I had never met anyone before who could eat a box of mint chip ice cream in one sitting... besides myself. Granted, I didn't usually do it at midnight and fall asleep, mid-chew, while sitting in complete darkness on the living room floor.
The (almost 3 year) stretch of my life that I'm writing about today was one of the most dark, stressful, maddening, and heartbreaking rollercoasters that I'll ever experience. I hope.
One thing my forced introduction into the world of heroin addiction helped me understand was the massive amount of people being affected by this. I'm also acutely aware that heroin related deaths now outnumber homicides here in the U.S. And in light of those devastating facts, I want to speak to those of you today who might have a loved one with this horrible addiction. Or worse yet, you might be in love with them.
You certainly aren't alone.
That Moment You Realize You're Dating An Addict
When I made the shocking discovery that I was dating a heroin addict six months into our relationship, I suppose I responded with the same sentiment any girl from a small Midwestern town with a sheltered upbringing who had never ever ever done a drug would respond: with paranoia and complete naivety.
I know what you're thinking, "Just how stupid do you have to be to not know you are dating a heroin addict?"
I'm sure you've heard of highly functioning addicts. The kind of person who drinks vodka in their coffee cup at work all day and everyone just thinks they're really quiet? Or really happy? But they still get their work done. You know, like all the characters on Mad Men. Well, this guy started using as a teen and so for 10+ years had perfected the art of lying and cover ups. He went to college. Helped run a business. He was fun, and charming, and generous - perfectly normal as far as anyone could tell. This also meant that it was nearly impossible for him to ever recover, something that I didn't understand until three years later.
After I found out, I broke up with him. I mean, give me a little bit of credit here. He, of course, told me he didn't have that much of a problem, this was a little slip up, and he'd be able to rehabilitate. I vowed to help in that effort, however, I saw no choice but to hide it from my entire family and friendship circle with the goal of protecting their opinion of him after he recovered. Because whose mom is going to be like, "Oh, an ex-heroin addict? #Jackpot!" So as far as they knew, nothing had changed.
In a nutshell, I was 23 and navigating the unknown territory of heroin addiction and rehabilitation, while simultaneously opening and managing my own retail store. Oh ya - and hiding the truth from everyone, while making excuses for him and pretending life was perfect. It was a ah-mazeballs. Like, you guys really missed out by not having this experience.
So I'm going to skip over all the messy details involving robberies, run ins with drug dealers, rehab failures, stolen cars, my accidental ingestion of methadone, lawsuits, and hysteria - because those things actually did happen - to highlight some of the lessons.
The following points might sound negative. And if you don't know me, I can see why you'd think that. If you do know me, then you know I'm very blunt and unafraid to tell people how it is. And the reality is - there's nothing positive or remotely promising about heroin addiction and recovery. This is meant to be a reality check and also a warning.
Things I Learned From Dating A Heroin Addict
You can't scare them out of it. I remember having a conversation one night that just ripped my heart out out of my chest. I mean - I'm not sure where else my heart would be located. My boyfriend told me about how many times he had gotten a gun pulled on him or robbed by drug dealers. He looked at me and said, "Some day, I just know I will get killed in a drug deal. And even knowing that, I can't stop."
They probably do love you, but can't show it. After at least four lengthy and failed rehab attempts, I remember discovering a bag inside his pillowcase. He, of course, had convinced me he was "on the right track" again. I started screaming at the top of my lungs, fell to the floor in utter hysteria, and told him he was slowly killing himself and putting his loved ones through torture. I shook him saying, "Don't you care? Look at me! Don't you even see what you're doing to me?"
And he just stared at the wall. No reaction. No emotion.
Heroin is an interesting drug. Unlike stimulants such as cocaine, heroin is a highly addictive downer (derived from morphine) that depresses the brain's ability to perceive pain. In this case, he had started using to numb himself while going through a family tragedy. When you start heroin at a young age (in his case 13), your brain doesn't develop properly - specifically the ability to cope with depression and other undesirable feelings - thus perpetuating the dependency. Every time you try to go off it, you are so overwhelmed with emotions that you just want to be numb again. It's an impossible cycle.
Midnight ice cream runs aren't just for pregnant women. As if it doesn't cause enough bodily harm, clinical studies show that opioid users crave sweets resulting in weight gain, dental pathology and glycemic dysregulation. I remember thinking it was odd that my boyfriend was storming out of the house at midnight to get gas station ice cream. I mean, they never have any of the good flavors. But hey, I'm Italian, so it wasn't THAT strange. Now the fact that he was only eating ice cream was the strange part.
Overdoses are common, a lot like that scene in Pulp Fiction, and it won't be a wake up call. I walked in on him overdosing once. Even for an experienced, highly functioning user, it is rather common to overdose. Heroin can be laced, it can vary in strengths and potency, etc. You can develop a tolerance, and therefore start increasing your dose and get too much. You can also easily overdose after a rehab attempt by assuming you can handle similar amounts as you were beforehand. As much as you'd think a brush with death would wake someone up - it's generally not the case.
They are expert liars and manipulators. They have to be in order to survive. They will also not think twice about stealing from or compromising the safety of those closest to them.
Be cautious with your expectations of rehab. I want to start by saying how much I commend caretakers, nurses, and professionals who work in rehabilitation. What a difficult and heart wrenching line of work. I became familiar with and helped execute almost all forms of rehab during my relationship with him. In home nurses, group therapy, classes, methadone clinics, inpatient therapy, cutting off access to cars and money - you name it.
You know what happened with the in-home nurse? He paid her off to drive him downtown to get a fix.
Know what happened at the methadone clinic? He met even more users and ended up back on heroin.
Same with group therapy.
Know what happened with inpatient rehab? They forced him to quit cold turkey and he got so sick he checked out.
The sad truth. There is an extremely small percentage of people who are able to successfully rid their heroin addiction, and even then, it's a lifelong struggle. I'm not saying it's impossible, and I wish I had better news to report. Heroin is one of (if not THE) most addictive drug in the world. Please know that before you get your hopes up. One of the biggest issues in detoxing from heroin is that you can die in the process if it's not done carefully, and the detox itself is so grueling that users often give up.
I say all this in the spirit of keeping it real, like I always do. If it sounds scary and unbelievable - that's because it is. Of course, I'm not saying there is zero hope that anyone can rehabilitate.
And please, parents, please educate your children. In order to do that, you must educate yourself. Heroin is now cheaper than weed and most prescription drugs. Kids are being targeted and given this drug for free, just to get them addicted. It's an unspeakable crime that will rob them of their future. My heart goes out to anyone who is or has been affected by the damage this drug does.
Much love - questions, just ask below! - Brit
Wondering who's the mysterious wordy genius behind these posts? Follow this little rabbit trail to read more About Me! The use of the term genius is open to interpretation. Like just about everything else on this site.