My Gratitude Towards Understanding

December, 2015.

A short, stocky man with blonde dreadlocks down to his waist made his way into my life. Drug related tattoos splattered on his arms. “Hope” and “Love” permanently written on his knuckles. He has piercing green eyes and an immense capacity for love. Heroin ruled his life for many years. He worked a full time job, provided for himself and a wife, while being a full time student majoring in biochemistry. He earned his Master’s degree and led a seemingly successful life. His heroin handcuffs were invisible to all but him and those closest to him. He was locked up on the inside. Appearing to be free.

His addiction began with an accident. When he was in late teens, he was in a horrific car crash that left him with a broken femur and shifted spine. Opioids were handed out to him like candy by the doctors who took responsibility for his care. They were warranted for the pain and lengthy recovery time that is associated with such traumatic injuries. The pills were taken the same way most of us take vitamins or ibuprofen. A necessary part of his life to keep him functioning. Then came the crackdown.

Doctors began being investigated for over prescribing pain pills. Threats of criminal punishment were on the forefront of every doctor’s mind. After being on the highest legal OxyContin dosage for some years, he was cut off, cold turkey. He was given no time to wean off of his body’s need for the opioid high. He was given no therapy or mental health assistance. He was all alone with his addiction. He had been part of the party scene since he was thirteen years old and his connections for illicit drugs were far from scarce. He sought out friends and dealers looking for relief from his withdrawals and his pain.

Prescription drugs had all but fallen off the map. Any dealer who had any jacked the prices sky high, selling to the highest bidder and making a killing. Heroin on the other hand was plentiful and cheap. It flooded the streets of every major city, including this man’s. Dealer’s pockets became lined with the cost of a cure. The streets became lined with the dead. Overdose death rates skyrocketed. This man in particular overdosed twice, but survived by the use of Narcan, an anti-overdose drug employed by medical staff. He eventually got clean. He fought against the addiction that built home in his mind. He won. He was clean for quite some time. He was doing well, until his best friend died. This man quickly relapsed, trying to go out by the same hand as his friend, overdose, but his body would not allow for it. It was still strong from the years of addiction before and would not give up. After a month of reckless abandon, he decided to clean up again. This was no going to be his end. This was not going to be his life.

I met this man when he was clean for a solid five years, no relapsing, no falling back down the rabbit hole. He had immense strength and courage. He was open about his story and non-judgmental of others with similar stories. I, on the other hand, could not forgive the devastation heroin had brought into my life. I was blinded by pain and rage. I could not understand, therefore I could not forgive the individuals in my life who found solace in heroin’s embrace. How dare they continuing dabbling in a death sentence for their personal pleasure? Did they care about anybody at all? They knew what it was doing to their lives. They knew the destruction their choices were leaving. They knew this drug could be the end of the line. The end of happiness. The end of life.

The man who I came to love. The man with the needle scars speckled on both arms. The man with a dirty past, but an open mind. He taught me forgiveness. He taught me about acceptance. He taught me about unconditional love. He taught me about internal strife, loss of self and addiction. The perspective he gave me was invaluable. An amount of peace that I had searched for, but could not find on my own. He lent me a helping hand, a listening ear, a supportive shoulder and unfiltered wisdom. He did not judge me for my anger, for my hatred, for my ignorance or pain. When we met, I was traumatized by a past lover, emotionally abused and lost. I was in no place to love or be loved. I spent four months with this man, then asked him to leave. He did, not without a fight, but I was a battle he could not win. This man, lives on today. He has a successful career, close friends, knowledge and a desire to share it. He is no longer in my life, but his footprints remain. Because of him I will never be the same. For this I am grateful.

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