As a teen, I was led to believe the drugs were coming in from other countries, that we, Americans, weren’t the problem. That the rest of the world was causing drug addiction. I was led to believe that junkies were crazy people that shot up in the streets and meth addicts were something that existed far away from Boston, MA. I was led to believe the war on drugs was something our government was fighting against, that they were trying to protect us from addiction and pain and suffering. But then I had surgery.
I was 17, going into my senior year of high school. It was the last summer of being a kid without any responsibilities because the following summer, I would prepare for college life. This was my first surgery. I was terrified. But a tonsillectomy being such a common operation gave me solace. I felt everyone involved must know what they were doing, and they must have my best interest in mind.
After the operation, I felt great because they had given me a shot of Demerol, a heavy-duty pain killer found in hospitals. Come to find out, it was one of the meds Michael Jackson reportedly abused. Once I got home, the pain meds wore off, and I was in a world of hurt. I couldn’t swallow my own spit, and I was puking from the anesthesia. This was a new level of pain. However, the doctor prescribed a large bottle of liquid Roxicet. Its other name? Percocet. The bottle read: “High risk for addiction and dependence. Can cause respiratory distress and death when taken in high doses or when combined with other substances, especially alcohol.” Cool.
I downed the Alice in Wonderland size cup that provided me relief. But it was more than relief. I felt like I was floating. All my problems disappeared. I felt warm and protected and happy. But the happiness soon faded, as the tiny drink would send me into a downward spiral, one that kept me on the streets looking for pills and in nightclubs looking for the next high. A real-life Wonderland.
The addiction started by taking the medication as prescribed every 4-6 hours for pain. After a week or so, the pain stopped. But I didn’t stop the medication. It helped me sleep, and that became my excuse. I learned others were already abusing said medication, so I brought it around them and started enjoying the substance with others. Wow, this was fun! Or so it seemed, until I began taking way too much which always ended up with me puking my brains out. But puking wasn’t even close to rock bottom. It was simply a side effect I acknowledged.
Then the bottle ran out, but thankfully, people in my friend group knew where to get more. This time, it was in pill form. I took whatever they gave me. Sometimes they were free. Sometimes I paid. Sometimes I would just date the person and sex seemed like an easy trade. Nothing else really mattered than insuring I had at least a few pills on hand. Years later, I would come to find out I was taking OC 80s—a high dose of OxyContin. No wonder my life was such a mess.
The next few years would consist of working in nightclubs as a shot girl, a bartender, and eventually, a go-go dancer. The next few years would consist of multiple sexual partners which left me with HPV, cancerous cells and surgery. The next few years would leave me broke, uneducated, and removed from real friends and family. I OD’d in a bathtub. I hung out with big name DJs. I partied at festivals all over North America. On the outside, it looked like a movie. On the inside, I was depressed. I was anxious. I was terrified. I was exhausted. I was scared. I was confused. And most importantly, I was an addict. And I had no idea what that meant.
I can’t tell you how many times I came close to death, looking for that same high that I felt with pain killers. Ecstasy was cool, but short-lived. Vodka made me sick and violent. Adderall’s main job was keeping me functional during the day. I wanted my pain killers, but the next best thing were benzos. I would eat any pill I could find. Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin. Why? Because it took the anxiety away. It took the pain away. It took the withdrawal away. Ultimately, it took reality away. So where did that leave me? A twenty-nothing in a severely abusive relationship who failed out of college twice, who barely spoke to her family, who had no idea who the fuck she was. And honestly, the only thing that kept me away from heroin was my fear of needles.
What did I learn from three stints in rehab and a long climb out of a dark hole? All of my assumptions were wrong. My best friends were shooting up and doing meth. And they were white, privileged, had money, careers, “real lives”. Where did my drug addiction come from? Not Mexico. Not Indiana in a trailer. It came from big pharma. It came from a local pharmacy that I bought toilet paper and mascara from. It came from a doctor who was supposed to have my best interest in mind. What did I really learn from this entire experience? Capitalism will be the second fall of Rome.