Nate kisses me goodbye as I rush inside. I was running late but I knew I could pull it off. I had become pretty good at this whole double life thing.
What would make tonight any different?
Well, I can think of a few things —starting with the fact that I was a resident at my first halfway house in Del Ray Beach, Florida. Except, I wasn’t halfway to anything. Maybe halfway to hell because I was all the way gone.
High off heroin, I take the key to this place out of my purse, however, it’s not the first thing I find. Instead, I pull out the 30-day sobriety chip I had picked up a few days prior —so much for that. I figured this would happen. I mean, yeah. I just graduated from rehab. But I was only telling them what I thought they wanted to hear. I simply wanted to get out of that place. I knew I’d eventually get high again. I just didn’t know when or how.
Well, until I met Nate.
We had only met the day before yesterday and yet, he was officially my boyfriend. I knew how to pick them, right? Wrong. Moments later, I find that key and run inside without a second thought. My eyes were pins and I had two minutes to call the house manager, telling her that I was home for curfew —one of many rules I had to follow. For the record, that (among other things) used to drive me crazy. Back then, I didn’t see the point.
Nowadays, I realize that nothing good happens after 11 PM.
Nevertheless, each night, I had to check in with Tara (the house manager), at my designated time (as did the other girls who lived there). It’s supposed to teach you to be accountable. They want to ensure you’re coherent enough that you remember to call and responsible enough that you actually do. I checked one of those boxes —so I figured that was enough (at least for now). Somehow, I pull it off. I couldn’t believe it. Except, I may have spoken too soon. Uh-oh, I thought as I feel this heat rising in my throat.
It felt like I was about to throw up but I try to shove it back down. I had to keep it in —at least until this phone call ended. I quickly tell Tara, “I’m back safe and sound. I hope you have a good night.” Oh boy. One word, projectile. As soon as that last syllable left my lips, I puke all over the bathroom floor. I didn’t make it to the toilet and the shower was certainly out of the question. I also missed the trash and sink completely. It literally went everywhere —everywhere. It smelt too. Damnit.
I hadn’t used in over a month.
This was my first official relapse.
Consequently, my tolerance wasn’t what it used to be. I knew this and still, I did it. Unfortunately, that’s what it’s like being a drug addict —you know you shouldn’t but you can’t not. The thing is, when you’re in treatment, it’s a lot harder to get high. Once you’re out though, if you do, in fact, relapse, most of us, stupidly start with whatever dose we were on before entering. This is how a lot of kids overdose and die.
For me, like in the height of my addiction, I was using roughly 900 milligrams of oxy every 24 hours, which comes out to nearly 30 tablets a day. There was a pill drought when this went down so all I could get my hands on was heroin. I later learned that the amount I did was equivalent to about that. Luckily, my shit wasn’t laced with fentanyl because I’d probably be dead too. I say it like that for a reason. If this was today, who knows what would have happened. Why?
Because things are way worse now than they were five years ago.
Like way worse. I mean, of the 42,000 overdose deaths reported in our country, about 19,000 —almost half —were related to fentanyl. And those numbers are from 2016. Since then, it’s gotten exponentially worse. In fact, overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl have more than doubled since 2016, per research from the CDC. Now that it’s 2018, I kid you not when I say —addicts are dropping dead left and right. Once again, there’s a reason for that too.
Clearly, oxy isn’t driving our epidemic anymore like it was in my day. It’s these damn batches of illicit fentanyl, which are being made throughout China, exported to Mexico, where drug dealers mix it with heroin or turn it into counterfeit medication before smuggling it into the U.S. Then, American drug dealers sell it on the street (without really knowing what’s inside). They want to make more money with less while addicts want their shit cheap and strong. What do you know? Fentanyl does just that.
You get more bang for your buck (quite literally).
But I don’t think you understand how strong this drug really is. Per a report from the DEA, it’s 30-50 times more powerful than heroin and 50-100 times more potent than morphine. I’m pretty sure you can die from merely inhaling the fumes of it. In fact, I just learned that a friend of a friend literally died from just that. I mean, if you have fentanyl powder on your hands for five or 10 minutes, you can actually overdose, which I know sounds inconceivable.
Ugh. Anyway, it goes without saying that I did too much that day. I didn’t have time to think though. Remember, no one could see or know what just happened and no one could find out why either. I mean, living in a sober house means you have to stay sober. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that. Thus far, everyone thought I was the innocent girl I was pretending to be. But that wouldn’t last. Like most halfway houses, this one included, there’s a zero-tolerance policy for relapsing of any kind.
And what was I doing all damn day?
If you said relapsing and 13-stepping it with my new boyfriend, you’d be right. For those who aren’t familiar, step 13 is obviously not an official part of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or any 12-step program for that matter. It was merely something we’d joke about in treatment. What does it mean? In short, it’s when you date someone with less than a year of sobriety. I barely had 30 days and my current significant other wasn’t even in the program.
He definitely needed it, however, we both needed a lot of things we never got. The next thing I remember, I’m trying to clean my mess up. My fight or flight instincts kicked in and I was fighting. I grab a shit ton of toilet paper and go at it. I was nearly finished —thank GOD, when I’m interrupted by a surprise visit I wanted nothing to do with. But I was up for some pretending. If you remember from a previous post, my roommate and best friend at the time, Molly, got herself kicked out a few days prior.
She too relapsed but unlike me (so far), she was caught.
Her thing was liquor, which I never really liked. So I wasn’t tempted when she got drunk. Honestly, though, I was saving my relapse card for something harder. Plus, the thing about pills is that there’s no scent to cover up. It’s fairly easy to pretend you’re not high. But when you’re drunk, people notice. I mean, she smelt like straight-up vodka. As a result, when she walks in wasted, our suitemates end up ratting on her and here we are. Somehow, the other girls felt bad for me.
They said they were sorry I had to room with someone who was being a bad influence. Little did they know, my innocent act was merely hiding the fact that I was getting high. I was the bad influence but not on Molly. She made her bed and I was still making mine. I should add that spots in these places don’t stay empty for long. Consequently, that impending visit was my new roomie. I brush my teeth and spray some fresh linen Fabreeze that barely covered the vomit scent lingering throughout.
I tried. I really fucking tried.
I wanted to just get into bed and pretend none of this happened. Instead, I hear my bedroom door open —in walks the house manager I just got off the phone with and my new roommate, Dani. She was a cute brunette and from my first impression, she looked really nice. It was late though. I had a long enough day. But I knew I had to play the game. So we small talk for a few. I learn that she was from New York, addicted to cocaine and trying really hard to stay sober.
“This is actually my fifth halfway house,” she recounts. “I just left my sixth treatment center.” I bet you’re thinking that’s a lot and maybe it is, but I actually met a few others who were on their 27th go around. So yeah, there’s a lot of recovery in Del Ray but just as much relapse —if not more. After that, I tell her a little bit about me. I pretend that I love it here. “I know you will too,” I opine. She replies back saying that I seemed really cool.
“I’m glad they paired us together.”
I thought that was sweet. I say thank you and, we call it a night. Right before though, I ask if she needed to use the bathroom. Honestly, that was one of those questions you really don’t want the answer too but you ask anyway. Luckily, the girl says no. As she turns over, I pretend like I’m washing up for bed. Really, I was double checking everything before she got a chance too. For the record, no one ever found out.
At the same time, I thought Dani and I would be friends. What was I thinking? I mean, when you’re faking it and never making it, it’s pretty hard to do anything —especially make an actual companion. We ended up going for coffee a few times but that was it. I wasn’t her roomie long enough for anything else. Why? Because a few days after that, I was caught and eventually, I get kicked out too. Not yet though.
Besides having a curfew, I also had to get a job (check), attend meetings (check) and go to something called IOP (intensive outpatient program). When you’re in IOP, you’re receiving the same recovery tools that you would get if you were a resident in an actual treatment center —like the one I just left. The main difference is that you have the freedom to live at home and attend work or school as normal.
One often-overlooked benefit of IOP is the ability to put those coping strategies you learn into action right away. When you’re in a residential facility, all you’re doing is learning, which is necessary, of course. But the real test comes when you leave. Can you apply what you learned into your real life? Maybe, maybe not. That’s where IOP comes into play. It reinforces those skills so that you can incorporate them while still receiving guidance and support from your peers and counselor.
In short, it’s a safe way to slowly transition back to reality.
I mean, when you’re institutionalized, it’s easy to stay sober. There are very little temptations. You’re safe. Instead of being thrown to the wolves, most addicts leaving treatment, stay at some type of halfway house and attend IOP —just like I was doing. I had a specific after-care plan that my therapist set up for me. I merely had to show up, but honestly, that was easier said than done since I was only going to keep up appearances. I didn’t actually want to be there. At least I had Molly.
Well, I did —until I didn’t, as you know. Before she left though, we were in the same class along with a few other ladies (these groups, which are usually separated by gender, don’t exceed 10 people). Generally, the length ranges from 2-4 months and you normally meet 3-5 times per week for about 9 hours. Since Molly and I were roommates, she’d drive us over together. I remember those trips. That girl made everything fun (even her car was rad AF). She had a 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible.
Emphasis on convertible because we’d always put the top down.
I mean, when you’re “locked up” like we had been —you best believe we were going to take full advantage of the freedoms we did have. One of those being joy rides. I also recall stopping for red bulls before each session. We’d tweak the fuck out on anything that would alter our state of mind —energy drinks included, which were illegal in our inpatient program. IOP was actually in that same building (just on a different floor); so we’d try to sneak over and say hi either before or after class.
I always looked forward to that for some reason. I think it was because we were on the other side for a change. I remember former residents visiting back when I lived there and I’d always feel this sense of envy that they made it. Well, now that was me. Most of the guys and gals we knew left a few days after us. As a result, we wouldn’t see any of our residential friends. It’s a 30-day program after all, but the same employees still worked there.
Yes, there were times when I hated each and every staff member —it’s just, I couldn’t hide the fact that all of us had gotten pretty close. And even though, Molly and I weren’t digging the whole sobriety thing, we felt the love over there. I mean, we had spent every waking moment together. They saw us at our worst and still, they wanted to help. I had a few favorites but as a whole, they were great. I remember crying too and laughing with them all. I think because of that, we shared this unique bond.
This time though, we were running a few minutes late.
So Molly and I quickly say goodbye as we head downstairs for class. Today, like most, we had group therapy. Generally speaking, IOP relies heavily on group sessions because it improves communication skills, enhances sober behavior while introducing structure and guidance from like-minded individuals. Groups focus on things like addiction education, relapse prevention, stress management, coping skills, and additional support. Besides peer groups, we were also assigned, individual therapists.
I met with mine about twice a week. Keep in mind that individual therapy isn’t the focal point of IOP. It’s often used as an extra service. Usually, the aim of one-on-one therapy isn’t to uncover underlying issues that influence drug or alcohol abuse (because that most likely has already been addressed). Rather it helps rectify maladaptive behaviors. It also gives you a chance to share things you may not want others knowing. Or at least, maybe you don’t feel comfortable sharing whatever that is just yet.
I get it. I had a lot of that and that’s OK.
There’s no timeframe or expiration date on your comfort. Share when you’re ready. I mean, maybe you need to talk about it with your therapist first so that he or she can guide you on how to approach it in a group setting. There were a bunch of things I didn’t feel comfortable talking about in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know. I mean, most of the other women in my class, I had never met before. So hell yes, it’s normal to be hesitant to spill the beans on something you don’t even want to admit to yourself.
And sometimes, one-on-one attention is exactly what you need in order to get to a place where you can share those things out loud. Because secrecy is a big part of recovery; your only as sick as your secrets. By not sharing or at least addressing them in some fashion, you’re only feeding that addictive behavior, which I also had a lot of. I didn’t want anyone to know certain things about my past —especially my current relapse. And I certainly didn’t want my therapist to know either. Heck, I didn’t even want to know.
So to everyone, I was happy to be on the straight and narrow. A few hours later, class was over. Thank GOD. It was another long day. I was tired. I was also relieved that I didn’t have to pee in a cup —a prerequisite of IOP that occurred sporadically. We just didn’t know when, which of course was the point. As a whole, drug testing is a common practice in many plans. Without testing, treatment professionals are more or less left in the dark about the current status and success of the addict’s abstinence.
It’s not necessarily a matter of trust, and it’s definitely not about shaming the person.
Treatment is all about maintaining sobriety and working on skills to cope with the effects of life after drugs —testing being an essential part of that. I mean, how else would my therapist, Lisa, determine my benchmarks of success, personal growth and what I needed to work on? I will say though that sometimes (who am I kidding; most of the time), the biggest critic we have is our own self. Our brain can rationalize just about anything and make small victories seem grandiose or big slip-ups seem like nothing.
Well, drug testing bridges that gap. It can help the individual (me) and the treatment professional (my therapist) more accurately assess the addict’s success. Because as a whole, we are master manipulators. I mean, I was telling everyone how happy I was to be sober. Yet, I wasn’t happy nor sober. I was lying. I needed that drug test badly. I didn’t want it but now I see I needed it. Maybe failing would have woken me up sooner? I say that because I never made it to another one. I never went back to IOP again.
That day was my last session. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I will say, the few instances, I did get tested, I passed. But that was a week ago. Things were different now and as you know, my luck was about to run out. I mean, that’s what happens when your relapse mode is full-steam ahead like it was for me. It’s just, no one knew what I was actually up too, which is probably why I hadn’t been asked to pee in a cup at my halfway house thus far. I figured Lisa was reporting back to Tara. Since I was never under suspicion and everyone at IOP loved me, they didn’t see a need too.
At least not yet. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. Most sober living homes, don’t test regularly (if they test at all). I think it’s because they are fairly expensive; so they are only used if someone thinks, without a doubt, the addict has, in fact, relapsed. Nevertheless, a few days go by. It was the weekend. I only went to IOP Monday through Thursday. So I was free —at least for a few more days. Little did I know, this false freedom I felt wasn’t freedom at all. I mistakenly took enslavement for empowerment.
And unfortunately, things got progressively worse after that.
At the time, Molly was dating a boy she met in treatment named Mark. Grievously, like I said in another article, he overdosed. He was fucking dead. Well, this is when that went down. Needlesstosay, we were heartbroken. But his death wasn’t a total loss. Prior to him passing away, Mark introduced me to that boy Nate —my new boyfriend. And believe it or not, a few more days go by and for whatever reason, Molly ends up dating Mark’s best friend, Nick. I’m not even kidding.
So Mark is replaced by Nick and we become the four amigos once again. Except, that wouldn’t last either. Molly was living at her parent’s in Ft. Lauderdale (since she had gotten kicked out of our halfway house), which is about 40 minutes from where the rest of us were. I think it was the distance and the fact that Nick didn’t have a car that their relationship ended as fast as it started. Because if you couldn’t already tell, it was fucked from the start. Nevertheless, I was still dating Nate who was still Nick’s best friend.
So I wake up with a text from Nate —telling me if I wanted to re-up, I should meet him and Nick in town. I thought about it for a second. I weighed the pros and cons against one another as I walk into the bathroom and slowly shut the door. My roommate Dani was still asleep and I wanted to keep it that way. On one hand, I really wanted to get high. I was bored and I had a fear of missing out. I now knew that Nate would be getting fucked up all day. And if he did it without me, I would, in fact, be jealous.
But on the other, I hadn’t yet gotten caught. They say to quit while you’re ahead. I knew that was the smart thing to do. I knew I should have broken things off with Nate. It’s just, I couldn’t. The addict brain in me had taken over once again. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep everything up. I knew if they figured it out, I’d be kicked out. But I guess I didn’t care or at least not enough. Because I end up saying yes to that offer I should have refused.
I remember walking and then waiting at the Dunkin Donuts on Atlantic Avenue.
It was just a few minutes from my halfway house and our standard meeting spot. I remember having a weird feeling like what if they beat me? I wanted to go with them like I had all the other times we used and picked up together. But his normal guy was out and I meet them anyway. I mean, he seemed into me. Why would he beat me if he liked me? I was praying that was enough. Most of the time, if you’re not physically there, there’s a big chance he or she will take your money and use it to buy themselves drugs.
But if you give them an incentive to come back, they most likely will. So I tell Nate, I have a few extra bills and maybe a happy ending —all with his name on it, if he comes back like he said. Because yeah, even though I was pretty good at reading people, I did get beat a few times. Except, it only occurred when I let someone else do the work for me. It’s just, sometimes, like this instance, you don’t have a choice. But that’s the cost of buying drugs. Charge it to the game, they say. There is no formula.
I even had good friends of mine rob me.
This one time, one of my main girls who was also addicted to painkillers, said she found a new hookup. That week, in particular, our town was dry —so I say hell yes and we make our way to Camden, New Jersey (I was living at home at the time). We pull up and I hand her my money. She says she’ll be right back and walks in the front door of some ghetto residence. Well, 25 minutes go by and I’m still in the car waiting. A few minutes after that, I realize she’s not coming back. I remember thinking what a fucking bitch.
She probably walked in the front, bought herself pills with the money I gave her and then walked out the back like she did nothing wrong. Her boyfriend must have been waiting on some side street. I’m sure it was premeditated. I was so mad at her and I probably still am. I didn’t have to a right to be though because I had done the exact same thing before. I also had people try to sell me fake pills but as an all-star junkie, I knew all of this. And so, I learned a few tricks along the way to avoid that at all costs.
It’s just sometimes, it happens anyway.
On the other hand, there are dealers who are weird about letting new people come by. Nate’s backup guy was one of those; so he had to go alone. Even Nick wasn’t allowed but he was the one with the car (he borrowed his roommates that day because he knew this would happen). I will say, the times I was able too —I’d check out the product first and then give he or she my money. Those were the instances, I never got beat, which is the best way to buy drugs —not that I’m telling you to buy drugs (just my experience with it).
Anyway, my mom just wired me $200. She said since I was doing so well, she thought I deserved it. I didn’t but I took it anyway. Regrettably, I give Nate that money as he kisses my forehead and says he’ll be back in a bit. I sit out front on a nearby bench and wait. He was into me, I kept thinking. There’s no way he’d beat me. It’s just, he too was an addict. You really never know. I mean, I was the girl who stole your pills and then helped you look for them.
We say one thing and then we do another.
Honestly, though, I think it was the fact that I was back here playing the same waiting game I told myself I’d never participate in again. I hated this part. It was the worst. Would they return like Nate said or would I never see my money or him again? Would they, in fact, beat me? Or would this be the exception to the rule to never give your money to another addict without being there? Well, unluckily you’ll have to wait for my very next blog post to see how this one ends.
In the meantime, I want you to know that this period in my life was miserable. I was miserable. I was waking up with the same demons I tried so hard to fight the night before. Spoiler alert, I lost every time. I lost until I actually did something about it. I mean, people who loved me did their best to tell me what I knew all along. They even tried to physically help me stop. But, I needed to figure that out on my own.
And you know what? Eventually, I did. So hold on. Keep going. Life will throw curveballs at us all, that much is certain. However, how we respond and how we choose to look at these difficulties forms our character and, ultimately, decides how we view the world. So if you’re going through hell, keep going. There will come a time when you believe everything is finished —that will be the beginning. Because what matters most, is how well you walk through the fire.
And the best way out is always through.