As a recovering heroin addict, I’ve often heard the advice to “change your people, places, and things” to help avoid relapsing into heroin use. A year ago I did just that. I moved to a new city, found new friends, new roommates, attempted a new relationship even while not fully leaving behind an old one, and left behind the little town where I had struggled with addiction.
But in some ways it is impossible to ever have a clean break. I hear about an old friend’s death, and then another and another. I go to funeral after funeral—I went to at least one funeral a month last year—and there I would run into the people with whom I used drugs. Some people might think that watching friends die from overdoses would make an addict want to stop, but losing people doesn’t make it easier—sometimes it makes things worse. You feel like there is no hope because you see nothing but death and jail and institutions. It made me feel like it’s impossible to get out—even though I now know that it’s not.
Circumstances recently required that I move with my grandmother back to the town I was trying so hard to avoid. And with that move I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I need to do to keep myself from relapsing. Being back in my old stomping grounds means there are lots of triggers—people, places, and things—and I want to be ready to handle them the right way. I know my weaknesses, but I also know there is strength in surrounding myself with a support system. So, I’ve signed myself up for regular counseling, completed a drug and alcohol assessment, and enlisted in an intensive outpatient program, which is a treatment program that will help me to continue in my recovery. That’s the most important thing: being aware of my tendencies, finding ways to avoid them, and finding supportive people. I can’t fight this disease alone.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face are people who don’t seem to recognize the work I’ve done to move beyond my past. It seems that nine times out of ten people assume that because you used to be an addict you must still be an addict. (Which in a sense is true because addiction does not just go away with time; it is a lifelong struggle but one I hope to continue fighting for the rest of my life.) The police remember me and follow me around, even when I’m not doing anything wrong.
I’ve been clean for nearly a year, but some people even see my reaching out for continued counseling as a sign that I might still be using. They think, “Why would she go to Intensive Outreach Program (IOP) classes?” It’s frustrating that when I take preventative measures, people still assume “once an addict, always an addict.”
I’m sick and tired of being profiled and treated like an addict, but I also know that being a dope fiend is not an identity. My addiction was never who I was—just something I did. I thank God that I was able to get out before the demon completely stole my life. My true identity is so much more than a hopeless dope fiend. I am a dope-less hope fiend!
I’m finding new meaning in my life by sharing my story to help others overcome their challenges. In the place of heroin, I’m becoming addicted to doing good. I’m reaching out to build new relationships and join new causes. The lyrics of “Keep On,” a song by local rapper The Real Cincinnati Kid about his own experience overcoming addiction has inspired me.
Motivated by the misery
Inspired by this voice
That tells me that it’s in me, the chance to make a choice
To rise above the noise
To focus on the fact that
Just because it was
Doesn’t mean I’m going back.
As he says in the song, I’ll keep reaching…