The first time I called the methadone clinic was during my first really bad kick. I did not experience this kick by choice, and I only suffered the pains of withdrawal because the dope dealer left town unexpectedly. I still lived in the house on Port Street, and I still had a good job and paid my rent. But, I had been using heroin everyday for at least six months.
It was really my first experience with the sickness, and it drove me insane from the moment it invaded my brain and body. I had read about it all, and I craved to know what it was like. With all my reading the feeling of withdrawal was still incomprehensible, and that feeling is never fully grasped until you experience it first hand.
I had yet to discover the soothing feeling of the bathtub during withdrawal, so I wandered aimlessly around the house. My mind wallowed in the mud, and my vision was so fuzzy that I could barely stand up. I went outside. The city’s summer wind whipped off the Mississippi River while the puffy, afternoon Southern Louisiana clouds grew darker with each rumbling.
A chill ran up my spine, and I shivered in the July air. I wandered back inside, shivering, to put on a sweatshirt. I returned to the porch, still quaking from the cold in my bones underneath my black hoodie. I zipped it up tighter, and curled up slightly in the metal chair on the stoop. I looked down Port Street, and the houses around seemed to loom in front of me, bending and swaying from the Mississippi wind. Their colors were bright and vibrant, although I remembered them from yesterday to be old and chipping. The windows seemed to dance. And I realized that my mind was so riddled with dope sickness that the fuzziness of the sickness had finally taken over. The fuzziness in sickness is somewhat like the fuzziness of the high, only it is empty rather than full. I looked out onto my street, and witnessed another planet, that seemed like something from my wild child’s imagination.
I shifted my weight, uncomfortable in the sickness, uncomfortable in the chilly air. A neighbor rode by on his old bicycle wearing a wife beater and a pair of shorts, while sweat dripped from his forehead. He looked at me, shaking his tattooed head in understanding.
I wandered back inside, but my mind wandered only to one place. Dope, dope, dope. My stomach rumbled and the world around seemed to turn to Jell-O. Crazy, weird, spiky Jell-O…like a mixture of pleasure and pain, past and future, sickness and health.
Inside my house again, I shut the door behind me. Suddenly my vision went nearly dark, as my eyes groped to adjust to the dim room. I turned on the television, and restlessly lay down on the blue velvet couch. I lay there for a second, but my skin crawled and everything felt like shit; like Jell-O, like worms crawling through my skin like it were the Earth.
I got off the couch and wandered into the kitchen. I picked up the phone book, while my eyes took a minute to focus on such small print in their fuzziness. I flipped to the same page, again, feeling for its folded corner. I picked up the phone several times to dial the number, but I hesitated and hung up at the last minute.
Finally, I dialed the number to the methadone clinic, waiting to hear the ringing. A cheerful voice on the other end answered. I barely squeaked when I talked, but somehow I managed to let the voice on the other end hear that I may need methadone. I told her I used heroin, but not intravenously. I told her I had been using less than a year.
Immediately she responded, “Oh no way, honey. You have to been on heroin for AT LEAST a year before you can get on methadone!” I was stunned. The sickness rode hard up and down my neck, and at that moment the nausea came flying up from my guts. Panic rose in my head.
“Oh, okay,” was all I could say.
I slowly hung up the phone, completely unprepared for the outcome now. The thought of dope invaded my mind, and the worms began to move around under my skin again. My stomach gurgled with emptiness and poisonous yellow bile, and I shifted around unable to get comfortable in this crawling skin. The bells in my brain began to ring with thoughts of dope, until I finally picked up the phone. I dialed the dope man’s number, yet again. And, yet again, it still went to voicemail after three rings.
My legs ached, and I sighed heavily. I got back up off my bed, and turned on the CD player. Sitting back on my bed, groaning and writhing from the pain, I tried to listen to an old CD. I had loved that CD for many years, many years before my love for dope took over everything else, including myself. Jerry’s guitar echoed through the room and my head. At first it was hard for me to hear any of the notes, it all sounded so muddled, and the worms crawled and crawled through me, sinking their way into my soul.
Silence broke my trance for a moment, the music changed tracks and the worms settled. The guitar let out a lonely sound that I warmly recognized, and the Grateful Dead broke into ‘Standing on the Moon.” That has always been one of my favorite Dead songs, a beautiful love song to someone far away. Jerry’s voice echoed through my heart, and I started to dance, if only for a second. I felt something beyond myself holding me up, forcing me to move much longer than I thought I could even stand. I still collapsed before the song ended, breathless, because the need for heroin had taken over, leaving me powerless once more.
Listening to Jerry’s guitar, I thought about days gone by, and I thought shared experience. I looked towards the ceiling and in my fuzzy vision I saw notes of music and someone I used to be. I saw the inspiration I needed to push on through, and I curled up in bed and waited.
The dope man finally answered his phone that night. I did not get clean then, and it would be many years before I called a methadone clinic again.
Today, there is a drug that is used in replacement therapy for opiate addicts that have been using less than a year. Buprenorphine offers promise for both short term and long-term opiate addicts, and it has been deemed as a safer, less addicting alternative to methadone. I think that methadone clinics should also be able to provide both alternatives, so that they will not lose another caller like me searching for help. I think that methadone clinics should move towards the goal of treating their patients’ addiction, through counseling, medication, and various treatment options.
The long and sort of it is that addiction is different for each and every one of us. There is no one right answer, and many of us will try several different things before we find something that works.
By Eliza Player