HEROIN. It can be such a scary word. When I first heard about it, I assumed it was used by homeless dead beats living under bridges. It just goes to show how some personal life experiences and education can change a persons perspective real quick.
Before you shutter at the word heroin, or shake your head at the mention of a heroin addict and think its no one you could possibly know, let me describe a bit more to you about it and why you may be living closer to it than you think.
In basic terms, Heroin is a morphine derivative. It is in the opiate family and is often what those addicted to Percocet or Oxycontin pills turn to once they can no longer afford or get a prescription for their original pain killer. Heroin is very easy to find, and cheap. It can be snorted, smoked, or shot up.
I have never done heroin. But I can’t say that I never would have if I didn’t get sober. You see, heroin isn’t the first drug a person typically turns to. The epidemic we are facing now stems from our over prescribed and under educated culture… our desire for a quick fix and to be healed and back at our lives. Back ache? Pain killer. Knee surgery? Pain killer. Tooth ache? Pain killer. Boob job? Pain killer. You get the idea. Others may start out drinking, dabbling in some pot and pills on the weekend, and stumble across heroin. Regardless of the road to get there, the end result is usually the same- Jail. Rehab. or Death.
Addiction can rip apart families of any race, religion or class. It is, in my opinion, the BIGGEST misunderstood disease. Families with involved parents, children from strong Christian homes, major collegiate star athletes, all have fallen victim to addiction. Your kid’s teacher may use, your neighbor, a spouse or sibling. It does not discriminate.
The withdrawals from an opiate addiction are what most describe as “hell on Earth.” Death even. Think the FLU x 10000000. Aches, chills, sweats, no appetite, losing it out of both ends. Constantly.
But worse than the withdrawals are what I believe one must face after the physical side effects wear off.
The stigma and shame that surrounds a victim of addiction is unlike any other disease. Recovering cancer victims get to attend annual races and proudly wear their badge of kicking cancer’s ass. Families of Diabetes and Alzeimer’s patients freely express their difficulties and challenges at conventions and even the local doctors. But heroin users? They lack support and are often pushed into silence where the threat to continue using cycles on.
You see, its the secret that keeps one sick. So how does one get pushed into silence you ask?
My family has been chewed up and spit out several times by alcohol, drugs, and yes, even HEROIN. I have seen my brother first hand wither away before my eyes. Ninety pounds of bones, glazed over and sunk in sockets, arms covered in sores and infections. The lies, stealing, manipulation, and violence… all wrapped up in one walking dead body. Does it sadden me? Of course. Anger? Oh hell yes. Scare me? Sure. But I know its no longer him. Its the drug that’s taken over. And I know I can’t argue, force, threaten or even pray his addiction away. Trust me, I have tried. It is something HE has to come to on his own terms, in his own time, God willing.
But what can I do? What I am doing now… no longer aiding and enabling in the silencing of the problem and, well, sharing it here with you. What’s worse than seeing someone I love dying from heroin use, is the pressure to “not air out our family’s dirty secrets.” It’s the unspoken rule to deal with our business behind closed doors. To save face in public, and to keep it all together. Children are being buried by this disease every day, and even THEN their families won’t talk about it. Because of the shame. The pain. The embarrassment. The “I should have done more” mentality. And well, because that’s what family does, right? Protect, respect and honor each other? Even in death? Wrong. You see, this is EXACTLY what keeps the drug abuse going. And it’s suffocating me. I am done playing by those rules.
So how can you help? Start a conversation. Ask questions. Be willing to stop what you are doing to hear a friend open up candidly to you about addiction. Yes, it may get uncomfortable, especially if its your first time talking openly about it. That’s okay. Share about your discomfort, your lack of experience or knowledge about it. Damn it, just listen. Sometimes listening is all you can do. Open your eyes and heart to the notion that drug abuse is everywhere, and it may not be long until it touches your family too. Don’t passively pressure someone to “zip it” because you feel uncomfortable. You may be doing it and not even realize. Often times when I share with a friend our family’s ongoing struggles with addiction I usually get:
The uncomfortable shifting in their seat.
Their eyes widening in horror.
The phone call or text they “must” attend to.
Or the conversation topic quickly diverting to something more “light.”
Okay, got it. Not a good time to discuss the real shit in life. My mistake. Won’t happen again.
But if I can’t talk about it, share my experiences, seek comfort and support, and find a non judgmental response from a friend, then how can I expect my brother to ever feel that? Or any other person dealing with addiction for that matter?
I believe the first step in healing is our ability to be open and honest with each other. No more lies. No more silencing. No more pretending. No more diverting the damn conversation to something more comfortable and easy. Life isn’t easy. Life is messy. Our conversations should be too. And while we are at it, let’s kick addictions ass and start an annual walk together so we can proudly wear our recovery badges. In honor of ourselves, our friends, teachers, siblings, spouses, coaches and neighbors who have struggled. It’s time to get real about the topic of drugs and the destruction it is taking out on our families and community. NOW.
Know someone struggling with addiction? Share this essay to show your support.