About a year and a half ago, I wrote one of my most personal blog posts with a friend about the selfish truth behind addiction. While I’m happy to say that the person we wrote about has been clean for about a year and a half, not every addict and family is so lucky. It sounds drastic, but heroin addiction is an epidemic. An epidemic that can affect every single part of society, even if you can’t imagine it now. I know I never thought my life would be touched by the drug, but it was.
I was happy when addicts found our initial blog post and reacted positively to it, so I decided I wanted to give another perspective — and, arguably, the most important one. I asked my recovered friend some tough questions about her addiction and recovery. She answered honestly and introspectively, and most importantly, was willing to tell the truth in order to inspire others. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who hasn’t been affected by drug addiction, we can all learn something from her strength and commitment.
My friend’s name is Rachael, and this is her story.
Rachael: This is hard to write about because I really can’t describe what it’s like to be addicted to heroin. My mind was so clouded and messed up that half of it is a blur. I didn’t care how dangerous it was because I couldn’t feel anything – no pain, no feelings, no love. Only love for THAT drug.
At first, I didn’t know I was addicted to heroin. I threw up every time I did it, but I kept wanting it. Eventually, I stopped getting sick and instead got sick when I didn’t use it for a day. That’s when I realized I needed it, but I was so oblivious that I didn’t care. It feels like you’re invincible, but now that I’m clean, I look back at the terrible “Memories of the Day” on Facebook and I’m disgusted at everything I said and did.
My family and friends did try to support me, but this is where it gets really hard. Nothing can stop you until you, the addict, makes the decision and is ready for it. There weren’t any ways for family and friends to help me, because I didn’t care and didn’t feel. That’s where addicts go wrong — they try to please their friends and family by going to rehab/treatment, but they were never over it in the first place.
I didn’t accept anyone’s advice because I knew I wasn’t ready. I had to hit rock bottom and honestly, that didn’t even change me.
The Pain and Freedom of Getting Clean
I didn’t really know how crazy I was acting until I got sober and tried to think back. I never used a needle — I only ever sniffed it. I think that’s what also made withdrawal a little easier because I’ve heard shooting up is really bad. I was always too afraid to shoot up, but people had asked if they could shoot me up because I have “good veins.”
When I finally decided, on my own, to get clean for good, it was because I was sick of what the drug made me do. I experienced the full sickness of withdrawal when I went through it the first time without suboxone or an opioid blocker. At this point, I was doing 20 bags a day. That’s $80 per bun, which is 10 bags — so a total of $160 a day. To get through withdrawal, I stocked up on Icy Hot, Tylenol, Advil PM, and stayed in my house for 2 weeks straight and went nowhere. I had cold and hot shakes, leg cramping, diarrhea and vomiting — basically the flu but ten times worse. You can’t sleep and you don’t want to eat — you just want to die. I got through it and still had sleeping problems, but I was over the sickness.
I dabbled after I was a couple weeks clean and went back to working downtown. I wasn’t doing nearly as much as I was before, but I started using again. I started living in Harrisburg and got back into it. The first time I went through withdrawal was horrible. You would think it would’ve changed me, but hanging around the same crowd brought me back. I didn’t delete my past out of my life. To stay clean, you have to do that.
I eventually got down to doing 4 bags a day, and then I got on the opioid blocker, suboxone, so I wouldn’t be sick. I knew I was such a better person sober, but I really didn’t consider myself “clean” until I got pregnant since I was on suboxone. I tapered my suboxone down to nothing about a month into my pregnancy. I also cut everyone out of my life that brought drama, including the city and acquaintances of people I knew did drugs, and started growing up.
I knew I needed to shape up and get myself together — for my daughter, her father and everyone else. Because I owed everyone at least that.
Re-Learning How to Live
In terms of rehab centers, some may have a problem with the way I went about getting clean, but every experience is different. I was actually set to go to a rehab center. They had a bed open and I was supposed to go, but I knew I would sign myself out and not make it. Rehab is an escape, which addicts definitely need, but not if you go back to the same place once you’re clean. If you get clean in a supervised facility and you were away from your home, you have the right to sign out if you’re of age and don’t have criminal charges. I also think people are so supervised in rehab centers that they get clean and go back to where they were before when they were unsupervised. They don’t know how to live, and most people I’ve known who went to rehab have relapsed.
Ultimately, everything changed when I got sober. I was doing drugs day in and day out for so long that it was almost like I had to re-learn how to talk to people and carry on a conversation. Learning how to control my feelings is the hardest thing. It’s scary to make friends or be around places where I did drugs.
I burned so many bridges with my family and real friends, so I knew it would take time for them to build trust and not be disappointed in me anymore. I believe jobs were a problem, at least in my experience. I worked in downtown Harrisburg and other places I won’t name. I was around everyone who had drugs and were on drugs that it was “convenient.” I don’t think I could ever work in that environment again just because I know it’s there.
I also know some people love to enjoy others’ downfalls, and I’m sure there are tons of people out there to this day who don’t believe I’m really clean. I try not to care because I know I’m sober. And the people who really know me know that I’m clean.
The transition from being addicted to sober is life-changing. From being messed up for so long and feeling nothing to trying to deal with my emotions sober is so overwhelming. I still don’t know how to really control my emotions, but I’m learning every day.
Defining People by Addiction
Unfortunately, addicts do live with the disease forever. It’s hard to explain, and it also depends on the person. The easiest way I can describe it is if you imagine that there’s a little voice or devil tapping on your shoulder 24/7, 365 days a year. The voice gets worse if you’re around people who are using or if you know heroin is around. You have to be smart enough to fight that voice every single day.
I can’t be around people I know associated with any form of opiates. I also instantly get in a bad mood if I’m driving around anywhere I used to be high or where I used to get heroin. I hate being in the city, and I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve went over there since I’ve been clean. You have to change how you live and who you’re around. My daughter has helped me a lot.
I don’t feel like addiction defines me anymore because I’m not using the drug — but I think I might always consider myself “recovering.” I’m always scared I’m going to fall back into it, but I feel like I’m more scared than I should be. I’ve deleted everyone out of my life that had anything to do with the drug so I could have the most peaceful life possible. I’ve also isolated myself from making friends that I’m sort of scared to make the wrong ones again. I think this bump in the road has made me a great judge of character.
I look back on what I was and don’t even know or recognize myself. You would never think drugs could really make someone the complete opposite of who they are, but they can. I was ashamed and embarrassed for a long time, but I’m glad I can say I got clean as fast as I did on my own. Not many addicts can accomplish that and get to a place where they can support a baby. I feel my story is unique in a way and hopefully gives addicts something to look forward to — whether they’re using, recovering or relapsing. Because there is hope and everyone can get clean. You just have to want it for yourself, not when other people are forcing you to.
At the end of the day, what motivates me to stay sober is my daughter. I also know my life is so much better, friendship and relationship-wise, without heroin. I’ve had doors open ever since I got clean, and I’d love for life to keep getting better and better. I know if I went back, I probably wouldn’t come back and my daughter is everything to me.
I’m so much happier now that I’m clean. I was so cold with no emotion at all that it’s surreal to be able to feel things and actually be happy, satisfied and living for something. I have a purpose in life again.
My favorite things are the simple ones: day-long book binges, cozy candles, dog kisses, ink on your hands, tree stars (leaves for those of you who never watched The Land Before Time) sweater weather, new ideas, local craft beer, punctuation, and knotty saltwater hair. Desserts are my favorite meal. I'm a creative writer and editor, and I created this space to keep my writing reflexes sharp and to share my simple ramblings with you!