Activist and author Tracey Helton Mitchell reminds us that heroin users are people: mothers, employees, advocates, and friends.
I wake up this morning thirty minutes before my kids. Ten of those minutes are spent checking my social media. I had set my phone on vibrate last night to provide myself a bit of a respite from the flurry of messages I get in the wee hours of the evening, mostly from twenty-somethings trying to make it past day four of opioid detox or get naloxone in the wake of an overdose. Last night I was up dealing with a crisis of another sort. My son peed the bed. After cleaning him up, he had to be moved to the couch in an attempt to disturb him as little as possible.
Now, I tiptoe around the adjacent kitchen. I stop the toast in the middle of the browning process. I’m afraid the noise might wake my son. I slather on homemade jam, made extra sweet by the knowledge that it was created with my daughter’s tiny hands. A close friend volunteered their mother to assist her in navigating the process. I heat up some green tea in the microwave. Again, I halt the process before the loud DING. I gobble down my toast on my bed while I scroll through emails. I know the alarm will go off soon. Three bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios and lots of whining, then we are out the door. An uneventful morning—just the way I like them.
The rough road to recovery.
Is this an article about a heroin user? Yes. That would be me—the same mother from the story. I am, in fact, a heroin user in long-term recovery from addiction. Over 25 years ago—after 34 abscesses and eleven arrests—I had my last shot of heroin. I had been using opioids for ten years, heavily for eight of those. Like many users, my journey to recovery began in handcuffs. Jail was the only reliable place to receive access to services. My recovery was facilitated by incarceration, but certainly was not a result of it. I was already highly motivated to stop using by that point.
As a homeless “junkie” in the 90s, there were limited resources available to me. The only way I knew to get into any type of recovery center was through the county jail. Rehabs were scarce, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) options were both limited and unaffordable. While twelve-step programs were widely available, there was a stigma around not being sober while attending meetings that persists today. That day, those handcuffs, ultimately changed my life.
People who use drugs, are just that—people. We want to be seen as people first. Like others, we are beautiful. We are flawed and we are capable. We have hopes, dreams, and ideas. I wasn’t born a drug user. I might have continued on that path to the grave if it weren’t for a core group of caring folks who told me that I deserved more out of life. Hope was the light that guided me out of darkness. When I was sitting in a jail cell, the idea of having a family of my own was a dream that burned just brightly enough to help guide me through the early hopeless days of recovery.
Dreams can come true.
I also had a dream to attend school. Two degrees and a substance abuse counseling credential later, I have achieved more than I ever imagined in my wildest dreams. Back then, I wanted a job. ANY job. I started as a volunteer and slowly worked my way into a career. I even dreamed of a furry companion to love me unconditionally. While a cat may seem like a strange recovery symbol, having the ability to learn that I could care for something besides myself made me less likely to use drugs.
This article is about a heroin user … a heroin user in recovery.
I am a mother, an employee, an advocate, and a friend. I am loved.