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Life Without Drugs

Updated: Jun 24, 2020


| This is the 479th story of Our Life Logs |


2013, Virginia Beach.

“Dude, they’re coming over the fence right now, bro! You gotta come here, man!”

I rolled my eyes. There he goes again—always so paranoid.

“Slow Man, I already told you, nobody coming here to rob us, dude. I literally just moved these tools in here yesterday. If you’re gonna be trippin’ like this all night, I’m just knocking off and going to the bar.”

“Dude, I swear to God, two dudes are climbing the fence right now.”

More to get him to shut up than anything else, I walked to the sliding glass doors.

I’ll be damned. Two dudes were climbing the fence.

Section Break-Mountains

I should probably backtrack a little bit. Back to before I was robbed, before my life completely fell apart—I was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1975. As a very young child, I discovered that I was the product of an affair, one of multiple that my mom had, and my father, whom I was named after, wasn’t my real father after all. To this day I don’t know who my biological father is, but discovering that at such a young age made me feel like an outcast in my own family. I was just a painful reminder of infidelity, a jagged edge of the puzzle that would never fit with the rest.

When my parents divorced, my mom left my sister and I with the dad who raised me. This only made things worse. When he remarried, my dad’s new wife was nasty and abusive toward me. I was the gum on the underside of a desk to her, and I started to believe it. I felt like no one would ever accept and love me.

Section Break-Mountains

My 20s seemed to fly by. I began doing contracting jobs to make ends meet, I started seeing someone, and, in 1999, we had a son together. We named him Donavan. But still, it felt like something was still missing in my life. Then…in my late 20s, I got mixed up with drugs and became an addict by the time I was 30.

I won’t say that the abuse and my mom’s abandonment were direct causes, but they gave me all the more reason to keep doing it. My whole life was spent feeling like nobody would ever accept me—not even my own son, I thought. The only time I felt wanted was when I had a pocket full of dope. You can do no wrong when you’re getting everybody high.

My girl didn’t like my drug use, especially around our son, but I was so broken and selfish back then that I didn’t care. My son was oblivious to most of my drug use. That’s one thing I’ll say for his mother. She didn’t divulge the things that could have really damaged my relationship with him. All Donovan really knew was that I was never home. To him, I was just always working, always on my way to another job. She told her parents all about it though, so, of course, they never liked me.

We were together for years. It got to be a routine. I’d promise to stop, but still secretly keep doing it. My girl would go rummaging through my stuff and find a bag of coke. Then, she’d threaten to leave me. Three times, she packed up and headed off to her parents’ place in St. Louis. Each time she left, I’d call her nonstop and she’d decline my calls nonstop. Eventually, she’d come back, and things would go back to our kind of normal. That is…until 2013.

For the fourth time, my girl left me after she found a bag of coke in my pants pocket. Again. She took my 15-year-old son with her and headed to St. Louis. Again. But I knew that time was different.

Section Break-Mountains

About a month later, in an effort to try to get my shit together, I had taken a remodeling job on a condo that a longtime client of mine had sent my way, despite the fact that it was being discussed amongst those who knew me that my cocaine habit had gone from recreational to worthy of rehab.

As I was headed to the condo renovation, my buddy Slow Man and I made a pit stop to buy some cocaine. Then, we headed to the place and began prepping on where to begin.

I should probably tell you that my buddy Slow Man was always super paranoid (probably because he was always tweaked out). So, when he started freaking out about two dudes climbing the fence to rob us, I thought nothing of it. But he kept insisting, so I went to the door. And there they were; two men climbing the fence. And not just any men; the men we had just bought $500 worth of cocaine from less than two hours ago.

They must have seen the rest of the money in my wallet, I thought, cursing inwardly. That money was the down payment to perform the renovations on the very condo I was standing in. I realized that all that money, plus $10k in tools and materials was within their reach.

“Slow Man, go get me something to block this door track with now, a stick, a 2×4—NOW!”

 “Here, here, take this!”

Immediately, Slow Man shoved a 2×4 at me and then got beside me with a nail gun and a 20-pound sledgehammer. Slow Man moved so fast that I started to believe that this cocaine had the ability to cause a glitch in the time-space continuum. Either that, or we were way higher than I first suspected. Anyway, I jammed the 2×4 in the door track, and it lent some bravado to Slow Man as he stood there brandishing the sledgehammer like a modern-day cokehead Thor.

Apparently, the dealer and his friend thought we were going to be an easy in-and-out because, at the sight of some resistance from us, they went through the side gate and left. After that, we went around the condo, locking and reinforcing every window, door, and vent opening until it was a tweaker’s fortress.

I still thank God to this day that my client didn’t decide to come by and see us—not even 24 hours into the job—high as kites and barricaded in there. It would have ruined what was left of my tattered reputation.

Section Break-Mountains

Fast forward 10 days and the job is done, the cocaine is gone, and all the money I made had already been spent at the bar or snorted. All this accompanied by an eviction notice from the home I had with my girl and my son. Luckily, I’d just started seeing a new girl, named Shana, who just so happened to be putting a dude out at that very moment. I was literally moving my things in as he was carrying his boxes out. But after that, work got slower and jobs were few and far between. Everything Shana and I made went to pills and cocaine, and we were barely keeping the lights on.


I again reached out to my son’s mother, and in the middle of a very emotional buzz one night, I made a split-second decision to hop in my car and drive the 2000 miles to St. Louis to beg her to give me one more shot.

• • •

I can only imagine what kind of dopehead I must have looked like yelling and beating on their door at 7 am in the middle of their upscale community while I was in the clothes I had worked, slept, and drove in for about four days.

Finally, her dad came to the door. He didn’t invite me in. He just told me I could either get back in my truck and leave quietly, or he would have the cops there in under four minutes. He only had to tell me twice.

Devastated, I crawled back to Shana, who had been in and out of opiate consciousness the entire time I was gone. Within a few days, our electricity was shutoff, we were served an eviction notice, and were basically living out of my car. Soon enough, Shana told me she was going to her sister’s place in Upstate New York to detox. She never asked if I wanted to join her, and I really don’t blame her.

Section Break-Mountains

I survived the next three or four months by stretching out jobs as long as I reasonably could in order to have a place to crash and get high. When there were no more trusting clients and no more couches left to surf, I knew I had to get clean. But I knew I couldn’t do it in Virginia Beach. The only people I associated with anymore were junkies and dealers. I had to get the hell out of town.

I called my Dad collect from a payphone and told him I needed to come home, that I would build an addition onto his house he had been asking me for while I was there. I told him I had no money for gas, so he said that he would “Western Union” $50 to me.

I picked up the money, bought a little cocaine (it took everything in me to only get a $20 bag), and spent the rest on gas to get me to North Carolina. I knew if I didn’t leave that minute, I’d never leave. Not while I was breathing.

I got to my Dad’s place so high I couldn’t stop grinding my teeth as I was talking to him. He pretended not to notice. The next morning, we went to Home Depot and started getting the materials for the addition on his home. It took two weeks of being unable to get out of bed, except to use the bathroom and eat, before I could start working on it.

Section Break-Mountains

The morning I started on the addition was so normal. I got up, had a glass of orange juice, and worked night and day. No getting high. This continued for five months. My Dad tried to help a little, but he couldn’t lift over 20 pounds if his life depended on it, so I used a pulley system to hold beams in place, and it eventually came together nicely.

Me and my father.
Me and my father.

After spending the last 11 years or so strung out and pissing away everything I had worked for in my adult life, I was finally sober. It was about that time when I got a letter from my Mom in Florida. She said money was becoming tight and asked me to move in with her. My Dad was skeptical, but I knew I had to start over.

Section Break-Mountains

I stayed with my Mom for almost two years to get my feet under myself again and help her get her finances straightened out to the point she felt comfortable to handle it on her own again. Staying clean in the beginning was a struggle, especially living at my Mom’s, as she was a major contributor to my reasoning for my drug use.

I remained in Central Florida, built another contracting business, and in 2016, I met Anastasia who, once had a pill problem, knew my struggle and made me feel like I belonged. She wouldn’t let me step in the wrong direction without putting me in check, so she’s been the short leash I needed to stay clean. I married her in 2017.

Oh—one more thing—I finally reconnected with my son who, at that time, was 16. He’s an amazing kid. The scary part? He’s just like me, always looking for something not quite within his reach, the next good time, the next party, looking for something to liven up an otherwise humdrum life in a quiet suburban town. I have told him the unabridged version of my story. I can only pray it serves as a cautionary tale. I pray he chooses not to hike the path I took to get here.


This is the story of Joel Bivens

Joel discovered as a very young child that the man he was named after and raised by was not his biological father. Joel was actually the child of an adulterous affair. This knowledge shaped his early life and the way that he viewed himself and his family. He always felt unwanted, and as though he wasn’t a fit for the remainder of the puzzle.

After many years of unhealthy relationships and drug abuse, the very man who had not contributed to his DNA helped him put the past behind him. He opened his arms and his home to help Joel achieve sobriety and a better grasp on what family meant. Unfortunately, Joels’ mother passed away from complications after a routine surgery in 2019 without ever revealing the name of Joels’ biological father. However, Joel has decided that after surviving this long without knowing his identity, he would rather not know who the man is.

He married his wife, Anastasia, after several years of nearly messing up a good thing. She keeps him in check the majority of the time. He has successfully rebuilt his business, and lives and works in the Tampa Bay area. He has a healthy relationship with his child, a son who lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He is anxiously awaiting grandchildren and the chance to watch them grow up with a clear and sober view.


This story first touched our hearts on December 17, 2019.

| Writer: April Hawkins | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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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