Battling personal demons
Rural Peshtigo man attempts to kick drug, alcohol addictions
Sunday, September 15, 2013 7:00 PM
A song that touches our souls lives inside our memories. It's like a photograph capturing one moment in time. We remember where we were, the lives that we were living, the people we were close to when we hear the familiar chords.
Josh Lucas (right) performs with his band, Lounge Act, Thursday at the Ogden Club in Menominee. Lucas is battling alcohol and various drug addictions. He has been clean and sober for several months and has recently released a song on YouTube - “The death wish of a so-called town” - that deals with drug addiction. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
That's what music can do. It can mark time, explain a feeling, share a loss. It can be powerful and it can calm.
Josh Lucas has many songs in his mind. Songs he has written, songs he has played, songs he remembers from his 31 years on this earth.
But perhaps the most powerful song for him - right now, right in this time and space - is a song he wrote in the past few weeks. It is a song that is his anthem for the addiction that controlled his life and has destroyed so many other people.
"The death wish of a so-called town," Lucas' song, made its debut on YouTube Sept. 4. It's not the first time he posted a song there, and is unlikely to be the last. But what makes this song different is that Lucas wrote it to share not only his demons, but those which blanket this rural area - and claim the lives of so many.
Heroin addiction, cocaine addiction. Opiates, adderall, pot, crack, presciption drugs and more - these have all been a part of his life.
And don't forget alcohol. Lucas will tell you it is his "drug" of choice.
Lucas, who lives in rural Peshtigo with his mom and stepfather, will tell you that alcohol has been his constant companion since he was young. He will also talk openly about his addictions, which started with huffing gasoline when he was just 10 or 11.
"I drank for the first time at a girlfriend's house ... I was depressed and I drank it by the glassful. Nine hours later, I was in a coma with severe alcohol poisoning."
He was 14 or 15 years old.
His mother, Mary Lucas, grounded him. He was homeschooled, but both parents worked. So Lucas still drank. "They would search my room and there were bottles filled with liquor," he said of his parents. "I had older friends who would buy it for me."
Lucas calls himself an "every day binge drinker."
"The last 15 years of my life, that's already half my life, I've drank almost every day," he admits.
But not anymore.
In May, he stopped the drinking, he stopped the drugs - he even stopped smoking.
People who know him hardly recognize the new Josh. Those who love him, and there are many, celebrate this sober man with caution. After all, they have known the addicted Josh much longer.
"I've known him for 17 years," said Lucas' friend and bandmate, Jeff Tardiff. "When we were teenagers it wasn't every day, but he was never sober in his 20s."
Tardiff, Lucas and Dave Porter formed their group, Lounge Act, about 13 years ago. They played local venues and had a strong following. But when drugs and alcohol became more important to Lucas, the band suffered.
Lucas, who had added marijuana to his life at 15-16, "found" vicodin and cocaine when he was 18. Then came heroin.
"I didn't even know it was in town," he said of the drug. And the addict who said he "would never do heroin or stick a needle in me," did it.
His heroin addiction started with snorting lines, which gradually got longer and longer because of his tolerance. "I saw them (other friends) shoot up and I didn't think I was getting high enough, so one day a had a friend do a rig up for me because I wanted to try it."
He was snorting, smoking and injecting cocaine, but heroin was what took over.
"I'd do it a couple of times a day - to wake up and to go to sleep," he said. While heroin may be one of the cheapest drugs available, it becomes expensive when you are using it multiple times a day. "The only way to really (afford) it, is to sell it. If I woke up in the morning broke, I would find a way to get something to buy it."
That often meant stealing from friends and family members, he admits.
Lucas called his addiction his dirty secret.
It wasn't so secret, after all.
"His talent was deteriorating," said Tardiff. "His voice suffered a lot. He had a fantastic voice - it was so unusual - and he started having problems and wanted to sing in a lower register."
Lucas missed practices, he forgot words and songs. His voice was not clear and he couldn't finish sets. The band started canceling shows.
"He was a brother, I love him, but I walked away four years ago," Tardiff said. "I would hang out with him once or twice since then, but he would mess things up and I didn't want to have anything to do with him and his lying. When he came around, you had to hide your belongings because he stole things."
Tardiff said Lucas even stole PA equipment, thinking he could sell it, buys drugs to sell and buy it back before Tardiff found out. That didn't happen.
Mary Lucas saw her youngest son slipping away from her, after already losing her eldest son to addiction and mental illness.
"I have come to accept my oldest son is never going to get better," she said of Mike, who lives in a halfway house, dealing with schizophrenia and depression, as well as from permanent damage from drug use.
But she and Josh, who is 11 years younger than his brother, had a special bond, she said, "ever since he was born."
That love wasn't enough to keep him from the drugs and alcohol and "in the last few years, we've had good times and bad times - a lot of bad times. He made me cry all the time from things he said to me. I lived in fear," Mary said.
Then Josh got picked up on outstanding warrants for a DUI, and spent two months in the Marinette County Jail. That was in December 2012. He walked out of the Marinette Jail, and was picked up in Menominee, where he spent two months in jail there.
While in jail, he detoxed from alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. He vowed he was done with all of it - but then he was released, and it all started up again.
But it was different this time.
Lucas, who says he could drink a 30-pack of beer with a half-bottle of booze, plus a handful of pills in one day, became a sloppy drunk.
"I was passing out in bars, passing out on the ground. People got disgusted with me," he said. "When I got kicked out (of the place he was staying), I was thinking about ending it all - that I should stick a knife in my chest.
"But a part of me said I needed to be honest, I had to contact my family and clean myself up."
That was May 20.
Lucas called his mother, who took him to stay with his paternal aunt and uncle in Marquette, Mich., May 20. What happened there Lucas shares with only a few, since he, himself, finds it difficult to explain. But for this 31-year-old man, who held no belief in God, what happened was an overwhelming religious experience, "a full-force heavenly intervention," as he calls it.
And the drinking, the drugs, the anxiety - all of it - "stopped right there."
Lucas believes he has been given a second chance to live his life and he has been handed a responsibility to help others.
"I have a purpose, I was saved for a reason - to tell people 'you can get off drugs,'" he said.
He isn't sure where this path will take him, but he did know what his first steps would be.
"I need to make amends, and start showing through my actions that I've changed. I'm still the same person, but I'm a better person," he said.
Mary Lucas hopes that the enormous change she sees in her son will last, since "he's a caring, sentimental, people person." But she also saw that the drugs and alcohol isolated him from relationships, including those with his family.
"I always loved Josh, but I didn't always like him," Mary said.
The Josh she saw after he decided to to quit drugs and alcohol has no anxiety and he still has his sense of humor, she said. "He's still Josh, but a better, improved Josh. Somehow, this opened his mind - he's in the fight for his life. He received a message that he can use his talents for something good. Certainly, it's a miracle to me that it happened. He came close to dying many times - I think he's here for a reason."
Tardiff wants to believe.
"We all got to the point where we let go of the hope he was going to change," he said. Time spent with Josh was "like getting in some time with him before he died, and yet I felt like I already lost him. He was basically dead - just waiting to die."
The Josh he saw after spending jail time was a "walking corpse. He looked like glass - his eyes, his body posture."
Then Lucas contacted him after May 20 and told him that he had quit everything.
"He told me about his experience, and I have to believe him. I don't care what it was ... you can tell he's not doing it (drugs and alcohol) anymore," Tardiff said.
"I believe him, and I also feel it's a last chance for him. I love him and I missed him."
The two men have had real conversations, something unheard of in their past, and Tardiff can hear the honesty in Lucas' words and the strength in his voice.
Tardiff is pulling for him, and so are many of Lucas' friends, "but everybody's watching him, thinking he's going to fail."
Tardiff said that the music community loves Lucas, and that "he's the best songwriter" but his life in recent years has been wasted.
"For a 10-year period, there's a lot of music I missed out on writing," he said.
He picked up a guitar at 13, taught himself and then took lessons, but the songs in his head were his own. Some of them make more sense to him now that he's sober.
"I never played sober," he said. He reunited with his band, Lounge Act, at Rock the Island this summer, but it was not without some trepidation on their part.
"It took them a while, I put them through a lot," Lucas admits. They moved cautiously into playing together that first time on Stephenson Island, but when they did, it was like flipping a light switch.
Then Lucas wrote his song, and it moved through the community within days. He played it publicly for the first time Thursday at the Ogden Club during open mike night and many of his friends and supporters were there. He also played another song he wrote since "The death wish of a so-called town." He wrote on Facebook that he thinks the new song is even better.
He wants to record his drug anthem with the help of some of his local musician friends and sell it, but not to keep the money for himself.
"If it goes over, and I sell it, I want to start something to get a rehab center here," he said.
After detoxing in jail and later, on his own, he said the community riddled with drugs needs a place of treatment locally.
He also plans to pursue another goal - to achieve his GED. He's just two tests away and wants to finish before the end of the year.
Lucas says his story is everybody's story. "Everyone can relate to it. I want people to listen to my song and cry."
"I'm glad that he did it," Tardiff said of the song Lucas wrote. "He has a cause now but he has to stay with it. He's always had a big heart and he wants to help other people."
Tardiff said he wants his friend to succeed with his dream and to stay sober.
"There's something weird about Josh, he was a complete ass to everyone, still everyone is drawn to him. Everybody hates Josh, but everyone loves Josh," Tardiff said.