Four years ago yesterday, I woke up with a needle hanging out of my arm. I had been four months clean at the time – two months in an inpatient rehab and two months and counting of going to outpatient treatment every day at Kaiser and trying my best to stay sober. I hadn’t planned on using, but I hadn’t taken my suboxone the morning prior and for whatever reason that I can’t recall, I found myself making the walk to 16th and Mission to cop.
A couple of balloons of tar, a few twenty rocks, a clean needle and a fresh stem later, I found myself at home alone with a bottle of Jameson. I got in the spoon and as fast as the dope melted in the water, four months of clean time disappeared. I watched bad TV, took big hits of melting rock to keep myself from nodding out and slowly sipped the whiskey out of the bottle. I don’t remember most of that night, just that I didn’t want to be alone in my room getting high and there I was doing just that. I cooked up and slammed another shot of dope, smoked some more coke and finished the bottle of whiskey, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was fucked.
By that point, drinking inevitably led to cocaine and cocaine always led to heroin and heroin always led to me alone in my apartment, so high that I could barely function. I wanted to stop using but I didn’t know how to live my life once the only way I could cope with anything was taken away.
So there I was, alone in my apartment, trying to get high enough to forget that I was a drug addict for long enough to feel comfortable to just be able to sit still and not feel like I was going to jump out of my skin. I don’t remember banging the third bag of dope but I must have because the next thing I remember was the early morning sun hitting me in the face and the feeling of opening my eyes to another morning after. I remember realizing that I must have passed out, which felt weird because I never fell asleep with cocaine in the house.
And then I looked down and saw the needle hanging out of my left arm. I yanked the rig out and when I looked at it realized that I had only pushed half the shot in before I nodded out. A lot of people who OD on dope have been clean for a while and when they come back to the needle, their tolerance is gone and they overdose and die. I just remember staring at the needle in my hand and realizing that if I had managed to shoot the whole shot I probably wouldn’t be alive. I didn’t know how to stay clean but I knew that I didn’t want to die. I knew that if I didn’t get clean and stay clean that one morning in the not-to-distant future I wouldn’t be waking up to pull the needle out of my arm.
I looked at my desk and there was still a bag of dope and a couple pieces of crack sitting next to the blackened stem and the empty whiskey bottle. I quickly scooped the drugs up and flushed them down the toilet, the first and only time I’ve ever thrown away drugs in my entire life. I put on a sweatshirt, grabbed my phone and walked to a meeting.
I’ve been clean ever since.
How I got that way and have stayed that way the last four years is an entirely separate series of stories that I won’t go into today. It hasn’t been easy – some days it amazes me just how tempting a cold beer can look. On the rare occasion when I hear my brain tell me that just having one is no big deal, I always think back to that morning, that needle and that sun hitting me in the face.
So far, it’s always been more than enough.