Catharsis: An Ex-Street Junky Comes Clean
For the best part of the last twenty years I have battled an at times chronic heroin addiction.
During that dark period, I estimate to have burned through at least $300,000. Well, that's where I stopped counting. It's just way too depressing. I have done some dirty, low-down things over that time, nothing that I'm proud of, all of which I'm disgusted with. That's my burden to carry until the day I die.
I've lied, cheated, stole, broken out of, broken into, and violently thrashed my way out of certain situations, none of which can be justified. Not one person I came across over those two decades deserved the treatment that I pushed on them. Not even the drug dealers. Especially Eung. Eung was one of the nice ones. A rare jewel in the filth that is the drug world. Perhaps that's why I took advantage of his trusting nature. Eung was slowly moving up in the complex hierarchy of the drug dealing world. At this time, he was caught in the purgatory of low-level street dealing and mid-level distribution and command. He was able to get his hands on a lot more smack for a hell of a lot less than any street dealer could muster, but he still had to deal on the street as he couldn't yet rely on the bogus residence he had organised to distribute out of. Eung trusted me. I was a valued customer and had known him for two years. I was too nice to be a junky. That's what he used to tell me.
One night, late, in the middle of winter, Eung and I met in our usual spot under the Church Street Bridge on the corner of Alexandra Avenue. We met there because the obscured location was a long way from the heroin hot spot way up the tram line in North Richmond. We'd have to be pretty stiff to be caught in that dark nook by the Yarra River. Eung was a man of systematic routine. First, he would shake my hand. Then, we'd make small talk, the usual incoherent junk bullshit. He would then open up a king size Kleenex tissue filled with fifty and one-hundred dollar deals and crouch down near the pinpoint of the closest street light. And that's where I got him. I planted my size ten steel caps square in his jaw and once he was down, I grabbed the gear and ran. $5,000 worth of heroin grown in Afghanistan, cut in Cambodia and controlled by the Romanians, was now in my possession. That's me set for the month.
The shitty thing about rolling Eung is not that I cracked his jaw, he would agree that that's just a business expense and has to be expected from time to time. It's more that at the time, I knew damn well that he would have to answer to his superiors and cough up the money himself. Money he didn't have. I've met some of those guys and they are motherfuckers not to be messed with. I honestly have no idea how Eung ended up, other than the fact that a reliable source mentioned to me in passing that he was still dealing on the street not long after the incident. Selfishly, I asked no further questions. I didn't want to know.
That's the problem with heroin. You become the devil's plaything. He owns your soul and you are essentially left on the surface world as a ghost. I was one of those privileged, entitled white males that you keep hearing about. I grew up amidst a good, old fashioned family unit, I went to a private school and lived in a nice house in a nice suburb with plenty of toys, gadgets and money. I played a lot of sport, I had manners when it counted, I played the drums and guitar and even as a teenager, I knew that I wanted to become a writer. Every possible opportunity was provided for me by my hard working parents.
But I liked the street. Every chance I had I would spend roaming the city, hanging in bars and experimenting with drugs. I had a decent job, but that was just a means to an end. My drug money. Everything was good. I was able to quit drinking and smoking weed any time I wanted and speed, ecstasy and LSD didn't really do it for me anyway. I thought heroin would be the same. An easy kick. Man, was I wrong.
People I knew that were addicts had all said the same thing to me. Don't do it. It will set you back twenty years if it doesn't kill you first. They would point out all the health risks, their current legal problems, the horrible agony of the withdrawal process and the one statement that really resonates with me now; no one ever sets out to become a dirty junky, it just happens. Clearly, I didn't listen. I'm different.
That's why I'm writing this open confession; to beg you to listen. If you are ever thinking about using heroin, read this first. If you still want to use after that, well, you'll be a complete idiot just like me.
It all started late one summer night at the Revolver Bar on Chapel Street around the time the Melbourne heroin scourge had hit. Even the newspapers had a daily comparison of the state road toll versus the heroin death toll. Heroin was winning. That should have been the first red flag.
A group of us had just seen a band play that we had been following around for a bit. Once the set finished, we went our seperate ways. A friend of mine and myself started to head home. We were pretty well intoxicated. And that's when he dropped the bomb. Do you wanna try heroin? My instinctive reaction was to say no way. My friend seemed somewhat surprised. An understandable reaction, considering that up until this point, I would try anything at least once. He persisted and I kept saying no. He then told me that he had tried it once before and even though the drug made him violently ill, the feeling was still amazing. Red flag number two. He said that all we'd have to do is head into Chinatown and score. There are dealers everywhere and it's pretty cheap. Eventually, I succumbed. Fuck it, why not? I'll try it once, and if it's any good, I'll occasionally dabble. Like with other drugs, I'd be able to stop anytime.
We hit Chinatown and came across two street kids who sold us a very small amount of gear. It cost us $12.50 each. This stuff was even cheaper than weed. I offered one of the kids a few sips of my Coke; he appeared gaunt and undernourished. He passed and let me know that it's not a good idea to share because he has Hepatitis. Red flag number three. I still think about those kids to this very day, hoping that they somehow escaped that life and are doing well. Somehow, I doubt it.
We arrived back to my squalor of a house in Abbotsford, ironically the future heroin hot spot, and prepared the mix. I had absolutely no idea what to do so my buddy had to demonstrate. Grab a spoon, bend it back so the water doesn't spill, add the smack, suck some water up into the syringe, squirt the water into the spoon, remove the plunger from the syringe, crush and dilute the smack with the rubber end of the plunger, filter the mix back into the syringe through a torn piece of cotton wool, whack it up. It was all going very smoothly until that last part. There was no fucking way I was going to shoot it up myself. Needles petrified me. I even fainted during blood tests. He would have to do it. So he did.
I turned my head and closed my eyes as hard as I could and refused to move until I felt a rush. I didn't even feel the needle go in; this guy was more skilled than any pathology nurse. The rush? Well, there's nothing on the planet that comes anywhere near close. In an instant, all of your pain, fears and bad memories are washed away in one titanic, full-body rush. Your entire being becomes numb for a few seconds and then it's just the purest of the pure you will ever feel. Like the day you were born.
Therein lies the problem. You will never, ever, catch that feeling again. In the beginning, the drug is a utopia; then amazing, then good, then okay, until ultimately, your only reason for shooting up is to avoid withdrawal and to feel normal enough to go to work. That's what keeps junkies coming back for more and more. The thrill of the chase. To feel that spiritual bliss that was felt the very first time. It never happens. Trust me, it can't be caught.
Now your soul is the devil's bitch. To do with as he pleases. The trade off? An infrequent opioid rush. A rush that brings you turmoil, misery, hurt, broken relationships, a police record, and quite possibly a markedly shortened life span. The intelligent, shy, private school boy with the world at his feet was dead forever. Stone cold. In his place, a total arsehole stepped forth. Before my addiction took its toll, I was politically motivated, I could change the world, I loved people, hated injustice, deplored animal cruelty, and most importantly, my family was number one. Then I felt nothing. No happiness, sadness, remorse, empathy; nothing.
At my worst, I slept in squats where I witnessed two fatal overdoses and a pregnant teenager attempt to cut her baby out of her stomach with a razor blade. I've dropped on the floor of complete strangers' bedrooms, slept in doorways and cemeteries, been arrested on multiple occasions, spent time behind bars, punched a policeman in the face, been an unwitting member of a high speed police chase through Melbourne's western suburbs, been robbed, bashed and ripped off, even when my instincts told me that the situation wasn't right and to leave immediately. I sold all of my cherished vinyl records, smashed and grabbed from shop windows, scammed, schemed and blatantly pushed my way to score just one more rush. I even successfully targeted a pawn shop for gainful employment so I could buy stolen stock in from friends, give them ridiculous amounts of money for the item and then fail to enter the record into the mandatory police log book; for a commission of course. That ruse didn't last long.
Still, the people I know that know all of these evil things about me, both forgive and trust me. They are clearly better people than I. This isn't bragging, this is reality. Show me a veteran junky that doesn't end up involved in most of these situations and I'll show you a compulsive and delusional liar.
I did my fair share of rehab too. Five weeks at a time. Five tortuous weeks of contending with lunatics, depressives, psychopaths, thieves and liars. Psychological provocation, over medication, false evaluation and delusional reclamation. Sounds like a Tupac song. My room at the Melbourne Clinic even had a lovely view of one of my drug dealer's apartments in the commission high-rise opposite. Talk about your slow-death torture. And for what? To be released unsupervised onto the carnivorous Richmond streets only to score again within ten minutes. I never stood a chance.
I lost some good friends to heroin over the years. Really good friends. Friends that had been through so much crap with me, along for the wild ride, who at times looked after me, fought for me and stole for me when I was too sick to move. Of course, the favours were returned in spades. On occasion, it would take a whole team of us to score heroin. One to steal, one to make a sales connection, one to withdraw their meagre funds to bulk up the deal, one with a semi-reliable dealer and one to stay home close to death because of severe withdrawals. I don't know how I survived. Some of us didn't.
The worst, most selfish part about heroin addiction is not the legal dramas, rehab or losing your life savings; it's the withdrawal. Imagine you have the flu and gastro and then multiply it by about fifty. Now you've got yourself a full-blown opiate withdrawal. Day one is tough, but manageable. It all seems pretty easy. Day two is where it gets you. The exact same thing occurs every single time. You're rudely awoken in a pool of sweat by insane leg cramps. You are doubled over from stomach pains, your legs won't stop twitching and you desperately need to get to a toilet. You have two choices; vomit in the toilet and shit in your pants or shit in the toilet and vomit on the floor. I always chose the latter. Everything looks weird, everything smells disgusting, your head pounds, you have an irritating cough that lasts for months and you'd really just prefer to die. Apparently, that's your senses returning to you. Little comfort.
There will be no sleep for at least two weeks. If, by fluke, you do happen to sleep, your horrific dreams will violently shake you from your shallow slumber. Also, why is there so much bile in your mouth? Better take some pills; your kind-hearted doctor just gave you a whole goody-bag of samples. He trusts you. Which one should you take? Fuck it, take them all. Just don't stop to wonder why you've woken up in intensive care on suicide watch and hooked up to a million drips and machines. At least your permanently stationed nurse is pretty.
There is one way to beat heroin withdrawal with relative ease. Enter the methadone program. It's really great at first. Methadone is legal, only costs thirty dollars a week, and because you're on a high dose, the buzz lasts all day. Then, if you have any hopes of getting yourself clean one day, your doctor begins the weaning process. He's lowering your dose. At first, you can take it, you're even proud of yourself. Then, as your dose decreases further, the headaches start, then the excessive sweating, then the leg cramps. Stomach problems, blurred vision, diarrhoea, aching bones and those fucking restless legs. So, to ease the pain, to top yourself up, you start shooting up again. Now you've got a heroin and a methadone addiction. Your days are totally consumed with scoring and making it to the chemist before closing time. It's a religion. Then your methadone program privileges disappear because you will get caught, and you're right back to where you started.
But never fear. There is one way to beat a heroin and methadone addiction. Enter the suboxone program. Now, for the same price as methadone, you'll only get half the buzz with the added bonus that it's a partial opiate agonist. This means that any opioid rush you try to chase down will be mostly blocked. But you shoot up anyway because now you have a needle fixation. The best part is that the suboxone withdrawal process takes four times as long as heroin withdrawal because it's designed to stick in your system. Heroin has a half-life of eight hours. Suboxone's is thirty-six. Again, you're back at the starting line.
I'm not asking you to feel sorry for me. I'm fine now. Life is good. The devil is slain, the ghost is reborn. All I ask is that if you, or someone you know, is considering using heroin, or is in the early stages of addiction, please do everything in your power to help them. Show them this. They may not appear to be listening, but they might slowly take it in. If just one person takes heed of these warnings, I'll consider this article a success. Some good has to come from all of this.
These days, thanks to the support of my incredible wife, Demelza, who I've put through hell, especially in the early part of our relationship, and my amazing and forgiving family and close friends, I'm clean. Admittedly, I have slipped up on the odd occasion and felt so disgusted with myself for doing so that it would takes months for me to forget and do it again. This time I won't forget; there is a reminder scrawled on a piece of paper that lives in my wallet.
In the past six years, since my last rehab stint, I might have used half a dozen times. I'm not completely out of the woods yet, I'm not sure if I ever will be, but now I've been 146 days completely clean (this includes methadone and suboxone). That's my new top score. This time, the will not to use is as strong as it's ever been. It can be beaten.
Now I've shifted countries; to Mexico, mostly because I really can't return to Melbourne to live. We just don't get along. But I'm also here because I truly love this country. I'm happy. My writing career has never looked so bright and creatively, I'm in a renaissance. My passion for rallying against the government and assisting those less fortunate than me is back, and my devotion to animals, motivation to change drug laws, expose corruption, help drug users and to make industries such as the pharmaceutical juggernaut accountable, is rampant. Even my music collection is growing again!
I may only have twenty years or so remaining on this mortal coil, who knows, but that's the equal amount of time I missed out on thanks to this soul-sucking leech of a drug. That's plenty of time to finally get things done. A difference can still be made and I'll be fucked if I'm going to sit on my arse and do nothing with my time. The poetry is, that I'm in a part of the world where someone like me can make a difference. Sadly, Australia may be lost to me forever. But for the first time I can actually remember, I am truly content with my personal situation. Excited to live again, blessed to be able to feel and love again. I'm even rapt that I can cry again. It's awesome!
Once again, thank you so much to my family and friends and the Queen of my world, Demelza, for helping me get through all of this without judgement, pity, hatred or blame. I apologise profusely for everything I have put you through. And to those who have judged me in the past and will inevitably judge me in the future, I don't care. I probably wouldn't want you around anyway. That, I can honestly say, is the first time that I've ever felt so self-assured as to think that. It's beautiful. Maybe life does begin at forty.
*If you, or someone you know is addicted to heroin, please contact the Australian Drug Foundation for assistance or an appropriate health service near you.