What I’ve learned from two years of opiate dependency
By Jeff Jordans, Contributor
My name’s Jeff*. I’m 22 years old—turning 23 in May—and I was born and raised in the Lower Mainland area. I have a caring family, consisting of my divorced parents and three siblings. I’m a business student at Douglas College, and I’m hoping to transfer to Simon Fraser University in the next two or three years. I like to write, but my bread and butter is the construction gig I got lucky enough to land last year. I’ve been playing the electric bass since I was 15, and recently, a band I was a part of when I first started playing, has decided to get back together. So that’s really cool, I suppose. I’m in a healthy relationship with a woman I love. Overall, I can’t complain.
Except, yeah, I’m a heroin addict.
Over the course of the past two years, I’ve never found myself going to any sort of Narcotics Anonymous meetings. I was never the kind of person to willingly open up to a group of strangers who are just as fucked up as myself, and like most of the more cynical members of my generation, I’m not too partial to the idea of surrendering myself to a higher power. It implies, to me, that—if I ever get to the point where I’m clean for a thousand days—it won’t be because I worked at it, but because of Jesus, Allah, Batman, or a lamp, whichever of those I deem to be my higher power.
I’m currently clean at the moment; heroin addicts are terrific liars, so you can take that with however many grains of salt you want, but it’s the truth. Even after officially quitting my everyday use almost a year and a half ago, for various reasons, I still do lapse every once in a while. Although most of the time I’m the only one who knows about it, I still feel guilty. The only thing worse than failing those who care about you is failing yourself.
This brings me to the very first thing I learned right at the beginning of this journey: heroin feels good.This may seem obvious, but it’s rarely heard straight from the horse’s mouth. The night my girlfriend and I graduated from hillbilly heroin to actual heroin happened because we were unable to find the little blue pills that we—by that point—loved way more than we loved each other. We got a hold of a friend of a friend, who offered us a quarter gram of down (Vancouver slang for H) for $40. We weren’t exactly overwhelmed by the euphoric feelings of opiates up until this point, so we decided, fuck it—let’s do heroin. To make a long story short, we both inhaled a very small dose of the delicate, fine white powder up our noses. After that first hit, I felt good. Not obviously fucked up, nor fully euphoric, but chilled. We decided we could go for that more often, especially since there was absolutely no hangover. As an avid user of drugs, this was rather surprising to me.
With subtlety comes a dulled ability to notice things, which goes hand in hand with another thing I learned: heroin addiction happens at a snail’s pace. Remember in Breaking Bad when Jesse shoots up heroin with his girlfriend for the very first time and you see his face go all happy and he floats up to the ceiling and shit? Nothing like that. These aren’t Lays ketchup chips; there are plenty of people who can, indeed, do just one hit and never use it again. You just see it as extremely convenient and inexpensive compared to the chalky prescription pills shoved up your nasal cavities. You start to grab a bag of D before you head to work at six in the morning every single day, because you find that you’re at your very best when you’re high (you’re too busy being high to notice how entirely fucked up of an attitude this is).
The honeymoon phase ends quickly though; despite the fact that I stayed with my girlfriend for another year and a half after starting to use, I fell out of love with her quickly—heroin took over. But I learned quickly that, like any drug, a junkie quickly starts to become too tolerant of his regular dose.You pay your dope boy 20 bucks and you’re set for two or three days. But like everything else that’s too good to be true, the curtain opens up real quick.
After a while of ignorant bliss, one day, you’ll start to feel like you’ve got the flu. Except you don’t have the flu—you’re “dope sick,” a state of being that is the bane of any junkie’s existence.
You’ll eventually feel like hammered shit and you’ll decide that being stoned and sick is better than being sober and sick. So, you take your dose and you feel cool as a cucumber once again. Your body craves it on a deep, primal level, which is why good people do bad things in the pursuit of heroin.
This is the point where you realize heroin is expensive. You’ll start to do reprehensible, dreadful stuff to stave off the sick. For example, I took 16-hour shifts driving around the Fraser Valley, slinging any kind of illegal substance you can imagine to people of various lifestyles to support my own lifestyle. My girlfriend, on the other hand, supported her lifestyle by stealing hundreds of dollars in dope and paper off of me. I ended up in debt. As most of you know, there is no worse place to end up in the drug trade than in debt to someone more powerful than you. This isn’t some kid swiping a dime bag from his dad’s top drawer, this girl actually put my life in danger. I felt sick when I found out.
It was at this point where I tapped out; I ran like a little kid to mom and dad, asked for help getting clean, and got it. Also, at this point, I learned of the many reasons heroin sucks.
Heroin sucks because there’s no position more submissive than being a slave to a dope boy. It sucks because, while I may have entirely loathed myself, people in my life—friends and family—didn’t, and they don’t want to see their loved one turn into a Hastings/Main dwelling fiend. It sucks because self-medication seems like the only viable option for a diseased brain, and it’s impossible to leave that mindset. It sucks because trust and love leave your life faster than the people who want to see you get better. It sucks not because it hurts me, but because it hurts my loved ones.
The most noticeable part of heroin withdrawal happened to me in the one place no red-blooded man in his early-20s wants anything to happen to—my dick. Heroin numbs one’s body, so for all my flaws as a junkie, I could just bang for hours. After getting clean? Not so much; this may have a little bit to do with the fact that my current girlfriend is significantly sexier than the junkie thief, but when I started getting clean, even the slightest stimulation would set me off. If I so much as shook myself twice after peeing, boom went the dynamite. This was an extremely embarrassing—but fortunately not permanent—consequence of my use.
What I learned about being hooked on heroin is this: you are never too far gone. Junkies do horrible shit to get their fix, but a lot of them aren’t horrible people. Most addicts see heroin as a way to self-medicate. Whatever issues they’re running from, they’re much scarier to them than the needle. I learned that I’ve got enough mental ailments that I’m basically a walking, talking pharmacy, and instead of taking heroin for said ailments, a medical professional is helping me cope. Between the aforementioned professional and the opiate maintenance program I’m involved in, I like to think I’ve got my bases covered.
But the hardest part about all of this is accepting the fact that this may very well be a problem for me for the rest of my life. Withdrawals don’t end with the sickness; I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get my brain used to the idea that, no, we can’t go out and blow half our paycheque on false feelings. Knowing me, it’ll probably be forever.
There exists pain so strong and scars so deep that not even the strongest painkillers can bring relief, but I’ve heard that there are very few things stronger than the human spirit. The number of days I’m clean isn’t what matters—it’s making sure that number stays above zero. I wonder how strong my spirit is.
You are not alone in your struggle to get free of drug addiction. Contact the following for immediate help. Your information is kept confidential and services are provided for free in your language.
The Alcohol & Drug Information and Referral Service
Lower Mainland: 604-660-9382, BC: 1-800-663-1441
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.