Being a drug addict is the worst. I know. For almost five years I shot heroin every day. I lived the life of a heroin junkie: stealing, lying and doing whatever it takes to get loaded.
It is an existence that bewilders those who’ve never lived it. So, when a disgruntled social worker in the Tenderloin recently told VICE magazine that the gritty, drug-infested neighborhood had sapped the life out of her, I understood. She went on to say that the homeless, drug-addicted clients didn’t want help. Instead, “they want money or they want drugs or they want death.” Again, I could relate.
The interview went viral. Many people were upset. They couldn’t relate like I did. They criticized the woman, known only as Lorian, and accused the article of sensationalism. Haven’t they read Vice before?
Other social workers felt Lorian demeaned their work, exploiting the people she was hired to help.
I live in the Tenderloin, and life on the streets is hard to watch. Many of the things she said I agreed with. I had seen, encountered and lived, to varying degrees, the life that so repulsed this woman. And while some of Lorian’s observations are true, I understand the danger in judging huge swaths of people. No one can ever know what another person is thinking, and in my experience, addicts themselves can barely navigate through the webs of denial infesting their brains.
The life of a drug addict is a mystery. Since addiction and alcoholism is centered in the brain, an addict’s own thoughts are his enemy. Imagine that your entire thought process is wrong: your thoughts tell you to do things that may get you killed or land you in prison — thoughts and actions that fly in the face of reason and self preservation.
In the depths of my addiction, I’ve risked death and disease. Here is a glimpse of my insanity:
My drug dealer was an asshole. He would give me little pieces of dope if I ran errands for him. One day, he gave me hundreds of his used syringes to take to the needle exchange for him and swap them for clean ones.
While in the throes of horrible withdrawals, I dumped the hundreds of used needles onto the ground and began to search for syringes that still contained heroin in them. I found many. But most of them were clogged up because the heroin had coagulated with the blood.
I forced the clogs through, squirting out what I could into a container. It was messy and disgusting. Needles pricked me. When blood and heroin coagulate, it turns into dark gelatinous goo. I would suck up as much liquid as I could into a syringe and shoot the heroin mixed with this guy’s old coagulated blood into my own veins. I would lick the bloody, gooey chunks off my fingers as to not waste a drop.
This became a routine. Every few months, I would relive this process. The first time was the hardest, though. I was desperately torn between the need to use and the fear of blood-borne disease. The compulsion won; it usually did. Once I crossed that line, it became easier every time.
Luckily, I never contracted a disease.
I was just like the addicts in the Tenderloin. They may have crushed Lorian’s spirit and they may get on my nerves, but they are just the reminder I need. Every day I see in them what I was like and what life could be if I go back to heroin. Living in the Tenderloin helps keep me sober.