By Joseph Baroud
I know I didn’t die twice and was spared each time for a life of despair on the street, becoming victim to the syringe and the poppy flower. To the depths of my own personal hell I’ve sunk, but each time I’ve gotten up and started walking again. But I know this journey is far from over.
For eight years, I worked on destroying my life. I did whatever I could do to obtain a disgusting, smelly, black tarry substance, and put it in a spoon, or a can of soda, add some water, cook it up, draw it into a syringe, and dig, sometimes for 30 minutes, to find a vein so I could inject the thick brown liquid.
I stole—not from people, but from stores, so I guess I had some morals, as lame as that sounds. I dug through trash for recyclables, thinking sometimes my father was looking down on me from heaven, so proud seeing me do that. Or maybe he just tried to die again.
I was always a troubled youth. I didn’t have a rough time growing up financially, but I had emotional issues. My whole life, I was sent to psychologists and therapists to find out what was wrong with me, and prescribed medication to fix whatever it was.
But it didn’t work. Whether diagnosed as bipolar, autistic, depressed, and whatever medication I was given, I still felt alone most of the time, unloved, and unacknowledged.
After my father died when I was 18, the few friends I had started disappearing for one reason or the other. But I would eventually discover something that, at first, didn’t make me care about being alone. It was heroin. I had used drugs like cocaine or meth recreationally before then, but my natural anxiety didn’t make for the best of fits.
But, the first time I tried heroin, I fell into a kind of love that would soon reveal itself as a nightmare. At first, it kept me company, whenever I needed someone. It was my friend. But at some point, I no longer did it to feel that euphoric high or tranquil calm, but because I had to. My mind and my body had to have it.
Sure, I tried to stop, but if you’ve never endured heroin withdrawal, count yourself lucky. There is nothing worse. You can’t sleep, you can’t sit still, or even be in your skin. It’s the worst anxiety magnified by 20. So, I just kept using.
Finally, I had become so disgusted with myself, my situation, my environment, everything, that I knew I had to change. Knowing I couldn’t quit on my own, I went to a free clinic and was prescribed methadone, a synthetic opiate that works on similar receptors as heroin does, preventing your body from withdrawing from not having heroin in its system. Some people might say I’ve traded one addiction for another. But I don’t get high on methadone and once it’s time to get off, which is very soon, my clinic-dispensed prescription will be gradually reduced, so I can taper off slowly and hopefully evade any withdrawals.
Right about here is the part of stories like this (“My Courageous Battle Against Addiction,” “Kicking Drugs and Feeling Great”) where the writer shares the inspiring lesson they have learned. Well, I got nothing on that front. Because I don’t think I’m anywhere near to being in a place where I could impart wisdom.
You see, for addicts, deciding to stop is just the first step on a long road. Though I’ve been off heroin for two years now and decided to go back to school and get a degree, I am a 30-year-old man with no money who lives in a shack behind his mother’s house. I rarely shower more than twice a week. I am always hungry and I never have any damn thing that I want or need.
But I have gained one thing I never had before: the self-love that comes with self-respect. Instead of relying on heroin or desperately feeling I needed others to love me, I am slowly realizing that the only love that matters is the love that comes from within.
Without it, you can’t hope to love anyone else. And with it, it doesn’t make a damn difference if anyone loves you or not. And I’m trying to love myself by setting goals and accomplishing them. By accepting myself, by being honest and having respect for myself and others.
That’s not a particularly original philosophy, I know, but it’s the best I can do. And for the first time in my life, I am in a place where I’m okay with doing my best. Because for the first time in my life, I know I can, and will, become better.