I am a heroin addict. My life is limited to three concerns. The first thing I have to figure out every morning is how to get a bag of heroin into my arm no more than 30 minutes after I wake up. If I fail, I'm dope sick. Then, there are no limits to what I won't do to get heroin.
My second concern is a "hot shot." Too much pure heroin in a bag equals death. Five minutes after the warm rush races through my veins, my brains stops signaling my heart to beat.
But bar none, my major concern is "Cotton Fever." It's when a dirty piece of cotton fiber used to filter the heroin makes it into my bloodstream.
Most addicts don't carry sterile cotton balls or Q-tips. I find a cigarette butt on the ground, in an ashtray, or a garbage barrel. I live for the moment. If it happens, it happens.
When it does, the pressure in my temples feels like a vise squeezing slowly. Sweat pours off my brow. My body trembles uncontrollably. Chills ransack my muscles. My brain fogs and things begin to appear that aren't there.
It usually resolves itself within 12 hours. But if the bacteria take up residency in your heart, you're dead. It's like playing Russian Roulette with a needle.
I pull the trigger about a half-dozen times a day.
That was March 17, 1987.
On April 1, 2016, I will be heroin-free for 28 years. In 1996, I won the du-Pont Columbia. It is arguably the highest award a journalist can receive.
How did I do it?
Habits. According to Psychology Today, habits are formed through a specific type of learning process where we learn different patterns of behaviors.
Here are the seven habits I learned that made me successful.
Success became reality after I completely surrendered to the facts. For years I lived in delusion. I created my own reality. I had an apple on my head and everybody saw it but me.
I was a junkie, plain and simple. I had destroyed my life and everybody's life that loved me. I was sick. I was dying. I surrendered.
2. Hand It Over
My life had spiraled out of control, and I was responsible. Not my father or what happened to "poor me" growing up. Every decision I made had brought me to the place I was standing.
I found somebody I trusted, a sponsor. Somebody who had been sober for 20 years and wasn't emotionally attached to me. I turned my life over and made NO MAJOR DECISIONS for 12 months without my sponsor's approval.
3. The Magic Year
I didn't like the cliché, "One day at a time." I rewrote it. I concentrated on being clean for 12 months. Nothing else mattered; whatever happened daily was irrelevant.
But how could I go 12 months?
I tricked myself into trying it for 12 months, believing if I didn't like how my life had turned around, I could always go back.
Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins that interact with the receptors in the brain and reduce the perception of pain. Ironically, endorphins also trigger a "natural high" in the body, similar to morphine.
The pain I endured the last time I kicked heroin was horrific. If I did not exercise daily, I would not have made it.
Education empowered me. It gave me confidence, willpower, and a new self image. It gave me tremendous ability to advocate for myself, to resist temptation, and the knowledge to realize I could figure things out.
I read every classic novel by Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck. I re-entered college, one course at a time. Then, one day, my brain saw a whole new world.
6. Mind Control
Meditation transports high-frequency brain waves into lower frequency brain waves. Slower wavelengths allow more time before thoughts. The more time between thoughts increased my chances to choose which thoughts to invest in my future.
Back then, my brain was "mocus," a state of confusion, out of focus, as if my brain was spinning like a top trying to dodge the onslaught of thoughts. Mediation slowed the top!
7. Ask for Help
Education taught me that all humans are imperfect. I learned that it was the weak that do not ask for help. I highlighted my imperfections and asked for help in every aspect of my life.
Asking others for help showed me that the biggest enemy I confronted was the person looking back at me in the mirror.
More info @ My Heroin Life.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.