Memoir of an Addict

OD is proud to announce our next series: Memoir of an Addict.  The content makes up the first chapter in the book I am working on and will be released in 10 parts over the course of the next two weeks.  Share with us your thoughts!

Memoir of an Addict Part I

Only recently did I become self-aware.  I imagine that was how Adam and Eve felt after eating the forbidden fruit, the difference being my ignorance was painful.  Prior to the now I spent most of my days miserable. This isn’t to say I’m currently drowning in bliss, quite the contrary, however, I’ve found peace in knowing I am the actor in control of my life.  For far too long I allowed my identity be dictated to me. Such a relief it is to take control of my life, to not wait for direction or passion from others, to follow my own passions for the first time in my existence.  I never understood why I was so unhappy which, as you can imagine, resulted in unbearable levels of frustration.

Continuously looking to others to tell me what to do, to tell me what would make me happy. My thought was based on the premise that if I could please those around me if I could make them happy by adhering to what they wanted me to be and their expectations, I would inadvertently stumble into happiness.  By living under this set of beliefs I lost myself, my identity and became suffocated by an indescribable misery. In truth, I never really had/found my identity I write, in part, to find my purpose. Today is a new day, a joyous day, and I thank God for the clarity he has provided me.

Memoir of an Addict Part II

I entered this world on the cusp of oscillation: July 21, 1989.  The cosmos explanation for my spontaneity and numerous apparent contradictions, according to modern medicine it’s bipolar and ADHD. Born to a mechanic and aspiring housewife, aspiring in the sense that while my mother worked at the time she did so begrudgingly. A reality my dad always took particular offense to.  This is my life, as only I can tell it. A story comprised mostly of self-inflicted sufferings. Drug abuse, indifference, and flawed perspective. The victimhood mentality such characteristics breed. My struggles as well as my rebirth. Enlightenment attained, a lesson in the difference between pleasure and happiness.

My earliest memories were unhappy ones.  Comprised singularly of my parents fighting.  I was three in the earliest of these memories, my parents screaming at each other, my mom taking my brother to her parents, my dad taking me to his.

Thoughtful Recollection

For me, recalling memories which stem from such a young age doesn’t happen in the same manner as recalling recent memories. Rather than remembering images you remember feelings, instead of words you remember the tones of the voices spoken. The memories of early childhood fade, replaced by the memories of my youth.

I reminisce over this period in a fonder light.  I recollect my childhood filled with pleasurable experiences. However, I don’t recall being an especially happy young lad.  At some point, later in life, someone remarked I wasn’t hugged enough as a child. I remember the comment explicitly because I thought of it as an incredibly dumb thing to say.  I still think it’s a stupid way of saying I wasn’t emotionally supported enough as a child, but now I understand the quip. Despite the abundance of friction and lack of genuine emotional support, my childhood was better than most.  Particularly from a materialistic perspective. In other words, I was spoiled rotten.

Memoir of an Addict Part III

Children are far more intelligent, adaptable creatures than most realize.  My father obsessed over being the “favorite” parent, the one we loved more.  To him, this was based on the instant gratification of being the parent better liked at a particular time.   His pursuit of validation in the form of this perception, and the resulting dopamine hit that assuredly comes with seeing a smile on your child’s face created a cycle of egregious gift giving and a competition for affection. Of course, this is only speculation on his thoughts from my vantage point.  I remember my dad often told me, “we’ll do this or I’ll get you that, but don’t tell your mom”. In retrospect this was done entirely in regard to frivolous bullshit, nonetheless, it warped me subconsciously.

Be Like The Buddha

There was a prince, Siddhartha Gautama, born in Nepal during the 6th century B.C.  The young prince’s father wanted to keep the young boy from having to experience the pain and suffering of the outside world. Instead of allowing him to experience the miseries of the human condition the king built a palace for the boy and showered him with all the luxuries available to royalty during the 6th century B.C.  When the prince reached his late 20s he did like most men do, albeit rather late when compared to most men (then again, given the millennial generation you could make a compelling argument against this point) and ventured into the world outside his splendor and lavish palaces. As you might expect, the young man soon encountered the horrors of poverty, old age, disease, famine, and all the other savagery and shit that comes along with mortality.

Why this is Relevant

I imagine the king and my father had a similar mindset in regard to the showering of earthly possessions onto their respective young offspring.  Furthermore, I imagine both did so with the best of intentions in mind. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. In an effort to expedite the narrative of the prince, now a grown man decides to leave his life of opulence behind and endure the true, painful nature of the world and existence.  He suffers for some years, has an awakening of sorts and ends up becoming the Buddha we all know and love.

I am no Buddha. Yet, the story of his upbringing, as well as his teachings, resonate within me. Buddha could never have become an addict because his nature was always pure. His lack of understanding rooted in innocent ignorance, whereas mine was more selfish arrogance.  The great abyss of consumption, seeking selfish desires and vehicles to satisfy such desires. Coupled with an indifference to the motives of others so long as my perceived urges were being satisfied. All the while rationalizing such unholy behavior by whatever means necessary.

Memoir of an Addict Part IV

As a kid I viewed my dad as a superhero, desperately seeking his approval. Unreasonably or unfairly glorifying others is a common theme or weakness of mine. My father is a great man whom I adore, when I OD’d bad in 2014 he didn’t leave my side while I was comatose, but he and I are two vastly different people.  Only now do I realize how inherently detrimental Idolizing a parent as a superhero was to our relationship. Detrimental because it allows no room for growth. You minimalize the shortcomings of the individual while exaggerating their desirable traits. I wish I had spent more time letting my dad just be my dad. I wish he’d spent more time talking to me.

We often times have had a contentious relationship. Out of genuine misunderstanding, frustration from confusion more than a fundamental disagreement. It seems paradoxical to say but being able to recognize our differences has allowed me to better extenuate and develop our similarities. My dad doesn’t talk much about what growing up for him was like. I hope to talk with him more about life from his perspective when he’s comfortable with the discussion when I find the words to direct such dialogue.

Dad and Me at my Stepbrothers wedding
Dad and Me at my Stepbrothers wedding

The Larger Dynamic

What I do know is my grandfather, Grandpa Nick, was an alcoholic. There were four first gen Kastros boys: Coz, Nick, John, and Pete. Pete was killed in a car accident, driving drunk (the sole reason my Dad is named Pete not Nick, legend has it this pissed off folks entrenched in the old tradition of the family) Nick and John were both lifelong alcoholics and dead. Coz, still spry at age 92 the time at which I’m writing this, was the eldest.  Strangely enough, he’s the only brother alive. Uncoincidentally he was the only brother to not drink himself into oblivion.

You couldn’t argue against addiction being engrained in the Kastros DNA. While my dad had the commendable willpower to not let it overtake him internally the theme of addiction has haunted him all his life. A piece of advice to anyone who knows one of their parents grew up with an alcoholic or addict parent. Do yourself a favor and research. Familiarize yourself with their tendencies and insecurities. I can all but guarantee you’ll find at least one nugget on the perspective beneficial.

Memoir of an Addict Part V

All that my mother wanted in life was to be a mom.  As a child grows there is a shift in the dynamic in the relationship they have with their parents.  This is a natural progression, we go from viewing parental figures as providers and protectors to our equals.  Of course, this is stupidly simplified and there are quarrels and disappointments along the way. Children rarely, if ever, turn out how their parents envisioned.

The circle of life continues and the resulting product is ideally a fully self-sustaining adult. My mother’s evolution did not follow this template. Her parents dictated her decisions as a result of this.  This was done in equal parts necessity and convenience. My grandparents financially provided for us after my parents divorced when I was five. She made a pact, a pact I assume to be common throughout her life.  The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is a slave to the lender, Proverbs 22:7.

My Dear Mum

My mother’s greatest flaw was indecisiveness closely followed by a propensity for manipulation.  Another facet of her personality is that she was, is, materialistic to the point of obsession. She would bitch about child support and take my dad to court, or threaten to at the very least. As a kid, I couldn’t understand the pettiness of it all.  The rational association for me at the time, 5 to 16 years old, was that there was a dollar amount attached to my brother and me. I never could understand her emphasis on the all mighty dollar.

Speculating now, I believe it to be rooted in her own insecurities as well as her desire for stability. In any event, the characteristic, money lust, transferred to me.  Money like sex, drugs, and all forms of mindless self-indulgence lead consequently to a soulless, godless, meaningless, miserable existence. Chasing such things establishes a destructive Catch 22. Where you think these objects are the source of happiness. Let me tell you from years of pursuit, they are not. They fade, whereas happiness is eternal.

The Truth of the Matter

Pete "Dad" Kastros and Stepmom Terri

When taken individually my mom and my dad are good people and made great parents.  When taken together they were turbulent, explosive, and volatile. Like a chemistry experiment where you take two substances stable in their own right that undergo a violent chemical reaction when brought together.  My brother and I were the byproducts of said experiment.

Both of my parents were the youngest of there siblings. It’s something I’ve always known but never took the time to think of. My mum came after two boys to a mother who desperately wanted a girl. My dad comes from a Greek family, grandfather would not stop having kids until he had a son and I might speculate he would have stopped immediately after having one. I read somewhere if the youngest gets babied they may turn out spoiled or manipulative.

I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole, these chronological ramblings will be expanded on in greater detail later. There’s a surreal dimension to conceptualizing the branches of your existence. By that I mean looking at oneself organically, Like a family tree in a sense, but so much more.   In reality my parents sacrificed a lot for me growing up. Almost to a fault.

Memoir of an Addict Part VI

My brother, Pete, and I have always had a bizarre relationship.  Equal parts contentious sibling rivalry, unequivocal loyalty, and turbulence.  He is my best friend and my worst enemy, sometimes on the same day, sometimes within the same hour.  The nostalgia associated with showing a kid brother the finer things of boyhood was short-lived if it ever existed at all.  I am to blame for this. And for that matter it did exist, in some capacity. He was the Robin to my Batman. I remember fondly running around in our Halloween costumes year-round in the overgrown fields behind our old house on Schust St.  A desolate, flat rendition of Gotham City but it was our Gotham City. I, the Caped Crusader, racing mad on one of those old metal tandem swings.

A Young Pete Kastros in Drag

The ones you never see anymore because they likely resulted in numerous child fatalities over the course of the 90s.  All the while shouting at my three-year-old Boy Wonder. He was my sidekick during the early years. Retrospect provides a painful realization to the fragmentation of this innocent bond. The outside world terrified me, while the inside world was a bore.

Memoir of an Addict Part VII

Instant gratification and manipulation to achieve such gratification became common themes in my life from an early age.  A word of warning for anyone overly driven by instant gratification, it’s only a matter of time before it manifests into addiction.  Food was my first addiction. A state of nirvana was reached in the countless hours spent stuffing my fat face with potato chips, sugary fruit snacks, and popsicles.  Anything containing high fructose corn syrup as a primary ingredient was a siren call to my insatiable appetite.

I was an overweight child throughout most of the grade school, from 2nd to 7th grade, because I couldn’t stop consuming. Like most chubby kids, this played a role in me being painfully insecure growing up.  Video games were the second incarnation of addictive behavior in my young life. When I was in the fifth grade I meticulously kept up the roster of every NHL team for three years on one game. Not an easy nor timely feat considering player movement on top of the number of new players each year. An obsession to the point of addiction in my youth also led to me read a number of the Harry Potter books cover to cover.

The Early Years

Nick Kastros with Sister Amanda

I was a shy kid growing up, it took me longer than others to become comfortable with my environment.  The first major determinant to my social development came in the form of repeating 2nd grade. It was a wise move on the part of my parents given my outright refusal to do homework. However, it had the unforeseen consequence of killing my self-esteem. This was the start of a pattern into isolation, I remember wanting to go unseen.  Making friends with my new classmates terrified me as I felt humiliated.

This is when my addiction to food developed. I would eat because it provided comfort, it filled the void created from my insecurities as well as my lack of meaningful friendships. Who needs friends when you have an endless supply of sugary snacks, salty potato chips, and every video game a young child could ask for?  From this young age, I found comfort in the pleasure of external stimuli, a recipe for disaster and addiction.

When you’re an addict, at least from my experience, you don’t understand the difference between pleasure and happiness. More appropriately, you confuse pleasure with happiness. Pleasure is brought on from an external source, and only lasts a short time. Happiness comes from within and is long lasting. Those unfortunate enough to confuse pleasure with happiness fall victim to the Hedonic Treadmill.  An endless crusade chasing drugs or sex or food. The feelings fade, and pursuit of the external source of pleasure begins again. Wash, rinse, repeat…

Memoir of an Addict Part VIII

During my second go at 2nd grade, I remember losing interest in things.  Generally speaking, this should be a happy time of self-realization and personal development.  Pudgy little seven years old me, pissed off at the world for enduring the shame of being held back.  For good and for bad, mostly to my detriment, I’ve always had an ironclad stubbornness to me. I made the conscious decision to not make any friends in my new class.  I rationalized this as a protest against The Man (teachers, my parents) the powers that be responsible for making me retake a grade when, in reality, I was just a little boy afraid of entering a new environment.

Grade School

From 2nd till 4th grade I can say I did not have a single friend outside of my old mates who I no longer saw on a regular basis.  I became woefully insecure, frequently suffering panic attacks, but never had the appropriate words to express the suffering. I was well on my way to morbid childhood obesity eating away my sorrows and social awkwardness.  This could have been a faze. I consider myself a relatively intelligent individual and, if left to my own ineptitude maybe I would have grown comfortable with myself and figured it out. Therapy might have helped. On the other hand, I was on the fast track to diabetes and heart disease.

In any event, two years of self-imposed isolation ended with my mom intervening, contacting the mother of a schoolmate of mine, Andrew Brzeczkiewicz, to schedule a playdate. Andy B and I quickly became best mates and would remain close throughout high school. The two of us were inseparable during the early years of friendship.  Although we came from very different families, we had similar interests. In hindsight, it would be more appropriate to say my interests shifted from all-out consumption to a shared interest in hobbies and pastimes with that of my new found friend. My father, in his quest to be the favorite parent, knew no limits when it came to providing materialistic goodies.  Fourth grade marked the shift in the manifestation of my addiction from eating to video games.

Memoir of an Addict Part IX

Andy B had a much different homelife than me.  While my parents provided all the earthly delights a young child could think of his parents epitomized the other end of the materialistic spectrum.  Providing very little in terms of extravagant doodads. It’s no wonder he took to me so quickly. Who wouldn’t want their new bestie to be Saginaw’s very own embodiment of Richie Rich?  I already had an interest in hockey and video games. Andy liked hockey and video games, so my interest in them went from tepid to obsession rather quickly.

Kerouac Family on Vacation

Looking back I remember beginning to figure things out in 8th grade.  Unfortunately, the year was short and when high school rolled around I was back to drowning in my insecurities.  My parents, while I know they did their best, coddled me. Coupled with their tremulous relationship, the result a boy scared of my own shadow for a large part of my life.

Memoir of an Addict Part X

When I was fourteen Betty introduced me to Vicodin. As a child with no identity, little self-worth, and a propensity towards addictive tendencies this was single-handedly the most destructive piece of my story.  Over the years I grew to resent her, blame her even, for fueling my suffering and addiction. I’m certain there are people close to me still hold this belief however it is important to understand the context before making accusations of malice.

You need to understand Betty’s story, the story of my family, to fully comprehend my story.  Betty grew up in an orphanage under a set of, particularly cruel circumstances. She was born the third child after two brothers and her parents decided they didn’t want her. The only child put up for adoption out of her parent’s union. Furthermore, her father had another child, a daughter, after my grandmother. I firmly believe her intentions were always pure, I don’t think she ever really had an opportunity to develop the mental capacity of a normal adult due to her lack of emotional/family support at a young age.  At the age of 15, she left the orphanage to marry my Grandfather, 27 at the time, and on his second marriage. The couple couldn’t wed legally in Michigan, so they got hitched in Indiana.

A Change in POV

It’s fascinating how shifting one’s perspective can provide both answers and a sense of peace. Our understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong begin to erode. There is simply what happened, what is, and what’s next. Was it wrong for an adult to give narcotics to a 14-year-old? Absolutely, if you’re looking strictly through a Consequentialist lens. I’ve always been intelligent, as a fourteen-year-old with low confidence and self-esteem coming from a dysfunctional broken home I became a master of manipulation as a means to adapt.

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Going a step farther I would encourage anyone to analyze their family as a unit. Look for tendencies based on birth order and trends. Take my mums choice in partners and look at the similarities between my dad and Ken. They appear diametrically opposed at surface level. However, both were the youngest of three children, with alcoholic fathers and were likely coddled though that could be debated.

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