Content warning: drugs, drug addiction, death
My name is Sedona, and I am a heroin addict.
A dear friend of mine asked me to write this and I am grateful for this opportunity. My intention here is to be as honest as I can be. I have a lot of fear right now; it is with a heavy heart that I sit down and try to process the events that have taken place within a community I have become a part of over the past three years. I feel I owe it to my friends to be as vulnerable as I can be, to speak my truth here without shame, guilt, or fear of judgement. I will try my best to honor those who can relate to my experience, and those whose journeys ended before things got better.
My own alcoholic/addict tendencies began when I was 14 years old. It only took a few years to lay the cornerstones that would build up to a full blown heroin addiction by 2012 before I came to Hampshire College in the fall of 2013. I was determined to reinvent myself and have the college experience I dreamed of, free of the confines of heroin. While my use was limited to pills, booze, and pot my first semester at Hampshire, my addiction did not go unnoticed as I had hoped it would. After conversations with concerned peers and experiencing the deaths of two very close friends from heroin overdoses, my secret was out and I checked into a mental health and drug rehabilitation facility in April 2014, leaving Hampshire College.
To make an incredibly long story more bearable to read in this context, the following year looked like this: I moved back to Northampton, went to Greenfield Community College, stayed sober for 6 months, started drinking and smoking weed again, started taking pills again, started doing heroin again, dropped out of school, got fired from my job, hurt a lot of people while feeling familiarly hopeless and miserable. I moved back to my hometown, continued lying to and hurting everyone I loved, broke down once again, got caught doing heroin, and got sent to rehab in Arizona. I have now been sober for 9 months, and while 2,500 miles away from where the chaos took place, I feel as connected as ever because of how real all of this was and continues to be.
I try to provide a brief personal history not to make this about myself in any way—this is much bigger than me or my story. I am simply one heroin addict who has found a way to keep a needle out of my arm. I am a 22 year old suburban kid with a self righteous nature, entitlement issues and unresolved anger and frustration for reasons beyond my own comprehension. I am not unique in my struggles, I am not a hero. This is about the people who struggle, who have lost that sense of hope that things can get better. This is for all of the friends we have seen fall down and not know how to ask for help to get back up. This is for the people too afraid to speak on such a stigmatized topic in our communities. This is for everyone who didn’t know things could be different. Most importantly, this is for those we have lost.
Right now, this is for Will. An individual whose laugh echoed through the bricks of Dakin in its entirety at 3:00 in the morning, whose smile could be seen all the way from FPH while he was sitting at the picnic table in the quad. A beautiful human who lived a very real life, who touched more people than he probably realized. I make a promise to remember Will—to remember the laughs, as well as the tears we shared—to remember the strength he would give to me when I could not find my own.
When we talk about overdoses, especially with drugs like heroin, it is easy to overlook the aspect of humanity of the individual and allow the connotations of the drugs themselves to dominate the conversation. Heroin does not make someone a bad person—it makes them sick. Letting the stigmas of opiate-related deaths overshadow the value of any particular individual is tragic. Whether or not Will was like me or you is irrelevant to the fact that he was a talented, fun-loving, considerate friend, brother and son with dreams he was never afraid to share with the people he loved. A piece of my heart is broken and I know that our world will not be the same without him here. What has happened is devastating, and all I can do now is step out of the silence I have been sitting in for far too long. I owe it to myself, to my friends who are still here, I owe it to those we have lost, and I owe it to Will.
If you are not an addict, I commend you, and encourage you to be safe in whatever you do. Heroin is not a recreational drug. It does not care who you are or where you are from. It does not care about your talents, goals, or aspirations. It does not care about the people you love or those who love you.
Today I am not afraid to come forward with my story. The heroin epidemic is real. This is a call to action for anyone directly or indirectly affected by the issues at hand. If anything, I hope the events that have taken place over the past year will make you feel uneasy and scared enough to take a stand and speak up. I encourage everyone to voice their own experience, to reach out to a friend they see struggling, to contact their families if they know of anyone using heroin. I encourage you to tell your friends you love them every day, to let them know that they matter.
We all know someone who has struggled, we all know someone who we have been afraid for at some point. And when our fears are realized and we feel the weight of the pain impede upon the expectations we place upon ourselves, it is important to remember that we are not alone and we do not have to sit in silence anymore. Shame has prevented me and countless others from taking action.
I am tired of watching my friends die. I am exhausted from the emotional turmoil caused by the perpetual state of worry I am in for those I love and the sleepless nights full of pain and confusion. I refuse to sit idly by while this disease of addiction continues to run rampant in our communities.
For myself, I promise all of you at Hampshire that I will continue to do my best to grow and learn every day, and when I start to lose hope for myself, I promise to think of those who have given it to me in the past. For those people, I am truly grateful.
I will see you in the boy wearing his headphones on the bus, in the kid who just moved in across the street, in the mirror when I wear a hat, and I will see you in my dreams with the others who visit me from time to time. I am no longer just trying to survive—I am allowed to live because of what you have given me. I will carry on, and encourage others to do the same.
If anyone is seeking support for their own addiction or help coping with the addiction of a loved one, please feel free to reach out to me at any time. I am sending strength to you all and have faith that we can come together and make a change.