At a crack house I frequent there is a woman. She has an infant child. The child is often left on the floor while she is in the other room getting high. I guess she can’t stomach smoking meth in front of her baby.
I watch as the child lies there on its back. Probably better that this innocent being can’t yet crawl, even though it looks old enough to. Scattered over the carpet are dirty needles. It is not my place to tell the lady how to live her life since I have no home of my own. Instead, I pick up the dirty needles and try to keep the child from crying. The thought never crossed my mind that maybe there is more than this out there for me. I’m just here for my dope… This is the only life that appears normal to me.
An all too loving mother gave birth to her second child. He was an exceptionally easy baby, didn’t cry much and loved to be held. The only downside was that he never took naps. As he grew up he loved to create art with his mother and grandmother, who were both artists. The boy and his father never had much to talk about, but the father did provide old car parts, broken computers and phones to help the child make space ships and forts. The boy grew more and more distant from his father as the pressure placed upon the son intensified. The expectations may have been normal for an average “tough” boy, but this child was more sensitive and in touch with his feelings and the feelings of others than most small children. Whenever his father was displeased with him, the hurt boy would return to the safety of the elaborate forts that his father had helped him build.
Over 100,000 people die in the U.S. each year from alcohol and drug addiction. My best friend since childhood died from an overdose in a Walgreens bathroom a few years back. His doctor knew he was an active heroin addict, yet he prescribed a medication that could kill him if mixed with heroin. It did. He is just one of countless people I have known who have lost their lives to addiction. The majority of people I grew up with have had bouts with addiction. It’s as if not one of us has been able to escape its cold grasp.
I will never forget the feeling of the first prick, the way the sharp needle slid so easily into my vein, then pulling the plunger back and watching the rosebud of blood as it’s sucked up into the heavenly mixture. This is the sight that would later let me know I successfully hit a vein and that all the pain, emotional and physical, all the sickness I felt, all the desperation, would soon be gone… That everything was going to be ok…
As I slowly pushed the plunger down, a milky scent took over as a taste crept up the back of my throat and mouth went numb. My eyes widened as I fell back onto the bed. The back of my neck became so light it felt as though my body had floated away. Strong ringing went pounding through my ears, a sure sign that this, this was a good shot.
The mother and son were very close. She would encourage his imagination to run wild and helped to bring all that laid within his mind to life. It was as if they were best friends. She would read stories to him about wizards and dragons, stories that he would later reenact alone on the playground.
It was the type of relationship that every mother wished she could have with her child. She loved her little boy dearly and did such a good job raising him that he never wanted to grow up.
Drug use is most common with young adults ages 18-25. I had my first unsupervised drink at twelve, smoked pot at fourteen, snorted cocaine at fifteen, smoked heroin at sixteen and was using needles before graduating high school at the age of 17. I remember the D.A.R.E. program, where the police officer came and talked to us about drugs. I was sitting in the back of the classroom thinking to myself, I can’t wait for that opportunity. I was eager to find anything that would change me, enhance my experience…
I had always felt like I belonged on the “Island of Misfit Toys.” No one wanted me; when teams were picked on the school yard I was always chosen last, and it was a disappointment for the team. I tried not to care as I did not like sports, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t painful… I also knew from my hippie mother and gypsy grandmother that there is more to this world than meets the eye. My grandmother gave me books about Eastern religions, parallel realities, shamanism and plant medicine. My imagination had helped me understand these ideas, but maybe drugs would bring it all to life...
The mother watched as her son grew older and became more and more distant. He grew dark and was no longer the son that she thought she knew. Concerned her little boy was having some sort of mental breakdown or illness, she sought out the help of many professionals, yet none could identify a real problem. The day came when she found some dirty needles in his bedroom. That was the day she learned her son had a terrifying disease, and she was convinced that he was going to die. The only thought that ran through her frightened mind was of the moment she would one day go into his room and find his cold dead body on the floor. All she figured she would be able to do is curl up with her little boy and hold him like she used to when he was young, innocent, free.
The worried and fearful mother helplessly watched as her only son, her little boy, continued to lose weight, his face becoming pale and gaunt, his body unable to metabolize food and his stomach unable to keep anything down. She rushed him to the hospital, but he fainted while in the waiting room, his body severely malnourished. The doctor prescribed an IV drip line of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. This became the standard three times a week. Lucky she was a nurse and was able to save money by administering the drip line at her home rather than at the hospital.
About one in ten adults in the U.S. claim to be in recovery from addiction. Most people won’t ever know what it is like to withdraw from heroin. The movies out there like Basketball Diaries, Trainspotting, and Requiem for a Dream all do a great job expressing what the life of a drug addict is like, but they fall miserably short of showing what withdrawal really is like. Maybe the severity of it just can’t be grasped. You attempt to lay in bed or on something soft; if you are lucky enough, you have a roof over your head. If your addiction was bad enough, you pushed everyone that cared about you so far away that to them you are already dead, and they grieved for you long ago. Maybe you are just sick in the back of a car waiting to score, or you’re at the park under a tree trying to escape. Your body aches with what are known as “skin crawls”, anything that touches your body feels like fire as a pain stretches all over with a sense of your bones literally begging to jump and tear through your flesh. No matter how you position yourself, it is as if you are lying on a pile of thorns. Impossible to be still. Playing sheet karate, you kick and wrestle the blankets, fighting the cramps and muscle spasms that clench at your soul. Dripping wet, the bed is soaked with sweat. Dancing between a bitter freezing cold, and a fiery pit of hell. Body scorching itself from the inside out.
The bed creaks and is scratchy, the plastic sheet become sticky but you can’t control your bowels or bladder. When you feel ready to use the bathroom your legs don’t want to work and you are too weak to crawl. Praying that a bathroom is close and that the distance between the shower and the toilet is even closer. Crawling to the toilet and attempting to vomit. You have not eaten in days and you threw up the Gatorade in one go. Your gut continues to try to rid the poison that infests your body as you dry heave yellow thick mucus and bile. Abs sore and strained from convulsing. The cool tile kisses your skin as you lie there catching your breath. Making it to your feet and entering the shower, your head hangs low. The water shooting from the spout feels like a thousand razor blades slicing through your skin and you cry out in agony before you lose your footing and fall to the floor. Sometime later you are awoken by a hand shaking you, making sure you are still alive, the water no longer warm but more like freezing rain.
Sometime around the third day, you can’t stand the screaming voice in your head. The insanity to go do the one thing you know will make all the pain go away, to make you well, to make you feel safe. You know you don’t have any money but are feeling well enough to move. You scour the surroundings of wherever you’re staying, whoever was kind enough to help you through this dark moment. You find something, anything that is worth even a dollar—clothes, DVDs, if you’re lucky a laptop or a TV, the one you watched all those old Disney movies on just the night before, that reminded you of a time when you were young and innocent.
I went through ten types of treatment, yet none of them seemed to keep me sober for long. In 2009, 23.5 million people age 12 or older needed treatment for illicit drug or alcohol abuse, yet only 2.6 million received it at a specialty facility. I have been clean and sober for over seven years now. I still have scars on my body to remind me where I came from.
The world was full of possibilities, fun, and excitement. Taking what you can and running. You make the phone call but no one picks up. It just rings and rings, like the madness in your head that won’t stop. You give a foxhole prayer to whatever cruel God is out there even if you don’t believe. You say out loud, just like a thousand times before, ‘this is it’, ‘this will be the last time’, ‘just one more’, ‘just one more shot and you are done for good.’ Finally an all too familiar voice is on the other end. He tells you where to go, and you thank that evil God from the bottom of your heart that it is going to be ok. Soon, very soon. After waiting for what feels like an eternity you meet your hook and your heart flutters with anticipation like when you lock eyes with your first crush at school and you don’t know what to say or do. Pulling out an old dull needle. Your hand trembles and this time it doesn’t slide into your arm with the ease it once did but rather has a puncturing quality to it. You stab and stab your arm but can’t hit a vein, pushing through scar tissue and open wounds, blood trickles down your arm and is all over your shirt and drying into a flaky, dark red crust on your forearm. Finally, you pull back on the plunger and there it is, that rosebud of blood that puffs itself into the liquid heaven and your breath stops. You push down. Silence.