Choosing Freedom, After Decades of Switching Addictions
You may have heard a friend or family member, suffering from Substance Use Disorder, refer to their drug use as a means to “fill a void.” An emptiness inside of them, that is only replenished with actions that dole out instant gratification. As a recovering addict, I can personally attest to the legitimacy of this. For far too many years, producing happiness from within was a seemingly impossible task for me.
By the tender age of thirteen, I knew there was something about me that was different. Yet, I was unsuccessful at identifying why I deviated tremendously from the likes of societal norms. I was in a constant state of anhedonia, lacking the ability to experience life’s pleasures. Forrest Gump’s metaphor comes to mind, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” My perception of this timeless statement is that while we may not have control over every aspect of our life, we do possess the capability to implement a more optimistic perspective. As an adolescent, my “chocolate” was mold-ridden and stale. I longed to feel complete, but I couldn’t dismiss the unfortunate fact that I resembled a puzzle. With one missing piece.
*Trigger warning: This article includes references to self-injury, intravenous drug use and disordered eating.*
One in five US high school students have reported being bullied. Approximately 160,000 teenagers have skipped school as a preventative measure. I encountered bullies for the first time in second grade, in the midst of such an innocent time of my youth. I dreaded entering my elementary school classroom, as I was well aware of what my presence would entail. I endured both verbal and physical harassment from my fellow peers for nearly a decade. I was passive, inevitably leading to the acceptance of my “fate,” in addition to suffering in silence.
My mother was exceedingly popular in bygone days. She was a cheerleader, with a whole host of friends. I admired my mom, but I was fearful when it came to the possibility of disappointing her. When I considered unveiling the truth about my school life, my undoubted hesitation drove me to opt out.
Holding in so much agony and depression compromised my sanity. I craved an escape from the turmoil that ran rampant inside of me. Plastering a fake smile onto my face each day to appease my mother only worsened the matter. One evening after school, I filled my void to satiety. I can vividly recall cutting the flesh of my inner forearm with a razor blade. Self-mutilation releases endorphins that can produce euphoria and calmness, making it a dangerously addictive habit. I proceeded down this road for several years. The benefits I reaped initially from cutting myself gradually faded and thereafter, my depression returned with a vengeance. The emptiness within me was gaping, and I was placed in several psychiatric wards. My doctor prescribed me a medication that increases serotonin levels to rid me of my depressive nature. While I did remain on this antidepressant for years, to no extent did I experience relief.
I experienced an epiphany at the age of sixteen: perhaps illicit drugs would better suit my needs. An acquaintance of mine was an active heroin addict. Sure, I had smoked marijuana, sniffed a few lines of coke and popped MDMA sporadically, but heroin? I was on a journey to find contentment and I was receptive to new ideas, even radical ones. I asked my friend if I could try some, and he obliged. I watched eagerly as he initiated the process. He transformed a powdered drug into a liquid preparation, which he proceeded to pull up into a syringe. He carefully located a viable vein in my arm, then injected me. Instantaneously, I was consumed by the rush of sensations this drug incites. I felt warm, joyful and care-free. The negativity that had been occupying space in my mind all dissipated. I had unearthed the secret to my sorrow; I was happy.
Addiction is an insidious disease that 240 million people struggle with worldwide, and about 15 million from that statistic use injection drugs. Switching addictions is not an uncommon affair. I had a love/hate relationship with heroin. I was in awe of the impact it had on me, how it unburdened me from life’s hindrances in mere seconds. However, I was ignorant to the detriment this potent drug can precipitate, when I initially began abusing it. Heroin took me down a frightening path of homelessness, prostitution, many overdoses and the loss of trust from my family. I sold all my valuable belongings and maxed out my credit cards. When I ran out of iPads, expensive cameras and high-end handbags to pawn, I entered the gates of Hell — offering my body as collateral to solicit money from strangers. Heroin was not saving me from despair, like I formally believed. It was demolishing my life, and devastating my loved ones.