First Person: Joseph’s Story

Photo by Nathan McBride / Unsplash

My story is kind of long and complicated, but the best place to start is in Iowa City, around 2011/2012. I transferred there from Iowa State University, because of the famous Writer’s Workshop, and I had made the recent decision to pursue my passion as a writer.

But that year at the University of Iowa was the loneliest I had ever been up to that point in my life. I was miserable. I couldn’t understand what I was doing in college. I hated school. I was a horrible student. I remember thinking I had not the slightest desire to pursue many more years as a student or as  a middle school or high school English teacher. Therefore, graduate school was out of the question. And the thing was, my coworkers at the job I hated, delivering linen at the University hospital, were all English major graduates. I questioned the worth of accumulating tens of thousands of dollars of debt just so I could work the same job I could have had without the diploma. Sure, my coworker was working on a Sci-Fi novel on the side, but I wanted to be a legitimate success, I didn’t want to have to struggle all my life just to make ends meet.

I decided to drop out of college. My plan was to move to Los Angeles once I saved enough money and become a professional screenwriter. But that didn’t happen. I had some good things happen, like an internship for a local artist, but eventually I found myself out of a job and in credit card debt. So, I worked in factories for a temp agency, absolutely hating the work and hating my life. I grew bitter and angry. I decided to finish college at the University of Minnesota, since nothing else seemed like a better idea.

I suffered tremendous anxiety as a returning college student. I thought the other students would find out what a loser I was, someone who couldn’t even get a single date. I developed this sort of recurring delusion that the other students thought I would become a school shooter, because it was happening all the time on the news.

Anyway, I graduated but I still found myself working in factories. I became especially angry at my extended family of close family, and my friend’s grandparents who had promised to pay for a part of my college education but didn’t see my wish to become a progressional filmmaker worthy to believe in or help. I was very, very angry. I felt the victim of other people’s desire to seem generous and charitable but secretly their only desire was to appear that way publicly, and to me it felt like they were being insanely cruel.

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I started getting into physical fights with my brother and stepdad and nasty arguments with my mother. I felt hopeless. One day when I got a letter in the mail telling me I was ordered to go to court for a physical confrontation I got into with my little brother when he generously decided to call the police. I got extremely angry with my mom because she took my brother’s side and one thing led to another and I pushed her.

I went to jail. I lost contact with my family. I was homeless. I had a restraining order between me and everything that was my life. I got diagnosed with schizophrenia, and I started attending mental health court (MHC) to save my own life.

I had been addicted to marijuana for years. It’s how I had fun with my group of friends, but sometimes paranoia would come on and it would be horrible. For mental health court I had to get sober, and I found that the hardest thing to do.

I went through years of my life suffering, as lonely as a dog. That’s when I tried meth for the first time. It all seemed so oddly timed that it felt to me  like it was a setup. My neighbor introduced me to this gangster who carried a gun, and he offered some to me and I was so low I said yes.

I spent that Christmas in the psychiatric hospital for making suicidal remarks on Facebook. Trust me, you would have felt the same way if you were in my shoes. But when I got released, I sobered up and did the best I could and graduated from mental health court. But that was only the beginning of my problems.

The people I met while I was in the system were all addicts. My best friend became a heavy meth user and out of loneliness and pain I tried to move in with him. He revealed himself shortly to be a sociopath, playing cruel mind games and getting physically violent, so I ran back to my assisted living apartment in South St. Paul.

The timing was so odd it felt like a plan, but I was reintroduced to an old acquaintance, and he introduced me to a homeless guy named Wes. We became the best of buddies over several many months, smoking meth and acting out scenes from my screenplay. I let Wes secretly live with me, I shared my food with him, and we would listen to music and sing along.

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But my family broached an idea for a way out of this life. If I was to spend a year attending the inpatient long-term program at MN Adult and Teen Challenge, they would reinstate contact between myself and my mom. So, I did it, and I was sober for two years. I started talking to my mom again, and my suffering was significantly lessened.

My plan was to go to film school at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) because it was the best way to pursue my dream. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it sooner. So, I moved to a residence for people with mental illness in Minneapolis. But I didn’t realize there would be meth use there, and after two years of sobriety I relapsed.

Things have gotten to the point where I am somewhat functioning. I am doing the best I can at my job and at school, but when I’m withdrawing from my drug I can barely function. It’s terrible. I wouldn’t wish it on my worse enemy. I have got an amazing support team of social workers and medical and mental health experts to help me achieve all I want to. But the drug addiction remains a problem.

When summer hits, my plan is to return to MN Adult and Teen Challenge and do the short-term inpatient treatment. I’m scared and worried about what the future holds. It’s the days that I’m without my drug that I suffer the most. I’m hoping that I can quit this drug for good the second time around by this summer, but I’m not totally sure how things will play out. I can only hope and pray to God for help. It’s His plan, and I’m just playing a small part.


Please send your 1st Person story to phoenix@thephoenixspirit.com. We’ll connect with you if we choose to publish your piece in a future issue. Thank you.

Last Updated on January 24, 2022

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