I remember the moment I found out my sister was addicted to heroin. Actually, there are two moments…no wait, three….that really stick out in my mind.
The first moment was THE moment I found out. And I seriously was blindsided. But blindsided in the sense that, I truly just had had no idea. Not really blindsided (yet) in the sense of horror, heartbreak, and fear. I remember she said, “I’ve been addicted to heroin for a long time now, but don’t worry, I’m done with it”. And I thought to myself, “holy s**t. Heroin? That seems pretty hardcore. I don’t think I know ANYONE that’s done heroin, and I’ve known some pretty crazy people. Glad you are done…and I can’t believe none of us knew you were doing that”. I (oh so naively) figured she had temporarily gone off the deep end, and now was “over it”.
The second moment was about a month later, when she met me for dinner at Chuy’s one night. Over chips and queso, she told me she was back at it. That she “couldn’t stop, and was really scared”. We talked for a while, my concern beginning to grow, but still having no true understanding of this monster she was dealing with. After some good ‘ole heart to heart, and wise big sister platitudes, I (oh so naively, once again) mentioned I was going home to take my pain meds (I’d just had some minor surgery done the day before) and crash. My work here was done, I thought. “What kind of pills? What are they for? How many are there?”, she wanted to know. Whoa, there. Simmer down. But the hunger and desperation in her eyes made the concern I’d felt back in the restaurant, grow, and I decided it was time to tell my parents.
Moment number three…my husband and I inviting my parents over. Offering to make them some tea, thinking perhaps a warm beverage would help to soften the blow we were about to deliver. It didn’t. It was awful. That was in October and I remember my dad saying, after I’d highlighted for him all of the frightening details I’d slowly gathered, “I almost guarantee you this Christmas, if she even makes it until then, will be the last one we have with her. I just feel it”. He ended up being wrong, but honestly, only barely.
Since then, she has come a long way. An incredibly long way. We as a family are so very proud of her. Her fight is not over though, and possibly may never be. But she is fighting, and fighting WELL, and fighting BRAVELY, and here is her story.
When did you realize you were an addict?
I was an addict for a long time before I actually realized it. Years into my addiction though, a guy I was dating at the time…an awesome, good guy…moved us to Colorado, in order to give me a fresh start. He quit a job in Austin that he loved…a really cool job….all to help me. But the moment his back was turned, just DAYS after we moved, I went searching. And I found it so quickly. And the relationship dissolved. And I was left with nothing but heroin, the cold streets of Denver, and a whole bunch of drug dealers. My family was quickly removing themselves from my life. I no longer had a boyfriend pushing me to do the right thing. And in my head, I was like, “Yes!!!! This is perfect. Now I can do whatever I want”. I think when I happily chose the streets, over being loved, is when I realized I was a real life addict.
In your journey with addiction, what has been your lowest point?
Gosh. One moment that was my worst? Can I just say that I started crying just now shuffling through all the “worst” moments in my mind? There were so many, I can’t possibly choose just one. For a while, during the time I lived in Colorado, and was facing the very real threat of homelessness, I met a guy named “Sktzo”. He was a big time drug dealer and gun runner, and had just been released from federal prison. He “graciously” took me in, “cared” for me, “loved” me. Why are those words in quotes? Oh, because by gracious, love, and care, I mean “abuse like I could never have imagined”…but in exchange for constant access to all the drugs I would ever want. So I agreed to the deal. He would let me have my beloved heroin, as long as I did exactly what I was told to do, and endured whatever he told me I needed to endure. And it was all bad. So very bad. One night he sent me into Civic Center Park in Denver with a Tech-9 and an ounce of heroin, and told me to bring back a certain amount of money…”don’t come back until you do”. And he was gone. So one night, I ran away. My first (of many) night sleeping on the streets of Denver was awful. The sun went down. The bitter cold set in. I was dope sick. I found a spot to curl up in, in this little alcove behind a store. 5 minutes later a security guard came out and said, “no homeless people allowed. Move along”. Homeless? Me?? It stung, and yet, that was what I had become. The next several days were spent walking the city until my feet bled, and then riding the city bus around until I got kicked off. Eventually, Sktz came and found me, and the abuse (and access to drugs) continued, until eventually he was picked up and arrested for a federal case, sentenced to 23 years.
I’ve hurt my parents in ways I can’t even describe. One time I told them I was ready to go to rehab. They came to Denver to get me, hopes high, prayers answered (they thought). We were staying at a hotel together, leaving the next day to come back to Texas, where rehab awaited me. But the itch to use was too hard to ignore, so I escaped in the middle of the night. Back to Texas they went, without me. Heartbroken. A few days after that I overdosed. I woke up fully clothed in a bathtub, at a Ramada Inn. I could hear people talking in the next room. They saw me overdose, and didn’t do a damn thing about it. Just threw me in the bathtub clothed, and went on about their business. I knew these people weren’t really friends, and the only people who really loved me had just gone back to Texas.
Define “addiction” in YOUR words:
A ball and chain, where the chain hangs around your throat, and the ball sinks all the way into the very depths of hell.
Do you think you have an addictive personality in general?
Yes. There’s not a drug I haven’t done. I was on Antabuse before I was even 21 for a drinking addiction. I had a pill addiction. A heroin addiction. A meth addiction. A needle addiction. A shoplifting addiction. A lying addiction. I think, if I really dig deep, I was addicted to trying to feel different, because I didn’t like the person I was.
So, you think you turned to drugs to fulfill something inside of you that was missing? Cope with something? Self-medicate?
Yes. I never felt good enough. I had a great home life, and a great family. But I was bullied when I was younger. Kids can be cruel, ya’ll. Especially girls. In 5th grade, I was the new girl. The outsider. One day I was “in”, the next day “out”. I never knew which it would be, and I dreaded going to school as a result. In middle school and high school, I was so small, and kids started a rumor that I was bulemic. All I wanted was to fit in, and I didn’t. Or didn’t think I did. I started to act out to prove people wrong. Then I’d feel guilty. With the guilt, came anxiety, and with the anxiety came waves of depression. Then I found something that numbed everything. It came in the form of a pill, prescribed to me by my doctor after having major back surgery. Pills don’t keep working forever, though. Your tolerance goes up, and your bank account goes down, and that’s where heroin came in.
I know a big part of recovery has to do with acccepting responsibility for your own choices, but in some way, do you feel that anyone else should share some of the blame for your addiction? Like the doctor who prescribed the pain pills? The person who first offered you heroin? Your parents?
No. I don’t blame anyone but myself. While I was in the very peak of my addiction, I did blame my parents. Only because I felt like I needed to blame SOMEONE. In retrospect, they did nothing wrong, and in fact, did everything RIGHT. In the moment though, I thought, “if they’d just send me to some lush rehab, buy me a house, a car, and find me a job I love, I’d be able to quit. If they REALLY loved me, they would do those things for me”. Now that I’m clean, I’m thankful for the tough love.
What is your greatest regret?
Misssing out on so many years, and so many things. I missed the birth of all three of my nephews. My brothers baseball games and his high school graduation. Funerals. Weddings. Christmases. Memories. It literally is something I think about every day. I know there is still time in the future, but nothing will ever give me those ten years back, and sometimes that is almost too much to bear.
I also deeply regret turning other people onto heroin. Specifically, my best friend. I put a needle in her arm FOR her in an HEB parking lot. And she fell pretty deeply. I’m happy to say that (with some help from me), she has now been sober for four months, and some of guilt for that has begun to dissipate.
Throughout the ten years or so that you have been an addict, has anyone ever said anything so profound that it really made any sort of difference or impact? Sort of like an ‘aha” moment?
Not really. I don’t even remember anything people said to me, when I was so far gone. I do know that when John (my boyfriend) and I moved to Houston, to live with my aunt and uncle while they helped us to get back on our feet, my aunt said, “Completely surrender, and follow the instructions we give you, daily”. I thought, “wow. I can do that. I can follow simple instructions”. It helped that the instructions were coming from my aunt, a recovered addict, herself. I figured if it worked for her the past 25 years, what she said could be trusted.
What is the dumbest thing someone said to you in the midst of your addiction?
“Girls that shoot heroin are SO sexy”.
“Why don’t you just STOP?”
Has there been any act of kindness bestowed upon you, that made a lasting impact?
Besides the obvious, of my aunt and uncle providing John and I with a place to live, jobs, vehicles, healthcare…opportunities for which I am eternally thankful…
One time, when I was living on the streets in Denver, feet swollen from walking so far, sitting on a sidewalk crying, a taxi pulled up beside me, with an older couple inside. They got out of the car, and came and sat beside me on the pavement. They asked me what was wrong, and I told them everything. Absolutely everything I could think of. They brought me home to their huge house. Cooked me a meal. Let me take a shower. Gave me socks and clean clothes. They even let me stay the night in their guest bed. The next morning, they asked me, “where can we take you?”. I had no place to go, so they just took me back to downtown Denver, where they had found me. But their amazing act of kindness that night gave me a little hope, and I wish so much I knew who they were, so I could thank them.
What are some things you’ve learned over the last ten years?
Life is fragile; it can end in an instant. Sleeping in stairwells of parking garages is surprisingly warm and safe. Your drug dealer is never your friend. They only want your money. The truth is always the easiest thing to tell. My parents are my biggest fans, and my mom is usually right. Wishing your problems will go away doesn’t do anything to make your problems go away. You have to get up and FIGHT for every single thing that you want.
Tell me all your thoughts on God…(Dishwalla and I really want to know)
I had this crazy thing happen to me. You probably won’t believe me, or you will think it’s because I was high, but one night, I saw evil, personified. I saw a demon…white triangular face with slits for eyes, greasy black floor-length hair….looming there at the foot of my bed. The grim reaper coming for me, if you will. It got me thinking, if there is pure evil in this world, then there has to be pure good, too. It opened my mind to the possibility of God, for the first time in a long time. I know that when John read the Bible to me at night, it comforts me. I know I find relief from my crippling anxiety when I pray to God. I know that He was there beside me each time I overdosed, and each night I spent on the street, and I am thankful for that. He has placed people in my life, and I see His light in them, and it makes me aspire to know Him more.
You have three young nephews, and may eventually have children of your own one day. What is the very best thing we can do for them, to try to help them avoid the pain of the path you took?
Be open and real. Topics like sex and drinking and drugs don’t need to be taboo. Your kids need to feel comfortable talking to you about things they are going through that they may feel uncomfortable about, without fear of getting in trouble or upsetting you.
What is helpful to you, as you strive to maintain your sobriety?
The realization that my loved ones are beginning to trust me again. Having two dogs that always keep me smiling. Staying busy, but always making time for “me-time”. Being self-sufficient. Tellling my story. Planning my future. John’s constant encouragement, kind words, patience, and bright outlook. Pilates.
What is NOT helpful?
Attempts to reach out and help other addicts who are not ready to change, and then letting it consume me
Letting guilt and shame take over
Other people telling me what is best for me in MY recovery
What would you say to the parents of other addicts?
This answer comes from my good friend Josh. He says, “If your child is not read to stop using, then they aren’t done. You can kick them out, or buy them everything they ever wanted, but at the end of the day, if they aren’t ready, then it’s not their time. Don’t lose hope. Love them. Don’t enable them. ”
The only thing I (Kristin) would add to that is, a lot of the times, what is most comforting and encouraging is just an ear that truly listens. To be able to call someone who truly cares and spill your heart is helpful beyond measure. I knew when I called my parents there would be no offers of help (unless I was ready to agree to rehab), but sometimes I just wanted to call my mom and tell her, “Mom, I’m scared. I’m tired. I’m cold. These people around me ae bad.” I knew that she couldn’t make the situation better for me, but sometimes I just felt like I needed to voice how bad off I was to someone who loved me, so that maybe something would click for them or for me, that would open one of our hearts to try something new.
What do you tell yourself each day now?
You have a purpose on this earth, and it is to help other people. Be a light. Share your story. Don’t be ashamed of what you’ve gone through, but rather use it, as a tool to help others.
You probably shouldn’t still be alive. Why are you?
I’ve been Narcaned by paramedics FOURTEEN times. That is an insane number of times to overdose, and yet, I’m still alive. I have a very kind and giving heart…I want to help everyone… I think that is my purpose and calling and the reason I am still here. Because of what I have been through, I can relate to so many different groups of people who are regularly looked down upon. The homeless. The addict. Those in abusive relationships. Those in the prison system. I see good in those people, and I want to help bring it out.
What do you want the most?
To be happy. I’d love to write a book, and share my story with as many people as possible, and give hope to people who feel that they are in a hopeless situation. To get married, have children, and buy a home. To create tons of memories with my loved ones-enough to make up for all the ones I missed. My entire life I have told my mom, “Mom, I just want a normal life”. I feel like I finally have that. Now I just want to make it more and more full.