Willie James: JUST LOST

The first time I experimented with cocaine, I didn’t get addicted. I just said no after a short while. The second time … not so much. The funny thing is that everybody knew about the first time, and not that many people knew about the second time even though it was a much more serious problem. That’s because I didn’t get caught. Nothing got in the papers about it. My life was coming apart. I didn’t feel good about anything. I don’t know how many people get to that point in their life when they’re just numb and they’re trying to do anything to block it out. I was there, and I went to cocaine because I knew it would make me feel good – even though I also knew it wasn’t the answer. But I didn’t care. It wasn’t about whether it was right or wrong. I was using it to block out the numbness, and that just leads you to using it more. When you’re doing it, you’re not thinking about anybody else. The only person you’re thinking about is yourself. I didn’t just snort it. Sometimes I smoked it. Sometimes I snorted it. Sometimes it was just whatever was available because I didn’t care. I really didn’t.

This was in 1999, I think. My life was in such a mess that I just didn’t care. When you don’t care, you don’t care about anything. The drug is telling you, Come hang out with me. Nobody understands you like me. You wake up in the morning thinking about it. Everything else means less. Everything else doesn’t matter. You’re sleeping all frickinday because you have been up all night. You get up, and it’s almost afternoon or evening and you’re going to go back to what you were doing. People who knew about it were trying to talk to me sensibly, reasonably – I’m talking about my wife, even my mom She had seen how disgusting I had become, how distracted I was, how small I was getting because I was losing weight. It was just really, really crappy. And you are always thinking about stuff going on in your life, and then you get really emotional about it. And you’re not doing the normal things in life.

One day, I needed some cash, so I went to a casino to use the ATM and get some money on a credit card. Then, I messed around and went to a gas station to get gas. You are paranoid about everything. At the gas station, this lady rolled up beside me in a truck. She looked at me and she just shook her head side to side. That was sort of the thing that was the last straw. That’s when I thought the police knew what I was doing. Shortly after that I told myself I either better get some help or go to jail, and I didn’t want to go to jail. I decided I had put people through enough. I had treated everybody badly enough. At some point – I don’t even remember when – I just said I have had enough. I had felt sorry for myself enough. I had made it so bad I didn’t know if I could get my marriage back together. So, one day, late at night I was out and driving around, paranoid about everything. And I just drove myself to the emergency room at Shawnee Mission Medical Center and checked myself in. I didn’t even know if they had a drug program I just knew it was a hospital, and hospitals were supposed to help you. So, I went there, checked myself in and they sent me all the way upstairs. I probably slept for two days.

I don’t really remember how Catherine knew. Either I called her or they called her to tell her where I was and that I was checking myself in. I don’t know if she was relieved or not. I think she had already moved on mentally, but she came up and did all the stuff you need to do and talk about and all that kind of stuff. But this was really for me. It wasn’t for her or for anyone else. This was all for me. You end up losing things you don’t want to lose. But in the end, you get yourself back. The funny part of this was I was there for a week or so, and this other guy comes in – this young kid. So, I’m here going through all my stuff, and this kid’s mother is asking me to talk to him. She recognized me and knew who I was and she asked me to talk to him. I talked to the kid, trying to help him get back. But that was really hard because I was going through what I was going through. After I got out of Shawnee Mission I felt like everyone who looked at me knew that I had been abusing drugs. It didn’t matter to me then because what else could they do to me, and I didn’t care. I think I went to about four or five weeks as an outpatient. That was very helpful because you would have meetings with other people. And it wasn’t just dudes off the street. I was in sessions with people with money, people who would be blasted if they had been in the paper like I was every day. But they were just trying to get their lives together.

The thing that helped me the most didn’t happen until a couple of years later when Catherine moved our family up to Canada. So, I went to Canada after the 2002 minor league season. I got away from everybody. I didn’t know anybody up there. It was easier because I was only around people who didn’t know me, who weren’t making any real judgments. When you are sober and healthy you see things a lot more clearly. When I do my clinics now or do my speaking engagements, I talk about the drugs. It’s not something that I talk about with great enthusiasm, but it is something I talk about because I want them to know that we all go through bad stuff. It is either forced on us or we force it on ourselves. We all go through bad stuff. The key is you can come out of it. That’s the key to me. You have to be able to accept what people have to say about you – and it’s mostly going to be bad. I’m happy most of the time, about 95 percent of the time. I’m never 100 percent at accepting what people have to say about me. After I got out of rehab and was coaching with the Diamondbacks in 2001 and 2002 people were still bringing things up and reminding me. And sometimes a GM or somebody would look at you sort of funny, like they could pick up the tell-tale signs. But I have been able to come to grips with it since 2004 or 2005.

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