Episode 1: Hart Bothwell - Youth, divorce, music & drugs

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Hart Bothwell is a singer/songwriter that grew in an upper-middle-class suburb south of San Francisco who now drives for Uber & Lyft driver in North Carolina. At an early age, he was forced to deal with the divorce, depression, and social anxiety that lead him to an opioid addiction which almost ruined his life. Hart bravely and openly walks us down his path into and out of addiction and explains how his sense of self, relationships, and love for music have been shaped by his struggles and recovery.



SEASON 2 // EPISODE 3 TRANSCRIPT

Benjamin:

Hello listeners, and welcome back to the second season of the A Long Road Home podcast. My name is Ben Shapiro, and I'm the host and producer of A Long Road Home. This podcast is a series of real world stories from the people behind the apps that you use every day. Before we get started in this episode, I owe you an apology. I published the first episode of this season roughly four months ago thinking that I would have time to edit the full season within a short period of time. As it turns out, taking on a new day job and raising a young child was a little more time consuming than I might have expected, and here we are in 2018. I'm sorry that it's taken me this long for you to hear how this season's story finishes, but that said, I'll be sure to have the whole story edited before I start publishing our next season. Thank you for sticking with us.

 

 

Delays aside, thank you, and to refresh your memory, or for those of you who are joining us for the first time, season two of A Long Road Home is a story about sex, drugs and rock and roll. This story hits close to home for me, personally, because it's about Hart Bothwell, who grew up in my hometown. Hart is a singer-songwriter that grew up in an upper middle class suburb of San Francisco. He's dealt with an issue that has touched millions of lives across this country, opiod abuse. In the first episode of this season, Hart walked us through how he internalized his parents' complicated divorce, which sparked the social anxiety that led him both into his love for music and his experimentation with drugs and alcohol.

 

 

At the end of the last episode, Hart told us about how he had enrolled at a junior college in Los Angeles, which is where he first tried Oxycontin. In this episode, we'll hear Hart tell us about how his experimentation grew into a full fledged addiction, and how that affected his relationships with his family and his love for music. I hope you enjoy listening to this episode of the A Long Road Home podcast, and don't worry, we've already edited the next episode, so you won't have to wait a full four months before you hear how the story ends. Here's a preview of what we'll discuss today.

 

Hart:

Because your body suddenly feels no pain, your psychological state, it proves you're happy. I didn't care about whatever consequences there may be. I got into hip hop and started making beats. Bad relationships would make my heart just get more and more cold. The only way I've heard to get it is to go into the Tenderloin in San Francisco. He's like, "Come on. Follow me this way." Which is never a good thing. I did, because sometimes it works out. Very momentarily, he knocked me out. They have the undercover car and they roll up. "Oh, this can't be good," because this means I'm here to stay. I really thought, for a very short period of time, that I was scared straight. Every cell in your body's screaming for more Oxys when you're not on it. Eventually you get to the point where you're either high or you're looking for drugs. They worried about me, but they didn't know how to talk to me. Because I was hiding my life, I started stealing money from them. I didn't play my guitar, didn't make beats. It was gone, I was gone.

 

Benjamin:

Let me ask a little bit more about why the feeling of Oxycontin had such a profound impact on you. Because my understanding of Oxycontin is it's supposed to be a pain killer.

 

Hart:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

But I know that a lot of people use it. Essentially, it has a psychological effect as well. Tell me how that works.

 

Hart:

Well, it's a painkiller, and it doesn't have a psychological effect the same way that like mushrooms does, where literally you start thinking reality is something that it isn't. It's like reality stays exactly the same, but because your body suddenly feels no pain, your psychological state, it proves you're happy, because everything is right within your body. Similar to after you've gone on a good, long run and you're drinking water afterwards, or something. It's just a great feeling. It's like euphoria. Your mind is like positive, you're upbeat.

 

 

It's not like weed either. It's different from weed. It's very just straight to the source of what you're feeling physically and just fixes all that, or covers it all up. I had a lot of unchecked emotional pain just pent up inside me, in my chest and shoulders. That was just who I was, but I didn't know I carried it around, but I did because I'm a super sensitive introspective person. I'm not that person that lets things brush off me and stuff. I'm learning to do that now, but traditionally I didn't do that. So I just kept it all, and it was just a cure for all for that.

 

Benjamin:

If I had to paraphrase what you're saying back, the emotional anxiety that you had, that sort of started when you were a kid, and sort of stuck around through the awkward high school and middle school years, created physical tension, and then the Oxycontin sort of released that physical pain, because you'd essentially been tense for 20 years, or 15 years, or however long it is.

 

Hart:

Right. Exactly. My experiences in life just reinforced that tenseness of anxiety. Like my relationship experiences were just always painful because I didn't know how to handle them, and I didn't know what a good relationship was supposed to be or feel like. So every one I was in always ended badly. One way or the other it ended badly. It was just like a huge misunderstanding, everything. It was always that way, and it compounded the pain I felt inside [inaudible 00:06:11].

 

Benjamin:

So you discover Oxycontin, which feels like a solution?

 

Hart:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

Okay.

 

Hart:

I think I wasn't full blown addicted right then, but I knew that this was a powerful, transformative thing, and didn't care about whatever consequences there may be or what side effects, because I just felt like I was young and whatever, I need to do it, and this is my thing that I need to have. So I didn't go out and look for it the next day or anytime soon after that, but anytime friends of mine would have it, I would definitely jump at the chance to take it. Every time, it was like the same great feeling.

 

 

That was at the end of college. Again, the same thing that happened at the end of high school happened at the end of college, where you're supposed to have done something in college and then have a plan for your life. Like, what are you going to do for a job? I was like I didn't know I was supposed to do that in college. I didn't even know what I was supposed to do in college. I didn't even know why I was there. Now I don't know what I'm supposed to do now, so I'm just going to move back home in my parents' place and see what happens, I guess. I have no plan whatsoever.

 

Benjamin:

Were you playing music still?

 

Hart:

I was playing music. Actually, I got into hip hop a lot, and started making beats on the computer more. Me and my friend started making some rap songs, and we'd get good responses. They were like really raunchy, and kind of like shock value songs, like you do it for the big shocking thing and then that would make it memorable.

 

Benjamin:

Who were some of your influences?

 

Hart:

Well, Eminem at the time. Obviously, Eminem was huge. Nas, the typical guys. I was really into Wu Tang. Ghostface was very influential. Jay-Z, a little later I got into him. Wu Tang was huge, though. But Eminem, I think, as a white dude, it was weird. Like, what am I supposed to do to rap? I have nothing to say. I'm not from some hood or something, or I haven't had some upbringing like lots of these great rappers talk about. So I think the instinct is, go for the shock value and talk about partying and sex, or whatever, because that's something. You're definitely not supposed to be emo, that's not appealing. That's what I was thinking. If you're going to rap, don't be emo and talk about your relationships and stuff. Don't be vulnerable. Looking back now, when I was in ... Some of the greatest rappers, they're being incredibly vulnerable, but I guess I didn't see it that way at the time.

 

 

So that was kind of like what was happening. The rap started happening, and bad relationships would kind of make my heart just get more and more cold, and I think I was becoming more angry, angry towards women. Just kind of being more of a dick. Like, "Women have never been nice to me," sort of thing. I wasn't like a complete asshole, just kind of like a indignant prick, that's what I was turning into. Something similar to what Eminem presented himself to be in his raps. "I just don't give a fuck." That was kind of like a protection for my feelings. If I just become hard emotionally, I won't get hurt anymore, have to deal with it, and I'll just do drugs. Somehow, some way, I'll be okay. Because I just didn't understand how people got through life. Being vulnerable, it's just way too hard. I don't get it. So there has to be something. That was kind of the direction I was going to, and I was actually getting pretty good at making beats over time. Some of our rap songs were pretty funny, pretty good.

 

Benjamin:

Do you remember any of the lyrics?

 

Hart:

Yeah. I can't say them. I don't know.

 

Benjamin:

This isn't going on the radio.

 

Hart:

Okay. My friend Sam was way better. He did the funniest lyrics. One that always sticks in my head is, "I always talk to my girlfriend after sex, and if I don't have my cellphone, then I call her collect." Anyway, it was a funny line.

 

Benjamin:

I get it. I get it.

 

Hart:

Just stuff like that. Like, "We're crazy people, and we don't care about anybody's feelings, and we do drugs."

 

Benjamin:

Okay. So you start making beats?

 

Hart:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

You're getting through college, and then all the sudden you've got to go through another life transition. You discovered Oxycontin and it's a casual hobby, but it's your vice of choice.

 

Hart:

Yeah. Moving back to the Bay Area, it definitely doesn't start out like huge, it's just more like somebody has it sometimes, I would do it. Then at some point it was like, "I have to start getting this." Apparently, the only way I've heard to get it is to go into the Tenderloin in San Francisco, which was kind of scary at the time to think about.

 

Benjamin:

I could tell you, living in San Francisco now, going in the Tenderloin to buy prescription drugs is still scary.

 

Hart:

Really?

 

Benjamin:

Not that I do it. I could tell you it's probably not the safest thing to do.

 

Hart:

Yeah. I had some bad experiences. It's weird how you become numb to it after you keep doing it. Anyway, out of desperation and a budding addiction, I built up the courage to just start doing that.

 

Benjamin:

Tell me about some of the experiences that you have. What sticks out in your mind?

 

Hart:

There's a few things. So buying drugs is hard to do. There's a lot of people who don't have what you want but they try to act like they do, so you don't know who to trust. Sometimes people take you on wild goose chases. If you find somebody that you trust, and you know has what you want every time, like he's not going to lie to you, then you're going to be pretty loyal to them.

 

 

One time I was in the Tenderloin and I didn't see anybody I knew, but some guy claimed to have Oxys. He's a big dude. He's like, "Yeah, come on. Follow me this way." Which is never a good thing. I did, because sometimes it works out. Then, as I'm walking behind him, as he's leading me to where we want to do the deal, I see this couple who are a drug dealing couple, and I know them and I trust them, they always come through. So I see them and I'm like, "Sorry, I'm just going to go with them." I say that to the other drug dealer. Say, "I'm just going to go with these guys because I like them, I know them." He didn't like that at all, that pissed him off. He started yelling at me, and I yelled back, and the next thing I know I got clocked in the face. Like it just came out of nowhere, and my whole ... My mind went blank, like it was just black.

 

Benjamin:

Did he knock you out?

 

Hart:

Very momentarily he knocked me out, because it was black, and then I woke up, and then people were screaming. [inaudible 00:12:34] friend drug dealers were like, "Get out of here, Hart." I'm like, "Oh shit. Walk me back to my car." Anyway, I got out of there, and I hope everybody else was okay. I didn't know how it ended. Those people were cool to me though. The definitely protected me in that moment. Looking back, it should have been a very scary situation, but at the time, when you are in that drug addicted state of mind, it's a one track mind, and you'll do anything for it, so that eliminates your fear, because you're so desperate. I wasn't really afraid, it was just more like it was shocking. That's just a memorable thing. Then a few times, got arrested, and that's a huge ordeal. That's scary.

 

Benjamin:

Tell me a little bit about that. You're hanging out in the Tenderloin, trying to score some pills, and the cops roll up?

 

Hart:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

That simple?

 

Hart:

Yeah. To have that undercover car, and they roll up and they see the transaction go down, and the drug dealer runs one way, runs off, then I run too, but I kind of halfheartedly. I'm like, am I really going to run from the cops? I'm not used to this type of thing, I haven't done it before so I just kind of stopped. They approached me. I didn't know any of the protocol, like that could help you with whatever, so I just basically admitted everything that I did and then they arrested me and took me to jail in San Francisco, on Bryant Street.

 

 

I had no idea what was going to happen, they didn't tell you anything. They just process you and get you in that orange jumpsuit thing. I was there for like a day and a half. It wasn't that long. But it's like they don't tell you what's going to happen. I just remember there's this lady processing me. She's like, "Do you have any contacts?" I was like, "Yeah." I told her that I lived with my mom. But I was like, "Don't call her." She's like, "Good. She doesn't deserve to hear about this." I was like, thank god she's not going to call my mom. So that happened, and then they just let me out after a day and a half.

 

Benjamin:

So you're just sitting in the county jail with everybody they pick up, and no idea how long it takes, no idea what the process is, you're just chilling on a bench next to a bunch of other people that got arrested that day?

 

Hart:

Yeah. They put you in one cell, you're there for a few hours, then they put you in another. One holding cell after another. I think I was in like three. Then they finally move you to the main jail. So you don't know what the hell's happening. You think each time you move it could be good thing and then a bad thing. When they moved me into the main jail, I had my own bunk and stuff. I was like, oh, this can't be good, because this means I'm here to stay or something.

 

Benjamin:

This looks permanent.

 

Hart:

Yeah. It's looks like something ... Like this is going to be really bad for me. But it wasn't. They just let me out for whatever reason. I think they just wanted to scare me. I really thought, for a very short period of time, that I was scared straight, like I dodged a bullet. When I got out, my friend, who is also kind of addicted, picked me up, and we were like, "We're never going to do it again, man." Then, I don't know how long after that, but it wasn't too long, it was like right back into it. It's just crazy, man. It was a different life that I was living back then, think back now.

 

Benjamin:

So outside of the times that you're trying to get Oxy, are you on it all of the time, or is it a nights and weekends? What's the habit and how are you able to function, and what else do you do with your time?

 

Hart:

Well, when it starts off, it seems like it enhances everything, so it's kind of nights and weekends or maybe once every two weeks or something. That's when it starts off and it feels like, oh, this makes me cooler. Once again, similar to alcohol, it just makes me more chill and I can make music better. But then after a certain point you cross this line where you start doing once a week, then twice a week, then, sure enough, after a certain point you start feeling the withdrawal effects where your body has built up a tolerance and now it's accustomed to having it so when it doesn't have it, it gets really ... You get in a lot of pain, and it gets worse and worse. Every cell in your body is screaming for more Oxys when you're not on it, and that scream for more just gets worse and worse. Eventually, over the course of a few years, I got to the point where I was doing it every day, spending hundreds of dollars, buy like $500 a week, on Oxys.

 

Benjamin:

How are you funding $500 a week in drug habits?

 

Hart:

I was working at the airport, at a cargo airline, for a while, and it was crazy job, working graveyard shift, and just work, work, work. Then, I worked as a janitor in a Jewish temple in San Francisco. So, yeah, I had money.

 

Benjamin:

You're still living at home?

 

Hart:

No. At a certain patient, me and my friend moved to San Francisco and had got an apartment. We were kind of in it together, and we would always tell each other, "We just get jobs and get our act together, we'll be cool." Or like even, as long as I have the job and I'm supporting myself I could do whatever I want. I quit for a month, it'd be hell, and I'd get right back into it. When I got back into it, it was like worse than ever.

 

 

Eventually I get to the point where you're either high or you're looking for drugs, and you have no time to do anything else. I still went to work, but I was high most of the time, and if I was withdrawaling, or if I was dope sick, then I wasn't really any good at work. But the nature of my job, as a janitor, I could hide out a lot. So it got to the point where it was like I had no money, really, and every dollar I had went to buying drugs or just buying minimal amounts of food. Eventually, I couldn't afford to pay rent so I moved back home. I was always surprised ... I think my parents were just like hope for the best. But I'd come up with some excuse why I was moving home, and they're just kind of like, "All right."

 

Benjamin:

When you say home, your parents have split, so who are you actually living with?

 

Hart:

I was living with my mom because my dad moved to the East Bay. So I was living with my mom and stepdad in Burlingame.

 

Benjamin:

Okay. What was your relationship with them at the time?

 

Hart:

I don't know. I think they were worried about me, but they didn't know how to talk to me and I didn't know how to talk to them. They were always just as nice as they could be, buying me dinner, making me dinner, and being supportive. I just remember being this detachment, like no communication, because I was hiding my life.

 

Benjamin:

Do you think they knew that you had a substance problem, or did they just think you were introverted and not sharing your life?

 

Hart:

My mom said she knew something was weird. It was very what was polite and nice, and I wasn't ... It was kind of like a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hide thing. On one side of things I was always like Mr. Nice Guy, so I think they just worried about me, but they're like, "Well, he's not a bad dude." They had their own life to live. But then, sure enough, I started stealing money from them, and it just became out of control, the addiction. I couldn't stop it. I felt horrible about it, but at the time, it felt like there was no choice so that's what I did. Whatever loose change I could get, whatever money, any cash I could get, I would take, because I needed it.

 

Benjamin:

Now at this point, you have a drug addiction, it owns your life a little bit.

 

Hart:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Benjamin:

Do you still play music at all?

 

Hart:

I stopped for like two years. It was weird. It became strange. Like I didn't play my guitar, didn't make beats. I was just there. I always had the intention of getting back to it, and I would like attempt to do it, but then everything became like ... When I was withdrawaling, I couldn't do anything. I physically couldn't muster the strength to do it. Then when I was high, everything was too foggy to really focus on something like music. It was gone, I was gone. My interests were gone.

 

 

One of the worst consequences of becoming a drug addict is you stop caring about anything, about life. You forget what's so great about life to begin with. Like a sunny day is just as good as a rainy day, it doesn't matter, it's all the same. Anybody who's happy in your life, you can't feel happy for them. You just think they're full of shit because you've lost touch with that life force. You're just so single minded. Like getting high, that's all there is. That's the level it gets to. Then it can get even darker than it did, for a lot of people it does. But I think for me, that was the worst, where it was just like, "I don't get what's so great about life anymore. What's there to love?"

 

Benjamin:

Okay, so we're going to stop here for today. I hope that you found this part of Hart's story interesting. In our next episode, Hart is going to tell us about the circumstances that lead him to face his drug addiction, his recovery, and how he rebuilt his relationships with his friends, family and his passion for music. As always, thanks to our editor, [inaudible 00:21:34], Robert [Thomkinsons 00:21:35] from Pulse, and of course, you, our listeners. If you'd like to discuss this podcast we've created a Twitter handle, which is LongRoadHomePod. That's @LongRoadHomePod, four words. So you can send us any other thoughts or questions that you may have. Also, we'd really appreciate it if you would take a minute to rate this podcast in iTunes. We'll be back very soon with more of Hart's story, and in the meantime, take care of each other.