Quick disclaimer that this isn’t the main writer on TGN; I hope to share more insights in the future.
It’s been a long time, almost a year and a half. I forget a lot of things that happened, a lot about how I felt at the time, a lot of the wisdom I was giving to others at the outpatient. But I still have a story to tell. To show that what I did is possible; to show that with enough struggle, hard work, and trial and error, sobriety is achievable.
Without going into too much detail about how I got there, like most I started with pills and never thought I’d end up using heroin. They’re safer, right? You know what’s in them and how much, and doctors give them to people on prescription. (At least back then, this was somewhat true; I’ve heard most “oxys” going around nowadays have random amounts of fentanyl.)
This is not to mention that at the same time, I had serious problems with cocaine, and to a lesser extent Xanax. The combination produced a level of sheer pleasure that’s impossible to describe. But all of these habits needed to be tended to and paid for, consistently and without delay. That’s always the biggest problem isn’t it?
Unlike many others, I fully understood what kind of fire I was playing with — I had prior experience with all sorts of drugs, and had known both addicts and recovered addicts who told me their stories, but it never got quite so out of control. This time was different. I had just tried to kill myself and figured that going off into the “land of nod” might be an easier, more fruitful alternative.
But of course, pills are expensive, and they’re meant to be taken in small amounts for pain management. Me, I would do a month’s prescription in as little as two days. And, obviously, the dependency set in soon enough, and I needed bigger and bigger doses, more and more frequently. So once I had bought every last pill the dealers in my neighborhood could find, and all the other sources had me waiting for the next month’s prescription, it was a no-brainer what would come next: heroin. I needed something, anything.
Once you try heroin, in my opinion at least, there’s no going back to pills. Why would you spend ten times as much money for basically the same thing? Heroin is cheap and it’s available everywhere. I’d be scrambling all around the city looking for oxys, but dope was just a five minute walk. And if that dope man wasn’t around, the next one was only five minutes from there.
I never got as bad into it as some others. I was limited by what I could afford, so a decent bundle would have to last two days. And, as I mentioned before, every two days I was also going through an 8-ball of coke and 16-32mg of Xanax. I never really got into stealing to support the habit, with the exception of ripping people off on drug deals and disappearing with the cash. I did spend every dime I could find on it, though, and went deep into debt.
By the time I overdosed, I was sure I would put an end to it. I weened myself off a bit, going down to a bag or two a day, then got a ton of Xanax and hunkered down for the withdrawal. It was awful, but I hadn’t been in the game for too long, so it wasn’t as bad as it was when I quit for real. But this wasn’t lasting.
Instead of seeing the risk and avoiding opiates, I was emboldened by this whole situation: I felt as if I’d demonstrated that I can handle opiates, that I was able to cut it out when I decided it was time. So when I was offered oxys, I’d buy them. I had no intention of staying sober. I just wasn’t actively seeking dope.
Then one day, I got offered dope. It was pretty funny, actually. I ran into my man walking down the block, he said “yo, I got that food,” and that was that. Quickly I went back to the same old habit — bundle and 8-ball every two days or so, though with less Xanax involved. The debt I had paid up started to rack up again, and at this point all my bridges started to burn.
Eventually, it got to the point where the drugs weren’t working anymore. The whole point was to stop me from killing myself, but I had fucked up so bad that I realized I now actually wanted to kill myself more as a result of what the drugs did to me. On top of that, I was isolated, and felt everyone looked down on me. I was doing poorly at work and constantly in debt, doing crackhead shit and asking people for money to pay for the necessities that came after dope on my list of priorities.
Most people at this point just treated me like shit. People were always trying to mess with me, trick me, rip me off. Always being subtlety disrespectful and condescending. My family was constantly upset and treated me with great suspicion. A couple close friends begged me, crying, telling me to stop, talking about how much they worried about me, including one of the authors from TGN (before TGN existed). This had an effect, but it also made me sad, and sadness led to suicidal thoughts, and suicidal thoughts lead to escapism, and escapism lead to more dope.
Eventually, though, I realized I had to cut it out. I couldn’t afford my habits anymore and my family had learned all about them. I struggled for a couple weeks, arguing with myself and trying to use less without plunging into the hell of dope sickness. But at this point, it didn’t feel like much of a choice — I had to change. I was thousands of dollars in debt and on the verge of suicide again.
So, I started by cutting out the coke. After doing coke every waking hour of the day for weeks, if not months without a break, the crash can be pretty fucking brutal. In the past I had even experienced very serious signs of cardiovascular issues during these crashes. But I still had my dope, so it was actually manageable.
Then the dope came next. The promise of the sickness was terrifying. After a day, it was obvious that I couldn’t handle it. So I borrowed some money and got some kratom, knowing it would help. I started taking absolutely massive doses, but they took the withdrawal away about 90%. It was a lifesaver. But it also became another habit, albeit not a destructive or fiendish one, which I’m still ever-so-slowly tapering myself off of. In some ways, I attribute my being alive today to kratom. At the same time, part of me wishes I had been able to stop using it right after I was over the withdrawal, instead of using it as a long-term maintenance therapy. But that seemed like it would lead to me killing myself, and it might have, so I’ll take whatever works. I got clean, and I’m not dependent on conventional maintenance treatments like Suboxone or methadone (actual opioids which are far stronger and harder to quit than kratom).
That’s not to say there weren’t setbacks. A day or two after I stopped using dope, I lost my job as a result of the poor work I had been doing the last few months I was on it. I still had to pay my living expenses and pay off the colossal debt, so on top of that I had to turn to my parents for financial assistance. At this point I was completely destroyed and felt like I couldn’t get any lower. All pride, ego, narcissism, even basic dignity to an extent, destroyed and gone with the wind, never to recover.
A week later I finally got off the Xanax. That was more of an intermittent thing, though, and I hadn’t done too bad with the last round of it, so a quick self-taper was all I needed. I had been through far worse Xanax withdrawal before, so this wasn’t a big deal. I don’t even remember what it felt like coming off of them that time (well, in fact, I don’t remember much about my Xanax usage at all) but it was nothing compared to the dope sickness. Nothing could ever compare to that. (That’s not to say Xanax isn’t fucking nasty!)
Almost a month into sobriety, I was still experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms. Lethargy, low appetite, muscle pain. I couldn’t walk even 10 minutes down the street without simultaneously feeling like my leg muscles were tearing and like I was going to faint. The cravings for both coke and dope were absurd, causing muscle spasms and making me writhe in pain and scream at the top of my lungs for no apparent reason. On top of that, mentally, I hadn’t really gotten anywhere. The addict mind state is hard to break out of. This all combined with encouragement from friends and family led me into an outpatient.
Outpatient was a useful experience. Find a good place where you’re not going to find many junkies who are just in there because of a court order, and where the counselors are decent and actually care to understand you. Pay attention to what they teach and engage the others there who have some sober time and can give you good insight. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share. It’s my belief that this is what truly leads to recovery — you can stop doing drugs without it, but a good support program will get you out of the mental state of addiction, and that’s the most important thing. That’s what will prevent you from relapsing and enable you to move on with your life.
It took about a year of sobriety for my life to actually get better. And frankly, if you’d ask me most days, it still fucking sucks. But if I think about how much it sucked two years ago, I shudder. It feels like it’s behind me now, and I no longer have the same frame of reference. At this point, I couldn’t see myself ever relapsing, so long as I stay vigilant. Staying vigilant is key; you just have to keep yourself far removed from drugs and drug users and be aware of the fact that addiction is a lifelong disease that, in the wrong circumstances, you can fall back into again.
I used to use all those drugs to stop thinking about suicide. Now I’d rather just think about suicide than go through all the bullshit the drugs put me through. Most of the time, honestly, I would rather just kill myself if I was going to relapse, ironic since it used to be the other way around.
So, what’s the point at the end of this long-winded, rambling story? That if you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction, sobriety is absolutely within reach. All it takes is a radical shift in perspective. An understanding of the reasons why you use drugs, which then leads to the understanding that drugs actually make all of these problems worse. Most (some would say all) of us have to learn this the hard way. But if this story can be of any sort of assistance to even one person, that’s enough of God’s blessing for today.