Tales of a Junkie, Part 4?: Intro to Opiates.
There is a lot of back story to this tale. Eventually, I will cover it all, since all of it made me who I am. Someday, perhaps, I would like to write a book about my experiences. Here at the blog however, I’m going to write about what I feel I need to write about, in the order I need to write about it. So don’t go looking for parts 1 to 3, because they don’t yet exist.
How does one become a junkie? Like comic book superheroes, each of us has our own origin story. Eventually I will delve into more of the sordid back story, since every chapter has its place, but for now we’ll only deal with what happened from the day the radioactive spider bit me. For many, the release of opiates lifts them out of a horrible life; the high is their escape from the pain of reality. I have no such excuse. I didn’t come from a broken home. I wasn’t homeless, or poor, or in an abusive relationship. My friends weren’t junkies. I was firmly in the middle class, with a good job making very decent money for my area, with a loving family and many good friends. There is no sob story leading to my addiction. Sometimes, when pressed for an explanation, I claim my addiction sprang from a horrific injury I suffered, but that has always been a lie. The injury was real enough, but it is nothing but a convenient scapegoat to end an uncomfortable conversation. The blame has always, and will always, belong to no one but me.
It was in late 1998 when I got my first real serving job, with a national Tex-Mex chain that was moving into my area. I loved it, and had a knack for it; within the first year I had become head trainer, head bartender, and was asked to go into management. The money was stupid; my first year I pulled in 52k, the majority of it in unclaimed tips. The hours were also stupid; I was “famous” amongst the management staff for working 60 hour weeks yet somehow not ever going over 40 hours on the clock. Opening, closing, doing my sidework, hell, anytime I didn’t have an active table, I was off the clock, because my money came from my guests, not my paycheck. The money made the long hours worth it, by far, but the long hours on your feet, walking if not running miles upon miles a night, dealing with guests that can range from delightful to oh-my-god-I-want-to-stab-their-eyes-out-with-a-fork leads us to one of the dirty little secrets of the food service industry. Enter any chain restaurant and watch the serving staff buzzing around from table to table to kitchen. Look closely. I’m willing to wager that less than half of them on any night could pass a drug screen, and that’s not including marijuana. I’m not claiming that your server last night was on heroin, although that does go on, it is relatively rare. And although most of the people I’ve worked with wouldn’t turn down cocaine if it was offered, it was mainly a drug for time spent out of work. Prescription pills are the drug of choice for restaurant work, and the amount of pills flying around the average chain is truly mind-blowing. The “Server Cocktail” has no alcohol involved. It’s one part Adipex (an appetite suppressant used to treat obesity) and one part Percocet (used to relieve moderate to severe pain), normally washed down with some form of liquid caffeine. (Since the explosion of ADHD meds on the black market, Adderall sometimes takes the place of the stimulant in the server speedball. Any form of hydrocodone or oxycodone can fill the opiate role. When it’s illegal, you can only buy what is available. The specific ingredients matter little, as long as there is one part speed and one part opiate. Not every server is on anything, but the majority are on at least on part of the cocktail.)
The stimulant part of the cocktail drives you through the long hours while the opiate part calms any jitters and allows you to be the pleasant, personable server the guests (and management) desire. For the majority, their usage never develops into a problem. Many use it only in case of emergency; for the back to back 12 hour weekend shifts, the close/opens with a trip to the bar in the between time, whatever, the pills are labeled “use as needed” and they only come out when needed. Others can use it almost daily, yet somehow never face addiction. I have one friend who has been taking Vicodin and Adipex for work for at least 13 years now. I have to admit a tinge of jealousy that he still only needs half a Vicodin and half an Adipex for the effect, and if he doesn’t have either, he has no ill effect. No sickness, no shakes, no withdrawal. While he’d rather take it, he can honestly take it or leave it.
I am definitely not my friend. I never had any desire to take opiates before this job. Friends of mine took them, (pills, never heroin or the like. I was never around that until I picked it up) but they never interested me. Not that I was straight-edge or anything, believe me, I had my own history with drugs, a history I will lay out in the future. Opiates just were never a part of it. When I started serving I only messed with the Adipex half of the recipe, both for the energy to get through the shift and the insane alcohol tolerance it gave me. (Hey, I had to do something to keep up with the raging alcoholics I was working with.)
But as soon as I took the full cocktail, I knew I found the high I was always looking for. In retrospect, it is easy to say that I should have realized it and backed away quickly. But I thought I was indestructible; at the high point of my life with the road of success in front of me. It’s so cliched, but hindsight truly is 20/20. Some people are predisposed to addiction. I believe some people are wired vulnerable to certain drugs. Long before I had an opiate problem, the signs were there. While my friend could take a half pill nightly, my usage would have to double for the same effect nightly. A friend of ours would get 60 Percocets a month and we would split the prescription. My friend would sell half of his and the other half would last him the month. On the other hand, I would take 1 the first night, 2 the second, 4 the third, 8 the fourth and finish the script on the fifth day. I was still at least a year away from addiction, but that has much more to do with availability than any other factor.
Most people think of opiates as a “downer.” The classic image of a heroin addict nodding in and out seems to be accepted as normal. But most opiate addicts will quickly set you straight. For those of us predisposed for opiate addiction, opiates act as a stimulant. (Getting ahead of myself a bit, but later on when I was heavily on heroin, people used to invite me over and get me high when they needed their house cleaned, because they knew how wired I would get. As long as I was around, no junkie or dealer had a dirty house.) Later on in the story, when I speak of mainlining heroin, it will be easier for me to describe the high. It won’t be any easier for you to understand the feeling; no one who hasn’t shot heroin has any idea what the feeling is like, but it will be easier for me to explain. The buzz from (non-Oxycontin) pain pills is more subtle. I’ve been shy for a large portion of my life. Opiates shattered that, turning me into a full fledged extrovert. The most chaotic situation could be handled calmly and rationally. The most obnoxious customer dealt with. The most attractive guest flirted with and flattered into a big tip. All while feeling great, with no side effects but an itchy nose. My fate was sealed long before I ever picked up a needle, although I can always look back and lie to myself, claiming I had different paths I could have chosen. I spent years of my life looking for love; not family love, I always had that, but the love of a partner. I would spend years of my life choosing drugs over relationships as my abuse grew deeper. But as much as it disgusts me to admit it, when I found opiates, I found something I was always looking for, not that the drug could reciprocate.
I found love.
And that love would cost me practically everything.
Thanks for reading this. I’m honestly not sure if there is any interest in it or not, but it is something that I need to write for me. If others find it interesting, or helpful, or anything, that is great. If not, you can always skip posts labeled Tales of a Junkie. I won’t be offended. Promise. Feedback is always welcome, as are questions if any come up. Next up, I’ll get a little more lighthearted; how about a Sunday Listening Pleasure and perhaps a Wait….What? of the day?