Heroin: A Life or Death Matter

Thank you, Mr. Hoffman. There's a hard-to-swallow adage within the 12-step recovery community: "Some have to die, so others may live."

This week brought the sad, sad news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death. The Oscar-winning actor, a fellow recovering addict succumbed to the disease of addiction after a heroin overdose on February 2, 2014.

This gigantically talented actor had been drug-free for 23 years before he reportedly relapsed on prescription pills last year but is now dead at 46-years old from an apparent heroin overdose. A friend found him with a syringe dangling from his arm.

It reminds me of my heroin overdose in 1983, when a coworker and security guards found me, sprawled over my desk, alone in my office at the Association of Allied Health Professionals, more dead than alive -- breathing only 7 times per minute, with a syringe dangling from my wrist.

I flatlined three times in the ambulance. The paramedics who saved my life dubbed me, "The Woman Who Died and Kept Coming Back." Then at the hospital, my left lung collapsed and I put on a respirator.

I know it was only through God's grace that I lived to tell my story. That 1983 overdose was the beginning of my rock-bottom experience. Within months of my own overdose, my get-high buddy overdosed on heroin and died. Had I not had a temp job assignment that day, I would have surely been with her. Having a son who needed me wasn't enough to stop me. It took my hospitalization and her death before I made the call and asked for help in getting into a 6-month addictions treatment program.

Now, almost 29 years into my recovery, Mr. Hoffman's death reminds me that no matter how long one has been drug-free, recovering from addiction is a process not an event.

Contrary to what most people think, addiction does not go away. There is no magic pill to take. No poof and it's gone. Addicts are in a constant spiritual, emotional and physical battle to remain drug-free and live our lives as productive members of society.

I hope to celebrate 29 years drug-free in May of this year, yet there are still days when drugs seem to take on a voice and bombard my thoughts with whispers, even going so far as to use my old street name. Stacey, you can use safely now. It's been so long since you've had one. You're really not an addict. You can do this!

I fight myself. Nah, you lie! My thought counter the whispers with another 12-step adage, "One is too many and a thousand is never enough."

Mr. Hoffman's death reminds me that it's never over. Heroin addiction seems to lay insidiously dormant until the right set of circumstances and triggers tailor-made specifically for you presents themselves. Active addiction can be lethal. Before you realize that danger is imminent, it pounces on you like a panther on its prey. No one is exempt -- not mothers, not sons, not even award-winning actors with opportunities in front of them.

I had a great friend who hadn't touched heroin or any other drug for 16 years. I got a call one day with the news that her grandson came home from school and found her dead from a heroin overdose. The news of her death crushed me! After the call, I cried and broke the stark stillness in my apartment with angry shouts, as if she could hear me. "Why, why... how could you be that stupid? We've come so far together. Why did you have to go out like that?"

But it wasn't stupidity... it was the relentless threat of addiction. Her death, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman's was a reminder. No matter how long I've been drug-free, I must remain vigilant and proactive in my recovery process DAILY, as if my life depends on it -- because it does! The next hit of heroin could very well be my last one.

I'd rather live, share my experiences, strengths and hopes so that others may live.

Dear Heavenly Father, I admit that I am powerless over my addiction. I admit that my life is unmanageable when I try to control it. God, help me stay on the path. Amen. So be it!