The Power of Addiction
About a month ago, I was walking through San Diego’s Gaslamp District and I took a detour towards the Convention Center. The streets were pretty desolate considering how booming that area is on any given day prior to Covid. The sun was out and the sky was so blue. As I approached Petco Park, I felt pretty grateful that I could take a six-mile walk around this beautiful city. This is an idea I may have taken for granted before this pandemic, but there I was just happy to be outside, while still social distancing and feeling a bit of normalcy.
Most of the businesses were closed, but from afar I saw something on the stoop of one of the buildings across the street from me. As I came closer to the building, I could see a young man, maybe in his twenties and I noticed something rather odd. He was looking down at his arm. My eyes focused on him and then I saw it, in broad daylight. He had a needle in his arm and was administering liquid into his veins. He didn’t look like a nurse or a doctor but he sure looked like a seasoned veteran of how to inject a needle into his veins. Now my eyes were fixated on him. He never noticed me.When he was finished shaking the last of the contents of the needle into his arm, he took the syringe out and folded his arms over his knees into a fetal position on the steps.
This image has haunted me now for a month. I couldn’t understand how someone could go that far down the rabbit hole and it made me recall the first time I ever saw someone shoot up. I was thirteen years old when a teenaged boy from our neighborhood shot coke into his veins. I don’t remember everything from my childhood years, but I remember Nestor. Nestor was a Cholo from Jardin 13. Nestor was two years older than us. While most of us where experimenting with cigarettes, wine coolers and marijuana, Nestor was shooting coke. We didn’t necessarily hang out with Cholos from the neighborhood at that time, but we all grew up together.
Like this young homeless man shooting up in broad daylight in the middle of downtown San Diego, Nestor was an expert in how to prepare coke - from taking a spoon and heating its contents to sucking up the drug into the needle, to finding his vein and injecting the coke into his arm. Nestor asked us that day if we wanted to watch him do it. Of course, we all said yes, because we didn’t really know what it was or the severity of the drug. We just knew it was bad. Nestor shot up in front of four of us kids in the backseat of my friend’s car. Watching Nestor’s eyes roll back as the drug took its affect was downright frightening. As an adult, that image of Nestor injecting those drugs into his vein still haunts me. It made me think, where are his parents? Did they know? The adult in me often wishes that I could go back and help, and do something to help him.
Although, I have experimented with many things in my day including X or Molly, I never had even the slightest curiosity about trying anything that contained needles. In my twenties when I had a drinking problem and decided to quit, I soon found myself with no coping skills from my childhood traumas and losses. I developed a panic disorder that spiraled into agoraphobia. Even at some point in my life when I hit rock bottom and became so depressed that I didn’t want to live anymore, and was spiritually and emotionally bankrupt, stripped of my confidence and self-worth, I never thought of trying to shoot up anything.
I am in no way saying that I’m better than anyone and that is not my intention or point. My question rather is -- What makes a person feel so low that they want to try heroin or shoot up coke? Or meth or crack for that matter! Although, we were dumb and curious kids, we all knew that heroin is bad, really bad.
Now as I watched this kid in San Diego shoot up a month ago, I couldn’t help but think what happened to him. Why was he living on the streets? Was his home so bad that he had to leave it and live on the streets? Who is he? He has to be someone’s son, someone’s friend or even possibly someone’s brother. As I tried to understand it, I felt like we have failed as a society. The adult in me who now knew better, still found myself powerless and confused. One thing I learned about addiction is, that the addict has to want this help. He or she has to want to do the work. They have to seek help and want to become sober, but couldn’t we save him, couldn’t someone save him?
I recalled an earlier experience with addiction. My stepfather was a heroin addict. When I was seventeen, he committed suicide by purposely giving himself a lethal injection of heroin. My stepfather Jesse was also a Cholo. He suffered from early childhood trauma and loss. His mother died in a car accident when she was eight months pregnant. Jesse almost died in a fire when he was three years old. After his mother’s death, his father became an alcoholic and Jesse was often neglected. He shifted back and forth from family members until he found the Latino gang he would join. When Jesse was sixteen, his best friend Johnny was shot and killed in front of him. Jesse soon became an alcoholic, like his father, and earned a small time criminal record from juvenile hall to the county jail to prison. Life at a young age of coming from a loveless family situation filled with trauma, led to the gang, the gang led to incarceration, along with his own demons of alcoholism and addiction. He tried to live a good life, but life had shown him so much bad, that he didn’t believe in a world that would be kind to him. Eventually he became a heroin addict. He told my mother that when he was high, a beautiful woman would appear to him. She had the wings of an angel but she was no angel. This would-be angel told him that she loved him. He couldn’t resist her so he kept using at first to see her. He confessed to my mother one day that she was encouraging him to kill himself, to kill my mother and my sister and I. Instead of completely listening to her, a week later he left the house. He never came home. Two days later, we received a phone call from the LAPD. My mother had to go down to the coroner’s office to identify his body.
Now, I feared for this kid's life in downtown San Diego as I watched him slouched over his body. Didn’t he know that he could end up like my stepfather if he doesn’t stop using? Had he not cared about his life or himself? Were the drugs so powerful that it controlled him and did he, too, see this beautiful angel with wings telling him that she loved him? If the lack of self-love and childhood trauma plagued him, too, could that have been me? Why does addiction take one addict's life versus another?
I had so many questions but I felt like my hands were tied. I have been doing a lot of soul searching on this one. I really feel that if you love yourself, if you have self-confidence and a high sense of self-worth along with gratitude, I know that you will not do this to yourself. I had to learn how to practice self-love for a really long time and I can tell you today, that no one, not even some beautiful angel could convince me to inject drugs into my arms. If you are truly a happy person, you would not cause harm to yourself, but why does life go so wrong for someone and gift another person a happy loving life? How did I end up finding my way out of this darkness? How did he end up so far down into this darkness? I wish there was something I could have done to help, but when it comes to heroin, I am sure there was nothing I could do to help but pray.
I hope this kid survives to see sobriety one day. I hope he can find his way out of the rabbit hole like I did. I pray that he can battle his demons and find himself, even learn to love himself. I pray for hope that all those affected by the demons of addiction find the power within them to overcome this and let the divine universe’s blessing show them the light.
If you are suffering from addiction and need someone to talk to, please reach out and talk to someone, it can change your life. It changed mine.
Here is a list of resources:
Several substance abuse hotlines operate nationally for those struggling with addiction and their family members or other loved ones. Many of these hotlines also help people with other issues, such as mental health disorders and suicidal thoughts. This is an overview of some of the most widely used national hotlines for substance abuse.
Crisis Text Line
Crisis Text Line offers advice and referrals for anyone who feels that they’re experiencing a crisis. This can include drug and alcohol dependency, suicidal impulses, family problems, and other personal difficulties. To access the Crisis Text Line, text HOME to 741741 any time, day or night.
National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine
The National Alliance on Mental Illness operates a helpline for individuals and their loved ones who feel they may be experiencing a mental health crisis. People who know or suspect they have a mental disorder or who believe a loved one might be suffering from such an issue can call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) to get help. Responses go out during normal business hours.
National Drug Helpline
The National Drug Helpline is open to any individual dealing with addiction issues, including family members and other loved ones. Resources are available for those struggling with any addictive substance, including alcohol, and professionals are available to help 24/7/365 at 1-844-289-0879.
National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center
The National Institute of Mental Health Information Resource Center hotline helps people suffering from mental illness find the resources they need to get treatment, including crisis intervention. Services are available in English and Spanish at 1-866-615-6464 or 1-866-415-8051 for TTY users. Live help is limited to regular hours, though online chat is also available.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline exists to help people feeling suicidal find the help they’re looking for. The lifeline also has resources to assist people with addiction issues to find help. Callers can reach the lifeline at any time of the day or night at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or 1-800-799-4889 for TTY users. Spanish-language services are available by calling 1-888-628-9454. Online chat is also available.
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids
Parents and other caregivers can reach out to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at 1-855-378-4373, to be connected with information and assistance dealing with children’s addiction issues. Live services are available during regular hours only, but concerned guardians can reach the hotline by email and by text.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) operates a 24/7/365 hotline that refers callers to mental health and substance abuse resources in their area. All programs recommended by SAMHSA meet federal guidelines for assisting people with mental health and addiction disorders, and all inquiries are kept strictly confidential. Spanish services are available, as are English services, by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or 1-800-487-4889 for TTY users. SAMHSA also operates an online treatment locator tool people can use to find addiction and mental health assistance nearby.