Saturday, I showed up at the tail end of an event sponsored by Fitness to Recover and Recovery Strong that was raising awareness for mental health. I saw someone I knew and called out her name. We’ll call her Lisa. To my delight, she came running over and gave me a big hug and told me I looked a lot healthier than the last time she saw me. That was fair, I was thinking the same thing about her. Years ago we used to do drugs together.
The last time I had seen Lisa was about eight years ago. We had just “picked up” from her dealer and gone back to her apartment to use. I would often just do the stuff in my car, but she had a rule not to after having been busted in her car just a block away from her apartment. As soon as we got to her apartment I pulled out all the paraphernalia I kept in a sunglasses case. My little kit included syringes, a spoon, a lighter, Q-tips, hand sanitizer, heroin and sometimes cocaine — I rarely left home without it. If it were labeled with “just add water,” it would be everything one would need to get the job done. But most drug users have their own tools and rituals.
This was my ritual: I would suck water into the syringe and set that aside. I would next place the heroin into the spoon and then pick up the syringe and squeeze the water out over the gooey substance and I’d see swirls of brown in the water as the heroin started to breakdown. Heroin would actually breakdown totally without heat, but nobody has time for that, so heat is applied to accelerate the process.
I would take the hand sanitizer and squeeze a little out onto a flat surface and light the clear gel, creating a clean blue flame. I’d use that flame to heat the spoon so that the spoon wouldn’t get a bunch of hard-to-clean soot all over everything inside my kit like you do if you take a lighter’s butane flame to the bottom of the spoon.
With a little swirling of the spoon, the brown solution would be ready.
If I was doing cocaine in that shot, I’d sprinkle it on at this point.
Next, I’d tear off a piece of cotton from one of the Q-tip ends, ball it up and slide it over the tip of the syringe. This would help filter out any of the cheap fillers that the heroin had been cut with that were not water soluble. Once I had the warm liquid in hand it would take less than 10 seconds to pierce the large vein in my neck, pull up on the plunger causing some blood to enter the syringe and make sure I was in clean and then push down with my thumb and let the drugs rush into my bloodstream.
By the time the plunger stopped, I would feel the familiar euphoric warmth sweeping through my body. I’d close my eyes take a deep breath in through my nose and out my mouth and feel my head buzz.
Those are the steps I went through that day in Lisa’s apartment. It’s what I did every time. It’s a ritual. Everyone had different ways of getting there. Lisa used some sort of rubber hose or rope to tie off when she shot up. This is because it was much more difficult for her to find her veins. I remember that day well because 10 minutes after I had shot up, Lisa still hadn’t hit a vein.
She had poked herself dozens of times. There were bruises all over her arms from recent attempts in days prior. I remembered feeling sick as I watched her poke herself over and over, dulling her needle and causing it to become more and more difficult. She tried several of her previously used needles to find one that could puncture one of her veins rather than push it aside or cause it to roll. After watching her try her feet and then “miss” in her arm, I insisted on helping. (Missing is when you try to shoot into your vein, but end up pushing some of the solution into tissue. This stings, bad!)
I was able to find a good spot on her and do it for her. I actually felt good about having “helped.” I remember feeling bad for her, not for looking so awful or for slowly killing herself right alongside me, but because she couldn’t get the drug into her and it was right there. We were in really bad shape back then.
I have seen some recent failures with people I know and it has been a little depressing. My motivation for going to this event was to see the successes, and that’s exactly what I found. It was beautiful. It was a really special treat to see Lisa though. Not the Lisa I knew eight years ago, but this completely different vibrant, beautiful young woman smiling in front of me, happy and healthy. There is hope. We can recover.