This is part of our True Life interview series, in which we hear about different people’s interesting/amazing/un-nerving experiences. This is the story of Laura* an incredibly funny, smart, driven girl who fell into meth at the end of high school. Tell us about your relationship with drugs and alcohol growing up.
My parents were very open about alcohol and drugs and because there wasn’t a huge air of mystery about the whole deal, I was A Good Kid growing up. I wasn’t afraid to fly my freak flag even if it meant not fitting in with the other kids; I was too academically motivated to jeopardize my glorious future; plus, all my friends were too nerdy to even drink. Then junior year of high school, I fell, hard, for a sort of unsavory guy and ended up following him to lots of parties where binge-drinking and drug use were the order of the day. I actually barely participated: got drunk a few times, maybe smoked pot once, but the environment played arpeggios up and down my repressed inner bad-girl chords.Which drugs did you get into? And how did that happen?By the beginning of senior year of high school, I started a methamphetamine addiction that would last for about two years and didn’t take long to completely control my life. Senior year was the peak of high-stress testing for my academically rigorous diploma program. Between six hours a night of chem homework, applying to a staggering 32 high-caliber universities and spending every weekend sweating blood in debate, I wanted two things: to occasionally feel like a kid again, and to somehow fit thirty hours’ worth of work into a 24-hour day. Oh, and losing forty pounds wouldn’t hurt either. What do you know — methamphetamines seemed to perfectly fit the bill.
One day in calculus, one of my good friends — another repressed bad girl — slipped a tiny baggie of white powder into my textbook. We cut English class to snort it in the girls’ room. By the end of the day, I’d finished two weeks’ worth of assignments, drank a gallon of water, not eaten a morsel and lost six pounds. No exaggeration. Plus, it filled me with confidence and a sense of love for everyone around me. It was love at first snort. She hooked me up with her dealer and I was never without a magic little baggie of my own.
How did you finance your habit?
Babysitting. Is that a small-town cliche or what? But when you’re a high-school girl with no interest in fashion, all of your cash is disposable. I made a few hundred dollars a week on babysitting and snorted at least half of it — usually more. Lord knows I wasn’t spending the money on food. By the time I got to university and was snorting (and by then smoking) even more, I had the good luck to be funded with a very generous quarterly stipend. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I regret funding my habit with money that had been given to me as a gift because I was a promising young student. The only thing I can say about my defense is that at least I was never spun when I was babysitting children. Can’t say the same about being sober while taking my classes, though.
How did it affect your grades/relationships/etc?
That’s one thing about methampetamines: they could definitely be worse for your grades. Often when I got spun, I was insanely productive, practically sneezing out term papers and memorizing text books. That is, when I didn’t get spun and stay up all night obsessively trying on all of my (ever-smaller) clothes or tweezing all the hairs out of my legs. But by the time I neared the end of my addiction, I forgot to ever come down and get sane again. I’d write a eight-page paper in an hour, convinced it was brilliant, then look at it a few weeks later to realize it was absolute raving lunacy. But maybe because I’ve always been obsessively academic, my grades didn’t really suffer: the worst that happened is that I had to drop a class the quarter that my addiction hit its all-time high.
Did the people in your life know you were struggling with this?I tried to keep my addiction a secret from everyone I cared about because I knew they would try to make my stop and in my junkie’s lizard-brain, the most important thing was to keep that from happening. By the time I was in college, I was afraid to speak to my parents and refused to answer their phone calls, for fear that they’d realize something was up. By function of living together, though, my roommates — who were my best friends — realized I had a problem. I’d lock myself up in the room for hours to smoke, then come out as a manic parody of myself. I’d sit in the dining hall with them, picking at a slice of bread, and incessantly smack my mouth which was always cotton-dry despite the gallons of water I drank.
Other people have drug problems, I’d tell them. I just have a drug hobby. And although they sometimes asked me to seek help, they didn’t push it too hard. I think this is partially because they were afraid of completely alienating me, and partially because they — like me — were sheltered academics and had never had any exposure to drug addiction. They wanted to believe that I was right.
Was there a low point that made you decide that you wanted to quit?
I accidentally OD-ed, thank god. My rock-bottom had been flying upward to meet me for a while: after about a year of being almost permanently spun, I’d started suffering from tactile, auditory and visual hallucinations. I’d stay up all night writing pages of whacked-out prose, then become convinced there was a man standing outside my window staring at me, and be too paralyzed with fear to do anything but sit there, my pulse a 220-bpm machine gun.
For the three-week bender that led to my OD, every night when I lay in bed, a rat would chew its way through my brain. I’d smell that vermin sewage scent, feel its feet scrabbling on my cheeks, hear its little jaws closing around my ear drum, then ripping away the walls of my ear canal and getting into my skull. Sometimes I could “catch” the rat and throw it against the wall. Other times, its whole body would get wedged inside my brain, nibbling, nibbling, nibbling, and I would lay there crying until it went away. When it did, I would always stand in front of the mirror for ages, touching my ears and face and amazed not to see any blood.
The day of my OD, I’d been spun for three weeks and had to write a paper, but my mind was already at the brink of insanity and for the first time ever, I couldn’t make words come out. Desperate, I smoked bowl after bowl, trying to regain the feelings of confidence and brilliance that usually accompanied a high. After my last bowl, I had the sensation that my teeth were falling out, so I ran to the mirror. My tongue started talking to me and telling me it would knock out my teeth to punish me — weirdly, my first reaction was horror at the thought of being toothless — who would date me then?!
I realized I was OD-ing and tried to get dressed to go find help, but my hands were melting. If I tried to pick up my jeans, I thought my fingernails would ooze off; when I reached for the door to run outside naked, I thought my hand would liquefy to a puddle of goo and be unable to turn the knob. So I just lay there on the floor, naked, screaming for help until the guy across the hall came in and helped me call the RA.
How did you go about getting help?After I OD-ed, the hospital kept me overnight and made me eat something substantial for the first time in weeks. After they released me, I was still deluded enough to think I could seek help without telling my parents what had been going on. I asked the Residence Dean to help check me into a one-week recovery program in the psych ward of my university’s hospital. But after about an hour there, I realized it wasn’t going to be a hilarious, cinematic Girl, Interrupted experience. I wanted my mommy. So I called my parents, arranged to get a week off of classes, and went home to confess what I’d been doing to the people I’d let down the most. To their everlasting credit, my parents didn’t scream at me once. They force-fed me and watched me every moment of the day, true, but they didn’t tell me how disappointed and angry they were. They just helped me start my life without methamphetamines.
How has your recovery been going?
Recovery was, in many ways, easier that I imagined it would be, after I got through the wrenching experience of admitting to my friends and parents that I had a problem. I immediately cut off ties with my former dealer; cutting off contact with other user friends wasn’t a problem, as I didn’t have any in college. For the first several months, I would seize up with the urgent desire to get spun — I can’t even tell you how many nights I cleared everything out of the drawer where I used to keep my stash and snorted up every stray little dust mite and paint chip, hoping to find a spare crystal. But because I cut off my contacts, I had no way to get drugs, even in my weakest moments, and after being completely clean for a while, the cliche is true: it got easier every day.
One horrifying experience that helped: I stayed at my parents’ house that summer after freshman year, when I was busy getting clean. One night, after I’d been clean a few months, I got a call from my former dealer, who had stopped using because she’d gotten pregnant. She’d had her baby three nights before and called to ask if I could come over and babysit. She and her boyfriend had missed getting spun, and now that they had the baby, they wanted to go out and smoke meth again.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t watch the baby. In no small part because I knew there would be drugs in the house. So I told her no and helped her find somebody else to watch the baby — jesus, that poor baby — so it wasn’t left alone. And the whole time, there was that little voice in my head: this could have been you in five years. Don’t let that happen.
In a few months, I’ll have been five years clean. And most days, when I think about my history as a junkie, it just feels like a movie I’ve watched rather than a life I’ve lived. But every time I smell a dollar bill or watch someone snort a line in a movie, I know that all the obsessive junkie tendencies haven’t just gone away. Even thinking about smoking meth or snorting a line makes my muscles seize up and that old lizard-brain start kicking in again. I still drink moderately, I’ve smoked pot a dozen times or so, I’ve even snorted one or two social lines of coke after being clean on meth, and these things haven’t been triggers for me. But I know I can never do methamphetamines again, not even once, or the junkie beast will come roaring back to life. And I can’t let it happen again.
Any advice for others struggling with addictions?
Tell someone. Right now. You know all those people you’re shutting out of your life because you don’t want them to find out? The reason you don’t want them to find out is that they love you and they will make you stop. But it will be better that way. And if you’re anything like I was, you might be thinking, “I’ll tell them soon. I’m just in too deep now — give me a few months to sort out my life and start recovery one my own!” No. That’s the addiction talking. I don’t care if you’re superman: you cannot quit an addiction on your own. Your friends and family, the people who love you no matter how dumb you’ve been or how much what you’re doing is hurting them, they are what’s going to get you through this. And they’re not going to hate you for it. They only want you to get better.
If telling your friends and family is too big a step, then just tell anyone. Tell a doctor at Planned Parenthood, tell the cashier at the grocery store, heck, email Sarah Von and let her forward it on to me. The secrecy eats away at you just as fast as the drugs do. You don’t have to walk alone.
Have you struggled with addictions? Any questions for Laura?
*Not her real name, obviously.