I grew up in Upper Darby which is right outside of Philadelphia. My parents separated when I was young, and I lived with my mom. Growing up a lot of my friends hung out on the corner and drank alcohol and smoked weed. When I was 18 years old, I started doing pills at parties, such as Vicodin and Percocet. After a night of drinking, to combat the hangover I would take the pills, and I would feel the euphoria of the high.
I started experiencing some emotional distress over a recent breakup, and my mom telling me the dad I grew up with wasn’t my real dad. I had all these emotions and I didn’t know how to deal with them. In my early twenties, I remember the day after I broke up with my girlfriend at that time, I called my now ex-girlfriend’s brother, and we started doing cocaine together. I was trying to wash away the pain of these recent events.
At the time, I had a good job at the lumber yard. A friend who worked for a drug company knew someone who was able to get hundreds of bottles of pills, prescription opioids, which we would both sell and take. I thought the pills were safe because they were from a medical drug company, and it wasn’t heroin, meth, or coke. It was for people with pain, and working in a lumber yard I experienced pain. At that point, I learned what withdrawal was. I remember being in the lumber yard, and I was so sick so I called my friend and tried to get more pills but he didn’t have any. I was throwing up, my body ached. It became a routine. Eventually, I was spending $400 a week just to avoid the feeling of withdrawal, and I wasn’t even getting high anymore.
My problems with drugs continued to spiral out of control spending around $1,000 a week on prescription opioids. Struggling to pay bills I moved home with my mom. This went on throughout my twenties. Around age 27, one day I woke up, went to work, but left at lunchtime because I was too dope sick and worried about getting money. When I got home I went to my room and grabbed my gun, saying to myself “I couldn’t do this anymore.” As I was squeezing the trigger it slipped out of my hand. The bullet went through my closet and right into the chimney. My mom ran upstairs and asked how much money I needed, because she didn’t want to lose me. She drove me down to Einstein Hospital to meet my dealer. I got high and went to rehab for the first time. I was in rehab and clean for 27 days. I was going to the meetings and doing what I was supposed to do, but I wasn’t really ready. The stay at rehab was great, but while I was there I met people and became friends with some of them. But as time passed and we hung out more, they eventually persuaded me into doing heroin instead of pills because it was cheaper and basically the same thing.
By 28 years old, I started doing heroin every day, I was at the point where I was snorting around six bags a day. A friend from rehab showed me how to shoot heroin, and I became further entrapped in my addiction. I was selling my possessions to support my habit, but was still coming up short. It was getting to be too much, so I went to rehab again; I checked myself in. I was worn down, sick, losing the desire to live, and without money. After being in and out of rehab a few times, a friend pointed out that rehab wasn’t working and I might die.
He recommended I check out the Methadone Clinic. I know the stigma around methadone clinics is that it’s a crutch, but if you use it right it can be effective and slowly wean you off dope and opiates. I did it because I was really scared of dying. I go to the Methadone clinic in Norristown; Montgomery County Recovery Center formerly known as Montgomery County Methadone Clinic. The center started out with 150 people and has expanded to over 300; they’re helping a lot of people. They now offer Vivitrol to further the chances of success to some that might not want or need methadone anymore.
I did have a setback when I dated someone from the clinic, which is the number one rule you’re not supposed to break. It led me to where I was taking benzos, drinking, and after we broke up for the third and final time I started using heroin again along with everything else. This time though I didn’t have a lot of dealers and connections because I was clean for a while.
One day I didn’t have money or dope, but I did have a Suboxone. When you’re on Methadone, or just have it still in your system and you take Suboxone, you go into an instant withdrawal. It’s painful, and you feel like you’d rather just die. You basically have two drugs fighting each other. I remember how long that day felt. I was crying, in pain and felt like I was on the verge of a mental break, but I reached out to Marie who runs the clinic. She helped find me a place at a rehab clinic in Valley Forge. It took her hours to find an open bed but she never quit trying. Valley Forge was my sixth rehab and that place saved my life.
Another aspect that was essential to my recovery was a group called the Power Program. It’s the program that originally got me connected with going back to college. I remember receiving a call from the director of the program during my last week in Valley Forge. I was surprised because I was afraid I messed that connection up, but she was just calling to see how I was doing and to make sure I knew that they were there for me if I needed anything. This was a turning point for me, I had all these people that wanted me to succeed and I didn’t want to disappoint them. When I left the rehab after 29 days I went back to the clinic, and I disassociated from everybody. I started taking active steps towards my recovery, attending many groups and learning more about my addiction. In addition, I also started outside counseling and which was very helpful with my recovery journey.
I’m still weaning down with the Methadone, but I’m going to go down all the way. I haven’t touched heroin in over three years. I’m 35 years old now and I’ve started going to school again, I’m working towards my associate’s degree in digital audio production. I love it and I’m excelling in the program. It is worth it. I’m still associated with the Power Program. I currently work in the student-peer mentor position. It’s my time to give back now.
I’ll always be a recovering addict, but every day I feel more like a normal person living their life. I don’t tell a lot of people about my past because of the judgment I receive. But there are opportunities to help educate others. For example, a co-worker was making some insensitive comments about drug users. When I told this person I was on Methadone and it works for me, he was surprised. That was reflective of the stigma that surrounds this issue. People need to understand that addicts aren’t bad people.
This is why I am sharing my story. I want people to understand that addiction is a disease, and addicts need medical help. Unfortunately, there’s not always enough help out there. My advice to those struggling is to take it day by day. Seek out counseling, take care of concurrent disorders, like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. If you want to further your education do that. If you want to work, seek out employment. Do what you want in life and what makes you happy, because it’s your time now to take care of you!