Heroin Addiction is my past, but I am my future
My name is Shyloh. I am 24yrs old and I am a heroin addict. I"m not going to tell you my full story cuz that will simply take too long, but what I would like to do is paint a picture for you of just how destructive heroin is to the user and especially their family. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, it is NOT just the addict who suffers; it is EVERYONE they know and love that suffers along with them. Opiate addiction and addiction in general is not something that is easily handled. Not only does the addict themselves need to get healthy but friends, employers, parents, siblings and children all need to come to terms with the damage that their loved ones addiction has caused. This is a COMMUNITY DISEASE and what we as people should be doing is talking about how the addiction has affected us so that those of us who suffer in silence may be given the courage to speak up themselves. While this may seem common sense, this is a concept that I did not understand throughout my use.
I was in college, had a job and gave the outward appearance of doing okay. I had my fair share of run-ins with the police, but I convinced myself that my drinking and drug use was normal for someone in college. I was really living the “college experience” …Except all I experienced was blacking out and getting arrested. Looking back I couldn"t tell you much of what I learned in class, but I did learn that flashing a smile and crocodile tears got me out of a lot of trouble. Ever since I was in middle school and began experimenting with booze and pot I have manipulated and lied my way into, what I thought was, the clear. I think I did this because I knew it wasn't just for fun, I was in too deep. But it WAS fun! I liked getting high and causing trouble. I felt in control and I didn"t want to admit to what I was doing because then I"d have to stop. That just wasn"t an option. Being stoned equaled being tired, wired from crack and coke was just caffeine pills! Coming home wasted was harder to hide though…
Slowly the threads of the life of lies I had woven came undone and inevitably I made worse choices almost landing me with serious felony charges. Thanks to a loophole, because I was a minor I was given probation and eventually started seeing an AODA counselor. Finally I had to admit that my lifestyle was not normal teenage behavior. I was only 16 by this time and my life was split in two. On one side I was a crazy party animal that pushed every threshold and the other an A student who was very involved with school. I was chief editor of yearbook, student council president and on the gymnastics team; I also was arrested for drug-related offenses, escorted off school property in shackles and put into a psych ward for a 72hr evaluation.
These are just a few examples of both sides of my manipulation. How I juggled these two worlds is hard for me to understand. I thought I did it well at the time, but what never occurred to me was that my parents, teachers, employers, friends and my younger brother might be troubled by these actions and conflicted by my constant manipulation coupled with my seemingly genuine smile. I lied so much I had myself convinced! The funny part is that I am a TERRIBLE liar, but would never admit that. I"m the girl with chocolate on her face and cookie in hand that would deny eating any cookies. A terrible liar, but a stubborn one at that. I think about my little brother, who would have been just starting middle school when I got put on probation, he was shrouded by the giant, selfish shadow I cast. My addiction and reckless actions caused my parents to exert a multitude of money and energy on “saving” me, which in turn pushed my brother to the wayside. Both my mom and dad will agree that during that 5-6year period he was neglected in certain ways… And it goes without saying; if your child is an addict, your marriage is going to be stressful. There is never a right decision to make, so much self-blame and blaming of one another. NO time to enjoy YOUR life because your kid is sucking all of the joy out of you and replacing it with poison. The trauma from thinking that every time the phone rings it"s going to be the news of your child"s death from an overdose or a drunk driving accident or suicide. I"m not a parent so I cannot speak of this from personal experience but I have spoken with my parents as well as other parents of addicts and the consensus is the same across the board: once their child uses and becomes an addict, life is never the same. Even after recovery, there is a permanence to those kinds of wounds that linger with a family forever. During my use, none of this ever occurred to me, and of course this is the typical, self-centered, thoughtless mentality that all addicts seem to live by. It NEVER occurred to me that my brother might be a little traumatized be seeing his big sister vomiting and incoherent on the kitchen floor. Or just the general day-to-day behavior I exhibited, hot and cold like I was bi-polar. Exorbitant amounts of prescription and illicit drugs have this side effect, but that bears no excuse.
Heroin and I didn"t meet until college and it kind of crept up on me but it wasn"t like some scary drug dealer came up to me in the lecture hall. The further into the party scene I got the easier it was to find the hard stuff. Week long benders of acid, ecstasy, oxycontin whatever, it all blended together and I thought nothing of it. I do remember throwing up every time I would take oxy and thinking MAN I WISH THERE WAS AN EASIER WAY TO GET THIS HIGH…surprise! Heroin suddenly squeezed its way in. It was that sudden and it"s WAY cheaper. I mean, ridiculously less expensive than oxycontin…for 80mg of oxy it"s around $80! I"ve even spent upwards of $2 a milligram. On the flipside, I could get a foil of dope for like $10! A foil, if I used sparingly could get me high several times so on the financial level heroin was the logical decision. In the throes of addiction, anything can become rational in pursuit of a fix. My college boyfriend and I started using heroin together and we were loving it but when I shot up for the first time, everything changed. That manipulation from my adolescence made its way into my relationship and because he didn"t condone intravenous use I would lie about buying extra and hide in the closet to shoot up.
It"s weird, even in the drug world there is good and bad. The nature of this drug is that it takes your problems and shrinks them down into simple, seemingly manageable pocket-sized issues and lets the high take over. It"s called getting faded because your problems simply FADE AWAY. This was the high I"d been chasing my whole life! My life was full of pains and traumas, I couldn"t cope with and heroin was my savior. I had a laundry list of reasons to use too; abandonment issues from when my biological father left, being raped at 15 and then gang raped 4years later, countless memories of shameful things I had done…dope gave me escape from the pain. Now on a quick side note, while I have had my fair share of traumatic experiences, this does not make anyone else"s addiction less justifiable nor does every addict need reasons as severe as this to use. Maybe they are curious or bored and peer pressure while cliché is completely verifiable, but regardless of the reasons behind it, I think I can speak for all addicts when I say that opiates helped us pretend that this way of life was manageable and nobody"s business.
Now, generally I try to avoid talking about the using, the highs, the war stories etc. but I"ve also found that people who"ve never used heroin before don"t understand WHY we keep using when its dangerous, degrading and causes our lives to spin into the dirt. So I think the explanation of exactly what we are chasing is needed to help everyone get how addiction BECOMES a disease. But before I go on, keep in mind that this is only MY experiences, it"s different for everyone.
It started with the initial mentality that my life sucked, I couldn"t deal with the way things were going but I wasn"t willing to face the root of the problem so I wanted to smother it. Booze, pot, coke, acid, ecstasy, meth. Didn"t cut it. Doing uppers and hallucinogenics only worked as a party drug. They weren"t anything I could take and go to work or school or to visit my parents. I needed something functional, but weed was too mellow; didn"t numb the pain enough. I"ve always liked pills. Easy to take, easier to get and I"d do just about anything. Even stole my friend"s dads heart medication once…you can imagine what it effected. Yep, my heart! Ended up having to wear an EKG Monitor for awhile due to the heart palpitations I was having; but that"s another story…back to pills. Took Adderall to study and stay up late but its an upper; synthetic meth to be exact and I"m already a bit of a spaz if you couldn"t tell so it wasn"t my game. Tried Vicodin and Percocet and I started to feel what I wanted. Ironically the high seems peaceful. The next move was oxy, like I mentioned before it is very pricey but is much more potent than vics & percs. Because of the high misuse of the drug, the FDA has made changes to the pills that makes it nearly impossible to snort or shoot because when introduced to water and especially heat it instantly gels up and becomes worthless. This was a decision made with the best intentions but only caused addicts like myself to resolutely transition strictly to heroin. Regardless of the opiate, my goal was always the rush. A feeling like a warm blanket covering me and exciting every nerve in my body…honestly shooting heroin was better than an orgasm! Who doesn"t like to feel pleasure?
Here is where the explanation is needed, I"ve explained how great using is but the buck doesn"t stop there. Once the high has run its course and I am left shaking and itchy, thinking this is a horrible feeling caused by this drug and I"m never going to do this again. Right? WRONG! The addicts" brain becomes physiologically conditioned to NEED the drug to feel normal, functional, happy. The idea of stopping rarely comes up and usually only when I ran out of money and was left to recook empty tins or just shoot up water for a placebo effect. I would think, this isn"t how I want to live! But as soon as dope was around I could hardly stand to wait to get home from picking up. In fact, I rarely did. I have shot up while driving down the highway or just pulled over on a side street, not thinking of passersby. I"m not alone with that feeling either. Just turn on the news or read the paper! It"s incredible how often we are reading about people overdosing while driving down the road, causing an accident. I am grateful that it never happened to me but there are so many people still out there and suffering from this disease that are putting their lives and others" at risk everyday due to this disease.
I have referenced addiction to be a disease several times now and while this is a controversial topic and in no way do I condone using the term “disease” as a crutch to hide behind, but addiction is degenerative and chronic if not treated and in most cases without some form of intervention (be it law enforcement, family members, etc) an addict will continue to suffer, that I know from personal experience. I"m standing here before you today by a series of chance events. My using partner dumped my body at a hospital instead of in a ditch, the team that was given my emergency case was able to bring me back after being declared medically dead and my probation officer coupled with the prosecuting attorney decided that rehab would be more beneficial than 7months in jail. For many addicts, they don"t even make it to the hospital. 80% of heroin users" use with other people and ironically 80% of all heroin addicts who overdose are left to die alone. Many times this is because of the fear of arrest. This is yet another topic I don"t have time to get into today.
Timmy, my college boyfriend whom I mentioned before was alone when he overdosed. He was found lying on his bed by his mom. He had shot a hot dose and aspirated in his own vomit. It was 2months to the day of my own overdose, and the night before I had to check into treatment when he died. It took a LOT of working through to get over the guilt. Timmy had never been ok with needles until I got locked up. It was almost his way of punishing me for lying to him. I have since forgiven myself for my part in our relationship but I know that I am not innocent in his death. I loved him very much and it was the first time I realized the effects addiction have on the people around you.
When I was declared dead, standard procedure is to call the emergency contact and being only 20 of course, this is my parents. My mom answered the phone. My dad recalls that she let out a strangled scream and dropped to the floor. I know now that at that moment I crushed my mother"s heart beyond full repair. She tried valiantly to keep me from falling apart but in doing so she tore her soul up and what was left was a beautiful, strong, amazing but emotionally tattered woman. I am ever-thankful to have since repaired my relationship with her but even discussing our past brings tears to her eyes. My dad seemed to hold himself together better, outwardly at least, but I"ve had many conversations with him about my addiction and he revealed to me in a kind way that my actions over the years of my use all but broke every member of my family in one way or another. And how could it not? The emotional damage that my addiction caused is to this day having residual effects on my family. My dad used to listen to a song by Everclear that made him think of me and cry, it"s called Sunflowers…I am not going to sing it for you but it really hit home and it makes sense how he could relate. Needless to say, it is a sad thought to think that my dad would cry over me and how helpless he felt to helping me and all the while when I would see him I"d put on my smile and assure him everything was fine. I learned a funny acronym for the word fine is Fucked up Insane Neurotic and Emotional; and that is the truth! That was the nature of my day to day life as an addict. My quality of life was zero but I convinced everyone including myself that I was FINE…oh the irony!
My first attempt at sobriety lasted 18 months from the day of my arrest to my relapse. And I was the poster child for a recovering addict. I worked the 12 steps, was very active in the recovery community and had a handful of people in recovery that I mentored through Connections Counseling in Madison, WI. I was happy, I truly was and some of the memories from that time of my life were the BEST in my life to that point. What I did wrong was I was living a life of recovery but forgetting to actually live my life as an individual. My relapse occurred shortly after the community I"d built up around me started to crumble and I quickly became aware of the emptiness still inside of me. I was externally recovered and surrounded by great people who were supportive of me and my recovery but I relied on those external forces to keep me together. Once changes started to happen, I was still left with an inner desire to escape. I"d essentially transferred my heroin addiction to a recovery addiction. And I really want to be clear that this is only MY take on how recovery works for ME. A huge population of people in recovery are able to work the 12 steps and stay immersed in recovery without ever needing more. I simply needed to discover a world outside of drugs and recovery, for that was all I had ever known. It took me a long time to find that too. My relapse was for about 6months and involved a lot of self-degradation and taking several recovery friends down with me. Again I was back to the selfish, thoughtless mentality. Good friends who I had helped stay sober and who"d supported me, became my using buddies because misery loves company and it was easy to blame the world with others there to hide behind that lie with me. This was the most embarrassing and shameful part of my relapse but I have recently reconnected with many of my recovery friends and it"s just proof that its never too late to start your life. No matter how many times someone falls they need only pick themselves up and reach out.
When I got clean this second time, I used what I"d learned from recovery and applied that both to staying off of dope and towards being the best person I can be. The catalyst for quitting the 2nd time was when a good friend of mine died of a brain aneurysm. I remember leaving his wake to shoot up and even as I got the high I was feening for I became disgusted by myself. Here I am risking my life willingly, selfishly while all of his friends and family were mourning his death. I realized that could be me, and my loved ones would be put through that agony. It"s really unfortunate that is what it took to get me to snap back to reality both times I have gotten clean, but I am just grateful that it did. That was July 17th, 2010 and I haven"t touched it since. There have been studies that show it takes at least 2 years for your brain to get back to where it was before you started using and I stand by that statistic. I"ve recently started to feel proud to be me, and I"m nothing special but that is okay! We can handle anything that life throws at us so long as we remember that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel! It is really hard work, re-discovering ourselves, and that is not just the addict but all of us. Change is scary, but we need only figure out the steps needed to get us there. You may wonder if I am giving back for the life I have been given a second chance at. Well the answer is yes. I created an organization called Join The Fight (www.heroinkills2012.wix.com/jointhefight) and our main goal is to spread awareness about addiction and the signs/symptoms of use especially in rural areas where knowledge of this epidemic is shockingly low. I hope my story gives you information, courage and hope. Together we can fight this!
This Story of Hope was created in celebration of recovery and to let families know that there are pathways to hope and healing. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is the only nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families who are struggling with their son or daughter's substance use. Please consider sharing this page so that families know where to turn to for help, and that there is always hope.