Saturday, March 14, 2015

Drugs and Cincinnati

When I look at my kids, I see reflections of the promise that was once there. I really enjoy the clean slate and their fresh perspective on my life. They see me as a totally different person, one without a past, one that is perfect the way I am today. I suppose this was the way I was before all the insecurities and curiosity that turned me to drugs.
When I get ready for bed at night, I spent a lot of time reflecting. The time period when I first started drinking and smoking pot except it just is not that interesting to me. There was nothing unusual about it. That time was spent partying with friends. I even had a period where I was completely abstinent from drugs and alcohol. At the time, it was not much of an issue. Things started to spiral in a completely different direction in late 1990. My drinking became uglier and I became an unhappy person. When I smoked pot, I smoked as much as I could possibly handle. I really liked going to school but I really liked getting high on a daily basis. One of these things won out over the other. Shooting up drugs became something I coveted as the ultimate expression of fuck it. I had sat and watched my father medicate his life away. I wanted that for myself.
You just don’t run to the heroin in a small town. Your life slowly builds to the point where you are willing and you are unafraid of the ultimate price. You have to find someone crazy enough to turn you on to it the first time. It is almost like a vampire making other vampires. That person doesn’t want to be alone so they are willing to turn you to have some company. However, they have forgotten the pain of their original decision. The first year that I did IV drugs, I didn't know how to stick a needle in my own arm. In many cases, girls are turned on to the drug by boyfriends or other males seeking a partner in crime. I used to think it was so nice they would take the time out to hit me aka stick the needle into my vein. Then I realized it was because I was the person buying the majority of the drugs. 
There are many terms in the drug world. The basics: rig, outfits, kits, kits, needles, are all slang for syringes. The syringes come in different needle lengths based on depth they need to travel. The smaller the vein, the smaller the needle you generally use unless you are digging in up to a forbidden location with poor circulation such as your stomach, legs, etc. Most drugs have to be mixed with water and cooked in a spoon or mixed then drawn up with cotton. Terms for injecting yourself include; Getting a hit, booting up, fixing, getting off, the list is nearly endless. I was too young to understand many of them although “Dancing with Mr. Brownstone” was popular at the time. I just needed someone with the skill and patience to put some illicit drugs into my willing arms. The first time I did heroin, it was a whole ordeal. At the time, I knew no one in Cincinnati that could get heroin. People would take the long pilgrimage to NYC and return with some overpriced bags of death to distribute to willing victims. The bags would be stamped with names. The first time I ever tried heroin, my particular poison was 666. It should have been an omen of what was to come over the next eight years. 
What we needed to come up with today seems like an enormous amount of money -- $120, so all of us could get loaded. The last thing I wanted to do was try it by myself. I was still partying, still part of a group.  I wasn't much of a leader, mostly a follower. As I mentioned, people had a tendency to follow me around because I could come up with money. I remember going to the ATM and someone had accidentally left their card in there. I withdrew $40 -- just enough. That was my overall motto with drugs. I did “just enough,” never taking too much. I was suicidal but I didn't want to die -- at least not yet. That would come after many years of addiction.
The very first time I used, we went around in a circle. Some more seasoned junkies, the ones we bought the dope from, they went first. The second person in our circle had a complication. The very first time I used heroin, one of my compatriots overdosed in front of my eyes. He turned a shade of bluish gray and his eyes rolled back in his head. He grabbed the table in what they call the death grip. They put him in the shower and splashed him with water. All of the excitement was over in 10-15 minutes. He was unsure of what had transpired but I saw death play out in front of my eyes.They asked me if I still wanted to go. Of course! Only half for me. I stared into my friends eyes. “Look at me," he said as his friend pushed the needle in. It felt amazing and scary at the same time. The rest was history. For the next eight years, I was chasing that feeling I felt. The soft, around-the-edges feeling of fuck-it-all that I would never experience the same way again. A part of my life died that day because I never saw the world through anything but a cracked lens. I traded sanity for instant gratification and loved it. 
There were many months in between that time and the next time I used opiates. Between the heavy drinking and the pot smoking, I quickly became the local side show. Alcohol and I have never made for a good combination. When I drink, I am either crying or trying to stab my friends. My progression was a slow downward spiral into less and less social acceptability. I was supposed to be this college student full of promise. I tested out of almost my whole first year of freshman coursework at the University of Cincinnati. They told me in my admissions interview, I was a one of a kind student. Indeed, this was a true statement. I was more interested in studying different things that were slowly getting me in more and more trouble.
I have been arrested eleven times. The first time was for shoplifting four packs of Kool cigarettes for a friend in Cincinnati. They were so grateful at my attempt to resolve their nicotine cravings, they left me at the store after I was detained and later transported to the jail downtown. I had to get myself home from the central station. This should have been an omen, a portend noting that a life of crime was both lonely and unrewarding for a person like myself.
The second time I was arrested was much more typical of the addict experience. I was out late at the bar. I had been studying for finals so I had been running on very little sleep. I was not the best student at this point, so I would cram a month into a day and hope for the best come test time. I was out for a quick drink and a dance at Cooters, a nightclub that hosted gay dance nights. I had been sampling my favorite -- vodka and cranberry juice. I have racked my brain over the memory of this night for many years. I honestly do not remember having more than a few drinks. For the uninitiated, one of the issues with mixed drinks is that you can not always gauge the amount of alcohol present. The unspoken rule at the bar is that the better you tip the bartender, the stronger the drink. I always tipped well, so my two drinks could have really been like four or five drinks. I am not sure if I fell asleep at the wheel or if I passed out. It was a long drive from Clifton, where I hung out,  to West Chester where I was living at the time with my parents. The drive was between thirty or forty blurry minutes. I made the trek back and forth trying to maintain the semblance of a normal life.  
Many nights I woke up in my bed with no idea how I had gotten home, let alone undressed and under the blankets. Only one time in a a year of hard drinking  did anyone ever take my keys. I woke up from a blackout in my car. I was trying to start my car with a wooden stick. I was so pissed at my friends. I easily could have killed myself or other people at least fifty times; a year’s worth of weekends when I drove drunk or high. The night I finally wrecked my car, I hit one guard rail and spun across the highway to hit another. I was so frantic. Could someone just give me a ride to my friend’s house? I was so close. I had ripped my tights. My knees were bloody and bruised. The car was destroyed but I was only concerned with a ride. It never occurred to me that I had been drunk. Never. I was just tired. The field sobriety test was completely rigged but I just happened to blow over the legal limit. Fuck. Driving under the influence.

The worst part was having to call my parents in the middle of the night to ask my dad to pick me up. Not that he hadn’t ever had a DUI. I think he had three in total over the course of ten or fifteen years. The worse his drinking got, the closer he drank to home. Near the end, I had even seen my mom make him a drink at social occasions which would have sent things off the rails in my teenage years. Well, at least he would be sober if he picked me up in the middle of the night. This would be the beginning in a long string of disappointments for my parents. And this would be the beginning of jail as a second home of sorts for me. My life was changing and not for the better.
What was the moment I realized I was an addict? In 1991, I was living in an incredibly sparse apartment on Calhoun Street in Cincinnati, Ohio. The apartment was in the busy college district, close to bars and live music venues. The apartment was subsidized by my parents. I had wrecked my third car. After my DUI, I had no license. I was living in the city so I could continue to go to classes at the University of Cincinnati. I worked at Pier 1 Imports at night and drank most days. Attending classes was an occasional thing, though I still managed acceptable marks in school. 
I had tried heroin a few times. It was hard to get after my friend stole my connection. I was intrigued when my friend suggested we shoot morphine pills he had gotten from his girlfriend, the daughter of a pharmacist. I was also pretty selective about who shot me up. After overdosing on heroin the second time I tried it, I knew you had to trust the people around you. Otherwise, you might end up dumped at the hospital at best, rolled up in a carpet at the worst case scenario. I was always a little afraid using with different people but I really liked drugs. I would feel this excitement like butterflies in my stomach. I NEEDED to get high. I deserved to get high. I was going to throw caution to the wind and get in on these pills.
            "Needles and pins, pins and needles." He was trying to describe the feeling.
            “So this is going to be different?” I asked. How is this any different than heroin. I was confused and intrigued by the opportunity for something different. I wanted to try everything one time.
            “You know I can't hit myself.” I told them
That feeling, that admission. Was I going to be left out? Was this person going to beable to find a vein? That fear of not being a part of the group. Only this time, I wasn’t getting picked last for the kickball team, I was some loser that couldn’t fix their own drugs. I found out that the person that has money never gets left out. So in the early stages, I always tried to have money
              “I only have one rig.” he told me. 
He sounded reluctant to share. Of course, let’s get to it. I didn't care if I had to share a needle.
            “Can you help me out? I asked him. " I got $40.” 

           In the old days, pre-needle exchanges, you had to know a diabetic to get a syringe. You kept it until it literally broke, hopefully not in your arm while you were fixing. You would sharpen it on a matchbook. It would pull up your skin like a fish hook. In a group situation, you could be completely fucked if the rig broke before it was your turn. Couples rarely cleaned their rigs with bleach because they could not stand the wait for their issue. 
           "What is this going to do to me?" It was never really mentioned. Just the feeling: needles and pins. Four days of needles and pins.
Then,  I learned about a whole new reality -- withdrawal. What is this feeling? My legs weighed a thousand pounds. I locked up from muscle cramps on the couch. My nose was runny. My eyes watered. I thought addiction was in your head. I begged Nathan to suffocate me. He was the first person I ever met would could explain what was happening to me. It was if i was having my period for the first time without knowing anything about the female anatomy. Just like the scared 12 year old girl, I literally thought I was dying from the withdrawal.
My friend informed me "You’re going to be alright, Trace. You’re just kicking."
Kill me now. I thought this was all psychological stuff junkies made up to get you to give them $20.
           People came in and out of my apartment that day and for the next four days. They would yell up to my window. I had no phone. No real furniture. A mattress, a couch and a garbage can to puke in. Jason and Mark asked if they could stay the night. They were naive enough to still attempt to be friends with an emerging junkie and neighborhood mess. Jason was my occasional drunken lover. Mark was a dear friend. The concern was written on their faces.
"Is there something we can do?" they asked.
"Besides kill me? No, man. Nothing." I told them.  I felt hot then the chills.
I didn’t want to do anything besides lay on that couch and die to be relieved from my miserable condition. The compassion of the two young men was not lost on me but it was useless at that moment. No, I don’t want food, water, sex, friends, air. Nothing. It should all have been a warning sign, but we were so young. When I get off this couch, I am never going to do this shit again. Until the next time. Pins and Needles. Needles and Pins. The draw is just too strong to the feeling. The suffering is completely overwritten by the craving for the drugs. Feed me. Make me full. 
This was a showing of "Black Tar Heroin" in Cincinnati, Ohio.


  1. This is a great post. Would love to read about your experience with PAWS in jail. I can't imagine what that was like.

    1. PAWS sucks no matter where you are. in a sense, it is easier in jail because there is less access to picking up

  2. I suppose that is true. In my experience, the psychological was much harder to deal with than the physical and seems to never go completely away. I still have dreams sometimes that I turn on my shower and instead of water, a sea of yellow pills come out

    1. HA! I still have drug dreams, just not that often. they are super random though

  3. This might not be the right place to post this. I was in sf when black tar heroin was being filmed. I was 17. I stayed in one of those hotels. I remember wrapping my feet in grocery bags before I put my shoes on when it was cold. I turned my 1st trick in the tl and I remember the lady's who would deliver needles. I still struggle with heroin. I guess I really don't struggle any more. I've came to some convoluted definition of acceptance of who I am. I've accumulated clean time..worked methadone crack meth moving delete phone numbers. It's nuts. Anyway..idk how I found this blog but it made me remember that I used to have some glimmer of hope that it didn't have to be this way. I'm not going to run off to rehab or anything..I'm sick of failing. It's just nice to know that you got really really got out. Bravo.

    1. Well it certainly was a process. It took many years of going to jail, trips to methadone, switching drugs, etc. If i can make changes, anyone can

  4. Tsk. You went through a lot here. We fully sympathize with your plight. None of us here are in any position to fully judge you, really, since a part of addiction doesn't really come from the person but from the drug or the alcohol itself. It's that complicated. The best way around it is to just draw a line of separation. Keep the stuff out and find the courage and the strength - and the reasons - to reject it. I'm sure there are.

    Kim Hunter