- Friends & Family
Read This Before You Use Heroin
My history with opiates began in 1993 with an abscessed tooth and a trip to the dentist. I was in a bit of pain and was prescribed Vicodin and immediately popped one, hoping for a little relief. After about 15 minutes, a warm fuzzy feeling came over me and my pain went away. The doctor said that I would be tired, lethargic, and sleepy. Quite the opposite is what happened to me. I felt a surge of energy that led me to the cleanest apartment a bachelor could hope for. I was suddenly motivated to do things I had put off, felt happy and content, not to mention pain-free. The prescription ran out and I didn’t give it much thought then, but looking back…the moment I felt the effects of that pill, I was forever changed.
I was prescribed narcotic pain killers a few times over the next several years and found them to be my little helpers. They made everything better. I used them recreationally to get high, to stay awake, to have longer lasting sex, to be more comfortable around others, and to avoid pain. Looking back, I’ve made a lot of poor choices to avoid pain.
On July 3, 2000, I was in a car accident that should have taken my life. I was on my way home from work and struck an SUV in the rear at 45 MPH while they were sitting at a red light. I was in a two seater sports car and struck them with enough force to flip them onto their roof into oncoming traffic. That family of four (by the grace of God) all got out without a scratch. I was pinned in with the bottom of my right shoe pressed against the left side of my face. I was somehow conscious and remember the details and pain of that day like it was yesterday.
I suffered 26 fractures (two of which were compound) and my leg was SEVERELY broken. I was placed on a morphine drip, given Demerol (the only drug I prefer to heroin), and prescribed Oxycontin. After several surgeries to repair my leg, I was sent home with a prescription for Oxycontin and was not allowed to put any weight on my leg for 18 months. The doctors kept me on all the painkillers I wanted for that time and I laid on the couch high for 18 months. When my tolerance would build up, they would increase the dose and I would alter the method of delivery. I went from swallowing a timed release pill to chewing it, to snorting it, to injecting it. Again, to avoid pain. To avoid the pain of my injuries. To avoid the pain of being a useless husband, son, brother and friend stuck on a couch. To avoid the pain of boredom. To avoid the pain of the friends that stopped coming to see me as the months turned into over a year. By the time I recovered and could walk and work again, I was a full-blown addict. When the doctors lowered my dose to try and get me off the meds I could just complain about the pain and get what I wanted. When one doctor would refuse, he would be replaced with one that would comply. I went from doctor to doctor, pharmacy to pharmacy and numerous pain management clinics. I sold drugs to feed my habit and maintain my health insurance.
I worked, had a home, a wife, and an excuse to stay high. I was a highly functioning addict. It is my opinion that there are only two kinds of opiate addicts. The “Junkie” and “The Functioning Addict” and I’m not sure which is worse. Of course there are all the negative connotations associated with being a junkie, like the preoccupation with obtaining drugs and money to get them, having tracks, stealing to support your habit, incarceration, being unemployable, and hurting your family and friends. The functioning addict lives a similar lifestyle. The biggest difference is that ALL of these things are hidden, rather than out in the open. Not that junkies don’t lie, because they do. It’s just that they don’t go to the EXTREMES to hide their addiction, like the functioning addict does.
The functioning addict’s life is much like a movie. Not only am I the star of the show but I must also write the script, edit, add props, direct and occasionally when someone is too close to the truth because I haven’t done my job, I have to re-cast the film. And don’t forget make-up artist. Just the right color of concealer to cover those tracks is essential to not having to wear long sleeves in the summer like amateurs do. The better my film was, the safer my secret was.
When my health insurance ran out, so did my supply of pills. By this time I had been a recreational user for seven years and a daily user for four or more years and never experienced withdrawal. Withdrawal for me starts with constant sneezing and my saliva glands produce so much saliva that I have to spit or swallow a lot, followed by vomiting of the saliva and neon green stomach bile. This continues for several hours and is then joined by explosive–every color of the rainbow– diarrhea. Then comes the sweating, even though I would be freezing. Then the shakes set in as well as that feeling of impending doom because the worst is yet to come and I’m was not through the first day of what for me was about a weeklong process (for others it can take longer).
That night before bed, my bones and joints and muscles started to ache and twitch. Sleep was out of the question and not an option, as trying to lie still was not only impossible, but even more painful. Muscle spasms set in and uncontrollable kicking (hence the nickname “kicking the habit”) and twitching that would not stop. After two or three days of that, I was dehydrated and sleep deprived to the point of hallucination and I wasn’t even halfway there. Around day four, when my throat and lips were sore from the stomach acid and my butt is raw from diarrhea, I finally fell asleep from pure exhaustion, if only for an hour or two. The sneezing was the longest lasting symptom for me. It subsided after about a month of being clean.
This living hell is similar but different for every opiate addict. Withdrawal is a loaded gun that opiates kept pressed firmly against my temple. Junkies always go through this with someone to help them or at a detox facility or at home for everyone to see. The functioning addict must do this alone, at work, or at home but always mindful of those around him and redirecting their attention with excuses and diversions or risk a change in casting in his film or worse yet, having to admit that he is an addict. This is a difficult task to pull off, even for the most dedicated and experienced addict.
Withdrawal also is the only sense of time that an addict possesses. Let me see if I can explain that in terms that a non-addict can understand. Opiate addicts don’t use alarm clocks. When we wake up, we know what time it is. It’s time for a damn shot that’s what time it is. The functioning addict is always on time for everything when he is at the top of his game. We know instinctively what time it is by whether we are sick or high, and by the lies we tell and by the past lies we have told that suddenly need a little fine tuning. Withdrawal and getting caught in a lie that might impede our progress of getting high is the functioning addict’s ONLY fear.
So when I was sick and a “friend” who used to purchase pills from me offered me heroin, I graciously accepted. I watched him do it and it looked easier than shooting Oxys (which I was an old pro at doing), so I drew up a fat shot and took my new friend for a test drive. Being an opiate addict already, I did not have the vomiting and sickness that is associated with most first-time heroin users.
The feeling that followed is impossible to fully describe with words. But I am going to try, because before you can understand just how bad heroin addiction is, you need to understand the love that we felt for it. If you have never done it before, there are some things you need to know to help you understand it. First the “rush” and “high” are two separate feelings. The rush is caused when heroin gets to the brain and what we are feeling is the brains receptors converting heroin to morphine (the active ingredient in all opiates). The rush is the brain revving its engine to release endorphins (which are a similar chemical to morphine). The rush lasts for 2-4 minutes. The high is a mixture of morphine and endorphins and last for 4-6 hours.
I hit my vein and saw the bright crimson color of my blood rear its head into the barrel of my syringe. I pushed slowly for fear that my shot might be too big (it was a little big for a first time) but when I felt the first part of the rush I pushed the second half in fast. Some people say it starts in the brain or abdomen but to me it feels like it starts in the lungs. Suddenly I’m breathing air that’s cooler and fresher than any air I’ve ever breathed before. Like when you’ve been under water for awhile and you come up for that first gasp of air. I gasped and breathed and at that moment, me and the whole world were “brand new”.
Suddenly, I had forgotten I was in day three of withdrawal. It did not matter that I hated my job. All the guilt of all the bad things I had done in my life was GONE. It did not matter what others thought of me. I was confident and happy with me. It did not matter that I was overweight (I did not know it at the time but I had just started the heroin diet and would lose more weight than I wanted). It did not matter that I was stuck in a marriage that I wasn’t happy with. Nothing mattered because at that moment I felt a euphoric rush that gave me a sense of security, protection, and relaxation.
Suddenly, I was fearless. Guilt, pain, fear, anxiety, anger, frustration, jealousy, hunger, tension and anything that was ever wrong was suddenly and totally right. It is such a profound sense of well-being that I’m not sure winning the lottery could compare. It’s like God reached out his hands and wrapped you in his warmest blanket. I am sure that at some point someone who has lost a loved one to a heroin overdose will read this. If this is you, KNOW that this is how your loved one felt when they passed. If given a choice, it is how I want to go. I have been changed permanently by this experience and my life before it and after it are two different lives.
All I could think about from that moment on was getting more heroin so I could feel that way again. And that’s what I did. One of the moments that I remember the most about my addiction was after using heroin for eight days straight I was in the bathroom getting ready to shoot up and realized that I was a heroin addict and was going to get sick if I tried to quit. And I looked at my self in the mirror and met the “New Me”, the heroin addict hiding in the bathroom to shoot up. It was the most guilt I have ever experienced. I had to do something. So as I stood there looking at myself in the mirror, a grown man bawling his eyes out, holding in my hand the solution, I shot up and the tears were gone before I got the needle out of my arm. My days as a functioning addict were numbered and I knew it.
As I made the transition from functioning addict to junkie, I found that I had no idea who I really was, or who anyone else was for that matter. I had been living a lie for so long I had no idea what reality was. I had forgotten what I was like and what I wanted from life before opiates.
It did take some time after that day in the mirror to complete the transition, but I did spend the next few years in and out of every methadone clinic within driving distance. I would do good for a few months then do bad for a few. It was during those years that things were the worst. I hesitate to speak of them now because at this point in my life those stories have lost their luster. Let me be VERY clear about this…the things that I am about to share with you I am NOT proud of.
I have OD’d in my mother’s bathroom.
I am a convicted felon.
Yes…I have been incarcerated.
I have alienated everyone I have ever loved.
I have been given resuscitation by strangers because I wasn’t breathing.
I have been in many car accidents that I left the scene because I was high and had no license.
There is NOTHING I haven’t stolen. I even got a loan on a house that wasn’t mine so technically…I have even stolen a house.
I would really rather not get into telling you a bunch of “war stories”. I don’t see how they will help anyone, and that whole “I was harder than you thing” just turns my stomach when I think of the things I did. Suffice it to say that in all of my years of addiction I have many exciting, sad, horrible, and hard to believe stories that are between me and God. Most of those memories are lost to my narcotic stupor…only recently have I started taking pictures of the things I do. I stopped taking pictures when I was in active addiction because there was nothing in my life I was proud of.
What is important is that I feel like the luckiest man in the world at this moment. I have been sober…completely sober since September 15th ,2009. I still have loved ones that won’t speak to me or return my calls, but most of them will and are proud of me. I am active in church, the 12 steps, and service work. I am receiving counseling and treatment for ADD and PTSD from the Veterans Administration. I have a job and a roof over my head. I get up everyday and do something to better myself and the world I live in. I have regained my self respect and confidence. I would have never thought that I could write something like this until this very day. It was finally time to write this story as I believe that I’m finally finished adding bad things to it.
How did I do it? The first thing I had to do was change and I mean change everything. I checked myself into a long-term residential treatment facility that was tough and structured. It was a two year program and I did stay for seven months but did not finish the program. Not to bad mouth the program but it was just a matter of me needing what they weren’t offering and them offering what I did not need. I wasn’t running from anything by leaving …in fact I was running toward something.
I did learn two VERY valuable life skills that are essential to staying sober. They call it the “flip”. Flipping something that has happened to you from something being negative and finding the positive in it. Once you master this skill you are able to turn the tables on anything and anyone. The second skill I learned there is NOT to let the actions and attitudes of others determine my attitude and actions.
READ THAT AGAIN…I swear if you can take only one thing from what I have shared with you today let it be that. My attitude and actions are MY choice today, and nothing anyone does or says can change that. When I have a bad day today my first thought is not to go by the liquor store and see the dope man, thanks to this valuable skill.
Don’t just go to church, get active in it and start doing something for someone else. Give of yourself. We all have something worth giving. Whatever your addiction is, find something of value in it and TAKE FROM IT ALL YOU CAN AND GIVE IT NOTHING. Get involved in a 12-step program, and get a sponsor and do what they tell you to do. Get away from your surroundings and get some new friends.
I am 41 years old at the time of this writing and for once I look forward to the years ahead. A lot of people say that addicts my age are incapable of change, that we are career criminals. That we are a lost cause and should be incarcerated. Dr. Phil even says that “past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.” I stand before you today “living proof” that they are wrong.
To my dearest heroin…I bid you farewell. I must admit that I will always love you, but I will always hate the consequences of that love more than I love you. I thank you for helping make me the strong, courageous and determined man that I am today. Whether you know it or , dear, there was one time you actually saved my life. There was a time when we were together that I wanted to take my own life. The only reason that I didn’t was that I couldn’t bear the thought of never having you in my arms again.
And just so you know dear…I have met someone else. Don’t worry, it’s not one of your friends. She would never have anything to do with you. She is the good girl that has replaced you as my first thought when I wake.
To all the addicts still suffering know that you can have this, too. It is there but you have to take it, no one is going to give it to you. No one is coming to your deserted island to rescue you. Isn’t it time you started swimming.