I had started to write a story about the statistics. I had started to write a story about the money. I had started to write a story about Big Pharma. But after reading dozens of articles about previous years’ death totals, daily death totals, projected death totals, all of which are rising despite a major reduction in repeat overdoses and new opioid addiction programs, I put myself back in the addict shoes and remembered, “I don’t give a f**k about dying.” And I remembered, I knew I got hooked in the beginning on prescription pain medication, and people like the Sackler family were pretty much responsible for the start of this epidemic and how they are now trying to cash in on the treatment of opioid addiction with a patent for their own Suboxone like medication. But this never stopped me from doing whatever I had to do to get money for the dope man.
It’s easy to talk about hope and strength, it’s easy to say “it does get better”. But for millions it is only getting worse. Whenever I tell my story in a detox center or an AA group, I hope to make one person aware of what could be if they are truly ready to change. But when death is not enough to scare a person into changing, how you do it? For this addict, guilt and shame kept me out and as for death? I was certain my life would end one of two ways; an overdose or a short life as a drug addict.
For this addict, there was one particular instance that riddled me with guilt that I used drugs to escape from facing and dealing with. It was easier to put the needle in my arm than talk about it with someone. See, I used to gain favor with my dope dealers, doing work or running errands for them in exchange for dope or a little bit of cash, or both. This one night I was asked to pick up a girl I only remember as Ashley. Her face is a composite of many faces and blurred with time, but I do remember her name. I was to bring her to the dope man’s house for payment of my own bags and some gas money. On the way she told me about herself and her life. She had a 3-year-old daughter, a husband who struggled but was 10 months clean and she, herself, had been clean for a few months but still went down every once in a while. She was 24 years old, looking for a job and lived with her parents at the moment.
When we got to the trap house she got her bag for free and grabbed some Xanax bars to go with it. I got my bags and we went in the back room to shoot up. I told her it was strong stuff so do a small shot to start with. But no addict hears such things. She instantly fell out, head slumped, eye shut and lips turning blue. The dope man and I dragged her to the bathroom and put her in the shower while he slapped her across the face to try and wake her, slapped her so hard that blood began to pour from the sides of her mouth. Color returned to her lips and face and her eyelids fluttered as she came to. And I was instructed to “get her the f**k out of the office.”
As I drove her home she was mostly silent, head still bobbing as she popped Xanax bars like tic tac’s into her mouth. Slow down, I said, that’s a bad combination to be taking, I warned. But she kept her head straight and breathed slowly and loudly. And every 5 minutes or so I’d hear that pill bottle cap open. When we go near her house she had me drop her off a couple blocks away and she walked up the hill and I drove off. The next morning my phone blew up from numbers I didn’t recognize, without leaving messages. I called the dope man to go down to score and he told me they had found Ashely dead early that morning. And for years I carried to guilt of having played some kind of part in that to feeling directly responsible had I not given her that ride. It took months after I first got clean to bring that subject up with a professional. And it took weeks to come to realize I was not responsible for Ashley’s death. That I honor her by still remembering her name and that I make a living amends to her and her family every day. She would have gotten what she wanted without my help and she would have done what she did despite my warnings.
Addicts everywhere have similar stories; we all have friends who are dying from this ever increasingly dangerous game. We all have that guilt; we all bury that shame. And I know there are many paths to sobriety and that some do not feel comfortable with a 12 step program, I for one, was very resistant in the beginning. But I know and see from experience if you do not deal with that stuff that is causing you pain from your past and tearing your insides and conscience apart, that you’re most likely at risk of going back out or to continue use until you become one of those 200 that are dying daily in this country. If a 12 step is not for you, I urge you to find some sort of outlet in the form of therapy or a psychologist or even psychiatrist, as mental illness is deeply entangled in this disease and like addiction, is nothing to feel shame over. Or find that person you can trust and confide. Just get it out before it kills you.
If you are struggling with addiction or anything that I’ve mentioned and need a nonjudgmental ear to keep whatever you say in confidence, you can reach out to me for that or any questions you may have by writing to email@example.com