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When your mother, the woman who brought you into this world, throws an ashtray at your face, you know you’ve done something very wrong.
King [not his real name] deserved what was coming to him and he knew it. He had made a habit of stealing from his family to support a drug and gambling problem. He was smoking shabu almost daily and losing a huge sum of money playing the odds at basketball. He was also lying through his teeth to cover up his shady activities.
It started with stealing petty cash, and from there he lost himself quickly: stealing more cash, a cousin's girlfriend's laptop, pawning his car, huge gambling debts. “The most I’ve owed at one time was P30,000, which my parents had to eventually pay for me,” King reveals.
“But if you total everything, all the debts I incurred during my gambling days, I probably owed about half a million. My parents told me that the money they used to pay my debts was supposed to be for the renovation of our house or even money I would have eventually inherited.”
All that while King was still in college and living under his parents’ roof. For three years he would go on to chase that self-destructive high. And when his mom, after finding out about his stealing from a cousin’s girlfriend, finally snapped and threw that ashtray, he knew he was a wreck, his family was a wreck, he was an addict, and he should be on his way to rehab.
Looking back at his path to addiction, King, now 28 and working as an HR Specialist, couldn’t brush off the possibility that he may have started out very young, and it had much to do with hotdogs. No fucking kidding. Hotdogs.
THE ADDICT GENE
“There is an addictive gene. It can get passed on and it’s hereditary,” says psychiatrist Dr. Randy Dellosa, founder of Life Transformation: The Randy Dellosa Wellness Center and a specialist in addiction rehabilitation. It is possible for an individual to already be an addict prior to abusing illegal substances. You can be born already predisposed to addiction. “Sometimes it doesn’t come out in the offspring or the children as the same addiction, but it doesn’t have to be a substance,” he adds. “Addictions that involve an activity are called process addictions.”
The earliest manifestation of addiction that King can remember is that of his cravings for hotdogs as a young child. “Sabi ng nanay ko pinaglihi ako sa hotdog,” King says. “I don’t know if that counts as an addiction, but when you’re addicted to something, you really don’t have any rhyme or reason. I just wanted it. Pag hindi hotdog yung nakahain, hindi ako kakain.”
Born into a family of hearty eaters, it felt natural to gorge as much as his stomach could handle. Aside from food, King was (and pretty much still is) addicted to basketball.
There was just something about the sport that gave him a rush. But it wasn’t until his junior year of high school, when he found himself a spot as a guard-forward on his school’s varsity basketball team, that he discovered the passion—and a use for his large build, which he mostly used playing defense. “When I play, I feel aggressive and at the same time nakakapag-concentrate ako,” he says. “My mind is constantly working when I’m playing ball. It’s a mix of aggression, concentration, and pag-iisip. Sometimes aalis ako ng bahay 3 or 4 p.m. to play tapos babalik na ako ng bahay 10 na nang gabi. I would say I was addicted to basketball, especially when I was in high school and college.”
Dr. Dellosa says that there are behavioral patterns that determine if a person is indeed a process addict. The first is pre-occupation, and can be observed as the subject’s life revolving around a specific activity. Second, there must be persistence despite negative consequences—meaning the activity is already affecting their lives in a negative way, whether it is work, family, or their personal relationships—and still they persist. Third, the degree or frequency of doing it gets higher—a tolerance is built.
“I liken it to drinking,” says Dr. Dellosa. “At first, with one bottle, lasing ka na, but for the next few times you’ll probably be needing more. It’s the same thing with process addiction. Even with process addictions like exercise: when you work out you get a certain high, then if you keep repeating the process, you no longer feel the same rush. Then there also needs to be a form of withdrawal. Once the activity gets cut off, you feel sad about it and there’s a craving. This is true whether it’s a substance or a process addiction."
King would continue his basketball career up to his second year of college playing for his university’s B-team. His athleticism proved to be a good cover for his new preoccupation: illegal drugs.
“My first experience was with weed and Valium,” King says. “I was in third year high school. It started out of curiosity. I didn’t even want to try it at first. Nagustuhan ko lang yung hitsura nung bud and yung amoy niya. Humingi ako sa kaibigan ko tapos inipit ko sa notebook ko. But once I hit my senior year of high school, things had progressed. I was no longer just curious; I was smoking marijuana and popping Valium recreationally.”
The downers didn’t really get in the way of King; his use of the drug was more social rather than self-destructive. But that all changed when he ended his college basketball career and was introduced to a game-changer that would later have him “fouling out” of life. He had his first taste of methamphetamine, shabu as most junkies know it.
“My first time was with a friend,” he recalls. “After school, we went to the house of a common acquaintance in Pasay and we took it. Simple as that.” Small white crystals were loaded on to a runway, then heated underneath with a disposable lighter stripped of its metal casing. He held the tooter, waiting for chemistry to do its job, turning the solid crystals into a liquid that then provided a thin, odorless white smoke.
After the session, he remembers making his way back to his car (the one he would eventually pawn), only to find that one of the tires was flat. He felt wired and unfazed by the situation: “When you’re high, siyempre may trip ka. Napag-tripan ko yung gulong, for two hours nagpalit ako ng gulong. Pawis na pawis ako. After that, umaga na, wala akong magawa, nag-basketball ako. I remember playing five games walang tigil. Di ako napagod. I remember saying to myself, ‘Wala naman pala ‘to eh. Ito na yun? Parang wala lang. Hindi ito nakaka-adik.’ My thinking reinforced the fact na mangyayari uli ito.”
And it did. It somehow fed his need to catch a serious habit. He would do pushups. “Alam mong malakas yung tama mo kung nakakapag-30 pushups ka na hindi mo alam na kaya mo pala yun sa isang bagsak.” The longest he’d gone without sleep was five days. “Wa-five kung tawagin kasi five days na walang tulog,” he shares. “It was a conscious effort. I knew that I had to sleep when I began to see flashing lights out of nowhere. I also started seeing things that weren’t there. I saw a kid hanging on a tree that wasn’t there. Sabi ko, ‘Shit iba na ’to, kailangan kong matulog.’”
According to Dr. Dellosa, it is possible for process addictions to evolve into substance addiction. “The safest thing to say is that some substances would be a gateway for other substances,” Dr. Dellosa explains. “Because sometimes it doesn’t necessarily cross over from process to substance; some people will stay with process and never go to substances and vice versa—but nevertheless it’s still addiction. In King’s case, the indirect conclusion here can be that he was already an adrenaline junkie. Playing basketball gave him a high and since he wasn’t getting his fix anymore, he probably just took the substance to replace it. The substance causes that adrenaline rush instantaneously.”
THE ODDS: NOT ON HIS FAVOR
The problems with drugs only escalated when he found himself steeped into gambling. King’s wager of choice: playing the odds for NBA games. He eventually became a bookie, setting up bets for other gamblers on campus. “I found I was successful at it at first,” he says. “I was only in my second year of college and it was a big deal because I was able to buy expensive liquor. I felt like a rapper, a gangster. I would buy two bottles of Alize and drink. I was able to treat my family just from odds money. I was able to buy all the shoes I wanted. The most I made was P70,000 at one time and I was even taking pictures of it, feeling like a pimp.”
Things quickly went sour when the losses trumped the wins. “When my team started losing I became hardheaded,” King admits. “Pusta ako nang pusta kahit wala naman talaga akong pera.” King remembers praying at church, calling out to the heavens for his team to win. Threats were reaching home; the people he owed dropped by, agitating the household. When this led to more lying and stealing, his family had had enough. After pawning the laptop of his cousin’s girlfriend, he ran away, with no intention of returning home.
His brother’s text message: “Ano’ng ginagawa mo? Putangina! Gago ka! Nasaan ka ba?”
King was holing up at a drug acquaintance’s shabby house in Cavite. His “friends” not really trying to be friends, but sucking his wallet dry. When he snuck back home to get some clothes, he found his room ransacked. “All my things were broken dahil yung pinsan ko hinanap ako, at nung nakita niyang wala ako, winasak niya yung TV ko, electric fan, keyboard. Wala akong pakialam nun. No remorse. I was high.”
It was only when his youngest sister sent him a text message asking, “Kuya, asan ka?” that the down and out King felt any semblance of regret and remorse. “Natauhan ako,” he says. His mother came to see him three days later. “When I first heard my mom speak, alam ko na kung saan ako pupunta. I even pictured the place in my mind. I told myself, ‘Eto na.’"
SINK TO GET BACK UP AGAIN
“Pagod” is how King describes those long three years of addiction.
In November 2010 he went into rehab. “Suko na ako,” he says. “I felt that I had done enough damage to my family.”
In rehab, King discovered he had anger issues. “I have a passive personality and I found that the reason behind my drug abuse stemmed from my anger,” he explains. “Drugs made me feel good about the people around me and about myself. I suppressed the anger by doing drugs, that’s why I loved it so much. I also discovered that I was a stubborn individual. During my stay in rehab, I didn’t allow myself to make excuses on why I should continue with the program. I was very hard on myself because I knew that if I went back to my old habits, my troubles would only get worse.”
The introspective part of the program wasn’t the only hurdle he had to overcome, as the physical aspect of being kept inside posed a challenge. King developed a debilitating case of high blood pressure during his stay. There were withdrawal symptoms as well. Kanye West and Eminem also helped to get him back up. “Dahil hindi ako nakalaro ng basketball sa loob, music ang naging savior ko,” he shares. “I was listening to a lot of Kanye West, and napaka-timely nung Recovery album ni Eminem and even his Relapse album. I found comfort in the fact that there’s someone else in the world—whom I didn’t know—far from my social situation that was going through the same thing I was. I could relate.”
King remembers the day of his release and the fear that came with stepping out into the world as a clean man. “I had to go because it was part of my recovery. I also celebrated my birthday and my release from rehab on the same day. It was a fitting end to my rehab stint and I fondly refer to it as my rebirth.”
It has been three years since then, and he now has a wife and baby girl to care for. In his free time, he coaches kids for their village’s basketball league. He plays, of course, with as much intensity as when he was competing. That part of his personality he has retained. But there are no longer five-game-no-rest binges. No bets taken.