Three-Dimensional Russian Roulette

I used to be addicted to heroin.

I am addicted to heroin.

I will always be addicted to heroin.

Verbs melt and blend and lose their meaning when talking about addiction.  And so does life.  No matter that I have not been physically, medically, existentially addicted to heroin in decades.  Once you’ve found the way to eradicate pain, you never forget the path.

I was 18 when I first used heroin.  I was in the Army and had already been shooting speed for a while.  I loved the energy, the awareness, the LIFE crystal meth gave me.  I could do things never been done before (like spend a full night bending metal coat hangers by hand to make an ashtray holder of exactly the right height), write things that never been written before (like a 30-page taxonomy of hunger) and think thoughts never thought before (like “Every single person on this train wants to see me dead, my carcass torn apart by dogs in the streets”).  I’m not saying meth gave me good or worthwhile deeds, words or thoughts, but it sure gave me a lot of them.

My friend Chuck introduced me to heroin, as a break, a respite from speed.  From the minute I pushed that plunger and the dope started flowing through my veins, I felt I’d finally found home after living life as a castaway.  Even vomiting that first time felt so damn good, I knew I’d released all tension in my body, my brain, my soul, tension I’d not even known I had.  I knew comfort in every dimension.

Heroin was my opiate, but I know any opiate offers the user relief from the pain of life.  Once I’d gotten high on heroin, all other drugs seemed like they’d just been misguided milestones helping me to find THE ANSWER.  I’d never have guessed the answer consisted in giving up questioning, but now I knew how to make life fit me.  Just a shot and life wasn’t a loose garment; the shot let me know that going naked was perfectly okay.  Everything was perfectly okay.  I was perfectly okay.  I mean, I was playing three-dimensional Russian Roulette with my body, my brain and my soul, but that seemed like a slight risk to take when compared with the absence of pain.

If life required inner resources I’d never found or manufactured, heroin was a credit card that let me spend the way I wanted to spend.  Of course, like the charge card in the hands of a college sophomore, after the freedom, after the spree, after the peace comes the day of reckoning.  For the sophomore it’s the first unpayable monthly statement; for me, it was recognizing I no longer just wanted to get high, I needed to get high.  Soon, I wasn’t even getting high, really, I was just keeping away the empty terror of not being able to score, to use, to keep from jonesing.

My experiences are mine, I know, but I think most addicts recognize what I’m talking about—the script has been flipped and instead of chasing joy, you’re running from fear.  And when addiction is the hellhound on your heels, you blow right past a whole graveyard of “nevers.”

“I’ll never share needles.”

“I’ll never buy dope from someone I don’t know.”

“I’ll never steal to get dope.”

“I’ll never sell myself for drugs.”

You’re so busy running, you can’t even look back to see those nevers.  At some point, “I’ll never say never again” makes a hell of a lot more sense.

As I say, heroin was my opiate.  I’m an older (but not old) man, and didn’t have access to pharmaceutical painkillers, but I suspect today’s disappearing nevers are simply the same old poisoned wine in new wineskins.

I write this from a rest area in Lincoln, New Hampshire, just some thoughts that wouldn’t allow me to continue driving until I got them out.  In the last year, I’ve been to eight or nine celebrations of life, celebrations of people in their 20’s and 30’s.  The cause of death?  Overdose or suicide, and I know it would take an insightful philosopher-coroner to figure out which.  Close friends of mine, some of them, some just people I’d met in meetings of various kinds.  Each and every gathering, though, had that fog of regret at the brevity of the deceased’s life.  Too soon.  Too soon.

I don’t have the solution for an attraction to a powder/pill/liquid that takes away all pain—at least for a while.  I wish I did.  I do know I’ve escaped, or at least put enough distance between myself and those dogs that I can live a quiet, normal life without disappearing nevers.  Still, as far away as the baying of those dogs may be, every day I remember:

I used to be addicted to heroin.

I am addicted to heroin.

I will always be addicted to heroin.

 

 

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