I should be dead.
I never imagined I would live to 20, let alone my mid-30s. Why? I spent my teenage years addicted to heroin. Looking at me, you’d never guess. I live right next door. I look like a typical, suburban mom. I drive kids to sports practices, attend parent-teacher conferences, hold down a job and do everyday parent things. And yet, I have this back story; this quiet part of me not many people know about.
Heroin entered my life in Middle School.
I tried heroin at 13 and was immediately hooked. It felt like someone covered me with a warm blanket right out of the dryer. And I snuggled right into the feeling. I felt a calm and peace that I had never felt before, or really since. Quickly, my drug use spiraled out of control. Every boundary I set, I crossed. I wouldn’t use needles and then I did. I wouldn’t steal from people and then I did that too. I would never share needles, I also did that. The list of things I would never do was suddenly empty and I would do ANYTHING for drugs. I was wasting away and on the verge of death. Many days, I hoped to go to sleep and never wake up again.
The Magnitude of the Problem
The unfortunate truth is that my story is not unique. In 2016, 343 people died of an overdose in Milwaukee County alone. That is 88 more overdose deaths than 2015. The opiate epidemic is growing and is touching all corners of society and kids —because 13-year-olds, like I was, most definitely are still kids— are having their lives taken over by drug addiction. Overdose deaths have outpaced motor vehicle crash deaths, homicides and other injuries.
Recently, I overheard a conversation in the grocery store between two-well-meaning folks who were discussing Wisconsin’s opiate crisis. They were talking about those people who are addicts. You know, those people who don’t care about their families and are selfish. Those people who steal, commit crimes and simply don’t care about anything or anyone. As I listened to these folks talk, I felt an immense mix of shame and anger. Shame for my addiction. I never intended to become a heroin addict. No one does. More than 15 years later, I am still ashamed of some of the things that I did and the person I was.
A Life Changed
I remember exactly where I was standing when I got the call that a friend had overdosed and died. I’d love to say it was a light bulb moment but it wasn’t. I decided to stop using drugs for 30 days to PROVE I didn’t have a problem. There aren’t words to describe how miserable and terrible withdrawal was. I wanted to die.
Somehow I made it through the 30 days and sobriety stuck. It’s not easy, neat or pretty. I think about using drugs almost every day. I worry about how I will tell my kids that I used to have a drug problem. Although I don’t talk openly about my past, it is a core part of who I am. It shaped me. I worry people will find out about my past and judge me for it.
Let’s Talk About It
Society stigmatizes addiction. Not everyone who suffers from addiction looks like an addict. Your child’s teacher, neighbor, church leader or maybe someone living in your own home might be an addict. Be careful with your words. The more addiction is talked about, the easier it might be for people to ask for help.