Living with an Addiction [part 2]

Five people describe their ordeals with heroin


Lynn, 30, said she was never interested in experimenting with a lot of different drugs.

“In high school the only things I did were getting drunk at dances, and when I was maybe 15, somebody showed me how to smoke a joint with them and I didn’t really care for it one way or the other too much,” he said.

She dropped out of Clovis High School in 1969.

“I was barely 17,” she said. “It was the Vietnam War period, the moratorium where everybody marched and people were wanting to smoke pot in school, girls stopped wearing make-up and bras…everybody wanted to be a hippie,” she said.

Although her older brother experimented frequently with LSD, she emphasized that she was not interested in psychedelics.

“He was interested in it from the philosophical point of view ’cause he was a college student…now he’s going for his Ph.D. at Berkeley,” she said proudly.

Lynn said she read “Doors to Perception” by Aldous Huxley when she was 10 years old, and the thought of mind expansion scared her.

Lynn’s family history contained a good number of addicts, both drug and alcohol. Her father and grandmother were addicted to alcohol and pills. Her great-grandmother was a heroin addict.

Despite his addiction, Lynn’s father was what she termed “an intelligent man” who came from a wealthy family.

Lynn later moved to San Francisco, where she shared an apartment with a friend.

“In the course of my readings, I read about all these other drugs that expanded your mind, but then I read about this one drug that did just the opposite: it was supposed to bring peace; a sense of peace.

“I read that the ancient Greeks had termed it ‘God’s own medicine’ — that’s how opium was referred to. And it just stuck in my mind. I thought, ‘I wonder if there really could be something that could subdue this anxiety in me.’ I certainly didn’t want anything to enhance it,” she said.

Out of curiosity, Lynn persuaded her friend to show her how to use heroin.

“That first time really impressed me,” she said. “It was like a return to the womb because I had the sensation that I was floating; floating not on water, not on a cloud. It was just this totally blissful sensation and I really connected it as how it must have felt to be in the womb…the feeling of total security.

“That’s the root of it. I don’t see myself as a lot of other people who just fall into it from their friends, or just being exposed to it on the streets.

“A lot of people just grow up in a neighborhood where everybody’s a hype (heroin addict), or their older brother is or whatever and they see it being done and they’re curious, they find out how to use the needle…all of a sudden, they’re addicted.

“And it’s through no real search on their part — it’s just something that happens,” she said, gesturing with her hands. The heroin addiction had taken its toll on Lynn over the years, as was evidenced by the gray streaks in her brown hair and the wrinkles under her eyes.

Lynn recalled that after using heroin three times a day for three weeks since her initial injection, she noticed she wasn’t feeling well.

“I thought ‘Damn, I’ve got the flu,’ and I had to go home from work. So, I was trying to rest on my bed and I couldn’t stop tossing and turning…I was just dripping with sweat,” she said.

“One of my neighbors came to the door and he says, ‘Let me see if I can get you something. You look miserable.’ I said, ‘I am. This flu is terrible.’ And he says, ‘It’s not the flu….Don’t you know what it is? You really don’t know? You’re kicking.’

“I said, ‘I can’t be; it was only three weeks ago I took my first shot.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s all it takes.’ Ever since then, of course, I found out that that’s exactly the way it is.”

Lynn said she had never been told about the effects of heroin withdrawal.

“It was my first experience with that particular kind of agony, which is not all physical — it’s physical and psychological,” she said.

She said that experience was such a big blow to her that she decided to move to Fresno.

She said she met a “real nice boy” and after about four months discovered she was pregnant.

“My baby was born completely normal, and he’s 11 years old now and he’s the top of his class in everything; top in sports, you name it. He’s an exceptional child,” she said proudly.

Lynn explained her means of obtaining heroin. “Almost all the time I was using, I had a boyfriend who would supply at least a good portion of the needs and then I was always able to maintain a decent standard of living through my income.”

She said that although dealing, stealing and prostitution are methods used frequently by addicts to score heroin, she never had to resort to those means.

“I know women who can support their habit completely by shoplifting,” she said. “They have to shoplift about $300 to $500 and fence them that same day — that’s a full-time job, you know? But prostitution is usually a lot easier for most of the women. And that’s sad.”


“I wasn’t raised in a real stable home when I was younger,” said Tim, 30.

He said he fell into drugs when his parents separated. From there, he went to harder drugs.

“I think a lot of us are victims of the times. When I was in high school, it had just come about: everybody was using drugs, everybody was. And the cops knew nothing about the drugs. I used to get stopped and I’d be under the influence of any number of drugs and they wouldn’t [take] me to jail,” he said, explaining his surprise.

“I would be able to pass the sobriety tests; they didn’t smell any liquor on my breath, so nothing ever happened,” he said.

Tim, an architectural drafting major at that time, was suspended in his senior year of high school, three days before he was to graduate.

“I was under the influence of Seconal — reds. I was under the influence of reds, I got belligerent and I got expelled from school. That was the start of a downhill slide, I think,” Tim said.

He began using heroin steadily in 1969. He was 18 years old.

“I had experimented probably since I was 16, that’s my best recollection,” he said.

After 25 years of marriage, Tim’s parents were divorced. He said that he still harbors a hatred for his father, even though it has been 10 years since the divorce. He said he believes that is one of the underlying causes of his heroin addiction.“There was a long time that I didn’t know that I was a heroin addict,” he said. “I knew that I was going through withdrawals, that I was going through changes, but I didn’t know that I had a ‘problem,’ you know?”

Tim said that he believes that Vietnam veterans were victims of their time. Although he was not a veteran, he was aware of the drug scene in Vietnam.

“…the same thing was happening here on the streets in the States, you know? I mean, it was the Haight-Ashbury days in ’Frisco. I went to Haight-Ashbury several times when I was a kid to watch all the hippies. It was peace, love, dope, happiness — that’s what life was all about then,” he said.

Tim recalled the event that changed his life.

“I sold a $15 bag of heroin to a good friend of mine. Well, he had got busted several weeks earlier and he was turning state’s evidence…and he sent me to the penitentiary.”

Instead of taking a five-to-life term for the crime, Tim opted for a year of incarceration with a seven-year parole span.

“California Rehabilitation Center was a penitentiary just like all the rest of ’em except that there’s nothing but heroin addicts,” he said. “There were some that ‘gamed,’ that played that they were dope addicts to get a shorter term…But I went down there and there was no help — I still didn’t know I had a drug problem.

“From ’73 to ’80, I was in and out of the prison system here in California, and it was all drug-oriented. It was all because I had a problem and I didn’t even know I had a problem! I knew that I was a heroin addict, that for some reason I was using it, you know? I was trying to escape something, I was trying to cushion problems or something….”

Tim and his wife and two children moved to Fresno from Merced three years ago.

“I came on the run,” he said. “I had left my parole agent. I just said, ‘I can’t deal with this anymore, I’m gonna go and try and get my life together.’ So I took off and I came here to this program.”

Tim said he and his family have finally found a new kind of happiness.

“I finally saw that there was a drug-free life out here. I did know that I had the strength to do it now; I needed a substitute, I needed the tools to work with and the tools were here.

“We finally experienced a different kind of life, me and my family. We finally saw there is happiness out there; there is a lot of things to do together as a family. It was great. All of a sudden life was different — it was like opening a page,” he said.

“It’s a complete turnaround, it was a lifesaver. It was, well, you know, I can’t describe it.”