It was the summer of 2010. I was supposed to take a few classes over break but when my financial aid was denied, it initiated a chain of events that forever changed my life.
I just started dating Brad. We met through a mutual friend and things started solid AF. I thought I had finally found a good one.
Originally, I was supposed to stay in town for some killer journalism classes. The ironic thing, I was actually excited about it but money wins again. I decide to stay at school for a little bit longer anyway. I was in no rush to get back. Brad was a townie so he was already home. I end up crashing at a friend’s house for two weeks —so Brad and I could get to know each other.
The summer continues as I make my way back home. Since I wasn’t studying, I really had no reason to be there and I couldn’t afford a place on my own. Brad and I kept in touch. He would actually drive to Jersey most weekends. He sometimes would pick me up Friday after work, drive six hours to get me, drive six hours back with me, spend Saturday together and then drive another 12 hours to take me home on Sunday.
Things were getting serious.
My mom even liked him, which never happened. Brad and I then started hanging out with my friends from home when he was there and they loved him too. It wasn’t until Fiona (one of my home friends) started dating an Oxy dealer when things got interesting.
Brad wasn’t a newbie to the drug game —he sold weed. He wasn’t a high-class dealer by any means but he did it to smoke for free. He wanted to be a doctor so getting into trouble wasn’t an option. However, we were about to learn that getting high overpowered all of our hopes and dreams.
At first, it was simple.
Fiona’s boyfriend, Lew, would give us free pills anytime we were partying together. Then we started buying pills or should I say, Brad bought us pills. We’d only do them if there was something fun going on.
It wasn’t until Brad and Lew became friends that we got the idea to start selling pills too. Before we knew it, we were addicted. We didn’t even know what we were getting into before it was too late.
We were sick if we didn’t have them, yet, we didn’t even know what we were doing.
That’s the problem with painkillers. Sometimes you don’t realize how bad you are until you run out of pills. Brad would leave a few with me when he’d go back and then we’d re-up when he returned, usually the following weekend.
I remember thinking how normal it felt. And it seemed my friends did too. We would sit outside for hours smoking cigarettes just talking about life. At first, we only snorted them and I’d only do one if Brad gave it to me.
Except later, I started doing them more.
I was using alone and I was even paying for them myself —when Brad wasn’t around. Lew was always good so the drugs never ran out. It wasn’t until he got arrested that things escalated rather quickly.
The Best Fall Down Sometimes
And on the day I had zero left, I felt the impending consequences of my ignorant actions a.k.a. I was experiencing opioid withdrawal for the very first time. Withdrawal includes physical and mental symptoms that occur after stopping or reducing opioids, a substance found in certain prescription pain medications as well as illegal drugs such as heroin.
Opioid withdrawal develops after the body has become accustomed to a certain level of opioids. The first week is typically the worst, but I was about to learn that some seem to last way longer (like anxiety, depression, cravings).
To put things in perspective, take a look below.
You know how you need your coffee (tea works too, love tea) every morning and if you go without, you may get an actual caffeine headache? Well, that’s exactly what opioid withdrawal is like, times 1,000. I was freezing cold yet profusely sweating. All I wanted to do was lay in bed but even then, I felt like shit.
I wanted to rest but I was restless. I had stomach pain, nausea, and everything hurt. It felt like I was run over by a mack truck. Honestly, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I was living with my mom, at the time, who thought I had the flu (it was summer during my sophomore year at college). I was only home for another month. I couldn’t make it.
I remember calling Brad telling him to come pick me up because I thought I was dying.
Ironically, he had called in sick from work since he felt just as bad as I did. This was the beginning of our co-dependency. We would fight if we didn’t have drugs and we’d fight even if we did. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Luckily, at this point, Fiona called affirming Lew just scored. They knew all too well the depths of withdrawal since they were addicted long before we ever were, and so, they make a house call. Everything was going to be okay. And when I got high, everything was.
When the Stars Refuse to Shine
Summer was officially over and back to school it was. Brad and I were still together, still secretly addicted but functioning (or so we thought). The year continues as I withdraw from more and more social events —events I once looked forward too. People I loved hanging out with. I signed my papers from the sorority I had joined prior to being addicted.
Our lives revolved around these damn pills.
I didn’t have time for anything else. I know it sounds selfish and you know what, it definitely is but this is what addiction looks like. We found new dealers and had our usual clientele. We had a few regulars that became our friends. We robbed people. We got beat back. I stopped being the fun party girl and became this trap boo pill head I never thought I’d be. I was obsessed, in short, and my friends were beginning to notice.
One friend, in particular, Elaina, tried so hard to bring me back. Check out this Facebook message I somehow saved:
Hey, Mace. This is long overdue, but I would regret not doing this. We’ve been over everything we thought was holding us back from being friends like we always were, but I really need you to hear me out. I know how much you love Brad, and I am SO happy for you. You know I am not the type of person to be mean or jealous in any way, I only want the best for you.
That being said, I KNOW you have been getting fucked up all the time, even though I don’t see you EVER anymore. Other people have told me over the last couple months, but I felt like it wasn’t my business. And it’s not. You might not see it as a problem, but I don’t want the person I used to turn to for everything in my life turning into a dirtbag, and that’s where you’re heading if you continue.
I don’t want to make you change your life, but you’ve seen the things that have happened to others. They all started with blues and couldn’t control themselves after a while. I can’t remember the last time I saw you when you weren’t fucked up. It’s so hurtful that you have turned into such a different person since you’ve been with Brad.
I’m not saying it’s his fault, I know he would never try to wrong you, he seems like a good guy but you never would have gotten so into this if it weren’t for him. It’s your fault too.
I don’t even know who you are anymore. I want my person back. I’ll help you with whatever you need, but idk how you can’t see how much this is hurting the people who love you. We used to be the most important things in your life, and now, we don’t even know you anymore. I’m not asking to be your #1 priority but you need to get your shit together. Call me if this affects you in any way. I miss who you used to be.
I remember reading this message to Brad. Deep down, it hurt. All of it was true but I was still in denial. It hurts my heart even thinking about it now. At the time, we were appalled that she could even say those words. Brad and I were in love and no one was going to get in our way. From one drug dealer to the next, we had branched out and became this Bonnie and Clyde, ride or die drug dealing couple.
People knew us.
People wanted to be us (scratch that), it more so, them wanting what we had (a.k.a. pills and a shit ton of them). Things were getting worse on the drug front. Besides me losing my friends, we had gotten most of his addicted. Well, it wasn’t like we forced them to use, but we did them enough that eventually, they wanted in too. Some of them started selling to support their new habit, which was good business for us since we were their hookup.
Even the Wrong Words Seem to Rhyme
But not every day was a party. By the time junior year ended, we were doing almost 31 pills a day. We’d go to bed making sure we had enough to wake up because we couldn’t start our day without snorting 60 milligrams.
And on those days when our dealers were dry and we ran through our stash, we battled withdrawal. Except, we weren’t trying to taper off them. We were just trying to survive until we picked up again.
To give you an idea of how withdrawal lingers, take another look below.
I would sit there and make excuses. I was the queen of justification. I could reason my way in or out of anything, which is why addicts are known as master manipulators. Except now, my family was involved.
I suppose my lack of acknowledgment and effort to mend things with Elaina prompted her to call my sister. Now, I understand why she did. But back then, I was pissed. I remember waking up with 22 missed calls from my big sis.
So I call her back when I wake up to her crying as if someone died.
Well, turns out, Elaina sent my sister the same Facebook message adding that Brad and I are addicted to heroin and have been for some time (which was a rumor going around school). She says this is the reason why “she” doesn’t come home anymore. She also tells my sister that Brad forces me to shoot up (another rumor at the time) and I’m only using to get skinny (half true) because Brad tells me I’m fat.
Which wasn’t exactly accurate (pretty damn close though). This girl had my back —except, I wasn’t ready to see it. I tell my sister everything is a bold face lie (which was a lie in itself) and she’s only trying to ruin my life because I’m choosing to not be her friend.
Brad honestly did treat me well-ish (in a drug-addicted way) and he never called me fat. If anything, I called myself fat but that’s beside the point. Luckily, my sister believed me. She even told Elaina to stay out of my life and to leave her alone.
Elaina: If you’re reading this today, I love you. Thank you for trying.
At the time, I was still pissed. I won the battle but I knew I couldn’t win the war with this happening all the time —like I had a choice. I mean these people were just trying to help me, but at the time, I thought these pills were the answer to all of my problems. And anyone who got in my way of doing just that became an enemy of the state.
So I cool off by snorting more pills. These drugs were my only coping mechanism. It was like everything I learned growing up went right out the window. And it’s because these narcotics literally change the matrix of your brain. Opioids activate several brain systems, including one that motivates a person to take more of the drug. They also cause changes in other parts of the brain that limit a person’s ability to stop taking them.
When these two brain processes work in combination, the effect is like hitting the accelerator in an automobile —with the brakes torn out. A person addicted to opioids feels an intense urge to use the drug again. He or she will have a hard time resisting that urge.
No wonder I was acting like an animal.
The longer someone misuses opioids, the less self-control the person will have. It gets harder and harder to resist or to follow through on a resolution to stop. Opioids literally diminished my ability to make the other choice. My brain was like that car, besides having no brakes, there was no power steering. And anyone whose power steering has ever gone out knows how hard it is to drive. So yeah, that was me.
And because these prescription opioids affected me and continue to affect hundreds of thousands (almost millions) in such powerful ways, please only use them exactly as prescribed and if absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you risk letting a tiny circular pill take control of your brain. And let me just say, it took five years, an intervention, multiple treatment centers, churches, halfway houses, painful detoxes, and several months of white knuckling to get where I am today.
But I’m here now almost five years sober, a new woman living my new normal. I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it. Because my worst day clean is far better than my best day high.
For a detailed account of how I got through opioid withdrawal, check out, Because You Can Get Better Too: How I Battled Opioid Withdrawal.
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.