What is addiction?
The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
That’s the dictionary definition. Words on paper.
But for heroin addicts, hopelessly lost in a world they no longer want to be a part of, it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the nightmare that never ends.
Heroin is an especially vicious monster, thrusting the unwary user into a dark world of unimaginable pain. Destroying, bit by bit, everything that once made life worth living.
Your health. Your finances. Your relationship with your family. Your ability to raise your kids. All the joys of life. Even your will to live.
I witnessed all of this firsthand. I watched my daughter fall prey to this drug. She agreed to let me tell her story, of her years-long struggle with a suffocating addiction that appears to be far stronger than she’ll ever be.
I’ve watched as she’s tried to stop. I’ve witnessed her many relapses. I’ve seen her health decline to the point where this once beautiful, smart, vibrant woman now only vaguely resembles my little girl. A walking skeleton with unspeakably sad eyes.
So many times I’ve watched her cry. Every time she’s failed. When she feels the overwhelming pain of being a slave to her addiction. I watched her cry and curse and lash out at me when I told her that I was taking custody of her children.
And I watched her sob in defeat when she realized she had to let them go. Because when you’re completely unable to take care of yourself, how can you take care of two toddlers? No matter how desperately you want to.
My daughter’s name is Lisa. She wants others to understand her living hell. She hopes and prays it prevents at least one person from taking that first hit.
That’s how it began with her. It was the summer of 2011.
Do you remember the first time?
I remember like it was yesterday. It was the greatest feeling in the world. You feel no pain, physical or mental. Whatever problems you thought you had disappeared. It makes you happy, confident, energetic, like you can do anything.
What were the circumstances?
My boyfriend brought it home and asked if I wanted to try it. He told me it was like a really strong pain pill. I said yes.
What would you give to go back to that moment and say no?
Knowing what I know now, I would give anything in this world, besides my kids, to go back to that day. I wouldn’t go anywhere near it.
When did you realize you were an addict? What are the signs?
When I stopped doing heroin every once in a while to have fun and started doing it daily just to feel normal. When it went from one pack lasting me a week to one pack lasting five minutes. When I started stealing and lying and manipulating the people I love most in this world just to get a fix. When the little bags just weren’t enough. When I needed more and more just to get me to work, just to get me to sleep, just to make me not feel how miserable I was.
What sort of emotions do you feel being an addict?
Guilt, shame, depression. Mad at myself, degusted with myself, hatred toward myself and the drug. Loneliness, rejected, judged, helpless, sick, humiliated, lost. I probably sound ridiculous but if you walked a day in my shoes you would see the struggle is real.
How much was your addiction costing?
I would say between $400-500 a week or more.
How did you pay for it?
When I was working I worked mostly at restaurants where there is tip cash every night. And if I wasn’t working, or the money ran out, I did whatever I had to do, almost, to get what I wanted. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve stolen from loved ones, pawned or sold personal or family items, hustled, lied, manipulated anyone and everyone to get what I wanted.
Does the idea of an overdose scare you?
Absolutely. Tainted heroin scares me. But there’s not an addict who wouldn’t take it if there was only a “possibility” of tainting.
Do you know anyone who’s died of an overdose or from tainted heroin?
Yes. Probably 10-15 people.
What’s the worst thing you’ve seen that was heroin related?
I had two friends overdose and die in their car with their 4-year-old daughter in the back seat.
What’s the worst thing you’ve done?
I bonded my heroin dealer out of jail for a couple of free bags. I put my kids through hell, even took them with me in the back of my van to make buys. I’m so lucky they’re too young to remember most of it.
What would you say to someone who may be tempted, as you were, to try heroin?
Run. Run fast. Heroin equals death. To be a heroin addict is to be imprisoned. In the beginning you think heroin is your friend. But soon you find yourself getting up every day thinking only about heroin. You lose everything. Jobs, parents, friends, your home and your confidence. You lose your kids if you have them. It’s like beating your head against a wall nonstop. In the end, your prison becomes your tomb.
What do you miss most of all from your life before heroin?
I miss feeling normal. I just want to be normal. I watch people all the time, at restaurants and gas stations and they all look so happy. They’re functioning every day without having to put anything in their bodies to help them. That’s what I want. I want to feel normal again.
RICK JACOBS is an author, columnist, process server and family man who lives in Bartlett with his wife and grandchildren. Contact him at email@example.com.