Habits Die Hard

I stack all ten bags on top of each other and rip off the tops. I take the first bag, popping it open between my thumb and index finger, and dump the contents into the clear bottle cap from my fresh water bottle. I repeat the process with the next nine bags. The powder looks a little brown, which sometimes means it’s stronger. Sometimes it’s not. The smell is a little more telling. That distinct sour smell gets in my nose and almost makes me gag. I try not to breathe through my nose.

I open a brand new syringe from its tell tale orange packaging. It peels open from the top like a string cheese. Perfectly clean and sterilized, its pointed tip so sharp you can hardly feel it pierce your skin. I rip a small piece off a cotton ball and roll it into a little ball between my fingers. I dip the syringe into the fresh water bottle and draw back a little water. I squirt it on to the cotton ball. This keeps it from absorbing the heroin and instead ensures it acts solely as a filter. It keeps any large particles of cut from getting drawn into the needle. Ideally it’s to keep me safer but in reality it’s to prevent the syringe from getting clogged when I inject the dope.

I pack up all the supplies, putting everything back into its carrying case. This way if I pass out or overdose the paramedics won’t find my stash and confiscate it from me while I’m unconscious. That’s thinking ahead.

I grab my favorite belt off the hook, black with visible imprints from my teeth scattered along the edges. That’s what happens when my favorite veins aren’t working and I have to resort to the small veins in my wrist. But today I go for the easy target, the fat vein that runs under the inside corner of my knee. I roll up my legging to my thigh and wrap the belt around it tightly. I pull against it, cutting off the blood supply. I tap the vein, drawing it to the surface. I could’ve been a great phlebotomist.

I hold the syringe up, pointed to the ceiling and tap it, drawing any small air bubbles to the top. I push the small amount of air out of the needle tip. I position it on the just right angle and stick it under my skin. I draw back looking for blood. Just air enters the barrel. I adjust the needle ever so slightly up and down, back and forth, until a rush of the deepest, darkest red blood rushes into the barrel. I push the plunger down halfway. I draw back again, making sure I’m still in the vein. I push it all the way down. I draw back once, using the blood to flush any residue left in the bottom of the barrel into my body. I draw back a second time, mostly out of habit and superstition. I pull the needle out and quickly use a black piece of clothing, this time a sock, to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. I stand up. I feel the rush start to creep up from my toes. It rolls up my body through my legs and into my stomach, up my arms and into my chest, up my neck to the top of my head. It is bliss. I have just enough time to stash my works before everything goes black.

I wake up disoriented. I can’t move my hands right away. They are stuck at my sides. I try to feel my body and I surmise that I’m laying down. I must have passed out. I slowly open my eyes. The room is dark, except for the light of the TV flooding the room. The Olympics are on, table tennis. I look at the clock, 8:53 a.m.

I was a dream. It was all a dream.

I am safe in my bed, wearing my pajamas, lying next to my sleeping dog. It takes me a few minutes to be certain that I wasn’t waking up from being passed out on the floor but in fact am just waking up from a good night’s sleep. Except it wasn’t so good. They say we have many dreams throughout the night but all I can remember is this one. So vivid I really believed it was real.

Drug dreams are very real for people in recovery. In the early stages they are more common, often plaguing your sleep, invading your mind when you are at your most vulnerable, when you can’t consciously do anything to try and stop them. They often feel so real, so vivid, that it can take some time to separate them from reality, like it did for me this morning. I’ve been in recovery for a while now, but talk of addiction and drug use seems to be ever present lately. Even though I wasn’t thinking about it all yesterday, least of all before falling asleep, it still crept in and manifested in my unconscious brain.

Why does this happen to us? It’s enough to bring an addict right back out into the game, and it has for me more than once. I think about it for a few minutes, turning it over in my brain. I could get in the car, go to the bank. I’ve got plenty of money to blow on drugs today. It’s my day off, everyone is at work, no one would know. I pull back the covers, climb out of bed. I walk to the bathroom and brush my teeth, still turning it over in my head. I walk upstairs and grab my purse off the chair.

But before I walk out the door I stop to do one important thing. I open the small pink zippered pouch inside my bag and pull out the last of four plastic bottles filled with green liquid. I push down on the child resistant top and pull off the cap. I stick my thumb through the safety seal and open the bottle. I open my lips and turn the contents into mouth. It’s bitter and sour and disgusting. I instinctively make a face. You never get used to that. That’s just part of methadone therapy and there’s nothing you can do about it. I take my methadone.

I have to protect myself from myself. I am my most dangerous foe, my worst enemy. I am the most cunning of all, and I know every weakness I possess and how to overcome any objections. I can easily talk myself into anything, even though I know it’s wrong. But today I do the right thing. I rely on the treatment that has saved my life and continues to save my life on days like today. On a day where walking the streets of Waterbury, copping from an unknown source and shooting drugs of an unknown quality when I’m completely clean and sober could easily mean an overdose. And since I’m alone in my house all day it would’ve meant death. My mother would have come home from work to find me blue and cold on my bedroom floor. It could have all been over with just one impulse decision.

I am my last line of defense against myself. I have to raise the alarm, I have to tell on myself. I have to take the steps to protect myself from myself. When I finally get in the car and leave the house, I am headed to feed my habit. No, not my heroin habit.

My Starbucks habit is the only addiction I’ll be indulging in today.

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