When I was 15, I took my first sip of beer, and I hated it. Pot made me physically nauseous. So, I spent all of my high school years sober. I thought I was above all that substance-abuse stuff.
It’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have gotten any high school votes for “most likely to end up a homeless drug addict.” But by the time I was 20, that’s exactly what I was.
Where did things go so wrong?
A fast track from straight-edge to drug addict
For me, addiction was a painful process. Literally.
I was in a terrible car accident shortly after my 18th birthday. I had three surgeries that were supposed to help relieve my pain. They didn’t. OxyContin, an opioid pain-relief medication, was my best friend until it was my only friend.
The painkillers were the only thing that would dull the pain. But the problem was that they never seemed to work as well as they did the day before. I needed higher doses to get the same relief.
By the time my doctor started suspecting an opioid addiction, it was too late. I was already addicted. He stopped writing my scripts, and I found someone else who would. Then she stopped, and I found another doctor. When I ran out of doctors, I turned to heroin.
Heroin is an opiate, so it works in the same way as the opioid painkillers I had been taking. It was a natural fit. Except that I was now doing heroin.
What it’s like to hit rock bottom
People tend to think that drug addicts have no shame. I know because that’s what I thought before I was an addict. But it’s not true. We have shame. What we don’t have is control. I was ashamed that I was doing heroin, but it stopped the physical withdrawal symptoms. I wasn’t making a choice; I was filling a need.
Needless to say, I lost everything I had previously cared about. I was living on the streets of San Jose and begging for money. Every day, I prayed I’d get enough to keep the withdrawal symptoms away. I’m not proud of this time in my life, but the most difficult moment came when I least expected.
I was pan-handing in my usual spot when a black car rolled down its window.
“Trevor, is that you?”
These words sent chills down my spine, but in a sick way, I also felt hope. If someone knew me, maybe they’d be more likely to contribute to my fund.
Horror of horrors, it was my high school rival. He was one of the biggest bullies at my San Jose public school and always called me out for being a “goody-two-shoes.” Imagine his surprise to see me now.
With surprise and disgust on his face, he asked, “What happened to you, man?”
Thankfully, he was at a stoplight and had to keep moving before I answered the uncomfortable question. But seeing him made me face who I’ve become.
I had a decision to make. I was either going to live and die by this drug, or I was going to turn things around. I decided on the latter.
The importance of a support system
Later on that week, I reached out to my father. Thankfully, he was still living nearby in Silver Creek Valley. He’s the one person who was always in my corner, and I knew he’d help me through whatever came next. And that he did. Getting sober was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was also the most worthwhile.
My father helped me find a rehabilitation center in Orange County. I stayed at the center for three months until I felt that I was strong enough to live soberly on my own. I’m proud to say that I’m now 27 years old and I’ve been sober for five years and six months.
I still experience some pain from my accident, but now I turn to holistic methods of coping, such as massage therapy and yoga. I’d be lying if I said that I never have temptations or cravings, but thanks to my awesome support system, I am able to overcome those dark thoughts. I’m so thankful for my second chance at a healthy life, and I hope that anyone that hears my story and is battling an addiction knows that there is always hope.
If you’re going through this now, know that you’re not alone. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, please understand that it isn’t their fault. This person may need you more than you know.
I don’t know where I’d be today if my father refused to take my call. He listened to my struggles without judgment and guided me toward the help I so desperately needed. My hope is that every addict has someone like this they can turn to. I believe it can happen if more people know the truth about addiction.
Trevor McDonald is a freelance writer who lives in San Diego. A recovering addict and alcoholic who has been clean and sober for over five years, he volunteers to help other recovering addicts and spread treatment resources.