From Straight As to Needles: A Perspective on Addiction
Part 1: Before the Change
She lit her next to last cigarette, as she searched for a bottle cap to heat up the last bit of heroin she had left. She strapped on the blood pressure cuff–the one she acquired in pharmacy school–and though she would have normally felt anticipation as she drew the liquid into the syringe, the only thing she yearned for was to just feel normal. That last injection was…really, it was weak. She barely felt anything. It was nothing like the dreamy slumber that once took all the pain away. She felt like…like God wanted to punish her, so rather than granting her that feeling of heavenly peace…He instead returned her to earth…her personal hell.
In the past, if Erin Bahadur thought too hard about it, she became consumed with guilt…not because of where she had been, but because she couldn’t really pinpoint any single event in her life that led her down such a selfish, self-destructive path. She hurt a lot of people and betrayed the trust of many. She imagined, “It’s like it was me, but I wasn’t in the driver’s seat of my mind.” There was no interest in helping others, no interest in actually being social – in fact even though she was good at being social, Erin really only ever felt content when she wasn’t sober.
There are stereotypes about what an addict ‘looks like,’ and the word itself probably doesn’t make you think of a student in pharmacy school that earned an undergraduate degree in just three years. Yet, this is part of Erin’s story. A Maryland native and an honor roll student and athlete, Erin even once threatened to break up with a boyfriend after finding out he was “smoking weed.” This was years before the three months she spent in Baltimore, leading up to rehab, selling her jewelry to buy heroin.
The progressive nature of addiction
Erin first used drugs as an escape. And before she knew it, even though she made it to class regularly, she was drinking to pass out. Drinking became more of a problem in college, and while in pharmacy school in 2008, she got a DWI. Like so many of us do when faced with the notion we might have a problem, Erin switched brands, a bit more deliberately…to prescription drugs.
Opiates quickly became a favorite for her, as they allowed her to to give the impression of being functional – and being able to use – while maintaining a facade of “everything is fine.” As many of us know, this isn’t always possible with alcohol – for some reason, people know something is wrong when you slur speech and fall over! Furthermore, this allowed her to conceal using when it came time to check-in with a breathalyzer (a consequence of the DWI).
Working at a pharmacy, the temptation to use prescription drugs was compounded. For anyone that’s ever used, you are familiar with how tolerances build up over time; it takes more of whatever substance you’re abusing to actually feel different, until finally, being sober is the only thing that feels different, while being under the influence becomes ‘normal.’
Unless you recognize the patterns in your own life, it might be difficult to understand the insanity the addict’s mind endures. But, if you look at yourself closely and you can identify your tendency to repeat behaviors, even when they produce seemingly undesirable results (but who are we kidding? You wouldn’t repeat them if you didn’t like them), then you have an idea what it’s like to be an addict.
Real life has real consequences
For Erin, using didn’t stop with chasing the ‘normal’ feeling. After some time, she was justifying taking pills from the pharmacy, until finally, one day, the sheriff called and had some questions about some inventory discrepancies. The initial knot in her throat later felt more like Time had her in a choke hold, as she would be facing multiple felony charges, several of which carried double-digit sentences. Losing her job the day she was charged quickly became the least of her worries.
What to do? There was no other way out. So, the next logical step was to…take up heroin use, since the prescription opiates were no longer a viable (accessible) option. Through the help of a background in pharmacy and the internet, Erin taught herself how to shoot up. Charges pending, no job, and a bad habit, she lived this way for what seemed like the longest three months, ever.
Erin awoke one day and counted her remaining $15. She said, “I honestly don’t know what came over me, but I just started calling rehab centers, and several would not accept me, so I took that as a sign it just wasn’t meant to be.”
To be continued…
Read Part 2 – “Making Changes”
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