Heroin, Mental Health, And Toxic Shame Took Me Down. Now, My Priority Is Recovery.

6 months ago I relapsed. 47 days ago I started over.

It all began at the age of 13. I had begun abusing prescription drugs after several traumatic events which sent me into a spiral of depression and emotional instability. I started with benzodiazepines, but when I found opioids, I was hooked almost immediately.

I became both physically and psychologically dependent on the substances, meaning that if I didn’t take the pills, I would become very sick. I did whatever I had to in order to maintain my habit…I lied, stole, and manipulated people I loved and who loved me.

Finally, at 15, I asked my parents if I could go to treatment. I was tired of being sick and tired and struggled to get clean on my own. I attended a Wilderness Therapy program for three months followed by a year and a half at a residential program, and while the treatment was incredibly difficult and I thought about leaving nearly every day, I successfully completed both programs with a new outlook on my life. I began to believe that a clean life was possible for me. And the life that unfolded was beyond what I had ever thought would be possible: I made many new friends, I was accepted to each of the six colleges I applied to with scholarships, I stayed clean throughout my entire senior year of high school, I got to go to prom, and I graduated high school with the rest of my class. I had over two years and a half years clean by the time summer ended.

And then when summer began, I got complacent. I still attended 12 step meetings, but I began slacking in my program and keeping secrets here and there. The vivid using dreams and cravings came back. And although I was working a job for a couple hours several days of the week, I had a lot of free time on my hands. Bored, complacent, lonely, and even a little depressed, I made arrangements to meet with somebody who would sell me a drug I hadn’t tried before—one that wouldn’t require stealing anyone else’s prescription: heroin.

The first time I used heroin, I snorted it. The second time and every time after, I injected it into my arms. I did everything I could to hide the fact that I was using again; I was so ashamed. I made excuses to spend more time outside so I could hide my pinpoint pupils under sunglasses, I cut up my dinner into little pieces to pretend like I was eating it when I could barely stomach it because of my nausea, and used concealer to hide any noticeable marks or bruises on my arms. But I could not hide it from myself. I hated what I was doing and, after a week of shooting up dope, I told my family, friends in my program, and sponsor that I had relapsed.

While I managed to do okay for the rest of the summer—despite unaddressed and lingering shame, I, against my sponsor’s advice, decided to go away to college in fall of 2017—all the way over in Boston, thousands of miles from my home in Seattle. I didn’t have any drug dealer connections there, so I thought things would be better. Within a week, I was getting high again.

This time, I was “cold copping”—going out to a dangerous part of town and asking strangers to sell me dope. I thought all of my bad experiences would be enough to make me stop using. But I continued to pick up, and then put the drugs down, just to find myself picking up again.

I felt like I tried everything. I even went on the Vivitrol shot to block any euphoric effects of the drugs, but I continued to take them near the end of the month, overriding the shot’s affects. I hated what I was doing, but I had little hope and lots of shame. I wanted to die. And things just got worse.

In early November, I was caught on video camera purchasing heroin inside an elevator of a hospital in Boston. A police officer showed me his badge as I walked out, grabbed me, and told me he would not arrest me if I gave him the bag. Although I didn’t get arrested, I was so scared when he asked for all of my information and told me I would get a court summons in the mail and that I needed to call my parents to tell them what had happened. The shame I already had was magnified in this incident because one thing became very clear to me—I could no longer hide that I was struggling.

My treatment team at a therapy clinic I was visiting in Boston persistently recommended I go to treatment, but I refused, claiming I had already been through enough treatment and should know how to get myself back up. Yet I continued to slide and my mental state declined. After one last hit on November 26th, I woke up and decided to ask my therapist about taking a leave of absence and attending treatment.

A week later I was admitted to treatment. And here I am, 40 days into the program, 47 days clean. As much as it hurts to admit, going to treatment this time—a second time—was the best decision I’ve made over the past year. And I didn’t lose everything I’ve learned in my recovery journey—I’ve simply fallen off the path and am finding my way back. In the not too far future, I plan to go back home, return to college (once I’m ready), and live out my dreams…but I know not to take my sobriety for granted anymore. In the time being—and hopefully, from here on out, my priority is recovery.