Going to Hell

If drugs were a party, Heroin is the mysterious person brooding in the corner, wearing a leather jacket and tight black denim jeans, discreetly changing the music and just generally giving off a vibe of languid decadence. There’s boredom there too, like they know about another, better party but don’t quite feel like going at the moment maybe later though see how they feel.
Though gaunt and sallow, Heroin always radiates fierce vitality as well as a sexuality that can only be described as dormant but dangerous. You are at this party, drinking a beer and minding your own business when a hand lands rudely on your shoulder.
“Hmmm…old school 70s leather jacket…black jeans…deliberately not talking to anybody…changing the song if it sounds too familiar to play obscure bands nobody likes or cares about…I could go on and on here,” a friend shouts in your ear, the last word coming out as “hee-yuh.” Your friend has given himself a Brooklyn-via-Jersey accent. You have no idea why. The two of you are standing beside the speakers and the music is deafeningly loud.
“What’s your point?” you scream back.
“Coulda come straight outta some catalog. Hipsters for Hire.” (“hi-ya”…like in karate)
You pretend to laugh so your friend will leave. Having made you laugh, thus personally confirming his talents as a comedian – just needs to catch a break maybe do a set on the sidewalk outside Just for Laughs this year cuz you never know who might be there (“they-uh”) y’know Bell Jim Haulind was discovered that way…haven’t heard of ’em?! gidouttaheeyuh heeza bessinna biz! (Translation: Get out of here. He’s the best in the business) sez he did the Borscht belt in the 60s some old footage on YouTube butcha gotta use his former stage name which was Sonny Mac cuzzy thought it sounded American I just thought it sounded like a burger y’know what I’m- your friend finally leaves. Christ he’s been doing that same diatribe since Bush was in office. No, the other Bush…the Eighties one. Reagan II, if you can believe it.
You resume staring at Heroin. Though your friend might claim that Heroin’s mysteriousness is the product of carefully calculated cultivation, you know better.
Heroin doesn’t have to try to be cool. Heroin just is. And I don’t mean “Heroin just is cool.” I mean it just is. It just exists. Project what you want.
Back to the party. If drugs were a house party, Heroin is the mysterious guest quietly brooding in the corner. You are staring at Heroin. Heroin makes a gesture that could mean come with me or go to hell. You don’t know and you’re afraid to ask lest they see how uncool you are. You also can’t tell if Heroin is looking at you or the person behind you. Heroin is leaving the party and you must decide immediately whether to follow.
You follow. Heroin leads you into a labyrinth and you follow. You’re scared but you don’t want to wreck the vibe, which is danger chic. Deeper into the maze. And deeper. And suddenly realize you’re following something/someone you don’t know and don’t even like all that much. Earlier, at the party, Heroin seemed enigmatic and remote, a nut you thought you could crack with your wit and effortless charm. But now you realize there’s nothing to crack. Heroin is all surface, with no substance sans itself. It absorbs people into its quivering mass. And you have to get out immediately before it absorbs you.
But just as you’re about to ask Heroin for directions out of the maze you’ve stupidly entered, Heroin disappears and you’re left to fend for yourself without food or water or money.
And finally you realize what Heroin was trying to say to you back at the party. Back when you could still back out. Back when booze was enough to make you happy. Heroin wasn’t offering two different paths, one to follow and one to go to hell. It was offering one path, the same path.
Heroin was asking you to follow it into hell.
And you followed.

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Beginnings

Nobody starts out on heroin. I can’t find a satisfying analogue. I was going to go with “that would be like a fourteen-year-old kid drinking a bottle of overproof rum – 80% alcohol – instead of the typical teenage experience of chugging a warm beer stolen from dad” but I didn’t like it enough. Then I tried to say it would be “something like a one-hundred-and-twenty-pound person who has never worked out before trying to bench press three hundred pounds as their very first exercise. They simply can’t lift th…”

See that’s no good either. I told you I fucking suck at writing.

Anyway, like I said, nobody starts out doing heroin. It’s the virtual definition of a slippery slope substance, a drug that waits beyond the gateway drugs, beckoning you with a carny smile, promising paradise.

Alcohol started me on the road I’m presently stuck on, frantically scanning highway signs for indications of an off-ramp.

As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a drinker. I associated drinking with coolness. My dad drank a lot and pounded the idea into me that it was okay to drink as much as you wanted so long as you showed up for work the next day. My dad also gave me Jack Kerouac’s On the Road for my sixteenth birthday, a book that quickly became my bible. It wasn’t just the way the book romanticized alcohol that drew me in, I saw myself in both Sal and Dean. I loved how enthusiastic they were about life, a feeling I shared but rarely expressed, having grown up in the 1990s when a jaded attitude was a prerequisite for being cool. In the schoolyard and in the cafeteria, all the cool kids rolled their eyes and muttered insults at the uncool kids. Languid cruelness was the ruling philosophy. I was frequently told to “shut the fuck up!” or “calm the fuck down!” on the bus to school because I was nattering on excitedly about some band I liked and annoying the hip older kids, who just wanted to scowl and frown in peace.

And so seeing such earnest wonder in Sal’s (Kerouac’s) outlook made me love him, because his enthusiasm for life paradoxically alienated him from society. Ditto for Dean (Cassidy). I read the scene where someone on the bus in San Francisco calls Dean an “overexcited nut” with an intoxicating sensation of recognition and solidarity. There was someone out there who saw life the way I saw it, and I resolved to be like him in every way I could, including the heavy drinking.

Although I’d already been drinking for a year by the time I discovered Kerouac, I started hitting it harder after reading On the Road. I wasn’t consciously aware of any of this at the time, nor am I retroactively applying a narrative to something that happened in my past. Looking back now knowing what I know, it’s totally obvious to me that I was emulating my heroes in the easiest way possible. Instead of hunkering down and trying to write like Kerouac, I could drink. I did the same thing with my later heroes. Instead of working on my guitar playing, I could just drink Corona like Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. Later on, when Robert Pollard became my hero, I drank onstage at shows because that what Guided by Voices were known for.

I started drinking when I was fifteen and by seventeen I was getting drunk every weekend. By twenty I was drinking on weekdays and by twenty-five I was drinking every single day. By the time I realized I had a problem, I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I quit for two weeks in summer 2011 but relapsed when I felt I’d “earned” a drink.

By the time I was twenty-eight the drinking was starting to get to me. I was constantly tired. I was always getting sick. My anxiety was through the roof. I didn’t feel normal until I had three drinks in me. I spent Christmas 2011 by myself, drinking the case of Corona I’d bought for myself – a rare treat, as I usually drank the cheap stuff…Laker or Pabst – and eating the block of goat cheese I’d stolen from the organic grocery store where I worked, and recording an absolutely terrible song. I’m so drunk I sound like a demented Mrs. Piggy, but again, I was obviously telling myself something…the devil can’t help. Alcohol = the devil. Subtle stuff eh?

By the time summer 2013 rolled around I was pretty much destroyed. My nerves were shot. I had to whisper for an hour or so after waking up until my voice returned, so ruined it was from smoking and drinking and talking nonsense deep into the night. I jumped at sudden noises. I constantly felt like bursting into tears. After yet another night drinking at Squirrely’s with my then-girlfriend, who I’ll call C_____, I woke up in a puddle of vomit. The fact that I still don’t know, to this day, if it was mine or C_____’s is a testament to how we were living at the time. Wine bottles strewn across the floor. No sheet on the mattress. Blankets acned with cigarette burns. I showered and came back upstairs, wrapping the blanket around me and bursting into tears in C____’s arms.

“Help me,” I moaned. “Just help me.”

“Take a Percocet!” she admonished. “Just take one. You’ll be fine.”

I had a deep-seated suspicion toward drugs. I was afraid of them. I didn’t snort anything until I was twenty-nine. As drunk as I was, I was extremely puritanical about any other substance. I loathed potheads and I hated when people did cocaine in my presence. When C_____ did it I wouldn’t kiss her for the rest of the night. But that summer (2013) she’d been doing painkillers. Just a few weeks earlier she’d called me from work, asking me to bring her a ramekin of Dilaudid. I remember the conversation because I didn’t know what either of those things were. A ramekin is one of those miniature plates fancy restaurants put ketchup in, and Dilaudid is hydromorphone, a reasonably strong painkiller usually used post-surgery in hospitals. I didn’t think much of C_____ having powerful painkillers on her because she had such agonizing menstrual cramps (she sometimes had to be hospitalized the pain was so intense). I didn’t know that she’d been doing them recreationally too. Anyway, she’d been offering me opiates all summer and I’d emphatically and categorically refused. I hated drugs but something else was there too. I think I knew, deep down, that I’d love them.

I should have said no. I know that now. Looking back that night has such significance for me because it was such a watershed moment in my life. I can’t even imagine how different my life would have been if I hadn’t got into opiates. I’d have a lot more friends and a lot more money, that’s for sure. But I may not have met my gf/fiancé, and that’s even scarier to think about. As hellish as the addiction was, it was totally worth it to get to Alex. I think of it as a hero narrative sometimes, envisioning myself bare chested in a jungle, thrashing my way through thick kudzu vines and branches toward Alex, who is thrashing through the kudzu as well, both of us moving toward each other. It’s not “your princess awaits.” Alex had to thrash through some horrible shit of her own to get to me.

C_____ was holding a white circular pill in her hand. I took it and washed it down with water. “I’m trusting you on this,” I said. I was terrified that something would go wrong and I would die, like I was the one person in four billion who is deathly allergic to Percocet and my body would melt into a gooey pile of liquid guts and blood right there in C____’s bedroom.

My body did melt, but only metaphorically. After I took the Percocet and lay back down on the bed. C____ put on The Fifth Element. Twenty minutes into the movie I surprised C____ and myself by lighting a cigarette. I usually couldn’t smoke when I was hungover, unable to light up until my third drink. But the Perc made me feel fantastic.

After the movie I was unusually chatty and we stayed up talking about nonsense and watching videos on YouTube. C____ offered more but I was fine with the single Perc. Now that I liked the stuff, C____ no longer had to hide her use, and started snorting the pills in front of me. I learned later that she’d been snorting opiates all summer, Dilaudid and OxyContin, buying them from the man who owned the bakery next door.

That was Labour Day weekend 2013 and the next day we were headed to Ottawa, C____ came along too, because the band I was in was recording instrumental tracks for an album. I partied and drank in Ottawa that weekend – there’ a video somewhere of me jumping on a hotel bed and dancing to what was then the new Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories – but something inside me had changed. A switch had been flipped. That autumn I had to move to Guelph to be closer to Waterloo, where I was starting a Master’s program in English Literature, but I went back to Toronto every weekend to hang out with C____, drink, and do painkillers.

That whole year I mixed booze and opiates. I’d take a little piece of an OxyContin pill and then go to the bar. I loved mixing, but apparently opiates inhibit your body’s ability to break down alcohol, so once I started using Oxy every day in November 2014 – ostensibly so I could work through a knee injury but really I was looking for any reason I could find to start using more frequently – I found I could no longer drink at all. Alcohol gave me all the bad stuff – dizziness, nausea, etc – and none of the good stuff – inflated ego, extroverted behavior, etc.

So I retreated into the womblike warmth of the apartment I shared with C_____ and I never really came back. That album we started on Labour Day 2013? Still not finished. And we were a band that regularly released albums, sometimes as many as four per year. I stopped going to parties, I stopped calling friends, I stopped having band practice. I basically quit life. Everything was secondary to the Oxy. And pretty soon secondary things weren’t even on my radar. Everything revolved around those fucking pink pills.

Sporadic reportage from the front lines of heroin addiction

I’m a 32 y/o white male living in Toronto, ON with my fiancé and two cats and this is my detox diary. I’ve started this blog to chronicle my ongoing attempts to become opiate free for the first time in over four years. I am currently tapering my daily dose of methadone and will begin detoxing cold turkey on January 1 2019. In the weeks and days leading up to New Year’s Day I will be posting on here to keep my spirits up but also to hone my writing skills, which have seen a sharp decline over the past few years, most likely the result of chronic heroin use and neglect. If you don’t use it, you lose it. And if you use heroin, you lose (almost) everything. I’ve been having a lot of trouble staying on point, so I’m going to divide my backstory into chunks and make each chunk its own post.