“An alcoholic spends his life committing suicide on the installment plan.”
Keep It Simple, Hazelton Mediations
I can relate to this quote. I remember thinking, when I first used the needle I wanted to die. I was just too afraid to push the blade down into my wrist. I knew, deep down inside, that in entering a plea agreement with heroin and the needle, my eventual sentence would be death.
But, life has a funny way of working out for us sometimes. And in the end, my sentence became death or recovery. I chose recovery.
A life of addiction has many tiny deaths involved. Our support systems die, as our friends and family become fed up with our irresponsible actions. Our bodies are also dying, as we poison them daily with drugs and dangerous situations. Our minds suffer a death, too, as we numb them from both pain and thought. Finally, our hopes and dreams also suffer through a death, as we push them aside for our addictions.
I know that I lost a lot of my support system through my addiction. So often, I held my family members at a distance. I did not want to listen to what they had to say about my drug use, so it was better just not to argue about things I was not ready to change. Or things I could not change. It took me several years to gain the tools to actually change my life. I lost many of my old friends, as I drifted away from them in pursuit of my addiction. I put my addiction before everything I cared about, and that meant the death of many relationships in my life.
In my recovery, I work hard to rebuild those relationships. Some relationships are salvageable, and others are not. Over time, I have earned back the trust of my family. As I have begun to speak out about addiction, many of my old friends who once lost respect for me have come to find that respect once more. Their respect is in a much different light these days, but it is respect, nonetheless. Through my recovery, I have also added new members to my support system. We can always find support in the shared experience of addiction. Our friends also in recovery can become the strongest branch of support.
The state of my body was in disarray when I finally quit using. I remember looking down at my arms one day, as I sat in the bathroom, shivering and quaking from the pains of withdrawal. My hair hung limp and damp, covering my face while the yellow light above me shone onto the bruises that covered my arms. My body hurt from both lack of heroin, and the hangover from shooting cocaine most of the night. Looking down at my arms, I was appalled at the bruises and blood drops screaming with me, alone with my pain.
I was hospitalized several times for endocarditis. Endocarditis is a disease of the heart, where using IV drugs have caused an infection on one of the valves. Each time, the hospitalization was merely a scare. But, it did not steer me away from using the needle for very long.
With heroin and IV injection, the deterioration of the body becomes obvious. We are covered in bruises, and each morning we wake up puking our guts out. All addiction takes a toll on the body. It cannot stay healthy with the constant invasion of foreign substance. The alcoholic’s liver begins to work harder, and the smoker’s lungs begin to wheeze. The crack addict’s lips are burned, and the cocaine addict suffers from frequent nosebleeds. Taking too many pills can cause problems with the addict’s stomach. Our bodies are slowly dying under the pressure of our active addictions.
As my addiction took over my life, my mind slowly began to bend in acceptance of my new rules. As my addiction progressed, I had episodes of depression, anxiety, anger, and sometimes even pure madness. I numbed my mind, getting high all day, every day. And my mind began to suffer its own death, as it was left to gather dust on the shelf.
I pushed everything aside for my addiction, leaving my hopes and dreams for a later day. I carried a tattered notebook with me, but more often than not it sat blank and unused. I made money for drugs working in a strip club, and all my dreams of writing and traveling the world had long since left me. My life revolved around getting my daily fix, and then getting high all day to maintain. There were no more hopes and dreams that had not become just as fuzzy as all the scenery around me. And most of my hopes those days centered on my hope to get high. Really high.
I may have realized at some points that my life around me was crumbling, and everything I knew left in a tragic wasteland of death. But, I did not care. I knew when I started using the needle that some piece of me wanted to die, but I was just afraid to push the blade down into my wrist.
And thankfully, I never gained the courage to pull that trigger. Because if I had, I would not be here, alive and healthy, in recovery…sharing my experiences with others. It took a storm of epic proportions and the loss of so many things dear in my life to lead me to recovery. But once I embraced recovery, I was eventually able to embrace myself once more. Slowly, all the pieces that died have begun to sprout again. Some limbs grow stronger through tragedy, and others just grow in a different direction. But, most importantly…the dead begins to live again, and we do get our lives back.