A Suburban Junkie’s Journal

Illustration by Russell Hausfeld

First Bags

The first time I bought a balloon of heroin I was 20 years old. Fresh out of rehab, I was craving opiates—specifically OxyContin.

The rehab system is made to be a revolving door. Let the junkies detox after years of drug abuse and then let them out craving drugs. It’s a guarantee for repeat business. That is if the junkie doesn’t die when they relapse.

I sat in front of a church on a cold winter night. Perched on a bench, air crisp with condensation, I patiently waited.

The person I bought my first balloons of heroin off of was a childhood friend by the name of “Brandon Smith.” Brandon had a deep voice and looked like a child Disney star that grew up and did a bunch of drugs after his career died.

He was a fairly reliable drug dealer. This was because Brandon was also a massive drug addict, ensuring that he always had a steady supply of narcotics on hand. Around the corner, and out of the dark I saw Brandon walk towards me. I had not seen him in six months, so before business we engaged in small talk.

I noticed Brandon had a massive cut on his face, so deep that it drew a gash into his cheek. Brandon refused to see a doctor and the cut got infected, creating a disgusting, bloody abscess on his face. I inquired about a thirty milligram oxycodone pill. OxyContin, Roxys, Blues or Smurfs are all names for oxycodone. Brandon laughed and roared.

“Blues are for bitches!”

I bought three ten-dollar bags of black tar heroin instead of a single thirty milligram oxycodone tablet. I then walked to my mother’s house. Opening the front door, I walked straight into my bedroom and sat down on my bed. I had used prescription pills and cocaine regularly as a teenager. The use of these substances was the reason I had previously been in rehab. I thought once I had injected heroin with my ex-girlfriend. But later, I discovered we just injected burnt opium.

Now, cocaine—that was the first love of my life. Never will anything come near the feeling that the crystalline white powder would give me as I would vigorously shovel it up my nose. This would result in days of me not eating or sleeping.

Opening one of the small plastic bags, I noticed heroin had a distinct smell. Like vinegar and chewing tobacco spit.

I was ready to get high. In my right hand, I held a piece of foil. In the other, a chunk of skag. I placed a small dot of the sticky-heroin on the ripped aluminum and then proceeded to chase the dragon with a rolled up dollar bill.

The taste was foul. I coughed and choked on the thick heroin smoke. The effects of heroin, when smoked, hit the user in four to six minutes. I was a new user to heroin and I did not know this. When the drugs hit me, they hit like a punch from Mike Tyson. Drifting off, out of consciousness, I laid on my bed and pleasured myself. The drugs made it impossible to have an orgasm so after a while, I looked at the ceiling and gave up.

The next morning I watched the sunrise. I decided to walk outside to smoke a cigarette.

Newport menthol short. Inside my car I found a clean button-up shirt. I put it on. I took a drag from my cigarette, still high on the heroin from the night before, I took a deep breath and gazed at the scenery around me. I loved the feeling heroin gave me. In that moment, I was okay with being a junkie.

 

Discovered

“I don’t get it.”

Staring at the ground I tilted my head to the right, looking at my mother and father. They both looked down at me from the other end of my father’s dinner table. As a family, we were sitting in my father’s living room. My mother wanted me to give them answers. She wanted me to admit to my drug use.

Earlier that afternoon, my father convinced me to have dinner with him. When I came to meet him at his apartment, my mother was there too. The dinner was an ambush; they were both together in the same location. It was scary. My parents hadn’t spoken to each other since their divorce.

“You said you were clean.”

My father then muttered a profanity under his breath as he took a long sip of his Bourbon Manhattan. My mother lit a cigarette. She looked at me and didn’t say a word. Her face said, “I don’t know you.” The room was silent. The look in their eyes was unforgettable. A mixture of disappointment and disgust. My father then took a gulp from his drink.

“Did you know he’s doing heroin now?”

My mother looked over at my father and he put down his glass calmly.

“Wow,” he said.

Unknown to me, a few weeks prior, my mother had told my father this fact in a two page email. In her email, my mother detailed her suspicions about my drug use. In my father’s response, he expressed no desire to know the specifics. The man just wanted to remedy the problem in the most hands-off way possible. The word “wow” infuriated my mother, her face turned red as she started to yell at my father. I could see the hate in her eyes. As a result of this assault, my father began to yell at my mother.

He was an artist. Every curse word was perfectly placed in every hate filled sentence. It was amazing, poetic. During my parent’s shouting match, the subject of my drug addiction was completely overlooked. My parents had begun fighting about an argument that was never resolved during their marriage. In that moment, they were acting like children.

I looked down at the plate of pasta my father prepared that evening, the sauce barely stuck on wet noodles that littered my plate. My hands were damp with sweat. I poked the mound of wet pasta with my fork and stuck a wad of noodles in my mouth.

At the end of dinner, my mother asked me if I wanted to live or die. I told her I didn’t care if I died and walked outside. I was thinking about where to score my next fix.

 

Scoring in the City

The city was always a good place to find a hit. The open air drug market, methadone clinic on Bryant, and rampant crime make San Francisco a junkie’s paradise. After I left dinner with my parents, I walked straight to the bus stop. Around ten minutes later, the bus to San Francisco arrived. I flashed my bus pass to the driver and sat down in the back-aisle seat. Rain poured outside.

Up the street, I spotted an El Salvadorian gang member pushing balloons of smack in front of a 7-11. He was seventeen, maybe eighteen. I pulled the lever on the bus and exited in silence. While walking up the street, I grabbed a crumpled five dollar bill in my pocket and stopped in front of the dealer and asked for a balloon.

“What’s good?”

While the young drug dealer scanned me over I scratched my neck and grabbed a cigarette from behind my left ear, immediately sticking the rolled stick of tobacco in between my lips. While lighting the cigarette, I pulled the crumpled five dollar bill out of my pocket.

The young man then smiled and spat a small balloon of heroin out of his mouth and into his palm. He then slapped the saliva-covered drugs in my hand. I smiled back at the boy and walked to the next bus stop. Sitting in the cold, I was happy.

 

Acute Withdrawal

Steam poured out of a sewage vent across the street. A stray dog barked at a group of old socialites as they ate brunch. They didn’t care. I sat under a tree and watched as the world drove on around me. The streets reeked of dried piss but I wasn’t going to move from where I was sitting. When you use heroin regularly, the drugs begin to leave your system in around six to eight hours. When this happens the junkie will go into acute opiate withdrawal.

This was why I didn’t want to move from where I was sitting. I was feeling the beginnings of what junkies call dope sickness. A deep ache in my bones made me shake. I couldn’t stop. Next to me I looked at my hands. They shook as I lit a match under a spoon that held my fix for the rest of the night. A heroin and water mix pooled into a dark, thick puddle. Pain stung my stomach as I dropped a wad of cotton in the heroin-water. I needed to get more smack.

A bird then thudded into the ground. Wind blew as the bird dove into the cement and my drugs flew into the air next to me.

“Shit.”

This was the problem, heroin made me feel at peace. When I would go through withdrawals every anxiety was bound to come back. Every thought and fear I ran from crashed down on me if I didn’t find a fix.

I needed more shit.

 

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Major Withdrawal

The drug dealer I bought from stopped selling bags of heroin that were under a gram at exactly 8 p.m. every night. That wouldn’t have mattered because I owed him $650. I knew that even if I had made enough money to buy a gram, my dealer wouldn’t sell to me. In his eyes, I was untrustworthy. In his eyes, my money was useless. My money would have just been payment for the line of credit I had accumulated over the months. I was dopesick, laying in bed, and miserable. My dealer didn’t want to sell to me. I was broke.

There was a transgender prostitute that lived a couple rooms down. Her name was Sophie. I noticed she had been picking at her face but I didn’t say anything. I invited her over and we talked all night long. Later, while laying down and sweating on my bed, Sophie told me that she smoked meth to ward off opioid withdrawal.

 

Get Well

Sometimes, I would contemplate getting sober. I would lay out these elaborate hypothetical plans in my mind. I would tell myself when I ran out of shit, that was it. I would be done with heroin. This never happened. Come the second day of withdrawal, I would be scrambling around town hustling, trying to find a few dollars for a fix. The fact is, I didn’t really want to get sober. I just wanted the pain to go away. I wanted to get well.

 

Where to Go?

The first time I went to rehab, I was nineteen years old. I spent one month in a detox facility, then five months in an intensive outpatient program. I relapsed the day I moved back in with my mother. I finally got sober on April 8, 2017.

I was bored. I sat on my bed. My eyes glued on my laptop computer screen. The cursor on Microsoft Word kept blinking. I chomped down on a slice of DiGiorno’s pizza and instantly spit it out. The burning hot sauce coupled with cheap oily cheese scorched the roof of my mouth and tongue. Inside my pocket, my phone buzzed.

A friendly suggestion from my mother: she recommended a blog that she thought I should submit an essay to. I instantly wrote back “no thanks” and went on to list a plethora of reasons as to why I didn’t want to submit an essay to an addiction blog.

  1. No one cares.
  2. I’m not Anthony Kiedis or Axl Rose.
  3. Who the fuck wants to read that shit?

I didn’t tell her the main reason was that my feelings were hurt. I was over a year and a half sober. Couldn’t my drug problems just be behind me already?

Rewind to April 8, 2017. I took my last Xanax bar. I braced myself for what was going to be massive benzodiazepine and opiate withdrawal. All throughout March 2017, I had been taking oxycodone, alprazolam, and smoking moderate amounts of black-tar heroin. The party had to end. There are certain points in a drug user’s life that most normal people would call rock bottom. Loss of relationships, stealing from family, smoking heroin off of tin foil at a Christmas dinner, losing your teeth on a pill bender. All these things had happened and I was still angry that my last day using these drugs had come.

I crunched into the bitter pill and swallowed it with no water. I wanted to enjoy the chemical taste of the pressed alprazolam tablet.

Being sober brought feelings and emotions that I had not felt in a long time. A major deal-breaker while dating was my persistent drug use. One of the perks of finally being sober after many years of drug abuse was calling my long suffering ex-girlfriend to tell her I was clean.

After an afternoon on the phone with her, I realized she didn’t care about my journey to sobriety. To my surprise she moved on. In her words, she was over it. This new emotion I was feeling was called disappointment. Disappointment with sprinkles of rejection.

Months later, I eventually moved out of my dad’s house and found a job. My father still paid my rent, but I had a job. A legitimate job. Not selling prescription pills out of my parent’s house.

Miraculously, I got employed at a fast food joint in Los Angeles. This job was the truest test of controlling myself. Between bumbling-stupid customers and a boss with a Napoleon Complex, I was miserable. I wanted to scream. This misery was a new sadness, a feeling of misery rooted in my own personal dissatisfaction. This job led me to discover  that I had a temper.

While working, the question “where do I go now?” would plague my mind. Hearing about old classmates’ successes made me angry. This feeling of insecurity due to my social status tore me apart. I’d wonder if fast food was the peak of my employment. These anxieties would swarm my thoughts and eventually seethe out in random outbursts of rage. Rage triggered by minor indiscretions.

While working for minimum wage, I’d think about how I didn’t have this problem when abusing drugs. I’d idealize moving to a commune. One of those hippie communes where everyone would eat acid, engage in unprotected group sex, and then say it’s a “spiritual ritual.” This idea never came to flourish, but I googled communes in Los Angeles, California.

I’d snap back to reality. My boss screaming in my face because I forgot what I was doing.

Sitting in silence, daydreaming instead of working.

I would ask myself, “Where do I go? What am I doing?”

 

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