When I was a little girl, I imagined I would grow up to be a doctor, a social worker, or maybe even a gymnast. Never did I imagine, in the warped introspect of my youthful innocence, I would grow up to be a junkie. A drug addict. Just another scummy substance abuser on the losing end of a battle to keep withdrawal – and my paralyzing insecurities – at bay.
Heroin addiction is the most heinous form of self-inflicted torture a human being can experience; besides the actual dope sickness in between hits. That’s a whole other level of Hell which may as well be the real deal.
No sane person would purposely want to go there, yet that is exactly where I found myself – lying on the cold cement floor of a jail cell in my week-old dope sick filth, shivering uncontrollably from the cold sweat drenching my body as it twitched in agonizing pain. Yet still, my mind raced for ways to find another fix as soon as I was released. I was trapped within the darkest days of my life, yearning to go back to where it all began to stop this catastrophic suffering before it ever happened. Broken, embarrassed, and vulnerable, I wanted to die just to be done with my addiction once and for all.
My journey to becoming a junkie started innocently enough with Vicodin. With an inherited genetic disorder affecting my spinal cord, it was easy to get a doctor to prescribe what was the first of a never-ending cycle of pain meds simply by saying, “Ow!”, when I bent forward. I moved on to Percocet quickly, then, to Morphine Contin and Oxycodone. When the prescriptions couldn’t hold up to my growing tolerance I started snorting heroin. I was a mother to 3 kids under 6 and I was going through a dime pack every few hours. All I wanted was reprieve from the restraints of my back pain.
Motherhood was so much harder than I ever imagined, and I felt like I was failing my children every step of the way because my physical disability hampered me so much. In my deluded mind, I felt heroin opened doors for me to live out my fantasy version of motherhood.
Before long, I lost my job and only source of income. I began the slide to my lowest self by stealing items from my grandmother, my mother-in-law, and my father (the police officer) to pawn for cash. I was arrested twice for shoplifting basic necessities like toilet paper, laundry detergent, and bleach – just so I could spend the money I made hustling used goods, on drugs. I went to jail twice for shoplifting. The first time was a weekend stay and the second for a week, as I awaited my bond hearings, desperately praying to get released on personal recognizance. I went to rehab once, but it was as useless since I was involuntarily sentenced and wasn’t ready to change. I was too cocky to admit my problem was with addiction. Not just the bad luck of getting caught.
My children grew from toddlers to preschoolers watching the bathroom door shut in their faces for fifteen minute intervals half a dozen times a day. I would come out only when I had jacked myself up and they had to bear terrible witness to me bouncing off the walls. They would see me crawl around on my hands and knees, searching the floor for any crumbs I may have accidentally scattered during my pre-inhale exhale Just one more sniffle could make the difference between feeling like death or feeling like I was free of my painful disability, soaring higher than the clouds at lightening speeds. The tiniest crumb of drug could make the difference between being mistaken as an extra on the set of The Walking Dead or being a Bibbity Bobbity Boo magic, Mary Fucking Poppins-kind of mom. Heroin could make me do anything, so long as I didn’t lose a single piece of that precious fairy dust… and I would die trying to be sure that I never did. Sad thing is, it wasn’t possible to lose what was already up my nose, but that’s the kind of warped thinking that propels a junkie to her hands and knees, searching for what was never there with her sweet children standing by waiting for her attention.
I was not the stereotypical nod out, neglectful dope fiend of a parent. I somehow convinced myself that I had limits with all of this and that if offered, I could turn down heroin by needle. On some level I know that what little control that still remained in my addicted brain would leave me entirely.
Being realistic though, if I had no other options I likely would have shot up and told myself the lie we all do. “Just once.”
With a fresh dose up my nose, I could pass as any other mother at playgroup; no one ever suspected a thing. As fucked up as I was back then, my addiction was controlled more by my ability to mother my children effectively, than not. The whole lure of using was about being the perfect mom while drowning out the fear my children would discover what a negligent fraud I really was with my inability to perform up to par sober.
When close friends and family caught wind of my bottoming out, I was ready and waiting to defend my right to live life as a druggie. I was the Queen of Excuses, after all. Determined to condone my own behavior with every lame reason in the book, I put up a spirited fight, but even to my own ear my excuses fell flat. Childhood abuse and dysfunctional family problems; sexual abuse in my first ‘marriage’; diagnosis of a long-term debilitating, chronic pain-causing disease; history of mental illness in the form of Clinical Depression and PTSD – they were all traumas I had suffered long before my addiction. I had lived sober with them for far longer than I had been using; the excuses were a waste of my breath.
I knew I had to get off drugs, but the idea of getting sober was scary as fuck. Terrifying in every way. It was logical to conclude that a big change had to happen, but addiction was the most formidable irrationality my mind would ever have to battle against.
I had to believe life could truly be wonderful, even when it was full of the kind of heartache and pain that brings the strongest of humans to their knees. I harbored so much hurt inside, it was a harrowing feat to face the anguish standing between me and sobriety. Taking back the power I had given up too easily to heroin was the only way left to save my babies from being removed by social services – which defeated the whole reason behind my drug use.
Giving up the fantasy of life as a perfect, healthy mother and the wonder drug which allowed for me to feel real actually pissed me off on some level. I didn’t want to succumb to my original disability once again. It didn’t seem fair. I spent several sleepless nights contemplating the brutality my body would have to endure in order to retain ownership of my motherhood title and it only enraged me further. I wanted to unleash the caged anger I held over my physical handicap at them for having the one thing I always wanted – a healthy body. Going through withdrawals was going to be a bitch, but my kids were worth it all. My kids were all that I had left that mattered in this world.
Stopping heroin cold turkey is hardest route to sobriety one can take. It can take months before the body begins to function without extreme muscle spasms and tremors, burning-aching bones, insomnia, and hot/cold flashes as each nerve ending turns back on with a jolt. Emotions run the gamut between happy, sad, and get the fuck outta my face as the brain fires back to life with feelings it had suppressed for the duration of the drug use. I knew deep in my heart what I had to do get clean successfully. Losing my kids was never an option for me like I had seen happen to so many other junkies I had met along the way. All I had wanted was to provide them with the perfect mother and a good life.
Salvation from my heroin addiction came in the form of a methadone clinic.
Not only did they taper down my dose over time as to avoid the intense detoxification symptoms without giving me the high I sought with heroin, the clinic provided me with all of the same resources, tools, and therapy the rehab facility had offered when I wasn’t yet ready to accept the help. I could not receive my daily dose if I did not meet the coinciding requirements, including passing a piss test to prove I was clean of all other narcotics. Sure, there are horrible stigmas flying high around the use of methadone clinics to treat opioid addictions, but they exist for a reason. They actually do work when they are used as intended. Within eighteen months, I had gone from 110 mgs a day to just 10 mgs daily. The treatment team agreed with my family physician to keep me on this minimal dose long-term to avoid a need for other narcotic pain medications to regulate the symptoms of my disorder. Anything to avoid triggering a potential relapse, especially while I was still getting used to living life sober.
I have been clean for over 6 years now, but the junkie label is a hard one to shake among those who know my past. However, I see my heroin addiction as a gift. Heroin gave me the ultimatum I needed to change, create, and put in the work to better myself and build a new life I could love. The junkie title will forever hang above my head, like a crown woven of Hawthorn vines – constantly reminding me of where I have been and what I have overcome. My loved ones will never forget, and I am lucky to have been forgiven. I will wear the title with pride until I lay in my final resting place, because I won the battle against something that might as well be a demonic force… and lived to tell my story.
I didn’t become an addict because I was trying to hide from some tragic reality. I did it because I wanted Wonder Woman super powers for those kids who only deserve the very best of me. My addiction gave me the knowledge that a great mother is never perfect and a perfect mother is never very great – only a real life superwoman could wear a crown made of thorns and still be a bad ass just the way she is. Sober imperfections and all. It just took some acceptance and a whole lot of inner torment for me to get here.
About the author: Kristina Hammer is The Angrivated Mom. She is a Coca-Cola guzzling, go-with-the-flow SAHM of 4 on her way to insanity and beyond. A writer by nature, blogger by nurture, and a poet at heart, she spills her heart onto the screen. She has been featured on sites like Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and Mamapedia. You can follow her personal blog at The Angrivated Mom or her column, To Insanity and Beyond, over at Sammiches and Psych Meds for more of her writing and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter so you don’t miss out on the daily crazy in between.