I am a 26-year-old female. I graduated from one of Boston’s best universities, received my Master’s Degree one year early, grew up with a wonderful family, had great friends and a boyfriend I loved. Is this your idea of someone who would become addicted to heroin? Do I fit with your description of heroin addict?
Before the age of 24 drugs were not on my radar. It would never have occurred to me – or anyone who knew me – that I would one day become a heroin addict. The past few years have taught me that heroin does not discriminate. I did a lot of things while using heroin that I would not dream of doing today. I destroyed relationships with family members and friends. I lost jobs and stole from people I loved. For a long time, I didn’t care about anything except how to find and buy heroin. Those actions were done by someone who was sick and addicted to something more powerful than you could imagine. Stigma implies I should feel shame…. but I do not. I am grateful and proud I made it out alive.
I am sober right now and in recovery. For the first time in three years I feel like myself again.
At the beginning of my recovery, my counselor suggested I make a list every day of simple things I would like to accomplish.
At first my list was incredibly short:
- Wake up and get out of bed.
- Brush teeth and wash face.
- Shower (maybe).
I struggled to do the things most people do automatically. I had to teach myself how to be a functional adult all over again. As my mind had become consumed by opiates I had forgotten how to simply live.
Before touching an opiate, I never thought about what made me happy. I went to class, I hung out with my friends, I went out — I didn’t have to search for ‘happy’. Now, as I am in recovery, I find myself thinking a lot about happiness. I see people walking down the street and I ask myself, “How are they just happy?”. I am not sad or depressed– but for the first time in my life, I must think hard about the meaning of joy and what I want out of this life. I fight the urge to use on a daily basis. I constantly remind myself that if I stay sober, eventually I’ll feel like ‘me’ again and be like those people I watch living life “normally” and feeling happiness naturally.
Had I known how powerful opiates were, I would have never tried that first Percocet. Had I known that small little pill would lead me to sniffing heroin so that I could function normally without being sick, my life would be completely different today. I had no idea the power and control opiates would wield over my life. The life that I once loved became a living hell. Every part of my existence was completely controlled by the heroin. Even when I had it, I would obsess over how I’d get more. My life revolved around this insidious drug and trying to find ways to get it so I could go to work and not be sick – wondering how to stop without my parents knowing I didn’t ‘have the flu’ when I was withdrawing.
No matter how badly I wanted to stop, my mind was a prisoner to this drug. It was an obsession I could not control. Even when I fought the mental obsession, the physical effects were so awful I would give in and use to end the withdrawals– the runny nose, the sweating, the chills, the restless legs, the inability to sleep for weeks, the headaches, the lack of energy, hope and motivation. No matter how badly I wanted to end the addiction, the mental and physical obsession won every time.
I recently read an article, I stood by my brother while he battled heroin, that stood out from other articles flooding the internet about heroin and addiction. The author of the article had a brother who she knew was addicted to heroin, and yet she never gave up on him. As an addict, I can say first-hand, people typically want nothing to do with you. You have no support. You have no one left to call who make you feel like someone still cares about you. Reading her article made me jealous of the support she gave her brother. I am in recovery and I still hear my mom talk to others about the shame and the embarrassment my addiction caused her. If I had someone in my life during my addiction who didn’t abandon and judge me, but who actually supported me, perhaps my recovery would have been easier …. it very likely would have happened sooner…
I went through hell while battling addiction and I will never look down on those who are still struggling. A few weeks ago, I visited a friend in the ICU who had overdosed. I went straight home from the hospital and hugged my parents. I told them how sorry I was to have made them worry and wait for the phone call they feared – their daughter in the ICU or dead. A few days ago I found out my friend had recovered and was released from the hospital…. and he was asking everyone he knew if they could help him get heroin. If being that close to death doesn’t make a person stop, I hope it makes people understand the power this drug has over those struggling with addiction.
Addicts need love and emotional support from their family and friends – this can be done with boundaries intact. Hope, motivation and encouragement can be offered without enabling. ‘I won’t help you kill yourself but I will help you save yourself’ is a sentence filled with love and support. Your loved one may not want to hear it when they are angry you are not giving them what they are asking for, but they will remember you said it. Please keep the door open, you never know when they will walk through it. Abandoning addicts doesn’t help like people assume it will. The awful feeling of being all alone and abandoned made me use even more…
Opiates have a power over people that is difficult to explain if you haven’t lived it. The drug controls every aspect of daily life. I was no longer ‘me’. My only focus was The Drug. We need to erase the stigma surrounding addiction. If more people supported those battling addiction, I have no doubt there would be more people in recovery. Those fighting for their lives need to feel support, love and the hope that they can escape their living hell.
I wish people would look at addiction with a different perspective. Most addicts, myself included, don’t want to be under the control of opiates. They are not choosing the life they are living- a life with no ability to feel any happiness and the only time they don’t feel like they are living an everyday hell is that short amount of time they are completely numb from opiates.
During my addiction, my family felt that distancing themselves from me would help me. Some of my cousins who I used to see daily won’t let me back into their lives. Even though I am finally feeling good, I overhear my mother on the phone talking about how much shame and embarrassment I have caused her. I struggle with this still. I thank God that I am strong enough to not let this be an excuse for me to use. Would you abandon a sick relative and tell them that you would speak to them again only when they felt completely better? Addicts need to feel like there is hope. We need to feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We need people to understand that we need them more than we want to admit and probably more than we even comprehend. Feeling abandoned and alone is very hard. Using, as an addict, and numbing that feeling of abandonment and loneliness sometimes feels like it is the only solution. If we can help take away that sense of loneliness, that urge to use may not be as strong.
To those who love someone struggling with addiction, please don’t abandon them. Tell them you still love them. Emotional support and love is not enabling. You may feel disappointment or shame, you may feel like they are choosing to use and because of their choice you shouldn’t help them. As much as you may want to distance yourself from someone you know is using, please don’t give up on them. Even one person’s support, love and kindness can be what someone needs to find their way out of the hell that is addiction. May your love light their way home.
Nicole Price has been in recovery for a year. She graduated from Boston University with a Master’s in Occupational Therapy. She lives and works in Boston and is starting to love life again.