Chronicles of The Life of an Addict
Who are these people called addicts and how do we save them?
Disclaimer: This story is about addicts. It does not mean to wrongly imply in any way that every homeless person is an addict.*
Someone’s daughter is holding a sign up at the light. I cannot look directly at her, as the shame on her face is so loud. She looks years older than she is. Methamphetamines have sordidly robbed her of her integrity, her looks, her health…her humanity. As a nurse and a mother, I can detect that she is not even 25 years old. My heart sinks, I have a well of pain that spills up into my chest as I turn the corner and see, as she glances at me out of the corner of her eye, and feel, her immense loss and degradation…is there a way to help her…to make a real difference in her world?
The few dollars handed to her gets her a bite to eat, if that’s what she chooses to do with it, but how do I help her life?
My son’s heroin addiction took the breath from his body many times as I lay at home, in bed, terrified of where he may be…was he dead? Was he alone and dying…and as he tells it…yes. My little boy overdosed more than 10 times just in the worst parts of his horrifying addiction and many other times, otherwise.
There were times I found out about his coding on the street when he showed up at my door, thin as a rail, dirty and so hungry and exhausted. My eye caught the hospital band on his wrist. I pulled him in every time and cried and held him and just let him sleep on the couch. I fed him. He’d promise he was done with the life…done with the girl who tore his heart apart who he clung to in their addiction…the mother of my grandbaby..
Then he’d leave again and we both would relive the suffering.
I did not know how to help him or myself. I did not know how to help save his life.
So, who are addicts?… Please do not turn away. They are your child, your parent, your grandparent, your uncle, your aunt, your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your teacher, your doctor, your neighbor, your friend, your preacher…
They are your fellow human beings.
The people we see on the streets who are addicts have a story. They have a life. They have dreams, regrets, and fears. Many more than it appears have loving families that do not know where they are.
There are those who do not know who or where their families are as they have been on their own for a long time…disassociated from society through abuse, running away, the foster care system…or just due to mental health issues leading to addiction. They have not had a real home in a long time, or perhaps never did.
They have been estranged from their own life as it should have been and could be.
How did they get to the point of addiction? How do they survive, or do most? What do we do as a people and a society to better understand and advocate for their lives?
We need to better know and understand addicts and addiction.
The following excerpts are from the lives of addicts I know and love. They reveal that there are roots of addiction grounded in abuse, maltreatment, neglect and the misdirection of strong influencers in our lives…just to name a few commonalities.
As you peek through the windows of the condensed experiences of the following people, I ask you to open your heart and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is the beginning of advocacy and understanding.
The real stories
Meet Akira, a heroin and meth addict:
Akira is a Russian immigrant. Her upbringing in Russia before the age of 6, included living with her mother’s alcoholic and depressive state which fostered her mother’s physical, emotional and mental abuse towards Akira.
“I was sad all the time. Pictures did not show it. My mom would chase me around the house with a knife, when I was 4 or 5. That’s the earliest I remember it happening, screaming ‘I hate you. I am going to kill you,’ ” Akira relays.
Akira does not have many or happy memories of her childhood, but does today, still distinctly feel the neglect and the rejection she lived through that began when she was so small and vulnerable.
Her mother stayed drunk much of the time, which left Akira to have to fend for herself at a tender age when a child needs love, attention, guidance and protection.
Her mother’s own addiction and depression led her to count Akira as a hardship in her own life and so treated her as such. Akira did not receive the love and intimacy from her mother that every child desperately needs for survival and for the development of self identity, esteem and worth.
Early on, second to her mother’s neglect of her and the physical and emotional abuse she rendered on the little girl, Akira’s little mind grew to “understand” that she was alone in the universe and unwanted.
“When I was 6 years old, my mom, then an exotic dancer, decided to meet with a man named Raul that she’d spoken with over the internet. She sent me to stay with a friend. She took a plane to Germany and arrived back home with a wedding ring on her finger six weeks later.”
Some of her mother’s behaviour was symptomatic of the hopelessness centered in the country’s poverty. This has led many Russian women then and even today, to make marital and financial decisions that allow them to leave the destitution of their country. In Akira’s mother’s case, Akira seemed an added burden to her.
Her mother’s marriage would prove to be the single most devastating turn in Akira’s own life.
Her mother promptly moved to America with her new husband, leaving Akira with her friend, again, and fetching her six months later. In subsequent years, her mother had two daughters with Raul, which separated Akira even further from her mother and she was ultimately neglected and treated as an outsider in her mother’s new family.
Akira knew nothing of her own father’s whereabouts or if he even knew of her birth. To this day she has never spoken with or met her father.
Raul was in The Air Force. He had been stationed in Germany when he and Akira’s mother had first met and then immediately married. He was of old Hispanic heritage and proved to be an extremely domineering, controlling and abusive man. Akira was abused in many ways to include verbally, emotionally, mentally and physically, at his hands throughout her life, after she was relocated to America.
Akira relays how her mother’s husband got away with his abuse.
“Raul had entered the police force after his service in the Air Force ended. Although both me and my sisters, and even my mom, called CPS on him for his abuse several times over the years, he appeared to be and believed himself to be, above the law…never having to reconcile or answer for his abuse towards the family, but specifically, towards me.”
“Neither the Air Force nor the police force came to my aid, or my sister’s aid at the time, although they both made were aware of the abuse in the home.”
During abusive episodes when Akira was around 14, she began to talk back and fight back. Raul then began forcing her out of the home, screaming for her to leave the house…on foot…at night many times…then calling police a few days later to retract her in an effort to save face with his fellow officers, and telling them she had “run away” …offering up a version of the story completed fabricated.
He lied about Akira’s behaviour to cover up his own acts of abuse towards her, specifically, and played her out to the police department as a savage, rebellious runaway.
He did this so often that she began to leave on her own.
“I had absolutely nowhere to turn and no one to turn to.”
These abusive experiences, and the rejection and isolation she had suffered for so many years, led to her street addiction to meth, heroin, xanax and alcohol.
Drug abuse is medicative, so any addict will tell you.
Her desperate attempts to prevent being completely alone resulted in dangerous and multiple promiscuous encounters…all the while Akira knew she was not with the right person or in the right place…but she had no one to trust to counteract her self-destructive behaviour.
“In each of my encounters as a child, a teen, and as an adult, I did not, and to this day, do not, have any support from my mother to protect me from Raul or from any other thing/person at all.”
As a result, Akira was absolutely alone in the world.
When I met her, she was hopeless, addicted, terrified, and angry.
She lived in trauma every single day, which addiction perpetuates, surrounding herself with people who never thought twice about her motherhood when she become a mother…though they were plenteous with accusations and judgement. No one she frequented time with saw her as valuable, except Landon, her on and off again boyfriend, who could not handle a relationship any better than she could in active addiction.
When Akira called Raul and her mother to inform them in the beginning of 2016 that she had become pregnant at 17 (they knew she was on the street) she received the same rejection from her mother and Raul that she had experienced all her life.
“I called my mom and as usual, Raul answered her phone. I told him I was pregnant. He called me a “bitch” and said, ‘You are on your own.’ “
Akira is the mother of the grandbaby I am raising and the girlfriend of the baby’s father…my youngest son, Landon.
Her broken upbringing with these hopeless experiences is the reason I cannot help loving her, despite the horrors of her heroin addiction, overdoses, and the serious results of those issues for my grandbaby.
Without love, without understanding, people are lost and we cannot forget them simply because they have made terrible mistakes — mistakes that occur second to the way one feels about their own self worth.
Akira used substances to quell loneliness, low self esteem and the terrible fear that she had nowhere to go and no one to count on for a single thing.
“Friends” in addiction are never truly friends, and many of those who claimed to be her companions just proved to be there to use her, to steal from her and confirm her fears of alienation. In the several years prior to seeking real help for her addictions, she tried to keep jobs to pull herself up, but she was not ready to disconnect from the pull of the scene, people and the comfort/habit of heroin, meth and alcohol. She did try, but her confidence in herself was nil and she had no resources to back up her desires…no home, car, positive connections…nothing.
The occasional hotel stays were the most comfort her addictions and life offered.
“Nobody cared what happened to me.”
Meet Brad, a meth addict:
If Brad were here in front of me, I could not retell his story without attempting to avert his constant hilarious remarks and suave, incessant, though jovial, attempts to redirect a person from getting straight answers from him.
He was a world talent musician and a unique comedian.
Brad’s mother, Paola, was a direct German immigrant and arrived in the States at age 14. She met and married a young man of Czechoslavakian immigrants. His name was Eugene. Although Eugene was a gentle soul, he did not come from gentle people.
Paola was verbally and mentally abused by Eugene’s family from the moment she began seeing him, because of her German heritage. Their Czech heritage carried with it an ardent prejudice towards anyone of German descent.
Her love for him pervaded and they married, but she continued to suffer daily abuse at his family’s hand. Eugene was passive concerning his family’s behaviour, but more perhaps due to his own father’s addiction and abuse within the family, than his lack of concern for Paola’s well being. Eugene would well have been afraid of his father and any confrontations.
Brad was born in August of 1972 to Paola and Eugene.
In the early stages of their marriage, Eugene began seeing other women. He had never laid a hand on her, but Paola left him due to the unfaithfulness and due to the persistent abuse his family plagued upon her.
At the age of 2, Brad’s paternal family then literally kidnapped Brad from his mother, who had no support system to aid her in this vicious family matter. Over the next several years, they poured out their racism, prejudice, and hate for his mother into him, all the while audaciously neglecting all of his childhood needs in the face of their purported “superiority” to his mother.
Brad never had one family member on his father’s side ever come to his or his mother’s aid to offer intervention, protection, a father figure, healthy attention, or advice on manhood.
For the few years he lived with his paternal grandmother and grandfather, Paola’s abusers, he was alienated, misguided in all aspects of virtue and morals, and constantly barraged with insults and untruths regarding his mother, resulting in his arrogant hatred for women and a complete loss of self and purpose.
Three years later, Paola eventually gained the help of a good friend and “stole” her son back.
Seven years after Eugene had left the family, out of the blue, he appeared on Paola’s doorstep to discuss a reuniting and remarriage with her, citing his growing up and realizing his need to be there for Brad and for her.
Brad was sitting on the front porch step and heard the whole conversation to his little child-heart’s delight.
Although Eugene had survived Vietnam, he had fallen into drugs and the wrong companions and on the same night he had sat on the porch with Paola and Brad, he was murdered in the parking lot of a local bar. This bar’s parking lot was the same one where Eugene’s father had recently died, drowning in his own vomit in his car from his own generational addiction to alcohol.
That moment in time was etched into Brad’s brain as the single most tragic disappointment he had ever and would ever suffer, because he had secretly believed during his father’s absence that his dad would come back to them.
Alcohol, cocaine, and HGH, in that order, moved into Brad’s life as a late teen and young adult, all medicinal attempts to ease his complete lack of self worth and confidence and his deep-seated, tragic loneliness.
Somewhere at the end of his marriage, years and many other drugs later, Meth became his mainstay. He was now a father of two children and the step-father of two more, but the importance of a family, home, and children paled in comparison to his need to be completely oblivious to and disconnected from his own conscience and self-loathing, which Meth provided for him.
One icy afternoon in Arlington, Texas, already in a compromised health status with a late stage kidney failure diagnosis and a quadruple bypass in his recent history, (he was only 38) Brad slipped and hit his head on the ice coming down steps from a local music studio. His band members, whom he had always thought were better company than his wife and family, laughed and all dispersed to go home. Not one of his band members thought to consider that he might need to be evaluated by a doctor.
He was already using a walker to get around and could not get up and down without assistance.
Still using Meth, he finally asked his mother and his step-father to help him get into treatment;
Paola recounts the heartbreak ing manner in which Brad asked for help, seemingly, too late.
“He came to me and Ian (his step-father) after the accident. He knew how sick he was and how deep into his addiction was, but he was desperate for help.”
“I can’t stop. Mom. I just can’t stop.” Brad cried.
However, despite his and Paola’s attempts to find a free recovery program in his area, he slipped into a coma from the head injury a few days later, and coupled with the kidney failure, was brain-dead before arriving at the hospital just before Halloween in 2014.
Brad’s son, Landon, was 17 when he lost his father. Landon was already using meth himself and many other drugs at the misguided advice of his father, who condoned his son’s behaviour, I believe, as his only way to “bond” with Landon. Brad had primarily been estranged from his children since his divorce years earlier and had made it habit prior to the divorce to be unavailable, generally.
Brad knew his advice to his son was wrong, but his upbringing with his father’s family had taught him to promote self over the welfare of others; he didn’t want to “go down alone.” Unfortunately, when his time came, he did.
And it tore a hole in Paola’s heart, and in his children’s hearts, that cannot be repaired.
Brad had been my husband.
Meet Landon: a heroin addict
“The thing I hated most about living on the street doing heroin was the bus-stops. They were often the only place we had, I had, to sleep…and I couldn’t sleep anyway…scared of being robbed, scared of sex traffickers approaching me and scared of getting so high I wouldn’t know where I had been for days after using.”
“I had to do heroin, even when I hated so much that I was doing it. I couldn’t stand the withdrawal. I was so sick and many times, so sick, alone at those bus stops. I had headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, fever, the “shakes”…alone and outside and nothing to eat, no where to bathe. I just hated my life, I hated me, I hated heroin, but I loved it immensely at the same time. I do not miss any of that.” Landon, 22 years old.
Landon was raised in a single parent home after his father left them his family when Landon was five and his sister Maddy was 3.
His family life as a young child had been nothing short of tragic and traumatic prior to the divorce, due to drug abuse and other mental and emotional abuses occurring second to his father’s use of drugs. However, Landon had desperately wanted the love, attention, and presence of his father regardless, just as Brad had wanted of Eugene…and as Eugene had wanted of his own father.
Landon explains that he began his quest for illegal substances at age 11, an extraordinarily innocent time in a child’s life:
“One day, I saw that my older brother, who had recently had an dental procedure, had left his Norco out. I took it and that was the first time I got high. I knew then I was headed down a road I thought I would never consider, due to having watched everything my father did to my mom, to us, and to himself. But there I was, doing it, anyway.”
The next several years, Landon “partied,” doing all kinds of drugs, leaving home with no notice, coming and going as he pleased, to my total discouragement and terror. The separation in our relationship and the time together lost between us brought the same sorrow I had felt with his father.
However, I chased Landon down many times, all over town, all hours of the night, if not just to make sure he was alive, and other times to pull him home where I hoped to keep and protect him from himself.
But, Landon was not having that.
There were too many drugs to do…too many “friends” to see and be loyal to.
Then, one day, Landon’s drug use took a turn he had internally feared and expected would occur. Upon the news that his father had died…in October of 2014…at the age of 17 1/2, Landon did heroin for the first time.
“I inherently believed this day would come. I was sad and hurt and angry. I tried heroin for the first time the night I heard my father died. I smoked it, but quickly moved to shooting up. This is where my heroin addiction began.”
Understand that the heroin addict is unlike any other. Heroin becomes an enticing and necessary “person” to the user and the work in the brain of the drug literally enslaves a person in an unprecendented way.
In addition, if the addict has a genetic propensity for a very high tolerance of effect, as Landon had inherited, the drug use is accentuated and much more dangerous for that person.
Landon reports going days, and at times, weeks, without any sleep at all.
“Even my heavy-using friends would become concerned with my psychotic behaviours related to my lack of sleep.”
Lying, stealing, gun use, crime, manipulation, abuse of others around him,(Akira was his partner-in-crime much of the time) homelessness, starvation, and many other horrors became everyday living to him.
Knowing he was neglecting and abandoning his newborn baby, just compounded the guilt, shame, grief, and loss he felt — and so heroin use was “there” for him through all the overdoses, the explosive emotional and physical outbursts between him, Akira and other friends and family and each time he just needed “someone.”
“Heroin was, is, a very seductive female spirit. So hard to resist and yet, I hated her intensely.”
Landon suffered in addiction for 11 years, the latter 5 in heroin addiction.
Crawling out of such an addictive lifestyle is an absolute miracle.
Landon began searching his heart seriously a few months before he suffered 10 overdoses in January of 2020. He had already come to the place that he knew he was knocking on death’s door, pounding on it, really, and he conceded that he could not die and leave his son a 4th generation victim of fatherlessness.
But Heroin saw he was serious this time and was not about to let him go and if it were possible at all, he plunged even deeper into heroin.
It was when Landon realized, after discharge from the third rehab in the same year, that it was now he who was holding onto heroin…HE was the one who had the power to let go. Heroin was not going to win this time.
So very many of his and Akira’s friends had fallen due to overdoses of heroin in the past few years, that it was heartbreaking. I was terrified day and night of becoming the next mother who lost her son to heroin.
I watched as Landon literally crawled out of this pit of hell, inch by inch, rending his spirit and body as it was, to choose sobriety.
The hold this drug had on him was desperately deep and had roots that he is still discovering, but the loss of his father is one he acknowledges as a primary one.
Landon was forced into the last rehab stay in January 2020 as he had come home completely incoherent and out of his mind. I had never, ever had to force him to go to rehab, but this time, something told me I would lose him if I did not just throw him in the car and drive, so that’s exactly what I did.
He made a decision within his heart and spirit while there that resulted months later in his exposing the fact that heroin addiction…addiction… had finally, fallen “off of his shoulders.”
“Mom, the weight is gone.”
Fighting To Survive:
My “little boy” has always been a gentle, quiet, and sensitive soul. It ripped me in two to see him suffer at his own hand and to experience the horror and trauma of all that happens to a person in addiction. Many of these experiences cannot be explained.
No one would believe the teller, even if they could articulate the exact evil that occurs to, within, and around the addict in heroin addiction and addiction, in general.
To know that a little girl alone in this world felt so unloved that she had to turn to heroin and meth, live on the streets and was vulnerable to the vultures who robbed her of her innocence because her mother and step father never lost a wink of sleep in their concern for her life and well-being, angers me so and hurts me for Akira. This girl, the mother of my grandbaby, is still just a little girl growing, herself.
Today, this hero has fought her way to one year of sobriety, is a manager at her job, owns a beautiful car, and just moved into an apartment with my son, also a hero, who has seven months sobriety. She is determined and level-headed. She took her addiction head on and is active positive recovery.
They both are working on becoming responsible, sober, and well adults.
My son would never let her go, though they both could have permanently parted for their own sanity and sobriety when they began to seek recovery a year ago.
She fought herself, he fought himself, they fought each other…but most notably…they fought addiction. Just fighting the addiction is success.
Landon, my hero, works hard at his job, works hard in his venture to understand himself and a life he is working to create for himself and for Akira. He is a growing boy in my eyes who has now become the man he just could not see himself as just a few years ago. He now stands tall and confident.
But, I am fortunate, they are fortunate, and their child is fortunate that God has kept and continues to keep His angels surrounding them.
Although the family lost the patriarch, Brad, to familial addiction, depression and hopelessness, his example and death contributed greatly to saving Landon and Akira’s lives in that they wanted to be alive themselves to experience their own dreams and to be in the life of their son, Charlie.
So, though the process is never easy nor over, they simply choose life.
I support them with my whole heart. I understand that they are working to heal issues that beset them and I hope to educate many others on the fact that addicts have unresolved trauma, damaged self perceptions and intrinsic unmet need (s) necessary for their survival…and the physical damage to the body and brain caused by drug addiction.
We are all just human beings in need.
The first step in advocating for the lives of addicts is to understand that addiction is not a sign of bad character, nor is it the symptom of a useless life. Addiction is an untoward condition of the spirit, heart and body.
To save the life of an addict, we connect with them…we do not isolate. Isolation kills. Addiction can occur across all genres, genders, races, ethnicities, classes and status.
To effectively help addicts and addiction, our love for humanity brings us to time, attention and money…time to recognize addiction as a deadly health crises globally, attention to the roots of addiction and money to programs that provide rehab, counselling and need-based provisions.
The life of an addict has the same value as your own, with no exceptions.
Their stories are powerful, heart-breaking, and many are yet to tell, but are every bit a symptom of the vulnerability of humanity that we all share.
Advocate, support and help save a life so these human beings stay alive to relay their experiences and help to lift another from the depths of hopeless addiction.