Guideposts Classic: I'm a Free Man Now

Guideposts Classic: I'm a Free Man Now

I was addicted to drugs. I thought there was no way out of that darkness.

The old man asked, "Are you feeling better now, Johnny?" I'd been lying there a long time, staring at the ceiling and fighting off the sickness. Now I looked at the old man. He looked like he was behind bars. But I knew that I was the one behind the bars, only I didn't know where the jail was or how I got there.

The old man said, "Let me know when you're ready."

I forced myself to sit up. "I'm ready now."

Ready for what? I wasn't sure why I'd been arrested. I figured it had something to do with the pills. Once before the pills had put me behind bars, but that time I was lucky.

That was in 1965. I had gone into Mexico to get a supply of the pills I felt I needed to stay alive. As I was re-entering at El Paso, the customs inspector found the pills. That time I spent a day in jail. Because it was my first arrest, the judge let me off with a year's suspended sentence. There was a newspaper reporter in the courtroom; his story went out on the wires, and that's how people found out I was an addict.

A lot of people already knew. By then, I had been on pills five years. I took pep pills to turn me on enough to do a show. Then I took depressants to calm down enough to get some sleep. That, at least, was what my friends said. They said I was working too hard and traveling too much and trying to squeeze too much out of every day. They said maybe I should take some time off.

I knew better. I tried pep pills the first time because they happened to be available one day when I was in the mood for a new kick. The high they gave me was beautiful. I felt I owned the world, and the world was perfect during those lofty moments. I couldn't believe that a couple of little pills could contain so much beauty and joy. I stayed on pills because they made me feel great. If people wanted to give excuses for my habit, I let them.

Then I began to realize that the highs were getting lower. The few pills I was on every day weren't enough anymore. I had to go from a few to several, then to dozens. Still that old feeling wasn't there. I was always nervous and tense and irritable. I didn't want to eat. I couldn't sleep. I started losing weight.

So I went on depressants, looking for lows, looking for peace. When I found peace, I couldn't trust it because I knew it was a fleeting peace. Soon I would crave to get high, and the highs would not come to me.

After the El Paso mess, I took an apartment with a friend who was also on pills. One day when my supply ran out, I remembered that he had some in his car. He was asleep and I couldn't find his keys, so I went out and broke into the car. When he later accused me of this, I denied it violently and we almost fought. He knew I was lying, and I knew he did. Next day, I admitted it, and he said he understood. We were like two cowardly kids forgiving each other for being afraid of the dark.

In time, I became afraid of everything. I would be a nervous wreck before a show; I was never sure of myself during a performance; I didn't believe people when they said things had gone all right. Sometimes I was too sick to work. Sometimes I didn't even show up. It didn't take booking agents long to stop risking their money on me. Even though I knew this meant a loss of income to others in the show, people who were good friends, I didn't care. I didn't care about anything.