Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"'it's so insane how this drug has taken hold over me."

"'it's so insane how this drug has taken hold over me."

Another person lost to drugs. Another person lost to the world. I have corresponded with thousands of people over the years- a few messages from time to time. This person was different. I had been corresponding with them off and on since 10/2013. That's a long fucking time. I had recently looked at their pictures, remarking to myself they must be doing well if I haven't heard from them.

Things start as they do- sniffing some pills. Then more pills. Then more pills. We started with some questions about if you could OD from snorting oxy.

"I usually do, at a minimum, 120mg of oxy a day. the average I do is about 200mg. the max is about 300mg. I haven't moved onto the needle, and I really don't have plans to"

There were some times when the using stopped. Smoking weed with friends. Taking classes. Playing xbox and paintball.

"you truly bring me hope that there are still good people left in this world"

Then a few more frantic messages. Some pictures of a swollen arm. I've started doing H. I have started shooting up.

"I fucking shot up. Fucked my arms all up.. I don't think I missed, but I had to stick myself a shit ton, and they feel bruised."

Then months of no contact.

"Hey tracey.. I don't know who else to go to right now.. but I am completely in over my head. Somehow I have managed to get up to doing 1.5g a day IV. Binged out for the last week so hard its not funny. But i've been doing at least a half g a day for at least 3 months now. I want to stop so badly "

Two trips to the sub doctor. Some benzos in the mix. A final last hope was a trip to the methadone clinic. They were doing SO well. A message about getting down to 1mg on a taper..

Then a few more words and that was that. I don't know all the details. I just know I could have written this story. This was my story. Except I did not die at 25. I didn't need to worry about fentanyl. I got off everything at 27. I consider myself lucky.

Working as an advocate, I get the bitter and periodically I get some sweet. There is more work to be done. No one should ever have to die alone like this.

I love you.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Guest Post Justin M "Animal House"

I put the car in park and peered around at my surroundings. I’d driven to a brick and wood panel house, one of those houses that was obviously designed and built in the 70s. It lay under an ancient oak tree, it’s long and twisted branches reaching out over the house and front yard with their shadows giving a false sense of comfort in the midday heat. One fallen branch would easily destroy the house. A rough looking dog house was nestled at the base of the tree housing an equally rough looking mangy Siberian husky.
The husky was not the only animal I saw. In fact, the yard was infested with pets and strays alike. The house sat down the road from a low income trailer park, where parents would gift puppies to their children, not understanding how much dedication and money raising a dog truly takes. Some of these neglected and forgotten pets inevitably migrated to this house, where the owner set out food every day for all of the unwanted dogs as well as her pets.
I turned off the ignition and opened my door, stepping out into the sweltering Mississippi summer heat. The smell of dog feces immediately met my nostrils. I stared at my feet as I cautiously made my way to the front door, stepping carefully to avoid the numerous mounds of shit. The smell of extreme neglect joined the smell of feces once I reached the front door. A pungent potpourri of waste and decay.
Knock knock, shuffling inside, then an open door. The smell of urine joining the fecal rot. Standing before me was a nice enough older lady. She was extremely sweet, to the point it sometimes felt disingenuous. She wore a purple sweatsuit despite the heat, stained with sweat and food and dirt (I hoped it was dirt, at least.). Slightly overweight, her jowls had a habit of jiggling violently when she spoke. I always found myself focusing on it while listening to her speak and there was no change to this routine as she said “hello.”
“Hey Miss Paula, how are you doing? Hiding from this heat?” I asked.
“Oh ya know, I’m just makin’ it. Scrappy, hush!” A small dog was yapping at me from between her feet. I never found out the breed, probably a mutt, but it was a dog I classified as an “ankle biter.” The words of Ron Swanson snuck into my thoughts...”any dog under 50 pounds is a cat and cats are pointless.” My mind had a habit of drifting to some pop culture reference that few people ever got when I’d speak them aloud. “Why don’t ya come on inside with the AC. You look like you’re burnin’ up.” Her southern accent was as thick as the humidity.
She stepped to the side and held open the door as I passed the threshold. The aroma outside was undeniably bad but it simply did not compare to the wall of stink that crashed into my face as I entered. The house was a mess in every sense of the word. Hell, “mess” was an extreme understatement. The living room furniture, if the room even actually contained any furniture, was piled with laundry and trash to the point of invisibility. I could see in some spots that the floor was originally white, but most of it now was piss yellow. More dogs began barking at me as Scrappy nipped at my heels. The inside of the house told a tale of a lonely woman, one whose children no longer came around and a husband long gone. A tale of a woman who cared more for the stray dogs she took care of more than she cared for herself. A tale of a woman that hoarded useless things to try and fill a hole left in her life after raising her family. Not caring about ourselves was one of the few things Miss Paula and I had in common. “Sorry about the mess, she apologized.”
“Oh it’s fine, I hardly noticed,” I lied as I searched for a decent place to lean my aching body against.
“’s your momma?” The beginning of a barrage of questions I couldn’t care less to answer. A pointless formality to maintain the facade of southern hospitality. I answered each one respectfully, patiently waiting for us to arrive to the point of my visit. “...and those damned doctors have found more junk supposedly wrong with me. Sometimes I feel like they’re just yankin’ my chain for insurance money, I swear.” Miss Paula was riddled with medical issues. Thinking about how little time she had remaining would give me an existential crisis.
“Yeah I can’t imagine what you’re going through. It’s obviously tough,” I replied, wondering if she ever noticed how captivated I was by her chubby, rippling cheeks. Maybe I focused on them so as not to become overwhelmed by the putrid stink of this house and thoughts of death.
“Yeah it’s tough, but The Lord will guide me through it. I have no doubt about that.” I couldn’t help but wonder why a loving god would put his creation through such pain. “Anyway, how many did you say you wanted again?”
Finally, to the fucking point. “Well, I have like $120 so I guess 12? If you can spare them.” Pointless politeness. Of course this unemployable lady living in squalor would sell me her morphine pills. My habit bought her groceries every week.
“The doctor gave me some new ones this last time. These are 60 milligrams instead of 30. I don’t know how much these usually go for...”
“Well I guess it makes sense to double the price for double the milligram, you think?” I asked. The price was fair. (Some of you will doubt this, but heroin was non existent in my area so pain pills were relatively cheap. No ‘dollar a mg’ bullshit, here) I was a junkie with a serious habit, but I couldn’t bring myself to be dishonest to this poor lady. The least I could do was pay her right.
“You sure that ain’t too much? That’s an awful lot...are these really worth $20? I don’t think I’d pay that but I sure am thankful you know people that do.” She punctuated her statement with a hearty laugh. “So it’ll be 6 then, right?”
“Yup, 6.” I replied anxiously. I was giddy with the anticipation of getting back to my car with the pills. I was on the third day of withdrawal and had been waiting on “refill day” all week. Miss Paula poured 8 little white ovals into my outstretched palm.
“Here’s two extra for you sellin’ ‘em for me. I know you wouldn’t tell me but I bet it’s a lotta trouble findin’ people to pay $10 or $20 a pill.” Miss Paula believed that I was an innocent college kid just helping a poor old lady make some money. She had no idea I’d be cooking two of these pills in her driveway five minutes from now, shielded from her view by a large holly bush.
“Thank you, it’s not a big deal. They’re easy to sell, especially at school, ya know. Those kids would rather buy drugs than food.” I joked, Miss Paula unaware of that jab I was making at myself. I’d chose to buy her groceries instead of my own.
“Well, I sure do appreciate it. You be safe now, ya hear? You want a coke or somethin’?” I said sure and she moseyed over to her filthy fridge, stepping barefoot into puddles of lukewarm dog piss. She came back with a Dr. Pepper... Southerners called any soda “coke.” I thanked her and walked outside, trying not to sprint to my car door and thankful for the shit-smelling air in comparison to the pungent mess that was the inside of Paula’s house.
I sat in my driver’s seat, shut the door, and reversed down the driveway past the holly bush near the old country road, stopping once I was sure the nose of my car wasn’t visible from Miss Paula’s front door. I was acutely feeling every symptom of my withdrawals... it always seems to get worse when you know you’re just a few steps from getting better. My AC was off despite the sweltering heat, amplified by my closed car windows. An ant trapped under the magnified beam of sunlight aimed by an uncaring bully of a god. I opened my center console, gathered my supplies, and began to work.
First, you had to wipe the coating off the pills. Sometimes I would skip this step out of impatience, but that day I methodically smeared every bit of white off both of the pills I selected. With both pills free of their coating, I dropped them in my spoon. The amount of water one needs to successfully make a solution of morphine from a pill depends on a few things... the brand of the pill (different brands require different steps to break down), the depth of the spoon (a deep spoon wouldn’t evaporate water as quickly as a shallow one), the strength of your source of heat (the weak flame of a Bic, the red hot heat of an oven eye). I had a fairly deep spoon that I’d shoplifted (how pathetic is it to shoplift a .99 cent spoon?) and one of those small torches sold at convenience stores, so I didn’t require much water. Torches have the added benefit of not leaving behind any smut. A “good rule of thumb” (a phrase with extremely fucked origins, by the way) I used was “one syringe cap (the cap protecting the plunger on diabetic needles) per pill.” I dumped the water in the spoon and put the torch to its bottom.
Breaking down pills isn’t like fixing a shot of heroin. It takes a bit of time. I sat there for about a minute, waiting for the water to boil and trying to ignore the school bus coming up the street. The pills swelled and I smashed them into the water as the bus dropped my niece off a few houses down, oblivious to her uncle preparing a shot within eyesight. With each smash, a white cloud spread out from the round edge of the plunger until nothing was left of the pills but two oval husks with a faint “60” imprint. I dropped a piece of balled up cotton into the water and drew up exactly 100 units of solution. I’d done this so often that I filled the syringe completely the first try, using just the right amount of water. My deviant chemistry lab experiment was complete. If only I did that well in my actual chemistry class. Oh well, time to get well.
I was drenched in sweat and my veins were popping. I didn’t even need to tie off. The needle tore a hole through the top of my hand and I began to dig under my flesh in search of a vein. After a few seconds, I felt the familiar “pop” as the vein gave up its flight from the needle, bouncing back into place as I pushed the needle deeper into the vein, insuring it didn’t pop back out. I pulled the plunger back, mesmerized by the majestic swirl of blood shooting into the morphine solution...I always appreciated that part of the ritual the most. I pushed the plunger all the way in until it expelled a sucking sound as the last bit of solution entered my circulatory system. I pulled the needle out, placed a thumb on the wound to mitigate bruising, sat back, and waited.
Morphine sneaks up on you just like heroin (I feel like I need to explain because I know most people here shoot heroin). In my experience, just as I become disappointed in how “good” my shot was, it creeps up on me. That day was no different. Being 3 days into withdrawal, the shot showed me no mercy. It started with a sensation I can only describe as “needles in your teeth.” It was so strong that it felt like my head would shatter, each tooth exploding like a kernel of popcorn in response to the heat swelling in my chest. The familiar sinking feeling reached my legs and stomach, as if a force were pulling me by an invisible rope through the bottom of my car. It felt like I gained 200 pounds in seconds. The pins and needles spread to the rest of my body, pricking and prodding in an unexpectedly pleasant way. Twenty seconds in, the rush continued to become more intense. My head drooped as a black shadow formed around my vision. The thought of me overdosing crossed my mind, though I wasn’t sure if it was actually happening. I imagined my innocent niece seeing my car from her house, walking over excitedly and discovering her selfish uncle cold and blue and covered in vomit. Her innocence ruined, the image of my corpse forever seared into her memory. I fought the shadows back...huddles of demonic beings retreating from the light. I couldn’t let myself overdose there.
The rush finally let up. My heart was pounding into my skull, skin beat read and hot as if I had an extreme fever. I felt a mild headache forming in my temples. The lingering memory of the pins and needles creating an unbearable itch in my feet. Yet I was alive and I was well, the beast of opiate withdrawal temporarily placated yet again. I sat there for a moment, trying to erase the image of my imagined death and discovery. Eventually I started the ignition and drove to my sisters house.
My niece greeted me at the back door of my sister’s house. It opened into their kitchen and she was preparing an after school snack. A pang of guilt shot through my body.
“Hey, how was school? I was just driving by and figured I’d come say ‘hey’. Do you wanna go play Minecraft?” Like any elementary aged child at the time, she was absolutely obsessed with the game. She said yes and I followed her to the living room, waving to my sister as I walked. My niece sat cross legged in the floor and I joined her in front of the TV, picking up a controller.
“Hey Uncle, what’s that? Did you get hurt?” My niece asked as I crossed my legs. She was pointing to my hand.
I looked down and saw a streak of blood left over from my shot, another pang of guilt shooting throughout my body. “Oh, I don’t know what that is. I must have gotten bit by a mosquito.”
At least I wouldn’t have to live with such guilt if I had overdosed, I selfishly thought.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

From the trap house to the White House- thoughts on my trip

Dear Readers:
I haven't been writing much lately. I sincerely apologize for that. I have a few stories in the queue. Don't worry.

I was just doing advocacy in Washington DC and in Boston. First of all, I need to sincerely thank the people who donate time and resources to help me with my work. I spoke to: a federal judge, a head of a correctional agency, at a DC correctional facility for women, to medical practitioners, and to a group of around 200 students. It was tiring. My legs are still swollen but my heart is full. I spoke with democrats, republicans, young people, older people, professionals, the homeless, anyone who would listen. The good news- we are more alike than we are different. The "opioid crisis" may be the thing that unifies all of us. We all want to find ways to stop the dying and get on with the business of living.

Second of all- I am extremely disturbed to hear the three pronged triumvirate of bullshit policies coming from our government. We are planning on diverting money that could be used for naloxone- something we KNOW saves lives- to law enforcement. Can I say- fuck that. I am a convicted felon. My original charge was sales/transport of a controlled substance. What these laws mean are people with the economic means to hire private attorneys will receive rehab or other alternative sentencing. Those who cannot will be locked up, disenfranchised, and possibly face the death penalty. The Trump plan throws common sense drug policy solutions out the window in favor of approaches we KNOW do not work and do NOTHING to save lives.

Third of all, I am looking into ways to fund a project to get out and speak more. I feel like we need hope, we need real advocacy. I feel like that effort should be national instead of a few key cities. When I go to these places, I see people crying in the audience because they are so desperate for some kind of information and some kind of good news. I try to provide at least a bit of that.

I hope to get more writing out soon after I rest up.

I love you.

From the trap house to the White House

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Taking Advocacy On The Road

This week, I will be taking the Harm Reduction show on the road. I am headed to Washington DC to meet with some policy makers and criminal justice folks. Then I have back to back presentations in Boston Mass. The first is to students in medical residency and the second is to students at a University. It will be a brutal couple of days for me travel wise but I have a few days of vacation on the backend. I am pretty burnt out, behind on care packages, the usual. A few days away will be good for me though I am going to really miss my kids. 

My presentations are really going to focus around YOU and what you need. Please feel free to send me comments etc. through my email or reddit. 

I realized the other day I have spent the past six years being the confidant for a group of people who use drugs. I know more about some of you than people I see in my daily life. I appreciate you and your level on honesty. 

Below is something I wrote recently about relapse which you may or may not have seen. I have been writing articles lately to earn some extra money. I am including it in case you didn't see it:

Recovery is a Marathon, Not a Sprint.
When I started my process of recovery, my life was focused around the absence of pain. If only I could stop feeling this way...but how? I knew I wanted to stop using drugs and alcohol, I had no idea how to make this happen. I tried ten other times until on time number eleven, things started to fall into place. That was nearly twenty years ago. There were many relapses that I turned into learning experiences. That accumulated knowledge of what worked and what did not work for me was eventually translated into a program of long lasting recovery. Recovery is a marathon not a sprint. While not welcomed, relapses shouldn’t be treated as a dead end. They are an opportunity for self examination and course correction.
Statistically, we are at highest risk for overdose death when we have had periods of abstinence. This includes periods of incarceration, trips to rehab, after an extended hospital stay, or voluntary attempts to curb use. When we have had a period where we have been “clean” or “sober”, the expectations around us reach new levels. Our loved ones embrace us tightly. The pressure slowly mounts to regain responsibilities. Suddenly, our fragile grasp seems to slip- we are ashamed to admit to cravings. It doesn’t matter if it is a good bad or a bad day. Our relationship to drugs has become so complicated, a simple memory can set our mental wheels turning. We are told we should be feeling “grateful” when,in fact, we may be feeling isolated. It is easy to fall back into that groove of self medication. Relapse can be a sole event or an extended incident. No matter what the circumstances of a relapse, the most important thing we can do is protect our health and safety by practicing harm reduction.
Leaving a relationship with drugs and alcohol is like leaving any abusive relationship- it may take multiple tries until we finally leave the. It is okay to admit that for awhile, these substances feel good. Until they don’t. When we finally decide to get into the process known as recovery, one of the most challenging hurdles may be rebounding after a relapse. If we have spent months, years, or even decades using drugs and alcohol to solve our problems, it is entirely rational that in times of emotional upheaval, we would return to our old solutions. We used when we were sad, happy, angry, lonely, and every place in between. Health behavior changes are hard. Like the diabetic who may have issues resisting sweets or the asthmatic who craves a cigarette, a person with addiction issues deals with significant temptation on a daily basis.
Your first thought after a relapse might be to think “I’ve thrown it all away!” Don’t get stuck in this trap. You still have retained all the accumulated knowledge, you just need to create a new situation in which to apply it.  Don’t let yourself get pulled into the cycle of guilt and shame. First of all, guilt and shame are useless emotions in this situation. Shame is fuel for the process of cutting off your support system. Guilt breeds the desire to keep drinking or using drugs. You had 98 days sober and relapsed? That means in 99 days, you used one day? You have 98 days worth of experience to draw on. You can start from today.Ask yourself- What can you do differently? What worked for you? What are my goals? What are the things that really make you want to change? Make a list. This is a time for action.Whatever your program of recovery, the tools are inside you. Tap into those.
A relapse does not have have to end the journey. This can be a new beginning. Learn from this experience and move forward.

Friday, March 2, 2018

I Was Raised By the Television

I was raised by the television.
In 1976 my mother had to return to work when my father lost his business in the great recession. He got tired of selling furniture and pool tales and whatever other menial jobs he acquired when he left the Navy. He had joined to get out of poverty. He had no running water until he was 17. When his mother died, he was left nothing but two quilts and a Bible. He was a Hillbilly that crawled all the way into a bottle after his wife was forced out of the kitchen and into the office.
The TV raised me. Both my parents worked. I came home with a key on a chain around my neck. I stuck things in the microwave to heat them up while my brother listened to Led Zeppelin upstairs. I’d spin myself in circles trying to feel outside of myself. I’d sit on the stairs, listening to my parents argue, taking me and my footy pajamas back into my room. I saw my future in the bottom of the glass of whiskey one of my “uncles” asked me to hand him while he subtly grabbed my shoulder. Men are gross, I told myself without knowing it was just him.
I watched BET. I listened to Kool Moe Dee. I learned the way Big Daddy Kane went to work. I knew that Alexander O’Neil was innocent and want to ride the white horse. I watched “Lady Sings the Blues”. Diana Ross was my hero. I brought a tray of food to my grandmother in the basement. She is hearing those voices again. She’s speaking her Spanish while her husband sneaks me drinks of his beer. I like his tattoos. I don’t understand why there are times she calls me by another name or why she needs him to take care of her. I just know that she scares me. I lock her in the basement. She smacked my face when I let her out. That was the first time but wouldn’t be the last.
I saw Night Flight. There was punk rocks. I was from a rural place with a dead end street. The punk was rocks until I didn’t realize it was plural. I went to school with people that would eventually know each other their whole lives. I would find out on facebook that they all think I’m still a prostitute when I actually have been clean five years. I used to smoke weed all day long. I wished for a drug that was a bit stronger. My whole paycheck spent drinking shots at the bar. An eighth of weed lasting me one afternoon. Heroin, my heroin, where could you be? I am standing on my porch. I’m suicidal from two vicodins and two bottles of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill.
Then I crawled into the television. I became my own show. Three days up on meth or cocaine. My hands are so swollen, I can’t put them down. I’m cross eyed trying to fix with a barbed syringe. Sticking myself over and over until I finally put the shit up my nose. I just wish you could love me. I just wish I could love myself. My socks haven’t dried out in a week. Part of my foot came off with my shoe. There are no holidays here. There are no special occasions. A boy gave me an ice cream bar. I guess that means we are in love. I give him my dirty needles to take to the exchange. We’ll share everything- including Hepatitis C.
The pimp Larry promises me that if I join him I will make no less than $100 a date, even if I have to stay out all night. I tell him I can do two dates for $50. I can be home in half the time. Why would I give you my money. Heroin is my pimp. It keeps me working 24/7. The crazy white boy with the blue eyes and the terrible prison tattoos wants me to come to his “place” tonight. His shopping cart is parked two alleys over. I can’t have sex anyway. I have a bladder infection right now. I’m crying in the lobby of my hotel because I spilled my antibiotics. The counselor from the program tells me fake it until you make it. I’ll try.