My Maintenance Program Is Buddhism, Buprenorphine, and Believing In Myself.

Everyone has secrets.

Maybe it’s part of human nature that drives us to sustain some sort of private habit. I started biting my nails at nine years old and never stopped. I had an eating disorder and self-mutilated at fourteen due to constant bullying. A year or two later it was marijuana, molly, ketamine and weekly acid trips when I switched schools and entered the rave scene. There was never a daily habit until I sat in my room doing lines of cocaine at seventeen but that was nothing compared to the beast that would emerge a few years later.

I’m a musician, have worked in the entertainment industry, have developed creative solutions for marketing firms and believe it or not, can pull off a suit and tie. I am also living in recovery after a 5 year heroin addiction. Even on bad days when I feel completely drained, or during my depressive episodes that last for weeks or months, I’m able to lift my mood a bit just knowing I no longer have the urge to self-medicate. I’m able to live another day free from the devil in drug form.

Stories of the opioid epidemic are a parallel to the depravity I experienced when I was in my disease. The deepest sorrow I ever felt was when the “love of my life” walked away due to my instability, which I discovered a few years later was borderline personality disorder. I tried to numb myself with a menu of every substance I had ever abused. And then heroin entered the picture. Smoking turned into intraveneous use, which led to job loss, association with drug traffickers at a trap house and feeling deathly ill when I was without the drug. And when the unemployment money ran out, I pawned my musical instruments to not feel withdrawals. I sold my designer clothing and massive DVD collection. I was so afraid of the cold sweats, skyrocketing anxiety and full body horror of withdrawals that I transformed from a classically trained pianist who graduated high school with honors…into a junkie and thief who would screw anyone over to get high for 15 seconds due to my tolerance and to avoid the agonizing physical sickness when I hit the 12 hour mark. I couldn’t live like that anymore.

So in the depths of my suicidal misery I impulsively decided to take 60 Wellbutrin pills and woke up after being in a 5 day coma. My poor parents, who have surprisingly never given up on me, found a pile of syringes in my room and then my rehab and sober living cycle began. You would think I wouldn’t repeat the experience but no, I got strung out 6 more times. Opioid addiction tricks your brain into thinking it needs the substance as much as obtaining food or water. I’d be on autopilot when getting on the bus to Crenshaw to score.

Luckily, today I have no desire to relive the horrors of addiction. Your addiction becomes your best friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, job, religion…and not everyone breaks the cycle. When I started, I hoped it would quickly kill me when I was devastated by heartbreak. But it turns your life into a living hell. I’ve flatlined twice; one of the times, on the floor of a sober living when a fentanyl overdose left me blue in the face, not breathing on the floor for ten minutes. A group tried to rescucitate me and save my life until the paramedics came. Addicts are supposed to support one another in recovery, however scary the situation.

Eight of my friends have died of overdoses and I never cope any differently when another one passes away. It’s devastating to even think about the lives that were cut short in their 20s due to a horrific and uncontrollable disorder.

This nation is facing a massive health crisis; the opioid epidemic is killing more people than HIV/AIDS did in the 1980’s and the government has done so little to address it that it’s inhumane. I’m lucky to be alive right now.

My recovery is a combination of utilizing buprenorphine maintenance, my daily Nichiren Buddhist practice and 12 step groups for guidance. If I can recover from opioid addiction, anyone has the power to but it’s not easy for us or for our loved ones. My drug of choice now is songwriting and I’ve begun to form a new band after a year-long experimental solo project. It feels good to be following my passion after a six year hiatus from music.

Getting clean is like rising above the water after getting caught in the waves. But it’s worth it if you try your hardest to stay afloat. And it’s not the end of the world if you relapse. Everyone has at some point and it can be a learning experience. For those still struggling, just know that your day will come. Namaste.