Diary of a Walking Dead Man…
By Stephen Kavalkovich, Former Paramedic
I was born in 1981, the third boy of triplets, and we lost the middle one at birth. For some reason, from as early as I could remember, I believed that that I was just the “crap left over.” I was a puny, wimpy little boy who was the first to get glasses in preschool. An awkward, uncoordinated, and non- athletic child was I. I didn’t like sports, but when all the neighborhood kids traded baseball cards, I made sure that I got every one of the “good ones” so that maybe they would like me.
I was picked on and made fun of, perhaps the new term of “bullied” would be accurate. The only understanding I had of God came from being an altar boy in a Russian Orthodox Church, and that “understanding” only consisted of me drinking the wine to reach a form of comfort and oblivion at a young age.
Of course, I was graced with acne, which added to my lack of “coolness.” When puberty hit, I wanted a girlfriend, so in a desperate attempt to achieve my goal, I asked any girl I could to check yes on the “Do you like me?” box. Naturally, rejection ensued.
Between 8th and 9th grade, I started to hang with the cool kids, got contacts and new clothes, and finally, the girls noticed me. I now knew that people were vain, and if a girl would give me attention, no matter the cost, I would take it.
Single or not, as long as someone was there to give me attention, I ate it up. That summer was a major turning point in my life. I was invited to a Christian youth group; the leader was adored, and he accepted me as a “friend.” Too bad his idea of friendship included trying to molest me at 14. It took a few weeks to speak up about it, and when I did, the national organization he represented, my friends, and my family basically called me a liar and said it never happened. Now came another dose of rejection sprinkled with abandonment. Where and how would my confusion and hurt be soothed? The journey began like an avalanche from the top of the Himalayas.
So now that the Jesus guy did what he did, the idea of that name repulsed me and I ran as far and as fast as I could. I sought solace and acceptance in whoever or wherever I could find it.
I joined the other outcasts and played with witchcraft in the woods or hung with the gay guys. It didn’t matter, as long as someone acknowledged me. Somehow, one of the popular girls, beautiful cheerleader named Beth became friends with me and we dated for a week. This was a long-term high school courtship. Then, afterwards, we did the traditional hate and give dirty looks as we passed each other in the halls.
On December 17th, we happened to be both standing beside each other singing in a choir concert at a church. I distinctly remember thinking that I should apologize, for it was the holidays and one never knows what could happen. My pride and fear got in the way and I never did it. Regretfully, she was killed about an hour later in a car accident. The crushing weight of remorse fell on me immediately, so much so, that I can still feel the sickness in my stomach as I write these words. A few buddies were junior members in the local fire department, and I joined immediately after this tragedy.
I didn’t know it at the time, but unconsciously, this was not only my way of atoning for not making amends with her, but also choosing to rescue others because no one rescued me from the youth leader incident.
God truly does work all things for good, but more on that later. Anyway, I threw myself into this volunteer work; whenever I had any time, I was at the firehouse waiting for another call for help. Now came time to run away to college, and boy did I run.
No classwork for me, just partying and moving in with a senior who had her own place right away. After all, I wanted to play house and needed a mommy to take care of me. I think I went to 4 classes that first semester, but learned how to drink like a real college champ. So much so, that I threw a chair at her at a big gala while I was ridiculously under-aged drunk. I was always one to gain attention, even negative. Amazingly, that sweet girl stayed with me after she graduated.
I learned to fill out credit card applications and rack up bills that I would never pay, bankruptcy would come later, a week before my wedding. But college wasn’t for me, so I went and decided to become a paramedic so I could be a better rescuer, but also be in charge. I wanted everyone to respect my author-i-tie, as the great Eric Cartman would say. I also began to discover marijuana, which became my best friend for the next decade, or more.
I smoked pot every day through medic school and never cracked a book, but somehow squeaked by. And then came 9/11, the day I used as a scapegoat for using drugs, adultery, and many other awful things that I did after.
I walked onto Ground Zero at 11pm on that day, and what I saw was indescribable. The worst part was that there was no one to rescue. I spent a few days there, went home, and the substance abuse began taking over more. I took my final exam for medic school the next month, the day my girlfriend went to get an abortion, because why be there to support her when that day was about me? The selfishness and self-centeredness was running rampant.
After finishing medic school, I ran away to Florida; a new state, a new start would cure what ailed me. Geographic change would do it. What I didn’t know is that we take ourselves with us wherever we go.
And what I brought was a few of my parents’ dollars and the desire to get blitzed and numbed out After two months of mooching and spending my parents’ money, I drove home with my tail between my legs. Now, it was time to brush off that paramedic card and get a job. I was the youngest medic working in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Trenton, and I was full of attitude, ego, and drugs. I was a know-it-all who was scared to death. Essentially, I was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. So, now I needed another woman to take care of me and cater to my desires.
And then I found her; a great woman from a great family who had no idea what they were getting. I was great at putting on a show, and they bought the best seats in the house to the destruction of a man, a marriage, and a family. She married me and we were going to start a family. But, there was that gnawing itch that not enough sex, love, affection, or drugs would scratch. We moved out of state, I got a great county government dream job, and we bought a house.
The American Dream, but it was more like American Gothic. A week after closing, the county said “quit or be fired.” My attitude and unwillingness to adapt to their ways was not acceptable; I was acting like an entitled drug addict, but they just didn’t know I was actually getting high. What a great provider was I (insert sarcasm here). But in my mind, as long as she made me dinner, slept with me, and didn’t question where the money was going, all was well.
God has a sense of humor; my son was born on 4/20/08, for those “in the know.” Now, the pressures of being a dad were a new excuse to justify my drug abuse.
By this time, I graduated to painkillers and Xanax. And just 4 months later, I was back in Florida again, only this time, for rehab. I was the number 1 student in rehab, so much so that I deserved a medal. I was going to make it and be a new man in 28 days.
The night I arrived home, I went to an AA meeting, as I was told to do, and my buddy, Dave, saw me and said, “You aren’t gonna make it.” I angrily barked back at him, “I just completed rehab. I’m good.” He explained that I hadn’t experienced any consequence or enough pain yet.
My self-knowledge and inflated ego heard those words, but I didn’t listen. That attitude is what got me high again 3 weeks after arriving home to a supportive, but naïve, family who had no idea what my problem really was or how to deal with it. I was the great rescuer who saved people from the overdoses; never once did I consider that I was the one who needed saving.
The insanity continued, but now the pills weren’t enough, so I had to add in gambling and adultery to spice things up.
I just kept switching deck chairs on the Titanic, seeking a better seat on a sinking ship. All the while, a kind man named Vince began “talking” to me about Jesus again, and what a fight he had on his hands. Seems like once the “truth of God” started to be mentioned, my evil human desires came out even more. This man loved me, cared for me, and never gave up, even though the darkness got darker.
Now came a daughter, and a wife who was physically, mentally, and emotionally sick of me and my ways. The lies, the manipulating, and the stealing were adding up, and she was done. She was so broken that she couldn’t even utter the words for us to separate. It took her mother kicking me out of their home to remove me from her equation. Like any responsible man raising a family, moving in with the in-laws because of my inabilities is just par for the course, right?
This time, I was going to “work the program” and change so I could win her back. My goal was not to do it for me, but to get something tangible.
My intentions were not genuine, but selfish and manipulative. After 6 months of white-knuckling my sobriety and marriage counseling, the day came. She told me she couldn’t do this and wanted a divorce. I may have made it three hours before the self-destruction began again: drinking, smoking pot, and popping pills. I spent a few weeks in a fog of depression, all the while, still going to work and ”rescuing.”
As I left work on November 8th, I distinctly recall asking this “God” that I was learning of a very serious request: I wanted to die and was too afraid to kill myself, so could He perhaps have a bus hit me on the way home so the pain would end? As I traveled down Rio Grande Blvd 3 minutes later, BOOM! Some unknown vehicle slammed into me, and before I could blink, the other car was gone and I was there, alone, on the road.
Thankfully, I was uninjured, but the car was totaled, and no perpetrator was in sight. As I saw this as more evidence that there is in fact a God and he heard me, I checked into rehab #2 the next day. This time, I was a very compliant client and began to address my core issues. They told me to go to a halfway house to live with other recovering people, and I did that. I left treatment scared and not cocky at all. I was terrified to live in a house with 20 strangers, but I did it. I spent some time there over the winter attempting to change, but still on my terms.
I thought that maybe I could still get my wife back, but the divorce papers came and I signed them, reluctantly. I went back to my paramedic job and remained “clean” until July 4th, when I showed up to work high as a kite.
I was drug tested and fired. They also contacted the state and my certification in that state was revoked. Here I sat divorced, broke, and demoralized. I took a job in another area of medicine, where I remained bitter and finger pointing. I never took the time to look in the mirror and see that it was me. I was the problem. I continued this ways until I was fired again a year later. Then came the day I said would never come.
After I couldn’t afford painkillers on the street, someone said, “Try this bag, it’s cheaper.” I rationalized, as any good addict does, as long as I don’t use a needle, I’ll be fine. Two or three weeks later, in the dead of winter, I overdosed on Heroin in a car.
And talk about humbling, the paramedic who gave me Narcan was an old partner. They took me to the hospital, but I was high again 2 hours later. When my mother found needles in the trash can a week later, I checked into detox, again. I spent two weeks there, and it was now time to really do this for me.
I went to meetings, prayed, got a sponsor, and worked the program. At this point, I thought I could take a full-time job in an office, part-time medic job in another state, and be a full-time college.
As I said, “I thought;” this is the big problem since the addiction lies in my thinking, so if my thinking is broken, I cannot rationally think my way out. And, of course, these choices proved deadly again. Whatever one puts before his recovery, he will lose.
It wasn’t long until I showed up to my part-time paramedic job high on Heroin and drove an ambulance. My boss caught me and called my sponsor, who drove up to my job and said, “I love you and will see you when you get out of jail, but I will not protect you from these consequences.” By God’s grace, I didn’t go to jail, but I did have to make a decision. It was either keep going and die soon, jail, or surrender.
The fight was over and I landed in treatment for the third time in Florida. I finally had conceded that my way of living was destroying me and everyone around me. I wasn’t welcome to come back to the safe haven of Mom and Dad’s anymore and had to do whatever was offered or suggested.
I took the suggestion to stay 1000 miles away to save my life, and it is the best choice I ever made. I moved into a halfway, took a low paying job to learn humility, heck another state revoked my medic card after the Heroin incident, so I had no choice but to start from scratch.
I did only what those who had found peace suggested and got to the root of my issues. I wanted to live and take off the backpack of rocks that I carried around for all of my life. It was time to address these issues and lay them down once and for all. I truly know that God exists and He loves me. I am learning to live with who He says I am, and not who I thought I was. The only answer is through Him who created me.
I now have a greater relationship with my family, my ex-wife, and my kids. I sleep peacefully at night, and the desire to go back to my old ways is gone. I have begun making amends to those I have hurt. I show up to work clear-headed with a new servant heart. God has blessed me to work in treatment centers so I can share my experience with others who suffer, lack living skills, and hurt everyone they know. There is a way, my brothers and sisters, and it is in surrendering to the creator.
That Jesus I heard of when I was young is alive and the bridge that carries me over the river of humiliation, suicide, and pain to become the one who does his best work with those who come to the end of themselves. When the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change, that is when we ask for help and He will answer.
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