My Education in Addiction – Part 1

FYI For most of you who are here to read make up reviews and running updates, this is a pretty serious post.  It’s taken me 2 years to start trying to write it, and it’s going to take more than 1 post to unpack all the baggage.  This is my personal experience with having an addict in my family.  It is not meant to give advice or preach or help.  It’s just meant to share how I felt when someone in my family went through this struggle.  More posts to come.


 

No matter the news – big or small, good or bad – my dad’s emails are never more than a few sentences, always without proper capitalization, always nonchalant. Two years ago this September I received the following from him:

hey sweetie
how is the new place and grad school going?
Have some bad news…… I had to have [your brother] committed to a drug addiction facility. He is addicted to heroin and has been using for a year. He didn’t want me to tell you but I know had to. He went in on Tuesday and will be there for at least 2 weeks up 30 days.
I know you have a lot on your plate right now there is nothing you can do, he cant have visitors. I talked to him yesterday, he knows he needs to be there.
On a lighter note …..GO PATS!!!!!
Love you

Yep, how’s school, your brother is a heroin addict, go pats.  I rode the bus to work with FH only 3 times that year, which means that on any given work day, there is a 1.1% chance that I am on the bus with him.  Usually I leave much before him, but I was either running late or he had to be in early.  The day I received that email happened to be one of the days we were together in the morning.  I honestly don’t know what I would have done if it had been one of the other 98% of days I go to work by myself.  I immediately went into shock, handed him my phone, so he could read the email, and we got off at the next stop.

We sat in an Au Bon Pain for about 20 minutes without buying anything.  I was sobbing while intermittently asking, “Heroin?!  Who does heroin?!?!  I don’t even know anything about heroin.”

The sobbing continued off and on all day.  This was chick-flick, ugly, movie crying.

I called my dad in the afternoon to get the details.  They had started to notice stuff missing a few months prior.  Then my brother was driving around with random appliances in his car that he was “selling for friends.”  Then my grandmother’s jewelry was missing.  We have no idea how much disappeared.

He was living with his junkie girlfriend and her junkie mother.  She was just a “recreational” user, not “addicted.”  He, however, couldn’t make it a few hours.  He spent half his time at the pawn shop.  The other half with his dealer or in bed.

My dad had put him into a detox facility and my brother checked himself out.  My dad picked him up, and the gf was with him.  They were going to beat this together.  My brother wanted to go to an outpatient day program.  Right after he went downstairs to his room to “just go and nap real quick…real quick.”  Yeah, right, asshole – was essentially my dad’s response.

In Massachusetts there is a section (35, to be exact) of the law code that allows you to involuntarily commit an adult to a rehab facility if there’s a bed (or jail if there is not) if they are a danger to themselves (click here for more info on that law).  This law is a blessing.  There was no other way to get my brother away from the stuff.  There are some stipulations, though.  If you go to court to section someone, the police leave with you to go pick that person up.  If you can’t find them, you have to go back to court the next day.  They also won’t cross state borders.  Since my brother’s mother lives in New Hampshire, and my brother was known to disappear, my dad had to act fast, even though his ex-wife did not agree with him.  This is her 21-year-old baby, after all.

My dad had to face his irate, sick, angry, shaking child in court who was going through hell and back.  If you don’t know what heroin withdrawals look like, you can youtube it.  Or just take my word for it, it’s horrific.  People die, not from the chemical withdrawal, but from dehydration from the sweating and vomiting.

My dad got my brother committed.  Luckily there was a bed in a rehab facility.  My brother called my dad a few days later to thank him…

…And to let him know that there was a syringe on the kitchen counter behind the knife block full of heroin.  My dad followed his instructions to bend the needle in half to prevent anyone from using it in the future.

And thus began my education in heroin addiction.

 


Just in case somebody got to this post who is struggling with addiction, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a good resource to find treatment.

 

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A Fight About Smoking

I smoked A LOT over the holiday. I’ve pretty much always allowed myself to smoke when I visit my dad’s house. Him and his fiance smoke. Constantly. Inside the house.

I left work on Tuesday the 23rd with the sense of freedom that elementary school kids have on the last day of school. I took 3 days off from work to celebrate Christmas. It’s not many, I know, but they were the first vacation days that I’d actually be using for vacation, as opposed to studying for midterms. I felt giddy. I met a friend for dinner and enjoyed a strong drink. I started thinking about smoking with the first sip. Then I bought some on the way home. I was on vacation! And I was headed to my dad’s house the very next day, so what’s a few early ones in anticipation of that?

I smoked like a fiend for 3 days straight, finishing 2 packs. That’s more than I usually smoked when I considered myself a smoker. I had an unopened pack from my stocking that I was going to save until New Year’s Eve. That plan didn’t last long. I didn’t smoke most of the day on Saturday, but then we decided to hit up Bantam Cider’s tap room and I opened that pack on the way there, in anticipation of drinking.

I admitted that I was losing my grasp on quitting. A day or two more of this would have spelled disaster. For my lungs, at least. Three days, I would probably be a full-fledged smoker again. I admitted all this to the bf to acknowledge my failings and get some support. I asked him to remind me (really, make me) throw out the rest of the pack I had before I went to bed. If they were still around in the morning, there’s no doubt I’d enjoy one with my coffee. And finish that 3rd pack throughout the day.

On the walk home we got in quite the argument. He wanted to take a cab and I wanted to walk. He accused me of wanting to walk just so I could smoke. I was drunk. I just wanted the FitBit steps. I could smoke all I wanted when I got home. He wanted a cab, but didn’t hail one because I had already lit a cigarette. I protested that if he caught a cab, I’d put it out. But we kept walking. Stewing in anger.

I don’t know how the next bout started. He said I never quit. That “quit” has a very clear definition of not doing it anymore, and I still smoked; ergo, I never quit. That really pushes my buttons.  To me, that’s like calling me an alcoholic just because I drink alcohol. I quit being a smoker. I swear I did. And I felt diminished. I felt like I might as well smoke all the time if this is how he looks at it. If he can’t recognize my progress, commend me on my effort. He was tearing me down instead of building me up (I sincerely apologize if I lifted that from some Taylor Swift song or other nonesense).

We were drunk.  These are generalizations.  But along with the fact that I “never quit,” I also “never really try.” I don’t use Nicotine patches or gum or other substitutes.  The part of addiction that keeps me wanting to smoke at parties and when I’m drinking isn’t the chemical addiction to Nicotine.  It’s an addiction to a feeling, to a physical habit, to an “I can do what I want” freedom.  He pointed out that I don’t want to quit.  I told him he’s right.  By his (and, yes, Merriam Webster’s) definition of quitting, I don’t want to quit.  I want smoking to be a habit that I can pick up and put down.  That I don’t want all the time, but can enjoy at appropriate times.  I truly want it to be like alcohol.  That’s what I’m striving for.

However, I don’t need alcohol like I need cigarettes.  I don’t succumb to it when I don’t want to.  I’m able to say no if someone offers me a drink and I don’t feel like one.  I don’t have that control over smoking, but that’s what I’m trying for.  No patch or shot or pill or gum or shaming is going to get me there.  I need to want it enough, and find the willpower to control it better.  To stick to my words when I say, “I’ll only smoke at so-and-so time.”  I just need to follow my own rules.