A friend and an addict

What causes a student turn to heroin abuse?

Some people sense the luring trap of heroin and walk away. Others sense the same, but have one more hit. David, whose real name is being concealed to protect his identity, belongs to the latter.     

Last summer, we had gone to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting on account of his latest relapse. At the time, David was a full-blown addict and I was his nosey friend.

“Hello, my name is David, and I’m an addict.”

“Hi David!”

“Four months of work gone to waste. Some of you have told me that relapse is not failure but part of a slow-recovery process. Those words are my beam of hope. Thank you.”

Kudos from the group.

It is a fact, shared nightmares are the pathway to empathy and offbeat friendships. In the room, the eloquent lawyer befriended the babbling panhandler. Even though they were strangers in the street, they were in

symbiosis in every meeting.

Unlike them, David and I only enabled each other’s compulsions. We had a mutual problem: a low threshold for boredom. We roamed in search for remedies against it. I took walks, impromptu trips to nearby towns and challenges to tip cows. David, on his part, was fascinated by his brain’s euphoria mechanisms.

I first met him during his “recreational user” phase, the one where he used drugs every other day after he was done with schoolwork. He was an English student with a daily routine he found unbearable at times. Many of our conversations were akin to:

“My parents paid for four years of this monotony. Everything, from parties to classes, becomes familiar to me,” he said. “I can’t trick myself into enjoying anything familiar.”

“So what, we all wake up, eat, go to class and relax whenever we can.”

“Yes, we all do the same.”

Often times, my ability to assess threats is clouded by the mania phase of my bipolar disorder. So when David told me about his heroin use, I was neither worried nor disgusted, only intrigued.

“Go ahead, describe. “

“I feel content, it only brings warm feelings and serenity. I enjoy everything, even waiting in line at the Rite-Aid,” he muttered.

From a technical standpoint, a heroin rush is a stream of poison that morphs into a conformist state of mind. For some, it is an orgasm. From David’s account of it, it is the solution to the dullness of his regular days.

“This is the one,” I said, congratulating him for finding something to look forward to.

I liked him better from then on. He was kinder and cheerful, and always willing to recite poetry upon request. He was an outlandish user, without track marks or a lousy appearance. He managed to ace his classes. However, his pinhole-sized pupils always betrayed him.

He never reproached me for knocking at his door past midnight, usually to take long walks, in the same way I never refused him a loan. We were friends as long as we never antagonize each other with feigned concern.

On the whole, our friendship was built on shaky ground.

In his essay “In Praise of Boredom,” the poet Joseph Brodsky writes “the good thing about boredom, about anguish and sense of meaningless, is that it is not a deception.”

Heroin is a deception.

This might seem obvious to those who have never tried it. But to addicts, at first, it feels as deceiving as a mother’s hug. Yet, it is doomed to become redundant; there is nothing original in needing a daily fix.

Then summer arrived. If he could not stand the hours between classes during school, he was hopeless in the face of summertime. Soon, he went from one bag to four bags, when snorted, and two bags, when shooting. This is basic dope economics.

“I discovered tolerance, a thick shield wrapped around all of my dopamine receptors,” he told me when I visited his hometown.

Trying to circumvent it is a leap in the dark.

“Have you ever hated it?”

“Yes, more than I care to admit.”

“So, why…”

“I can never remember why I hated it once I’m sober, so I buy more to refresh my memory.”

In other words, his flawed memory only renewed his hopes for a miracle shot, ergo relapse. A helpful friend would have plastered his walls with don’t-do-dope sticky notes. I never did. He never broached that he wanted to go rehab, at least not to me. I had lost my chance. I mistook his addiction for a passing fancy.

Eventually, his family took a hold of him. He is now in another state trying to master the tenants of recovery. One of them is to learn how to handle boredom. In Brodsky’s words, “let yourself be crushed by it, hit bottom; then surface. Boredom is your window to the properties of time.”

Laura Ordonez can be reached at laura.ordonez@temple.edu.

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