs in retail like Blockbuster or UDF, but no one would hire me. After a year of being clean, a friend-of-a-friend helped me out big time by getting me an interview with Channel 9 News.

At the interview, the evaluator said, “You’re so overqualified for this job. What are you doing here?”

In other interviews, I had lied about my past or I just tried too hard to explain away the employment gaps. But this time, for some reason, I was honest. “I’m an addict. In recovery. Recovery is the most important thing in my life. To understand me is to understand that.”

He said, “I respect the hell out of you for saying that.”

There was only one other question after that. “When can you start?”

Section Break-Mountains

I think the best way to move on is to accept what has happened with complete honesty and move forward. Ask yourself, are you better today than you were yesterday? It’s about making the right choice today.

 

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This is the story of Doug Lillibridge

Doug currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio where he works as the executive producer for Channel 12 News. Looking at Doug’s background and Doug today, you would never guess that he is a recovering addict. During his time working in Washington DC, Doug tried cocaine and eventually became addicted which destroyed his career. It wasn’t until he met another recovering addict whom he could relate to that Doug decided to get clean and get his life back on track. Doug’s love of jazz is nurtured today as he is the President of the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. He is always finding new records to listen to and he has over 1500 albums in his collection. He has a hard time picking a favorite jazz musician but he really enjoys Scott Hamilton. Aside from jazz and work, Doug is a Bengals, Reds, and Buckeyes fan. Doug doesn’t like the idea of long-term goals because of all the variables, but he wants to continue giving back to his community and prepare for retirement.

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Doug with his Emmy for producing special events coverage for “A Life Well Lived: Lauren Hill’s Memorial Service” in 2016.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on January 9, 2020.

| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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