All it took was a quick jab for the author to begin a 2-year love affair with heroin
By Seth Mnookin
When I was a child, I had nightmares about being forced to take drugs.
By the time I was a teenager, I felt so disabled by a suffocating sense of unease and disquietude that I was only too willing to take whatever would level me out. I smoked, snorted, and swallowed pretty much anything a middle-class teenager could easily get his hands on: hash, prescription pain pills, all sorts of hallucinogens, even some blow. It was a tricky balancing act. If I used too much, I became overwhelmed; not enough, and I was just as incapable of functioning. On some level, I knew I was an addict. I just didn’t much care. Drugs functioned as a pre-SSRI stand-in for Prozac–they were an imperfect chemical fix for my discomfort and sadness.
I was 22 when I first tried heroin. I was just out of college and living on my own in New York City. I was smoking pot many times a day, but it had stopped working–I was no longer getting high, and I wasn’t feeling any calmer, either. So one Sunday morning I bought a 10-dollar bag of heroin from a dealer on my block. I snorted half, felt a little woozy, and later in the day snorted the other half. This time it hit me. It seemed as if I was calmly floating. I was, I realized with a shot of satisfaction, high for the first time in years.
Within a year, I was up to a bundle–10 full bags–in a sitting. Soon after, I moved back to Boston, where I quickly ran out of money. And then I met some people who were shooting.
I was in a dingy, ground-floor apartment on the border of Cambridge and Somerville; the kitchen sink was mucky with a week’s worth of leftover takeout, and there was a thick carpet of mold growing in the bathroom. There were four of us: me; David, a small gopher of a man who lived in a rented room at the Y and funded his habit by dealing to college students; and Anna and her boyfriend. David and I were snorters; Anna and her boyfriend used needles.
Ever since I was 5 years old, I’ve been irrationally afraid of needles–one of my earliest and clearest memories is of the time a doctor at Newton- Wellesley hospital had to call in a colleague to hold me down so he could give me a shot. I didn’t get any braver as I grew older.
But on that muggy summer day, I knew I needed something more than I was getting, and when Anna offered to tie me off and shoot me up, I said yes. I leaned against the unplugged refrigerator as she grabbed a bloody sock from the floor. Anna commanded me to clench and unclench my fist several times, and after she smacked my veins with two of her fingers, she tied the sock tightly around my biceps. I tried to watch as she prepared the rig, drawing bleach and then water through the needle, dissolving the heroin in a charred metal spoon, heating it with a lighter. As it began to bubble, she drew the mixture through a wadded-up corner of a cigarette filter. When she tapped out the air bubbles, I shut my eyes. I held my breath when she grabbed my arm.
And then I sank to the floor. My arm had been shaking, so she’d jabbed the needle in a little too violently, pressed down on the plunger a little too fast. The needle was still in my vein; Anna, already high, fumbled for some rubbing alcohol to wipe the freckles of blood off my arm. When you snort heroin, you have to wait a couple of minutes before you feel its full effect. Shooting is a direct line to the bloodstream. You feel its impact right away; there’s no timed release, no delayed reaction, just an immediate, almost orgasmic flattening out, as if the whole world were instantly transformed into a warm and happy place. Everything becomes suddenly soft and easy. I tried to look around: Anna was busy cleaning her needle, and David was on the phone. It seemed odd that they were acting so prosaically. Didn’t they realize what had just happened?
For me, injecting was like falling in love. I loved the careful preparation; I loved pulling the needle a millimeter once it was in the vein and watching the red swirl of blood twirl through the milky heroin mixture in the chamber. But mostly I loved the feeling of being hit in the back of the neck with the purest jolt of okayness I’d ever experienced. I’ve watched many people inject themselves, and it was always a bit sordid, like watching someone masturbate in front of you.
Over the next 2 years, I became a full-blown, unrepentant IV junkie. I stopped working, stopped eating, stopped cleaning myself. My family changed the locks on the house I grew up in; they took vacations and didn’t tell me when or where they were going. The depression and anxiety I’d been battling grew even fiercer, and finally even the small moments of blissed-out joy diminished to the point where I was scared and sad and lonely all the time. By then, it was too late, the physical grip of addiction too tenacious.
It took too many overdoses and hospitalizations for me to quit using junk. I’ve been clean for more than 7 years. I’ve been lucky: Most of the time, staying sober hasn’t been that difficult. My life is fairly full. I love my family, and they love me back. I get paid well to do work that is challenging and rewarding. But I still struggle with trying to feel normal, still have difficulty sleeping through the night, and still fight to beat down the anxiety. And I still remember the time I sank to that dirty kitchen floor and felt, for the first time, as though all was right with the world. I haven’t had that feeling since.
SETH MNOOKIN is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He is
When you’re a food addict, there’s only one thing that’s difficult to swallow: the truth
By William Leith
As a former fat guy with a food addiction, I’m well acquainted with the concept of denial. In fact, I’d say that being fat is in itself a state of denial. When you’re fat, you sometimes look at a photograph of a group of people and think, Who’s the fat guy? Then you realize it’s you. You catch a glimpse of your bulky self in a store window, and you don’t recognize the apparition.
You think, Surely that’s not . . .
And, Yes, it is.
And, Oh, God!
And, What time is it, anyway?
Your denial skills allow you to respond to the moment of horror, make the necessary mental readjustment, block out the horror, and carry right on walking. As a fat guy, you become adept at denial on many levels. For instance, you always carry around in your head at least two versions of what you look like, ranging from trim to slightly overweight. The real you–the engorged belly, the treble chin, the moon face–gets buried.
I was in denial about something else, too–the very fact that I was a compulsive overeater. There I’d be, at my fattest, cruising along the sidewalk toward the golden arches of a McDonald’s. When I say cruising, I don’t mean to suggest I was a great walker. I was a schlepper. (This points to another thing you deny yourself–comfort. And the ability to wear clothes without looking like a sweaty doorman.)
Still, there I’d go, walking toward the arches, fully intending not to walk under the arches. Smelling the oil, the meat, the buns. Fully intending not to wait in line and order some fries and stuff them into my mouth in a metronomic, pleasureless frenzy. And then, click. Something would happen. I’d turn. I’d duck under the arches. I’d stand in line.
This is the exact moment of denial. You know you shouldn’t do it, you know you’ll regret it, but you go ahead all the same, you move forward. The decision’s been made. As you gaze at the golden arches, you may believe you’re still in possession of judicial powers. But you’re not. At this stage, you have only executive powers. Your status as the master of your own destiny is entirely ceremonial.
And then you step inside the binge, and, for a brief moment, it’s a wonderful place to be. Inside the binge, you are outside of yourself. Here, objects are sharper, more clearly defined. Your hunger is bigger; the objects of your hunger look smaller. Inside the binge, you are pure appetite–pure aspiration. Nothing else. You have created a time zone more present than the present. The hunger, the food, the stuffing of food into your face–it does the trick. It works.
Meanwhile, where’s the real world–the world of being fat, the world of lumbering, of ugliness? You’ve banished it. It doesn’t exist. It has been denied.
Can there be yet another level of denial? Of course. Eventually, I went into therapy to talk about why I liked to overeat, or rather to talk about why I overate despite hating myself for doing it. This emerged: I was overeating in order to deny difficult emotions. I’d been doing this since I was a kid. I realized that the compulsive cycle–stepping into a binge, having a binge, feeling guilty about the binge, embarking on another binge–was a technique my mind had dreamed up to distract me from my darker thoughts. What I learned about my addiction was that it wasn’t exactly burgers, or booze, or cocaine, or, during the periods when I lost weight, random sexual encounters that I craved, so much as craving itself.
Addiction is about wanting to be hungry, about the need to be unsatisfied. This, it turned out, was the truth that, for the longest time, I sought to deny.
WILLIAM LEITH is a British journalist and the author of The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict (Gotham).
At what point does sex become a drug? The day it tears your life apart
When he hit rock bottom, it was face-first.
Something had him by the hair and was slamming his forehead, over and over, into a very hard surface. He could hear a voice shrieking, “This is not a whorehouse!” By the third slam, he was awake enough to realize what was going on: His mother had gotten up early to make breakfast and discovered him passed out, naked, on the rec-room poker table. That wouldn’t have been so bad, if he hadn’t also been lying on top of a naked stranger–and if he hadn’t just announced his engagement to someone else.
He was 24 at the time, a college grad about to marry his beautiful, brainy, beloved girlfriend and start a job on Wall Street. They’d spent the 6 months after graduation traveling throughout Southeast Asia, and he’d just come home with news of their engagement. They’d gone out for a celebratory dinner, but on the way home, he’d felt that old, anxious feeling coming over him–the obsessive hunger his friends called “the Darkness.” He’d asked his parents to drop him off at a local dive, and a few hours later . . .
It was as if he’d gone into a trance, his buddies would tell him. He had tended bar part-time in college, and in the middle of a shift, his eyes would get that thousand-mile stare and he’d answer questions with a distracted grunt. He’d become totally focused on a woman, any woman. It didn’t matter; consequences, chances of success, and physical attractiveness were irrelevant to what he wanted most in life.
He would have sex with anyone, anywhere. His risks were as legendary as his numbers. He’d had secret sex several times within a few feet of his girlfriend–on their back porch, under the outside steps leading to their apartment, in a car parked right out front. He’d even sneaked a girl into their roommate’s bedroom, ushered her back out a few hours later, then slipped into bed with his girlfriend and pretended the moans she’d heard had come from the roommate.
Afterward, he’d be so relieved about getting away with it that he’d punish himself brutally. His favorite form of self-torture was a venereal-disease test, the one where two nurses hold you down while a doctor shoves a long cotton swab deep into your penis. He was a tough guy–once, he’d kept fighting after a drunk had cracked his head open with a tallboy bottle–but those STD tests made him scream and weep.
This sin-and-repent cycle went on for a few years. Then he went home to be punished. But whereas other addicts hit bottom and begin the slow crawl back to sanity, he decided to stay put. Now his family knew who he was, and he could just give in to the Darkness. That night, his kid brother tried to repair the damage by taking him out for beers and explaining how badly hurt their mother was. He listened for a while but got distracted by a conversation two women were having in the next booth. A half hour later, he was in the backseat of his brother’s car, hurriedly having sex with a woman on work release for manslaughter.
No matter how many pleas his brother made or how many swabs were forced into his penis, he realized, the Darkness would never go away. That was okay, as long as the consequences were his alone. But he wasn’t going to inflict shame and disease on his children, so he decided that the day he got married, he’d go cold turkey. That’s what he told his buddies.
He would suppress the Darkness with as much focus and drive as he had directed to indulging it. He devoted an hour a day to yoga; he became a studious and diligent Christian; he filled his afternoons with exercise and his evenings with his growing family. He became fantastically successful at his job.
His buddies are watching him, and waiting.
He wanted to stop gambling and get clean, but smart money was on the addiction
By Frederick Barthelme
Say for about 6 years in the mid-’90s you played fairly fierce games of blackjack at the Mississippi-coast casinos, won a lot and lost a lot more, maybe a little more than 200 grand once you totaled it all up, and now, maybe 10 years later, you’re finished with that, not even close to being the way you once were. And say it wasn’t that hard to quit; you just had to give up all your hopes and dreams. That’d put you in the shoes of somebody I know.
At 2 o’clock in the morning, you’re driving south to the casino. It’s January, and chilly southern air kicks little tufts of freezing rain off the windshield, and you’re lost in thought–Tonight you’re going to kill ’em. It’s possible. It has happened before.
In one 3-hour span after 2 days of playing in Biloxi, you get hot and take $21,000 from a blackjack table and walk into first light with half in hundreds, half as a cashier’s check.
Three days later, you return to the casino, ready to repeat the performance, but things go less well. So you go back, and back again, until you’ve dropped the 21 and too many thousands more.
You don’t think about damage. Stress, family, wife, bills. You have an argument with your wife. You end up yelling at her, “It’s not like I lost 30 grand!” When you’ve lost seven or eight times that, nobody yells. She’s patient; she waits. When you’re 3 days at the coast, you call her from pay phones, from comped rooms. She’s friendly but cool. She doesn’t ask how you’re doing. She doesn’t ask when you’re coming back.
When you’re home, you do computer simulations, count cards, practice. Then you drive, glide up the escalator, shake hands with the rummy in the shiny suit who runs the floor. He’s glad to see you. You’re glad to be back in his noisy house.
Some time later, after the losses have mounted to a ridiculous sum, after you’re in a fair amount of debt and lucky to still have a salary to pay the bills, you get tired of being beaten. Sometimes this comes quickly, but mostly it’s a long, long lesson. You are tired and you don’t want to be beaten again, and so one night you get halfway to the coast and you say “F— it,” and you turn the car around. It is not the last time you’ll go gambling, but it is a new idea–you don’t have to go. First couple of times you don’t, you feel crappy, scared. But, after a bit, staying home isn’t that bad. There’s stuff to do. You’re not winning, but you’re not losing.
So you stand off a bit, and then you haven’t been down there since Christmas. You go and you lose a couple thousand, and you’re relieved to get out cheap. Driving back feels different. You’re thrilled to escape.
The drive is pleasant. The air goose-bumps your arms. You are elated. Here’s what’s different. You don’t hope anymore. You know you will always lose. It’s certain. You can’t believe you fell for it, spent years reading books, practicing, counting down decks at the kitchen table, shooting off to the coast and jacking up your bets, living on the adrenaline of split aces on thousand-dollar bets, streaking back and forth between winning some and losing much more. You can’t believe you didn’t see that it’s a system relying on one thing–hope. Yours.
Gambling works because we’ve let ourselves want something. We want to win our share of the time, we want the world to be a better place than it is, we want people to stop killing each other, we want fewer liars and cheaters, less scum, better colleagues, cars that don’t crash, politicians who aren’t cesspools, a better future out there ahead, sort of like we thought things were when we started. When our parents were getting along, and the weather was okay, and our friends were friends, and the ice-cream guy came when we expected him, and the girl we liked–what was her name? Carolyn? Gail?–called about the math assignment and then giggled when we said we liked her.
It’s so simple: We want something better. They know it. They use it. We lose. Once you get that, quitting is easy.
FREDERICK BARTHELME is the author of 15 books and a gambling memoir, Double Down, cowritten with his brother Steven.
- Inside America’s Opioid Crisis
- Drug Addicts More Likely to Have Ancient Virus in Their Genome
- 'I Cried as I Read This': An Obit for an Addicted Vermonter Goes Viral
- How the Smallest State is Defeating America’s Biggest Addiction Crisis
- Inside Patricia Clarkson's brutal 'Sharp Objects' performance: 'It's dark and nasty and twisted and beautiful'
- Addiction, remixed: Sober coffee bar and club in Claremont offers drug-free social options
- Matcha mania: Inside San Francisco’s new, one-of-a-kind Stonemill Matcha
- For opioid addicts being jailed, nightmare is just beginning
- The wall of forgotten Natives: Inside Minneapolis’ largest homeless encampment
- Go inside Portland artist's 'crazy' green house (photos)
- Children removed from heroin-addicted parents face trauma, neglect
- Inside the Unlikely Movement That Could Restore Voting Rights to 1.4 Million Floridians
- TECH COMPANIES CLAIM THEY ARE ATTEMPTING TO COMBAT SCREEN ADDICTION
- Take a peek inside the Kay Beard Building at Eloise
- York County launches treatment program for addicted inmates
- Marion County sheriff race pits insider vs. candidate urging change
- Darwin Deez Kicked a Game Addiction to Write His Latest Album
- Hell inside a church? Elgin church mixes fun, serious message.
- Inside Memphis' jail, prison phone contract with GTL in Shelby County
- Lil Xan opens up about addiction, how Mac Miller's death affected him
Inside the Addiction have 3461 words, post on www.menshealth.com at September 6, 2005. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.