Eureka rots with addiction.
Under every rock, behind every edifice, in almost every bush, is the shivering, hungry, sweat-stained son or daughter of good people. Often, they’ve stolen from you, rifled through your garbage for recyclables, begged change from passersby at Eureka Natural Foods, and tried hundreds of times to stop stabbing themselves with the dull needles they carry in their socks, their coat pockets, or their vaginas.
This was not how they wanted to be.
Many were prescribed narcotics for injuries, as happened to me, only to discover that, clinging to the intertwined vines of DNA down deep, there lurked a series of genes — like those that cause cancer, or excessive body hair, bad teeth — that rendered them almost helpless against the wiles of the beguiling Papaver somniferum.
This disarmingly pretty flower has evolved quite effectively over the millennia to manipulate, and ultimately destroy, people of every stripe. Enslaved by the avalanche of ecstasy brought on by its weeping wounds, they ensure its continued survival through means fair and foul, all over the globe.
It took only a year for me to fall from a position of local prominence to homelessness. Flower power, indeed.
Every night, exhausted by the chase — the lying and cheating, stealing when possible, sleeping as best I could on the blood-stained floor of some local shooting gallery — I’d cry myself to sleep and promise to God and everyone that the morning would bring change. I never wanted anything more.
Yet somewhere in the night, as the cold sweats crept over me, foul with the scent of vinegar, and anxiety rose like murky floodwater, my soul would quiver quietly in the dark until I’d failed yet again before I ever even got started.
I hear folks talking shit about people on the street, people lost in the agony and futility of drug addiction, and cluck their tongues about choices made, God, boot straps, and good character.
They have no fucking clue.
This isn’t a character issue. Addicts aren’t bad people. Most often they come from trauma, live in trauma, and cope the only way they know how: By self-medicating the pain, the fear and hopelessness, until the gigantic holes in their souls are plugged momentarily by the fleeting swell of illicit chemistry.
Many were handed crank pipes and Oxy tabs in middle school, either by their parents or friends, or their parents’ friends. They never had the chance to learn a better way.
Others were prostituted by their addicted parents. Some were starved for both food and attention, swaddled only in the stained rags and roaches of a drug-house kitchen.
Of course, some have also had nice things — a clean house, loving parents, opportunities to learn and excel. Some are your spouses and siblings, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, imbibing to excess at every Christmas party, or not. Some show no warning signs at all.
Addiction is everywhere.
If you don’t believe it’s in your family, in your workplace, on your street, you’re blind.
Shattering my knee — literally shearing off the tibial plateau of my left leg — gave me the itch. When those shots and pills ran out, I found a guy. For months, this got me by. One morning, though, I woke up and decided to stop. I distinctly remember hours later staggering in front of the copy machine at the Times-Standard, shivering and cold, when only luck and a clear shot got me to the stall fast enough to avoid shitting my pants.
Yessir, that’s addiction.
When those pills ran out, and others became hard to find, I found another, grimier guy, and started, by necessity I told myself, chasing the dragon — smoking fingernail-sized chunks of tar heroin off tin foil.
The rationalizations came fast and furious — I couldn’t take the time off work, wouldn’t admit to my employers the extent of my habit, and each time I copped it was only to get through one more day, one more shift, until I could figure things out.
It all made so much sense back then.
Then one day my dealer told me he’d only front me a bag if I mainlined it. No problem, I told him, already taking off my shirt.
It turned out to be a major fucking problem.
In the few short months following, I lost everything. My wife took the kids and left, leaving me homeless and destitute. No one in my family would give me the time of day, and I began to seriously consider suicide.
Everyone told me to get some help. Go to rehab. Enter a program and get clean. Pull yourself together.
Heads up, Eureka: It’s not that easy. All the rehabilitation facilities in town cost thousands of dollars, unless you’re placed there by the courts. In other words, you have to get arrested to get free help. Otherwise, there’s virtually no rehab to be found.
There was one option, though, and I tried it — Teen Challenge. They call it a work- and faith-based drug and alcohol program. For me, it was Christian prison. You lived and breathed, ate and drank the Holy Bible, and never discussed your drug habit, its causes, its consequences, nor anything at all relevant to the disease of addiction.
If you broke a rule — such as turning around in church and looking (not staring, just glancing) at a woman — you were punished.
You might move a man-high stack of rocks from one place to another, and then back again.
Or, if you were lucky, you were simply put on a “word fast.” That is, for three days you could neither speak or be spoken to on pain of further punishment.
I believe in God, just not that kind of God. After nearly a week of this, I crept out the back gate late one night and eventually made my way back out into the streets. Something better would come along, I told myself.
It never did. In October 2010, exhausted by the game and the shame of my arrest and its resulting publicity, I finally checked into the county’s short-term detoxification facility. After the worst five days of my life there, I checked straight into a halfway house and began seriously attending 12-step meetings. No rehab, no therapy, no new life skills.
Through hard work and determined effort over several months, I proved to my wife that I was serious about my recovery. We eventually mended our relationship and today I continue the work of repairing the damage I did then. I thank my God for that opportunity.
Kicking heroin is most difficult thing imaginable. It’s no wonder that our streets and jails are still teeming with addicts of every stripe, given the lingering attitudes of many and the lack of real help. I still had a family, and hope — I knew that if I just got my shit together and acted right, I had a pretty good shot at rebuilding my life.
What if I — like most addicts — had nothing left to lose, and very little to regain? Luckily, I never had to answer that question.
Empathy is the only answer. And well-directed resources.
We’re fooling ourselves if we think this is a problem for others to deal with. Right now the sons and daughters of people you know, people you’ve elected, people you like, are doing whatever is necessary every day to scrape up enough cash to buy a bag and bang it up their arm, into their leg, their chest, their neck — any vein they can find late at night in the cold under the dim light of a street lamp near you.
Young girls sell themselves to get it. Young men will kill to get it. All of them find their angle, one way or another, or they quit. And to be frank, most of these people aren’t quitters.
Not yet anyway.
James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.