Maryland

Denise Williams -My Twin Sons

About ten years ago, Denise Williams found herself trying to navigate the intersection of mental illness and addiction with her twin sons, Ryan and Matt. 

She wishes she had been better prepared.

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I have twin sons, Ryan and Matt, and a daughter, Katie. She's two years younger than the boys. And both of the boys, they’re twins, they died of a heroin overdose.

From the beginning, I thought I was a very lucky person. My kids flourished. They did well in school. They were active in all the community things. The boys played sports. My daughter did the cheerleading.

I thought that we were the white picket fence family, that there was nothing wrong.

And when Matt was in high school, just before graduating, I got a letter or a note sent home from his English teacher. She had given them an assignment to write a speech to their classmates what they would wish for them for the future.

And Matt's was totally morbid.

It talked about suicide. It talked about bullying. It talked about the injustices in the world.

He did not want to go on living if, if this is what life was. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was his senior prank -- that someone had put him up to it because of this wasn't Matt. Matt was my happy-go-lucky. He was the people-pleasing child. Out of the three that I had, he was the easiest to get along with, always looked for approval and wanted to please people. And he never had anything bad to say about anyone. And here he's talking about suicide? It wasn't a prank. It was his words. He wrote it. He started feeling like that in middle school.

And it's like, "Well, why didn't you tell me that this is how you felt?"

And he said, “Because I didn't want to be like grandma.”

My mother-in-law lived with us. She suffered from severe mental health issues. And not understanding what mental health was, I thought it was a weakness. And, um, if she would just get up, out of bed, take her medicine, take a shower, eat a good breakfast, she would be good. It was her choice to lay around and feel sorry for herself.

Often there were jokes around the household that,"There's grandma, she's up to her old tricks, you know, just trying to get attention."

Matt flat out said,"I didn't want to be like grandma. So I handled it."

"Well, what did you do to handle it?"

And he goes, "You know, I handled it. Today I'm feeling a lot better."

In my mind I was like, Okay, well, I was right. He got out of bed. He pushed himself forward. And it's just, like I said, mental health is a weak disease that, you know, he overcame it.

I did find out the first time he went into rehab, what he meant by that.

He meant I had a bottle of liquor hidden underneath my bed. And every night I would drink. Every day before I went to school, I would drink, and it would take away my anxiety, my depression, and it was my coping. You could have blown me over with a feather. I, I just -- what, where was I? Why didn't I notice all these signs? I mean, he just -- he hid it so incredibly well.

Nobody ever would have guessed that he was depressed, and suffered from anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder.

He said he didn't want anybody to know because that was his problem. And he didn't want to be made fun of. And he didn't want to be like grandma.

It increased after high school. But after high school he did go to college in the evening. He worked full time. And he had a girlfriend that went to Towson. And he would spend most of his weekends out there with her.

And I thought everything's great.

When Matt was around 20 years old, he just had a big turnaround in his personality. He quit college. He broke up with the girlfriend. No one knew that he was unhappy. And he became this person that he was staying out all night. Coming in totally wasted, disrupting the household, dropping things, walking into walls.

It finally got to the point that, you know, "If you can't live under my roof, doing my rules, you're going to have to go.”

And Matt welcomed that conversation because he already had a place set up.

It was quite a bit of a party house. But I thought, Hey, now he's got to pay rent. He's going to have to grow up.

Well, that didn't happen. The partying increased.

January 17th of 2007, 4:15 in the morning, I get a phone call from University of Maryland Shock Trauma. Matt had been in a serious car accident and we needed to come quickly.

You know, he had some pretty serious injuries to his arm, but he would survive. And the state police were there. And they said they would be charging Matt with driving under the influence.

And when the doctor came out, he said, “The good news is, he's in recovery right now. The bad news is he's got a long road to recovery.” He was in the hospital for a week. He broke, chipped, dislocated, and crushed every bone in his left arm. He broke his right leg. He had lacerations all over his body, a couple broken ribs, a concussion. When I went to go pick him to bring them home, they had just taken them off of the morphine drip and they had started him on opiates.

And he was not doing well. He started vomiting.

The vomiting continued. He was supposed to take the opiates, the Percocets and the Oxy's, every four hours. And every four hours Matt would be vomiting.

I called back up to the hospital,and I was just told, “Matt's got to get used to it. He's got a long road to recovery. He's got to just keep taking the opiates. There is nothing else that we can give him. And eventually he'll get used to it.”

Well, he did. He said it was less than two months after starting the opiates he was waiting for that for 4-hour interim to come so he could take another pill.

He ultimately needed seven operations, four days a week of intense occupational and physical therapy.

They did wean him down from the Oxy's but he was given Percocets, ninety at a time.

I didn't think this was going to be a problem because this wasn't Matt's drug of choice. It was pot, cocaine and alcohol. Pills? He was vomiting, you know. He isn't going to get addicted to it. And he kept the fact that he was looking forward to that every four-hour timeframe to himself.

As he got more mobile, he started buying them on the street in between. But eventually he couldn't afford it. He wasn't working. He, you know, he had a girlfriend that was helping them buy things, and he was coming up with lame excuses to borrow money from us, and we never, ever dreamt it was to buy a pill.

He said by the one-year anniversary of his car accident, he had to switch to heroin because he could not afford to keep up his opiate habit on the street.

That happened when he was 21. It wasn't until he was 25 before we actually got him to commit to a rehab. And you know, it's just like anyone else suffering from the disease of addiction -- things were coming up missing. Electronics. My husband had a welding business so there was a lot of tools that were very valuable. They were always coming up missing.

We didn't call the police on him. We tried to handle this on her own, buy it back from the pawn shop, and threatened Matt, You got to stop it.

We finally got Matt to commit to a rehab right around his 25th birthday, which was 2012. But he was there for two days and I got a phone call from the psychiatrist and the caseworker. They needed a meeting with me.

Matt greeted us at the door, and he’s like, “Happy birthday to me!” because it was actually was there his 25th birthday.

“Happy Birthday to me! It's the first time since I was 14 that I've been sober on my birthday.”

And it's like, “What are you talking about? What about when you were 15, 16, 17?”

He said, “No. I wasn't.”

And then we went to meet with the psychiatrist and the caseworker. She said, “He has so much pain. Matt will never be sober unless he handles the demon beyond the addiction, which is his mental health.” For probably an hour, he just sat there and bled his heart. The things that bothered him -- I mean it went back to early childhood. The counselor would say, “Remember, this has been festering in, in him. It snowballed and got bigger and bigger, and he was never treated for any type of mental health.”

But then there were other things. His father is an alcoholic. And he said, “I don't think my father knew my name until I was old enough to sit on a barstool next to him. He didn't go to my concerts. And if he did, he came in at the last five minutes, and he was drunk. And that hurt.”

I get it. I get it.

They gave me a list of mental health treatments, and she says, “Matt's insurance only pays for 14 days, but I think because of the mental health, I can get an extended time. But you have to have him set up with a psychiatrist before we leave. That is the only way he will remain sober.”

Well, as it turned out, Matt's insurance, they would pay for if I paid out of pocket. We had just paid $1,500 for him to walk in the door, and then after that it was going to be $65 a day, excluding any expenses. And I, I just did the math. How can we afford this? You know, we're middle class. We struggle!

And so I had to bring Matt home, prior to getting a psychiatrist. And I hate to bring money up because his life is way more valuable than that, but these are the walls that people face for healthcare.
In 2014, Matt finally did get clean and he was seeing the psychiatrist and, and everything seemed to be going well.

Ryan thought he -- it's time for him to follow up because he had fallen into the same path from depression, from actually having adult issues, finances and relationship problems.

It was in December. Ryan wanted to wait until after Christmas because he had a young son and he didn't want to be away from home. So just like he promised, two days after Christmas he went and got his own Maryland state insurance, then went to a treatment center. Well, when he got to the treatment center, they said, "We don't take walk-ins.”

So he made an appointment, went back the following week.

They told him, "You don't have that insurance card in your hand," even though he was preapproved, and state --Maryland state insurance does work that way -- that you can be preapproved. And there is a website that any treatment center can go on and see who is preapproved. And we were not aware of this at that time.

They told him no. They told him to come back when he physically had the insurance card in hand.

Ryan died 25 days later. The insurance card came the day of his funeral.

But Matt held everything in. And he told me later he didn't deserve to cry because he was the one that introduced Ryan to the heroin after being turned down from treatment and Ryan needed something stronger than the pills he was getting on the street.

Matt pretended for two years, and right after the anniversary of Ryan's death, because it was in January, Matt started becoming more and more verbal that things weren't right. And he had a full blown-out relapse.

At the hospital, they looked into his past history, and they didn't call this the normal relapse. They said that he's never dealt with the grief. He's never dealt with the guilt. And that he was doing what Matt knows how to do -- self medicate in order to resolve his problems. And it was treated like that. He never went into a drug treatment program even though all the mental health facilities overlapped with that. The drugs was the secondary. The most important thing was the mental health -- getting Matt to cope with Ryan's death, and the grief and the guilt.

It was like everybody was pulling together to help Matt.

In February of this year, he wasn't doing good, and he did not want to go back into inpatient because every time he complained that the demons with Ryan were getting greater, and more vivid, and keeping him awake all night long, all's they did was increase his antidepressants. And he said he could actually exist in a world doing illegal drugs and still function normally. But the antidepressants were so -- at such a high volume, he slurred his words. He was falling over. He was Zombie-like.

And, and he was crying.

And he said, “Mom, I can't exist being a drug addict, and I can't exist being highly medicated. I am unfixable. Once Ryan died, that was it for me. I've always envied where he went because he's at peace. I hate that I'm doing this to you but you have to know it's time to let me go. I have to do what I have to do.”

And I begged him. And he said, “No! If they come here, I'm over 18. You know, if I'm not hurting anyone, all's I have to say is I'm not going into treatment. And I won't. And they have to leave.”

And -- which is true. So I said, "Well, will you go back to the hospital?"

He said, "Sure on Monday," but it wasn't a very convincing ‘sure on Monday.’

The next day he intentionally overdosed.

Matt went into the addiction with mental health issues. With Ryan, he did not have them and I do think Ryan could have recovered.

But I think Matt would have always lived a very troubled life. I saw my mother-in-law. She died with this disease.

It ruled Matt. It was Matt's demon beyond the addiction.

And, you don't want to lose your kids.

I'm 62 years old. I have four grandsons that are beautiful little boys-- and they, they put a smile on my face.

But then come like Christmas morning, it's obvious the ones who are missing.

I'm Denise Williams and this is my story.

Angel Traynor -Recovery Housing

From her own experience, Angel Traynor knew that if you don’t give someone a structured place to go after treatment and send them back into their old environment instead, they are at a high risk to relapse.

So she stepped in with Serenity Sistas housing, a safe haven for up to 47 people in recovery.

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The last time I walked out of jail, I was 45 years old. I had been using opiates for about 11 years. I was absolutely convinced that I was never going to use again. I was never going to use. I was never going to go back to jail. I was never going to hurt my family. And I tried to do it on my own and that never worked for me.

So what that led to was for the next 9 months I used and I got to the point where I was homeless. I had pushed everybody away from me, except for the people that were doing the same things that I was doing.

And, Labor Day of 2007, I had been using for 9 months. I wanted to die. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. But I knew that I had to do something. I called a former counselor and said to her, “I need help.” And she got me a bed in a treatment center.

I was supposed to report the morning of September the 6th. When I came to that morning, I was so full of fear. I was afraid of failure, because I had failed so many times before, and I was also afraid of success, because if I succeeded even for a small amount of time, and then I failed, in my head, I was still a failure.

So being trapped in that fear on that last morning, my solution was easy. My final decision in active addiction was suicide.

By 7am that morning, the people that were in that room with me were reviving me.

I was just touched that day when I walked into rehab that I knew, I knew quickly within three days, I was willing to do whatever it took to never go back to using drugs.

And I’ve continued to do that for the last 11 years. I’ve not found it necessary to use drugs or alcohol since September 6, 2007.

I find it very important to share my story publicly. People need to hear that we can recover from our addictions.

I was an addict for 33 years which meant that I started when I was 13 years old. Through that time I was a teenage mom. I was a battered wife. I was a business owner. My business was successful. I owned a home. I raised not only my child but I raised two other children as well.

For the first 20 years, I really didn’t suffer any consequences. And about at year 21, I tried opiates and that was the beginning of the end for me.

The last time I walked into a rehab I had absolutely nothing. I had lost everything. I had lost my family, my business, my home. I was a three-time convicted felon. My dignity, my own self-respect. All of that was gone. So I really started from the very bottom.

I was 45 and three days later I celebrated my 46th birthday. I had no idea what I was going to do with myself. I had half a backpack of clothes and nowhere to go. Gratefully, I had a friend that was willing to take me in and let me sleep on her couch and quickly I had to – not only did I have to learn to live without drugs and alcohol as my coping mechanism – I had to figure out what I was going to do with myself.

I got my GED. I went into college because I wanted to be an alcohol and drug counselor. And I started my – I started my journey.

If it hadn’t been for other people supporting me, I don’t know that I would have made it because what I’ve come to find out is that there is no way you can overcome an addiction yourself.

I guess about 5 years into my own personal recovery, I saw a lapse in housing for women, in my town. There was nothing in the town of Annapolis. So I decided to start doing recovery housing.

The recovering addict, specifically women in the beginning, they didn’t have anywhere to go after treatment. And if you didn’t give someone somewhere to go after treatment and you send them back into the same environment, I already knew from my own experience, they were at a high risk to relapse.

I decided to start the houses, Serenity Sistas. I think I had about $983 in the bank and that was it. Right before Christmas of 2011 I was shopping, I was shopping at Kmart, and I saw bedframes on sale, for bunk beds. I was like, “Oh, I need those. I’ll just put them on layaway!”

Three weeks later, I got a very tearful phone call from my mom. She said, “You’re never going to believe what happened. Layaway Angels went in and paid off your bunk beds!” Which to me was, to me it was a God shot. They paid the entire amount off.

Three weeks after that, I received an anonymous check for $3,000 with a letter that said, “Go out and buy your new mattresses, and go out and buy your new sheets for your house because everybody deserves fresh linens and new mattresses when they start a new life.”

That was in 2012 and we now currently have 6 locations – single women, single men, mothers and children’s, and then I have a location that I use for crisis beds, people who seek treatment through our safe stations here in Anne Arundel county. They go there seeking help but they’re not going to get into treatment for 4 or 5 days because you just don’t get in right away. So we house those people as well.

So on any given day, we house up to 47 people that are entering recovery. And residents anywhere from 18 years old to 77 years old – that was my oldest resident.

These individuals, they’re just like me. They come and they either have lost the skills that we need to get by, or at 18 years old, they never had them in the first place. And they can be as simple as doing your laundry or parking correctly in the driveway. But then there’s other things like resume-writing. You know, if you don’t have a good resume and you can’t get that out there, how will you get employed? And I think at the end of the day, that’s all any of us want – we just want to be happy, healthy, productive members of society.

Often I go out and I try to educate the community. There are things they don’t know or maybe they aren’t thought about. And I have been told on a regular basis that, “Addiction does not affect me. I don’t know anybody that suffers from addiction. Why should I care?”

I’ve had people say that to me, and thank goodness, I have gained a filter because in the beginning, it was a little -- I stated this a little differently.

But we are all impacted by addiction.

I personally went to rehab or detox on public funds, through medical assistance, so that increases everybody’s insurance rates. It puts our taxes up.

There are times that I wrecked cars and I was an uninsured motorist which means your insurance went up, your insurance rates went up.

Theft – that’s how I made my living for a while is I stole things from people which today I’m certainly not proud of that. That also raises the cost of living.

So if you are to say to me that you are not impacted by addiction, I’m sorry but you are.

You drive a car. You’re out on the road. There are people who are under the influence whether it be from drugs or alcohol. You’re, you’re at risk.

So everybody is impacted by addiction.

I got to hit my own personal rock bottom emotionally and physically. With what’s going on in our world today, people are not making it to rock bottom. They are dying and they’re dying young.

So we have young parents that are dying, so there’s a generation there, and then they’re leaving behind children that are severely impacted. I know families where the children in that family have lost both parents to the disease.

It’s a societal issue.

If I were to ask one thing of anybody that can hear me right now, I would ask that you get to know somebody in recovery because the people that I know that are in recovery are some of smartest, funniest, most hard-working people that I know.

And I think that that stems from -- I know for me that it stems from knowing that I took from my community for so long, I just want to give back. I want to balance the scales if you will, and make that right.

Dakota Ayers -An EMT's Perspective

As an emergency medical technician, Dakota Ayers has seen a lot of pain and illness, much of it related to opioid addiction.  When he responds to calls, he's not there to judge.  

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Growing up I wanted to be a cardiologist. And after I graduated high school, I soon realized, Wow, med school takes a long time! What can I do to make an impact on society now? What can I do to matter?

I am an EMT, an emergency medical technician. We only run medical calls, so anything from the flu to chronic back pain to car accidents and people who suffer from drug addiction, because that is an illness.

I’d say the percentage of drug calls that we run into would be about 60-70% of every call. We will either get the call from the concerned citizen. They see somebody on the side of the road doing what we call ‘the nod,’ that heroin nod. They’ll call 911. Or you’ll have people who are getting high together, and they realize one of their friends took a little but too much and now they are unable to wake them up so they’ll call 911, maybe throw them in a cold shower, and then just leave. Which makes it much harder for us to do our jobs because how can we really help you if we don’t know how long you’ve been in this condition?

We’re medical professionals and it’s not we’re there to arrest anyone. We don’t have the ability nor do we have the want to arrest anybody. Honestly, the most important thing is getting the full story. That’s all we care about is rehabilitating them to the point of reviving them and helping them to get the medical care that they need.

If somebody is slumped over on the ground and they’re unable to pick themselves up, what we need to do is get them on to the stretcher. And what we do is we can either go under their arms and pick them up by their extremities, under their arms or legs. It takes a lot of strength and it takes a lot of effort and when you’re doing that nonstop for 12 hours every single day, it’s very easy to become numb. To forget that you’re not picking up a patient as a part of your job. You’re picking up a human. You’re picking up somebody’s brother, somebody’s child. You know, you’re picking up a person.

And, really, what I do sometimes is I like to think about people in my family that I know have suffered from opioid addiction, and I know – I’m so sure, I don’t know for a fact but I’m so sure -- someone has called 911 on them before. And when I’m with my patients, I like to remember that and think about that to bring that level of self-awareness and consciousness to the scene. And just to remind everybody that we’re around that, you know, let’s take a second look at what we’re doing. And let’s make sure that we go about this, not only by our safety protocol, but let’s make sure we are giving these patients the extra respect that they deserve for being humans.

Once we get the patients on the stretcher, we have to do what we call an assessment, checking their vitals, their blood pressure, the amount of oxygen in their blood, so on and so forth. We also have to document their story -- how they got to where they are -- because that’s a part of their medical care. There’s a large difference, there’s a huge difference between somebody who’s been an addict for five years, one year, or has been a chronic problem throughout their entire life, thirty-five years of abuse. We have to treat that differently, we see it differently, and we have to report that to the hospital differently.

Somebody who’s been an addict for thirty-five years is going to have much more trauma to their organs. You need to be able to assess how much tissue damage they may have, how much opioids or heroin they have injected into their system, or snorted or smoked into their system, in that moment because that depends how much medicine on our end that we need to give you. If I give you two shots of Narcan, intranasally, up through your nose, but you’ve been using heroin for thirty-five years, I’m probably going to have to up that dosage. I’m probably going to have to do it twice as much. That’s important to know because that’s the difference between allowing somebody to be able to breathe or not.

If somebody calls 911 on themselves. because they feel like they need help, the conversation will go completely different. You know, How did you get here? Why did we come here today? That’s what we say. And then they tell us, Because I felt short of breath. Because I was unconscious. Because I need help.

Sometimes people think they need to be committed for psychological issues or they think they need to be committed for recovery. For a lot of the cases that I’ve seen, a lot of addiction comes from mental illness, and the lack of stable doctors’ appointments that they are able to get, the lack of consistent medication that they are able to get , and the lack of family support that they have.

There’s two different types of calls that we get. We get the patient who is completely overdosed, and then we get the patient that is too high for their own good. A lot of times, we will see people who are high wandering throughout the street, bobbing in between traffic, knocking on car windows at red lights for money. Sometimes they are just so high out of their mind, they don’t realize the dangers of what they are doing. It’s not that they’re so hungry and so greedy for money. A lot of times they are just so far out of their own mind, they don’t recognize the dangers that they are putting themselves in and the dangers that they are putting other people in driving by.

When I’m on scene, when I go on calls, I try to make sure that I provide a level of tranquility to the scene that I know sometimes isn’t always there. I will go out of my way to make our patients feel like they aren’t being attacked because a lot of the times when 911 is called, they don’t want to go to the hospital. They don’t feel like they are doing anything wrong so it’s really our job, and something I try to do day in and day out, is just remain patient and cognizant of the way that you touch people, the words that you’re using, the tone of voice that you have, the way that you guide them into the ambulance.

A lot of these people – I’m only 23. Okay, I’ve been doing this for two years. And most of the people that I pick up are in their 50s, 60s, sometimes 70s, still addicts. It’s so hard to look at somebody who is so much older than you and when they’re looking back at you and they, they feel so small. You can just sense it. They feel small. They feel insignificant. And the vibe that they give off is, is I’m hurting.

Most people aren’t addicts because they think it is fun and glorious. There are some people who are like that but most of the patients that I encounter are-- they’re hurting. And it’s imperative that you look back into their eyes and really acknowledge, I see you as a human and I’m here to listen. It’s not my job to arrest you. It’s not my job to judge you. It’s not my job to tell you, Well, if maybe you did this, then you wouldn’t be in this situation and you know, Get yourself out of these streets, and dahdidahdidah. That’s not our job.

We’re there to save lives.

This is Dakota Ayers and this is my story.

Jenny Beetz -Human Contact or Heroin? You Can't Have Both

Jenny Beetz loved how heroin made her feel but she appreciates the stability of her life without it.

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It’s very hard for me to pinpoint when exactly my addiction started, or even what started it. I would imagine I started doing drugs at around the age of 12, really. It just just always seemed to be part of my life. It wasn’t something I even thought about. Which has been an ongoing problem by the way. I’ve always missed that middle part where you maybe reflect and think, Well, should I do some drugs? As soon as that thought hits me, I’m already driving to go buy drugs.

By the age of 16, I had discovered opiates. The heroin. It was, This is my drug. I felt like I found finally my peace. And that is something that it has always given me is a sense of peace. And also a sense of wellbeing. A lot of people, it seems, when they do opiates, before you know it, they’re licking the floor, or their head is about a foot from the concrete. Contrary to that, I feel energy. It puts the skip in my step and I go around the house singing or humming.

Honestly, I have often felt it’s a financial problem more than a drug problem because when I have had plenty of money, gainfully employed and all that, it didn’t interfere in my life in any way. I wasn’t being arrested. I wasn’t crawling around half sick, trying to get my drug. But when it gets to that point, which it seems to for virtually everybody, that is the hell.

It feels like you’re missing a couple of layers of skin. And you’re jumping into rubbing alcohol. It’s hell.

But I took a long break and I thought that it was simply a passing phase. I had gone to college. I got a degree in philosophy. I thought philosophy was all Sartre and Camus, and all of that really great stuff. No! It’s this really boring analytical crap—Hegel, Heidegger -- oh my God, you know, that’s torture! They should use that at Guantanamo.

But I’m not sure what started me again, at all. A lot of my drug use has been because it’s just been right there in my face, most of my life. Every time I’d gone to New York City when I was younger, part of my visit there included good New York dope. So when I moved there, it was like Wow, I live in the land of good New York dope!

And it started out very slowly. I had a boyfriend who was not a drug addict and we started using together. I became a raging junkie and he stopped the first he got a habit. He was no, this is awful, this sucks. And I just kept going with it.

I spent pretty much all of my time in New York City being a heroin addict. In my 30’s, I went to a methadone program. I was very, very, very stubborn. I did heroin every day of my life for a least a year, knowing I’m not even going to get high because methadone has a blocker in it.

Again I was very stubborn. And I still am. I am on a methadone program now. I have a lot of resentment about it, in a way. In general, in life, I have a lot of resentment about my use or not use of heroin.

Why can’t I do my drug?

My friend for example, he – he gets drunk virtually every day, and it’s fine. You know, it’s socially acceptable, really. Well, to a degree. And, I’m not allowed to do my drug. It that pisses me off. It really does.

If I were to win the lottery, all bets are off. I’m, I’m buying land in Afghanistan. I’m going to marry Hamid Karzai, and I’m just going to have acres and acres of poppies. Drug lord, whatever, you know. I’m really looking forward to it, in fact. I mean, this is the sort of thing that comforts me.

But being a drug addict, weird things tend to comfort me, like Oh, I can always just kill myself! That’s a comforting thought to me. There’s always that option if I’m sick of this, I can always just, you know, do my last shot and be comfortable and …

What motivated me to go on a methadone program at all or even to consider quitting is I did lose that well-paying job, which by the way, was answering phones in a whorehouse. But I became homeless. Theoretically the methadone program, it’s there to help a person get off of opiates. Great! Wonderful! You can’t get addicted to methadone in two weeks. They would taper you off and then hopefully you have follow-up care.

Methadone maintenance? To me, it is solidly absurd. I have traded basically an illegal drug and illegal activities for a legal thing called methadone maintenance program.

I can’t get take-homes because I take Seroquel and that’s a whole other horrible – and that’s a -- by the way, a lot of mental illness mixed in with all of this. I am disabled, officially, with major depression. I’ve been hospitalized. And also with post-traumatic stress disorder. Like serious -- like my childhood was outrageous including kidnapping, gang rape. Just horrible things.

The benefits again are I’m not getting arrested two and three times a year. So now I’m on as low dose as I possibly be, and my life has been – it’s stable. I realized wow, I actually feel, both physically and mentally, I feel engaged in the world around me. And it’s pleasant.

And then I realize, and this is a strange way to realize it, somebody just rubbed my back in an affectionate gesture, and I realized I had had zero affection or anything like that, by choice. By choice. And it was again revelatory. It was like this is what I’m missing in my life. -- human contact.

And the less methadone I was on, the more engaged I became. And I got to a point where I was down to 10 mg of methadone, and that was great. My tits came back. I started fucking again which I enjoy a lot. But -- and you can’t have both. It’s human contact, and caring about people, and sex, and boobs and all that -- or it’s heroin addiction. You can’t have both. Heroin ends up being a kind of a boyfriend.

When I rejoined the living, I noticed all these benefits that I had not foreseen. And it’s good in a way. I really miss heroin. I do. And I feel jealousy when I see somebody licking the sidewalk out front – I feel jealous, actually. You know, it’s like, I want what she had!, you know.

I think this is definitely part of my nonuse rather than using, that my writing has exploded with regard to how much. But the quality as well is really good. And then, I started making collages. And I just started with one and now I think I have about one hundred and twenty. And I do them all by hand. And that’s been really great – the art work, you know.

I believe that from the day, the year, whatever age you are when you begin taking drugs, that’s pretty much when you stop maturing -- emotionally at least. And so, in a lot of ways, I’m this, you know, annoying, intellectual artist type. But also I am a, a 12-year old, you know. And if you start doing drugs at a very young age like I did, I mean you’re kind of fucked in a lot of ways, you know, being this 12 year old and negotiating the world supposedly as a 53 year old, you know.

I’m trying… I might cry. Yeah. I don’t know why that makes me cry but --

Because I’m the 12-year old for a second here, you know.

I’m Jenny Beetz and this is my story. Thank you for listening to my story.

Eric Whitaker -Peer Pressure

Eric Whitaker understands the destructive patterns and habits that can rule life. And he's figured out a way to break his. He's clean and he's sharing his story.

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When I was around three or four years old, my parents decided to move us from West Baltimore out to Carroll County, a very small town in Carroll County. It was a shock but it was a welcome shock.

Now, school begins and the first thing I notice is I don’t look like these people, I don’t sound like these people. And I felt different. You know, I am a black man and 2% of the population in that county, to this day, is minority.

At first I tried to work through it. However kids are cruel. For one, I had a stuttering problem. It was fueled by anxiety and everything else. So I was made fun of and I was picked on. But it was stressed in my household to read, to learn, and no one would ever be able to deny you. And as soon as my grades were great – I mean, I was a great student – I was always at the top, I won spelling bees and everything. I felt like I was part of something that I belonged to. So, one could say that like at an early age I was also searching for approval of others. What kid doesn’t?

However, throughout middle school and high school, that same need for approval had me doing things that I really didn’t even care for. I went places with people that I didn’t like or even want to be with. It was a constant need for approval. Peer pressure.

The time I turned 15, I decided to start using drugs. I started to do heroin before I did anything else. I thought that a cool guy my age did drugs and drank. And this was 1995. When I graduated there were four black people in my class, counting myself. What was happening was, I was not black enough to be around them, but I was not white enough to be around the others. That’s when I debuted selling the drugs, because at this point, my heroin habit had gotten insane. I had gone from thirty, forty bucks a week, to now I’m close to a hundred dollars a day.

No one knows what it’s like to need to put fifty bucks in your body before you can brush your teeth. No one knows what that’s like unless you’ve been through this. It’s like waking up with the flu times one thousand.

Every night, I’m not going to sleep. I’m laying down and resting my eyes for three hours, after homework, sports, social time, girlfriend, family time. Getting right back up at four o’clock in the morning. I’m being picked up from a small town in Carroll County, Maryland by older white men that would otherwise not talk to me at all so we can go down and I can get them their fix, their money can get me mine, and I can be dropped back off to get on a school bus and go to school and perform, pass tests, give speeches, and act like nothing was wrong.

One teacher my senior year spoke to me. She said, “You know, Eric, I know you’ve had some problems. And if there was something I could do to stop you, I would. Only you have the answer. Please let me know what I can do to help.“ And I looked her dead in her face, and I said, “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

What can you tell a teenager --especially a teenager that feels like he or she is in charge? When you’re not done, you’re not done. And I was out to do harm to myself. I couldn’t do enough drugs. I couldn’t do enough drinking. Everything I did was just so far off the meter.

It’s not about the drug pulling you. It’s about feeling you have nothing to live for. You have no hope.

So I began to seek the solution. I chose this self-help group. I could show up the way I was. I could be who I was. And within reason, me keeping my story as my story, someone was going to relate and get something from me, even on my worst day. It was about learning how to live again. All I knew was drugs and that’s not living.

So in ‘08 or ‘09, I checked into a sober-living situation. I put together two years clean – my first time getting clean, I put together two years living clean. But I fell again and used. And in 2010, I overdosed for the first time. It was a combination of prescription meds that I was prescribed for anxiety, pain meds that I was prescribed for a broken collar bone, and a couple of beers. So that began my overdose history.

Once you overdose once, you’re pretty much in line to continue that path until you die. And that’s just what I know based on experience. Overdose again, two more times that year. At this point, we know how it goes: I do well, and then I do not. I continue the same behaviors and I get the same results. I didn’t have enough to live for to worry about -- dying. It was as if I always needed someone’s approval to validate me wanting and needing to live. I was never good enough for me.

And I believe that’s what different about this time around. And I’m never going to say, I got this, I’m okay. But I’m definitely all right.

This time I checked into a facility. That was in April of 2017. I now work for a very prominent local hospital. My job is I link people with the help and the hope that they need to possibly seek treatment. Because I practice the principles tolerance, patience, faith, perseverance, I managed to make a career out of my story, my life, and my experience. So this has taught me to look at myself and learn myself. And when someone is speaking, truly listen, listen to learn. Because I don’t always have an answer. But I do have an ear to listen.

I’m Eric Whitaker and this is my story.