How I Kicked the Heroin


“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire, purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?” - Trainspotting (1996)

Today, I’m gonna talk about one of my least favorite things in the world:


I’ve mentioned that I’ve been addicted to these these drugs in the past, and when I say I was addicted, I don’t mean I had a small vicodin problem after getting my teeth pulled. Every day for about a year and a half, I shot up between $30 and $100 worth of heroin and/or the most powerful prescription opiates I could get my hands on. Morphine, dilaudid, and oxycodone were personal preferences honestly. I’ve never had heroin that quite matched up to those.

My first experiences with prescription opiates came when I was in high school. I was skipping school one day, and saw a PSA on TV warning parents that pain medications could get people high, and to keep them somewhere their kids couldn’t get them. I knew Dad had extreme back pain, and likely had some of these dangerous medications in his room. Being the socially conscious teen I was, I immediately went to verify that my father had taken the necessary precautions that the PSA was warning him to. I took all the pill bottles on his desk and started googling the names of each one.

“Gabapentin? Nope worthless… on to the next one. Lisinopril? Ugh… heart medicine… gross. Hydrocodone? Huh… says it’s the generic name for Vicodin… Eminem raps about taking those! Apparently this ‘Oxycontin’ one is even stronger! Jackpot!”

I started stealing entire bottles of these things. I’d take them with my best buddy at the time, trade them for pot, and sell them to people at school. I had no idea what dope sickness was, and was only vaguely familiar with the concept of withdrawal. I got somewhat lucky here, and was forced into rehab by the courts before ever developing too strong of a dependence. I remember the night before going to rehab, me and my best friend each ate 5 20-mg oxycontins as a sort of “going away party”. The next morning when the van came to take me, I was sick as a dog and couldn’t stop throwing up. I know now that what I was experiencing that day was dopesickness, but it went away in a day or two, and was mild compared to what I’d eventually end up going through in my early twenties.

After that stint in rehab I went to live with Mom in Ohio, and got extremely into recovery. When that 12-step phase ended, I was still in Ohio and didn’t have access to Pop’s medicine cabinet anymore, which meant I didn’t have a steady supply of the things. I’d still buy oxy or vicodin occasionally when the chance arose, but my main vices from the age of 17 up until I was about 23-24 were pot and liquor.

Then, I moved in with Pops down in Florida, and eventually rediscovered his medicine cabinet. For the first year or so, I knew they were there but didn’t have much interest in them. Then, Pops had a genius idea. He decided weed was a better painkiller than his prescriptions were. He asked me to start selling his pills, and he would use the money to buy pot. He figured there would be cash left over that he’d end up giving to me as my cut for sticking my neck out. At first, it went more or less as planned. I’d sell mostly to a dude I partied with and his girlfriend, as well as that dude’s father and stepmother. There were some other customers, but mostly it was those four I’d deal with. As time went on. I started snorting the pills with homeboy and his girl, and eventually they told me snorting them was cool and all but they preferred shooting up. I told ‘em I didn’t judge, and they’d shoot while I snorted. After seeing how balls-to-the-wall blitzed they were getting off shooting it, I decided I wanted to try.

Both of them were adamant about how big of a mistake that would be, and vehemently tried to talk me out of it. After I bothered them about it for a few days, then threatened to stop selling to them if they didn’t help me out, they agreed to show me how to do it. It was an entirely different world, and I immediately realized that I’d been wasting drugs my entire life. I remember it made me smell something weird, and my head felt really warm.

It was pure euphoria. I can’t imagine a better feeling.

There’s a movie called “Trainspotting” that portrays opiate addiction more accurately than anything else I’ve ever seen. There’s a line in there near the beginning that says it best:

“People think it's all about misery and desperation and death and all that shit which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn't do it. After all, we're not fucking stupid. At least, we're not that fucking stupid.”

That says it all. People look at an addict and see how bad they’re destroying themselves, and think it’s the most nonsensical thing they’ve ever seen. They fail to understand that in the mind of an addict, there’s a pro that outweighs all those cons.

Once I started shooting, that’s when things began to very quickly take a downhill turn. I started fucking over friends, they started jumping ship. My cut of the money started being given to me in pills instead of cash. Once my habit had outgrown my cut, I started stealing cash from Pops. When he didn’t have money, I started shoplifting again. (It should be noted that this period of my life came after the time I boosted shit for a living)

The guy I originally ended up selling pills to ended up moving back to his hometown in Illinois, and his girlfriend became my partner in crime. In a sense, we were dating, but there was a mutual disdain for each other that neither of us really bothered keeping a secret. She helped me find pills and steal shit, I had access to my dad’s pill jar, and we both just saw each other as useful for our shared goal of getting as high as possible as often as possible.

At first I did the pills ‘cause they felt good, but over time that began to change. I went from shooting up so I could get high, to shooting up so I could feel normal. I'd sweat through my blankets at night, and start vomiting uncontrollably if I went more than 24 hours without a hit. That nausea is only half of it though. Opiates make you really constipated, then once you don't have them in your system your bowels unlock and you start shitting uncontrollably, too. The mental cravings were also intense and I'd obsess about sticking a vein, pulling back on the plunger, and seeing the red flag that told me I'd hit. I’d get high and pass out from it, then dream about shooting up.

Living a normal life became impossible. Down in Florida, there’s a hot spring called “Rainbow Springs”. It’s by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. If you’re ever near Ocala, I highly suggest going there just to see it. Prior to becoming addicted, going swimming there was one of my favorite things to do. I remember one day early on in the addiction, I tried going there with my friends who weren’t into opiates in an attempt to feel like I was still who I’d been before all this started to happen. I jumped in the water, and it was pure agony. It felt like a million hot pins and needles were being stabbed into every inch of my body. I tried to tough it out for about 30 seconds, hoping maybe once my body adjusted the feeling would go away, but the “pins and needles” just got hotter and sharper. I could barely swim back to the ladder out of the water.

I’m not really sure what caused it, but for some reason water would give me that pins and needles feeling when I was withdrawing. Showers did it too. Friends of mine said the same shit happened to them, so I’ve just always assumed it was a common thing for dopesick folks. I spent the rest of the day watching my buddies swim and have a good time, wondering if I’d ever get to enjoy something other than opiates the way they were.

I felt like I’d lost a part of myself. Swimming was always one of my favorite things to do, and suddenly I just couldn’t anymore. It was literal torture. Hot baths were another thing I’d always loved that was suddenly off my list of relaxing activities. I’m a huge online gamer, and prided myself on how skilled I was. Once I started doing dope, I’d get 10 minutes into a game before nodding out and waking up 30 minutes later to a screen that said “Defeat”, wondering how that was possible when I’d just joined the queue 5 minutes ago. Nothing I used to love mattered anymore. The only thing that brought me any joy was getting high, and I was going to get high no matter what the cost was.

A lot of people try telling me my antisocial behavior probably came about as a result of addiction. I think in the case of a lot of addicts that’s true, but my personality disorder developed independently of addiction. However, addiction did exacerbate my antisocial behavior, and pushed the manipulation and emotional abuse to extremes that were previously unnecessary. One thing didn’t cause the other, but the two issues did compound to turn me into a whole different monster.

At one point, I got locked up for a domestic violence. I’d stolen the last of my Dad’s pills, and when he confronted me about it, we got into a physical altercation. I mouthed off to the cops, and they arrested me. I spent a month in the county jail over it, and got out free and clear. What people fail to realize is that, yes, getting through the withdrawal is hard, but it isn’t the hard part. The hard part is getting over the mental obsession with that pure euphoria I mentioned earlier. After a couple weeks, I bumped into homegirl (my old partner in crime) at a gas station and decided I missed getting high. I was just gonna do it once, for old times sake. I wasn’t gonna do it to the point where I was dependent… just one blast for funzies and then back to the straight and narrow. Once that shit hit my veins, it was back to the races. There’s no such thing as “just this once” when it comes to IV opiate addiction.

Once Pops died, my world went black. I wasn’t getting high to feel good or even feel normal anymore. I was getting high to feel nothing. I’ve talked about it before in other essays, but when Pops died, I was forced to see myself for what I was. All the things I’d been blind to up until that point were suddenly placed center stage, and I couldn’t help but look at them. I couldn’t stand myself, and losing my father was like losing a piece of me. Rather than be forced to look at all that, I’d use opiates to make myself comatose so I couldn’t look at anything. I remember at first, Mom stayed down in Florida to look after me, hoping maybe having her there would help. In a way it did, but the only way I knew how to handle negative emotions at that point in my life was with drugs. The only way I knew how to get drugs were theft and manipulation. Eventually, Mom left because she realized staying would just enable me. I was so high driving her to the airport, I don’t even remember doing it. I thought she’d taken a cab ‘til she brought up me dropping her off at the airport earlier this year. I dunno maybe I wasn’t high, maybe I’ve just repressed the memory.

I know once she was gone, I'd never felt more alone. The only people I had left in my life were my dealers and homegirl I told you about earlier. I ended up blowing through about $30,000 worth of stuff my Dad left behind in a period of about 5 months. Honestly, I was hoping to kill myself via overdose. I’d mix alcohol and xanax with the opiates because I’d seen other people die that way. I’d shoot bigger and bigger doses, too. All that did was increase my tolerance and make the withdrawal more intense. I’d throw massive parties because being surrounded by people made me feel less alone, but I’d spend them in tears sobbing about my dad. I remember I broke my Dad’s urn during one of these shindigs. I’m lucky the ashes were in a bag inside the urn, otherwise I’d have lost his cremains forever.

I didn’t pay bills. I put as little maintenance into my vehicles as possible. By the end of it, I'd sold the vehicles for dope… and all my furniture… and all my guitars… and everything I had except my bed. Even my computer, which has always been my main passion, got brought into the pawn shop ‘cause I was dopesick. I’ve talked about a friend named “Luke” in another essay. If it hadn’t been for him staying by my side during this period, I would’ve had nobody. Homegirl I mentioned earlier jumped ship the moment the money was gone. I used to be resentful towards her for it, but honestly I shouldn’t have expected anything less and it was a smart move on her part.

Eventually, I ended up staying in my dealer’s spare room, which is where I was when the cash finally ran out. I boosted and did odd jobs to try and keep up my habit, but there was no way I could support the habit I’d built that way. It got to the point where nobody would front me anymore because I owed too much as it was, and my dealer wasn’t running a charity. I detoxed in his spare bedroom over a course of about two or three weeks, and once I was able to eat solid food and keep water down he told me it was time for me to move on with my life.

Dopesickness is fuggin’ brutal. You sweat non-stop, but you can’t get warm no matter what you do. All you can think about is how great a hit would feel. Logically, I knew I needed to drink water to replace all the fluids that were leaking out of my pores, but I knew trying to do that would just make me puke even more than I already was. Your whole body feels sore and you have to shit every 20 minutes. Like I said earlier, all that stored up constipation releases and suddenly you need to take a shit like it's what god put you Earth to do. I remember when that happened in this final detox, so much of it had backed up that there was a traffic jam and I sat on the toilet for an hour wishing to God I could just drop a deuce before it felt like my insides got ripped out of me in a one massive explosion. I had restless leg and wanted to walk around, but I couldn't get my legs to move. I couldn't sleep, but I was dead tired. The whole time I'm plotting ways to get into my dealers safe and jack a pill without him knowing, and the only reason I ended up getting clean is I couldn't think of one. I had three different blankets on a rotation: One I was using that would eventually soak up so much sweat it became worthless. Once that happened, I’d throw it in the dryer and replace it with a dry blanket I kept on the floor next my bed. I’d rotate where I was laying on the bed because the sweat would make these soaked patches that made it feel like I was laying in ice. I suppose I’d partially slip out of consciousness occasionally, but I wouldn’t call what I was doing at those times “sleeping”. Eventually, I did fall completely asleep for a good 12 hours and that’s what I considered the end of the dopesickness, even if some of the muscle soreness and nausea lingered a little past that point.

I went from Florida to Ohio, and switched from shooting dope to chugging whiskey. I know the title of this essay makes it seem like I had some amazing answer to kicking opiates. Sorry to disappoint, folks.

The truth is, there is no amazing answer. Recovery isn’t a lightswitch that flicks in your head, and then suddenly everything is better. It’s a long slow process that you build into piece by piece. Everyone does it differently, but nobody ever does it in one big leap. Getting off opiates wasn’t even the beginning of what I’d call “recovery”.  Yeah, I did kick the dope, but really all I did was run out of money, then I replaced the opiates with alcohol.

True recovery didn’t come till five years after I’d put down the needle, when I put the plug in the jug. I’m not planning on going back to doing either, and the only way I can see myself picking up a bottle or a needle is if I’ve completely given up on life. I’m still not “clean” in the sense most normies think an addict should be aiming to be. I smoke pot pretty regularly, and honestly if I were 100% abstinent I’d be even more of an unbearable prick than I already am.

The place I see so many people fuck up is thinking that getting high on one drug is exactly the same as getting high on any drug. That “A drug is a drug is a drug” mentality you see pushed by NA kept me sick for a really long time. In those first days after getting off opiates and coming to Ohio, I still followed the 12-step “A drug is a drug is a drug” philosophy. If I’d crossed paths with someone who did dope at that point in time, that type of thinking woulda had me shooting up. I’m sorta lucky I had that part of my life compartmentalized in Florida, but honestly, drinking wasn’t any better than dope in any way. In a lot of ways, the social acceptability was a huge factor that kept me addicted to booze.  It was easier to get my hands on and it was cheaper, but all those things that imply “safer” send the wrong message. When I was drunk, I was far more erratic and destructive than I was nodding out on my bed from dope. The withdrawal felt worse and was more dangerous.

I’ve said this in other places before, but I’ve seen dudes kicking back entire cases of beer while they ranted about how fucked up heroin addicts were, and how drug addicts were the scum of the Earth. They refuse to accept that they're just another addict, and what they're doin' is really worse than heroin.

I’ve decided to detail all my addictions to various drugs in an essay like this. The three that are left are Synthetic Cannabinoids (aka. Spice), Meth, and good old Marijuana. When I finish up with MJ, I’m hoping I’ll have effectively illustrated why admitting I have a substance abuse issue that I need to manage, and then using the harm reduction model of total abstinence, is a legitimately healthy thing, not just a cop out.

Anyway, here’s the end of Trainspotting:

“So why did I do it? I could offer a million answers - all false. The truth is that I'm a bad person. But, that's gonna change - I'm going to change. This is the last of that sort of thing. Now I'm cleaning up and I'm moving on, going straight and choosing life. I'm looking forward to it already. I'm gonna be just like you. The job, the family, the fucking big television. The washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electric tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisure wear, luggage, three piece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing gutters, getting by, looking ahead, the day you die.”

I’m what happens when you live by the motto ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ then you fuck up and survive
— A Giant Pothead
Dave BarlettaComment