By: Darrah S.

“Did I mention to you how I became blind in my right eye?” Oleg G. asks, about midway through our interview. I shake my head. He tells me that on his way to Palm Springs in the middle of the night, he was punching himself repeatedly in the face to avoid falling asleep on the road. He was high on meth, he says, but not high enough–he was coming down, exhaustion tugging him towards slumber. Punch after punch, Oleg rejected its advances.

The initial plan was to go to rehab in Palm Springs, but somehow he found himself soliciting drugs in a casino instead. Having just been released from prison, he tells me he was feeling like a bona fide “gangster”. But the would-be dealers robbed him at gunpoint and left him in the middle of the desert.

You might be surprised to hear that until the age of 32, Oleg G. was a prosperous business owner and self-described “square” living a traditional nuclear family lifestyle. By the age of 24, he was the married father of two children and a licensed optometric technician. He regarded alcohol with indifference and had never touched any other substances, not even marijuana. In his early thirties, he hired a personal trainer, which would ultimately turn out to be the worst decision of his life.

During their first session, Oleg’s personal trainer gave him meth. It made him feel like superman, and he immediately bought in. “Why am I getting so sick?” Oleg asked his personal trainer after the meth was gone at the end of the week. “Just get another bump,” his trainer advised. And Oleg did, utilizing his store’s younger customers to find connections to dealers and keep himself supplied.

It was all downhill from there. His friends, square as they were, tried to be supportive but were quickly in over their heads. He agreed several times to go to rehab but always fled within hours. His wife threatened to leave him and take the kids if he could not straighten out within a year. “At the time, I just didn’t care,” he says. At the end of that year, she took the kids and left. Oleg proceeded to continue his meth binge for the next 8 years.

He doubts this would have been possible if he had not been sitting on a large sum of money that enabled him to lounge around getting high in perpetuity. Or at least until he decided that gambling was the only cure to the boredom he eventually started to feel. Within 8 months of starting his gambling bender, he’d lost everything he had, which amounted to around 1.7 million dollars. Speaking about the casino, Oleg expresses how the atmosphere was utterly transfixing. “I would never leave, it was the illusion of lights, and being high – I’d just go to my room, smoke more, come back down…I would never sleep, I was just like this superhero.”

It was around this time that Oleg’s dealer asked him for a ride to the bank. He tells me he wasn’t aware that his dealer was planning on robbing it until after the fact, but using meth logic, Oleg was on board. The duo went on a two-day bank-robbing spree, and Oleg says googling his name will produce results such as “tri-city bandit”. It was only a couple of days before he was arrested for this, and he served a little over 5 years in prison.

Oleg’s time in prison is blurry to him now. “When you’re in it, it’s like the end of the world, but when you look back: ‘okay, it’s over’.” What he knows is that the only thing keeping him together at that time, his motivational lifeline, was his kids. He agonized over not being present for their teenage years, and throughout his sentence, swore himself to sobriety. His regret was absolute, he would not make this mistake again.

He got out of prison and used “like, immediately,” he says. He bought an eight ball from his halfway house, bought a car, and started driving to Palm Springs that very night. Not only did he blind himself in his right eye and get robbed, but unfortunately also served another 8 months in prison for violating the terms of his release. This time, he was done with meth. The writing on the walls was clear, Oleg thought to himself. When he got out this time, he drove straight to the casino. Over those past 8 months, he’d managed to save about 800 dollars. Within a few seconds, it was gone. Now he had quite literally nothing.

When Oleg finally managed to get back to Los Angeles, he told himself, “Wow, that was terrible. But at least I didn’t use meth.” 15 minutes later, he bumped into an old acquaintance who got him high. “I went to the emergency room, I saw the bugs in my car, I went nuts,” he tells me as if reading from a grocery list. Just your run of the mill meth stuff.

He’d survived the meth-induced psychosis and swarms of hallucinated bugs, but standing on Hollywood Boulevard in his paper hospital garments, Oleg realized his situation was grim. “It was either die or call somebody,” he recounts. When Beit T’Shuvah accepted him, he didn’t leave within an hour. He stayed for a year.

Oleg has had a relapse since then but recalls that his relapse helped him to recognize that meth nowadays doesn’t even make him feel euphoric. On the contrary, he felt like garbage. The shaking, the inability to talk, the nausea. Like all long-term drug addictions, the highs just continue to get lower over time.

He’s been sober three years now and is grateful to have a loving and open relationship with his daughter and son, both in their 20s. He currently works as an overnight program facilitator for Beit T’Shuvah, but he’s in school to become a drug and alcohol counselor. Having run the gamut in addiction experiences, from criminality to gambling to feverish drug fiending, he says “I think it’s just my calling.” If there’s one thing Oleg feels that has come out of his life, it’s a hell of a lot of compassion, empathy, and understanding for others in recovery. He knows what it’s like to lie in the gutter while people spit or avert their eyes. “You have to go through the pain to know the suffering of others,” Oleg tells me. Sometimes even the worst things in life can end up somehow becoming gifts.