Trigger Warning: This post contains information about drug use and addiction, which may be triggering to some survivors.
“On Love & Heroin,” Anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
I officially came out when I was 17; I knew I was gay when I was about 12.
That five year waiting period would be the longest and hardest five years I would ever experience. I later came to put words to what I was going through: anxiety, depression, self-medication. I always knew I did not have a desire to express myself in the feminine nature girls were expected to. I wore what I could feel somewhat comfortable in, which mainly consisted of jeans and band t-shirts. This was as close to normal and allowed. What I longed for was to cut my hair, to wear button down shirts like the boys. I read articles in magazines about transgender individuals. “is this me?" I thought. I knew I did not feel like a boy, but yet I did not feel like the other girls, and I knew I was attracted to girls. This caused great confusion and uncomfortability.
When I was 13, I started experimenting with drugs. This helped me to cope greatly with the feelings I could not yet name. I knew I had these strange feelings; I knew sometimes I did not want to get up and do anything and other times when I did things the feelings in my chest and stomach were nearly unbearable. I began talking to girls from different towns around 14 and 15. This helped me to understand myself, however created additional stress as it was a part of me I kept hidden from my everyday life. I continued to use drugs and experience consequences of such use such as a great loss of trust, decline in grades, and began my run-ins with substance abuse treatment.
At 15, I met a girl. She introduced to my first real love, heroin.
A warm wave came over me and the extent in which I liked the stuff scared me. I had seen heroin ruin lives and kill my friends. After my first use I swore I would never touch the stuff again, but I guess we all made that broken promise. A few days passed and I began using it consistently. It started off great. Heroin provided me with the internal relief I had been searching for my whole life. That strange feeling went away; I no longer thought much about how I would be perceived for my sexual orientation or gender expression. I only longed to get high.
Heroin continued to hand out consequences like flyers. I dropped out of high school and lost nearly every real friend I had. It was not long before I began using the drug intravenously. I lied to those I cared about, stole from those I loved, and let everyone down. My parents, though divorced, co-parented effectively and did all that they could. They sent me to rehabs and attended support groups. They loved me with their whole hearts.
At 17, I entered a detox for the second time, to be followed by another stay at an inpatient treatment center. I lay in a bed, experiencing the perils of heroin withdrawal, wondering how I got here. A few days later the van arrived to take me to treatment once again. I was greeted by a familiar face, who asked how I felt. Before I could mutter a sarcastic response about the awful feeling, he informed me I never had to feel that way again.
I began working on myself and identifying ways to cope with the depression and anxiety I had been battling. I identified ways to cope with urges to use drugs and learned what led me to make the choices I made. Internally I did a great amount of self-reflection regarding my sexual orientation. Though not right away, very shortly after my return home I came out to my friends and family. I continued on outpatient treatment to manage struggles and identify continued ways to improve.
Today, I have not used heroin for 4,180,32 minutes. 2,903 days. That's 7 years, 11 months, and 11 days. Today I have graduated college with a master's degree in social work with the plan to work with adolescents struggling with substance abuse and LGBTQ issues.
Today I have found love, in human form rather than substance form. Today, I love a girl, to the moon, who loves me back. Today I love the person I am, however acknowledge it is the person I was who helped me arrive here.
About the art:
This survivor's story shared a powerful journey of owning one's experience and defining yourself in the wake of adversity. In discussing the quote and the potential imagery to accompany it, this survivor shared the following:
"RM Drake is one of my favorite writers and I think this short and sweet quote does a good job of conveying how overcoming your past can make for a beautiful future."
This piece speaks to the turning of the tides, and the fresh start that the sea embodies for me, as well as for this survivor.