Living with an Addiction [part 1]

Five people describe their ordeals with heroin

By Brian Covert
Staff Writer

Editor’s note: The following accounts were taken from a series of interviews during a four-month period with patients at the Bay Area Addiction, Research and Treatment (BAART) center in Fresno. Names were changed in respect for the individuals’ confidentiality. All other background and circumstances are true.

Lisa was slightly nervous as she entered the patient’s office at

Two of her four children sat outside the office, waiting patiently in the main lobby. It is a place they have come to know well in the last several months.

Lisa’s trips to the center are a result of her heroin addiction. For the third time in her life she is receiving treatments of methadone, a drug that stabilizes the withdrawal effects of heroin.

She recollected her first experience with drugs.

“The first thing I started doing was sniffing glue, and from glue I went to pills, and from pills I went to heroin. Smoked a little weed now and then,” said the 28-year-old with a startling honesty.

“My mom was murdered in Chinatown in ’68. I used to be a straight ‘A’ student until that happened. I stopped going to school and that’s when I started sniffing glue,” she said.

“By the time I was 14, I was hooked. On heroin. First I started stealing. But when the stores got to know me and I started to hear from other girls how easy it was to make money by selling your body, I started hustling,” she said.

“At first you get into using (heroin) just ’cause you like the high, and after that you’re not getting high anymore. You’re doing it just to stay normal. It’s not a high no more, it’s just to survive, just to keep yourself from being sick…

“But it’s awful. A lot of people think that we do it because we like it, hustling. Nobody wants to hustle with a big, old 400-pound ‘pig’ who wants to take you out, but when you’re sick, you’ll go with anybody. And then you die a little bit every time you’re with somebody because you don’t really want to do it, but you’ve got to…,” she said, her voice faltering with emotion.

She gazed straight ahead, as she continued to speak.

“A lot of people think you’re in it because you like this kind of lifestyle. But I don’t know any girl yet or any women that I’ve met that enjoys going to bed with smelly… some of these men don’t take baths. I mean, it’s gross. You gotta pretend, pretend you’re enjoying it, and do gross things just to get an extra ten dollars. And every night you gotta go to sleep with yourself and think about all the things, and look at yourself the next morning and get yourself ready to go out there and do it again, you know?” she said matter-of-factly.

“People say that if you kick (heroin) when you’re in jail, you can do it on the streets, but you can’t — in jail you have no other choice. I’ve seen girls split their heads open on the bars ’cause they need a fix, throw themselves from the bunks, swallow razor blades, anything just so they won’t feel the pain, you know? But I guess I’m a coward, I’ve never done anything like that.”

Lisa lost three of her four children to foster homes because of her heroin addiction.

“The worst thing that heroin did to me was to make me lose my kids,” she said, a sadness showing in her brown eyes.

“When I had business to see ’em, half the time I wouldn’t go see ’em because I hadn’t had my fix yet. And it’s an ugly thing to say, but my fix came first, then my kids, back then. That’s the way it was; I was a slave to it. That’s what you are: you’re a slave to a fix to heroin,” she said.

“…you fix and then you just jump back into the car and get ready for the next one because you know that within a few hours you’re gonna be sick and you’re gonna need it. And you go to sleep thinking, ‘What am I gonna do in the morning?’”

Her children constantly accompany her to the clinic when she receives her treatment “because they are afraid that I’m not gonna go straight home when I leave here. They’re afraid they’re gonna lose me again. It’s an ugly thing. I mean, sometimes I hate myself. At night I gotta go to bed thinking about what I put my kids through and what they’re going through now,” she said with a sense of guilt.

“I got out of fixing and everything when the (older) kids’ father was locked up. I’d always straighten up my life, and as soon as he’d come out, he’d drag me back down with him ’cause I’d fear him; I have scars all over me from him beating me. He’s the one that got me out on the streets.

“He beat me to turn a trick, and then when I finished turning the trick, he beat me because he said I probably enjoyed it,” she said cynically.

“And I didn’t get nothing out of it, he spent the money for himself. When I’d wake up, he’d send me out to make money. I’d come home with $60, $80 I’d make in two, three hours, you know; come home with enough for both of us to fix. I wouldn’t get nothing out of it — he’d fix it all and send me out to make mine.

“Where could I go? Where could I run to?” she asked. “I didn’t have any people or place I know out of Fresno. So I kinda had to take all that…” she explained.

Lisa has since stopped hustling.

“I did real good…I met the father of my two-year-old baby, and he took me out of that lifestyle. I did real good for five years. Real good. I was working; got my nurse’s aide state license and everything in Sacramento. I was doing real good, but I couldn’t do it by myself. I had to get on methadone.

Lisa said if it weren’t for the methadone, she would probably be back on the streets.

“I wouldn’t have my kids — I got ’em back about four years ago. Five years out of my life (that she wasn’t on heroin) are the only good times I can remember…”

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Mac, age 34, comes from a middle-class background and graduated from high school in 1965. He attended college for half a semester and then dropped out.

The reason? Heroin.

He is currently receiving methadone treatment at BAART. It is the third time in his life he has gone through rehabilitation.

As he began to recall his first heroin experiences, he stroked his reddish-brown beard casually.

“I was able to go to work and I had money, you know, so I could escape from nothing to something if I wanted to,” he said.

The escape for Mac was heroin.

“Anyway, I got into using heroin as, I guess, a release just like a kid would go out and use alcohol on weekends.”

“In fact, I didn’t even know I was hooked on it. I was always working too, I never was without a job. I worked through it all,” he said.

After about four years, he realized he was hooked on heroin.

“You could have it in your mind to quit but when you got back out into life and the only friends you had by that time were drug addicts, there wasn’t no way you were really gonna quit. So I went that way for a long time, maybe about 10 years, fixing every day.

“I was making pretty good money, and heroin wasn’t real expensive back then like it is now. I was able to use $20 or $30 a day and everything went fine.

“I mean, I wasn’t able to pick myself up and get anywhere in life because I was always backtracked by this heroin,” he said. But he never had to go out and steal, he added.

After realizing he was hooked, Mac went to his family doctor for help.

“He couldn’t really do nothing but give you Darvons, and maybe sleeping pills and this and that,” said Mac.

The second time he tried to kick the heroin addiction, Mac went through four detoxifications.

“On the last ‘detox’ I went back to my doctor and he gave me some more Darvons, and for about six months I tried real hard and I didn’t go out at nighttime or after work. I wasn’t leading a very good life, but I wasn’t using anymore.”

During that time Mac took a vacation to Lake Tahoe, where he met his first wife, who was from Fresno. After a year they were married.

“I started using again for no reason…like once a week again, and my wife didn’t know about it,” he said. “She was straight — she didn’t use at all. When she found out I was using heroin, she didn’t try to help me or anything — she just disowned me and that was the end of my marriage. And we had a baby girl. She was about a year old when it happened.”

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When Steve was 15, his parents were divorced. At 17, he started using heroin.

He moved in with his brother-in-law and sister, who were using heroin at that time.

“One day my brother, who’s two-and-a-half years older than I am — he was living there too — they offered to fix him with some speed, so he went ahead and did it. And that just blew me out.

“After I seen him doing it, I thought, ‘Wow! I’ll show them, I’ll do it too; I’ll get back at ’em,’ is what it was. So I sat down, they fixed me, and I liked it,” he said.

Steve said he used the drug four years before he became physically addicted.

“For about two years I supported my habit by scoring for other people. But I usually worked, drawing unemployment to bring in a few bucks.”

Steve is currently unemployed.

“To be honest, I’ve done two burglaries, but it wasn’t anything big,” said the 29-year-old. “When it comes to thieving, I never really stole or ripped people off that much. I don’t know how I kept from it, really. I’ve always been able to borrow the money or hustle it somehow besides ripping people off. That’s one thing I feel good about, ’cause I know a lot of people that have done some bad things.”

Although he is receiving extensive methadone treatment, Steve admits that he still uses heroin occasionally.