Stuck in the throes of a drug-fueled cycle

This real-life account of being addicted to heroin shows the rarely-seen lowest of lows

I woke up sick. Feeling the pang of quiet panic and a taste of desperation upon awakening was something I had almost gotten used to. First thing in the morning. When I was young, it was the same. Except then, it was the terror of thinking I was late for school and I had overslept. Now the panic had its roots in smack. With heroin, if you didn’t save a hit for the morning from the night before, you woke up like this.

The catch-22 of the deal was if you do a proper hit the night before, you’d toss and turn through flashing nightmares and murky forgettable dreams. All as the sickness crept up on you. With smack, waking life was a series of no-win scenarios. A constant Kobayashi Maru.

Much like Jim Kirk, you used human ingenuity every day to try and beat the game. Anything and everything, anything and nothing, tactics and strategy, luck and prayer, friends and enemies, economics and diplomacy, hustles and honest-to-goodness straight hard work and determination, to stay one step ahead of the sickness. Like Bono once wrote, “we’re all running to stand still.” On heroin, there is no getting ahead. So I woke and started cataloguing my inventory. One tablet. One bank card. One pen. A few smokes. No lighter. About 40 cents. No food. Food always comes in second.

Graphic by Florence Yee
Graphic by Florence Yee

It was dim outside. Late afternoon, my instincts told me. In the winter, the sun sets by 4:30 p.m. in Montreal. My eyes released their first involuntary tears of the day. My nose ran. My back and legs ached. My bones felt like glass. Specifically, like the thin fragile necks of wine glasses. My neck and armpits were hot, sweating cold sticky sweat. My chest and legs were ice cold. Small localised waves of chills ran through random parts of my body. Heroin withdrawal, scientifically, is the junk-addicted cells of your body dying. Without junk, the cells cannot live. So all the chills and aches and hot flashes and throbbing pain and running noses and horrible taste in your mouth—that’s your body dying—and being reborn.  But honestly, the physical symptoms, as bad as they are, pale in comparison to the psychological feelings of despair, shame, utter tragic sorrow and acute depression.

Like you’ve never felt joy, and you can’t remember what tranquility is like. I’m describing this because it’s important to understand that, for the junkie, the lows are equally vital in driving our behaviour and decision-making as the highs. Yes, being sober means no more withdrawal, but for a person so accustomed to staring into the abyss of human suffering on a daily basis, regular life is, well, boring.  This little fact is man’s dirty little psychic secret—both from himself and to others. The reality is that everyone, in one shape or another, faces this problem. The truth is, some just go with the flow… Time passes.

I’m on the metro. This is the third time today I’m making this Friday tour de l’ile. Each time from either Angrignon or Vendome in the west to Jarry or Sherbrooke. It’s been that kind of day. “The Run,” they call it. On a good day, the Mediterraneans pick up their goddamn phones, we might get a delivery. Home and work delivery is what a man will wait three to five hours for because the LAST thing anybody wants to have to do when in the throes of withdrawal is exactly what I’m doing right now.

There’s a man in his 50s wearing navy blue, on his head and his jacket. There’s a trio of gorgeous 20-somethings to my 10 o’clock. A smattering of lone white men. A couple of young people. In a way, everybody on the metro is young. Montreal in the 2010s is predominantly a young city. A massive college town with four universities, two dozen colleges, countless more institutes and academies of dubious accredited status. I say “we” a lot because in a city like this, with weather like ours, and drugs like these, you’re never really alone. Society among the young is arbitrated and networked mainly by one or more of the following: school connections, growing up together, blood, chance, work or drugs. There’s always the guy with the hook-ups. For me, I always kept one degree, two at most, of separation from this guy. Mr. Hook-Up—the title and name changes. It can be a seasonal thing or it could just be the dude’s in jail for six months, plus probation, conditions, parole officers, curfews, random phone calls, in-person checks, piss tests, psychological tests, possible surveillance, ankle bracelets…  But I digress.

Montreal in the wintertime. We’re coming out of an ice storm. The sidewalks were glazed as a skating rink, causing innumerable falls and minor injuries. Spirits inevitably fall during such a time. A friend of mine died on Saturday I learned. He was alone in his room when he injected a mix of heroin and cocaine, colloquially known as a speedball. All his square, non-user friends will now lament his passing and the horrors of hard drugs. But what really bugs me is that it’s the lack of tolerance of these friends, their distaste for the sights and sounds and realities of drug use, specifically intravenous drug use, that spurs individuals like my friend (we’ll call him Andrew) to isolate themselves in secrecy. The last thing a hard drug user ought to do is shoot up alone.

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