At first, it’s an arrival on a piece of paper, following its schedule with frightening accuracy. It’s definitely making great time, and you wake up to a distant whistle, so faint, but it’s coming. A yawn, forcing tears out of your eyes, and it’s closer. The next sound piercing, goosebumps leap out of your skin. It’s 80 degrees in the shade and you are freezing in the sun.
The rumble vibrates the tracks, the ground quivers and you see the gravel between ties shake. An hour ahead of schedule, and your bowels break. You rush to the bathroom, but you can’t decide whether to sit or stand hunched over. The faintest smell triggers waves of nausea to roll into shore, high tide a terrible analogy at this point. Diarrhea and vomit battle for bragging rights, and every joint tells you with fiery certainty that you my friend, have made some terrible mistakes.
Calves cramp, sweat pours out of every pore. The rapid fire sneezes reignite every joint’s grievances. Two hours in, 70 to go…and there will be no nodding out. Comatose sleep surplus is about to be balanced and there is nothing quite like the kick. Weakness rips at your body, tears through your mind. Anxiety ratcheted up, it’s going to get so much worse…
Seconds are minutes, hours days. Night falls and your spine becomes electric, the proverbial fish out of water with the power of immortality. Make it through the first 24 hours to endure an even more difficult 2nd day. You can’t eat, you force Gatorade down so you don’t dehydrate. All that artificial heaven is giving you hell back in spades.
It’s so easy to end the pain…go get some more dope. Surely there is someone to beg, borrow or steal from. Man up, play on sympathies, do something because this isn’t cutting it….
* * *
Kicking heroin or any opiate sucks. I have done it the “easy” way, in rehabs with methadone tapers, I have just gone on buprenorphine and stayed on it for years, and I have done it the hard way, kicking cold turkey in jail, or in my house in a vain attempt to save my marriage. There is always a price to pay no matter the route chosen to get clean.
There are no surprises after the first time an addict comes face to face with that locomotive barreling down the tracks. Maybe the fact that even a few days of constant use of a strong opiate can cause a small commuter train into town is a bit of a shock, but the bottom line is we know what is in store for us if we pick up the drugs again. The 72 hours of acute hell, the weeks of sleepless nights that continue on, all of it becomes defined in our bodies and minds. Yet we still relapse, we still fall back into the clutches of the most false of saviors.
A little over 11 months ago I went through my last kick. From mid-2005 until May of 2011, I was on a roller coaster of heroin, oxycodone, or buprenorphine. While the latter was a maintenance drug, that doesn’t get the user “high,” it still is a synthetic opiate, that binds to all the opiate receptors in the brain except the “good” one, the mu receptor for those that really want to know. The one that causes euphoria, artificial bliss, the unsustainable high to chase.
That kick was brutal, and I set a personal best of no sleep for 33 days. I have always attributed the sleep aspect as repayment of debt, that I had nodded out a combined 792 hours over that 6 year period and karma was just getting its house back in order. If I tried to go back over the period of my life where chemical joy substituted for inner peace and contentment, it would be impossible to count up the number of times where I was dope sick. I even struggle trying to remember the various rehabs that I attended.
Why am I writing about this you might ask? It’s a crappy subject, it is a recounting of sheer hell, both physical and mental. It is a battle where the combatants are one’s conscious thoughts up against the survival, instinctual subconscious brain. At times, the two form a truce, and before I knew it, a needle was back in my arm, and the day or so of pain I had endured was a complete waste, or a gold star for my masochism wall. At other times, my mind was made up that I had to quit or die.
The point is, I have two people I have met through correspondence from reading my memoir, that are in the midst of the mother of all fights. One has made it through the shitting, puking, cramping, sweating, aching, acute phase, and the other is dipping a toe into the deep end of the pool to see if the water is tepid enough. I also learned about 3 more, one clean for some time, and the other 2 still trying to find their way between life and death. All of this in the last 5 days.
I know these people, and I know their pain, their fears and apprehensions without knowing much at all about them personally. We are kin, cut from the same diseased, moth-eaten cloth. I know their levels of self-esteem crawl through the deepest gulleys in their minds. I can sense the self-loathing when they glance in the mirror, how the moments of disgust and regret grind salty glass into all those self-inflicted judgments.
They are my brothers and sisters, and I want everyone to know they choose to fight. That stepping into the ring against the up and coming Tyson, is something that makes me proud to know them. That my brother had the courage to pick up the phone and call me, unhinged, with raw, brutal honesty, humbles me. So I write this to say I love you all, I know where you are and where you’ve been. It’s an honor to know you guys and gals, an honor to offer my prayers out to you all.
And I ask everyone else that reads this little blog to think about these nameless, faceless human beings, to offer a prayer, or to maybe gain a different perspective. That these people are the most courageous, that they have enough guts to choose life and fight. It is scary the sheer frequency I find out about “new” opiate addicts. That so many are Doctor fed, white coat wearing, swanky office dwelling pushers, is saddening.
These people might just be your neighbor, your cousin, a spouse or friend. They can have homes, jobs, normal lives in appearance. They may snort, smoke, shoot or just swallow their way to oblivion, all in an effort to ease the pain. Some may not make it, some may die and you will never hear about it since fame is not on their side. Be a friend to them, be a silent supporter, I don’t care. But don’t ignore their plight, don’t say they did it to themselves. In the end, we all want the same things, to be loved, to have any demons silenced and live a life of peace and happiness.
So offer a prayer, offer a helping hand, do whatever it is you can even if it is just opening your eyes and shredding your denial. To my friends, I love you guys, even though we have never met. Please don’t give up on yourselves, please learn to forgive yourselves, learn to love yourselves. You know how to reach me, any hour of the day or night.
72 hours of sheer pain and a few more sleepless nights is a small price to pay to know you will never have to go through this agony again. It is a tiny pittance of suffering to live a lifetime of achieving your dreams. It’s never too late to give up and choose life.
“It is easy to get a thousand prescriptions but hard to get one single remedy.” ~Chinese Proverb