It was 7 in the morning In Worcester Massachusetts on the fifth floor of UMass Memorial hospital. I'm only guessing it was 7 as there was no clock on the wall. In fact there was nothing on the walls at all beside a few crudely drawn penises and “5 up 6 down”s. The hallways were just beginning to echo with the sounds of staff shouting “time to get up gentlemen” accompanied by the groans of my fellow patients. I sat up in my bed and stretched out my back, feeling the results of the past 10 hours spent lying on springs. I slipped on my “Bob Barkers” and walked down the hallway, just as I had done the past 16 days. At this point I didn't even seem to have to think. I was just running through the actions that had been so thoroughly drilled into me over the previous weeks, but today was different. Today I was actually going to go outside. For the first time in over two weeks, I was going to step foot off the fifth floor, and believe it or not I was dreading it.
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February 23, 2016 marks the most significant event of my life. On that day I stepped through the doors of UMass Memorial Hospital never to be the same again. I aged more during my two weeks there than I did in all my years of high school. I can't fully explain the terror I was feeling that morning as I reluctantly packed my bag with seven days of clothes. It was like staring into the eyes of a lion that was charging right for me. I saw my fate, and there was nothing I could do about it. I knew it was irrational, and I knew I would be okay, but no matter what I told myself, I still felt as if I was about to die.
When we got there I seemed calm but I was just the same scared teenage boy. Only then I was hiding behind the three white pills marked “IP 203” that I had had eaten on the car ride there. That was a mark that would never get out of my head, not even to this day. I didn't know at the time, but those pills would be my last. That's because I was a seventeen year old suffering drug addict, about to enter 16 days of rehab.
My story starts when I was fifteen and picked up my first drug. A lot of teenagers will do the same thing as I did. They experiment a little with drugs as they get into High School. Maybe they get into some trouble with their parents or the school, but in the majority of cases, their problem doesn't go any further than that. Most kids will eventually stop as they enter adulthood. What made my experience different though was my inability to stop. The second I tried substances, I instantly fell in love. It became an everyday necessity to get high. Eventually it became more of an hourly necessity. Real life became unmanageable, and more than a couple hours of real life was cause for a major anxiety attack.
It started with minor drugs but grew into much more. I was always looking for that next level to reach, as the current methods were becoming insufficient. By the summer of my sophomore year, my life was completely consumed by drugs. All my meaningful relationships had vanished. My friends and family had been let down by me for the last time. My depression was at an all time high without anyone for me to confide in. All this is obvious now, but, at the time, I blamed everyone else for my problems. It couldn't be the drugs. No of course not. The drugs were the only ones that were always there for me. I began to attach my identity to my drug use. I wanted to be THAT kid; the kid who parties hardest, the kid who did the craziest things. People saw me and recognized me as the kid that does drugs, and I loved it. I felt that I was finally doing something right, something better than anyone else. Drugs were my life.
On the outside I looked fine, but on the inside I was barely hanging on. It had been so long since I had dealt with an emotion. The drugs did not make them go away though. All those emotions were just piling up, and I knew it. If I ever saw a point in my day where I would run out of drugs, or be unable to get high, an instant panic attack would hit. Because I knew what was coming for me. Imagine three months of emotions just crashing down at you all at once. Three months of friends leaving, three months of making my parents cry, three months of piling school work, all at once. It was enough to make me want to kill myself, and I wanted to all the time.
By halfway through my junior year I was finally ready to admit I had a problem, but I was not willing to fix it. I did not believe for one second that I would ever escape this, so why try? I just wanted my parents to leave me alone and let me live my sad life on my own. They refused to give up though and for that I am grateful. They sent me to more programs, meetings, therapists, and groups than I can count, but nothing worked. At the end of the day I could still go home and find a way to get high, and that's what I did for months. Sometimes I could get pretty sneaky about it, and they would start to think things were getting better, but they never were.
One of these times where they thought things were going well was right before I went into rehab. It was February break and they thought I was over a month sober. I was not even close though. To me this seemed like the best option, I was happy, and so were they. Since they were beginning to feel comfortable again they saw it fit that we go on a family vacation. We traveled to Ireland and stayed with my Grandfather in my Mother's childhood home. The trip was going great, and I managed to stay sober no matter how miserable I was. That all ended on our last night there. Drug addicts can always find a way to get their substance, and I was able to get my hands on some pretty serious stuff.
Not a lot of kids my age can say they almost died, but I can. That night I took more morphine in one half hour than a cancer patient would receive in four days. It was a life changing experience I will never forget. I began showing classic overdose signals like chest pain and ringing in the ears, and I was pretty sure this was the end. It was almost like an out of body experience. I was able to see everything from a new perspective. I saw how screwed up my life had become, how wrong my actions were, and how much pain I was causing the ones around me. I tried writing a note for when my parents found their son dead in the morning, but I was too high.
Two days later I made the best decision of my life to enter rehab. No phone, no outside communication, and no drugs, for over two weeks. I challenge any teenager to go two weeks without their phone or friends and see how they do. Once I was finally off drugs, I was able to truly be myself, and I discovered so much about who I was. I loved the person I was in there and so did the staff. I made that place my home and took every opportunity I could to help out or learn something knew. I became close with kids from very different backgrounds than me. I learned how much there was outside of my small little world, and how fortunate I was to have the support I have.
I matured a lot in there but what changed me the most was an 18 year old girl named Alyssa. I will never forget her. Right from my first day she always went out of her way to ask me how I was doing. Before I even got to know her, she told me she was there if I ever needed somebody to talk to. She was skinny and clearly not in the best health, but she also looked so sweet and innocent. She kept to herself for the most part, but she always had a smile. One day they brought her out to have tests done. I didn't know what they were about, but she seemed nervous so I wrote her a note for when she got back. But she never did. That was the last time I saw her because that day she found out she needed a new liver within a year or she would die. She chose to die doing what she loved and checked herself out. I don't know what ever happened to, her but I know she is probably dead now. I will never forget the kindness she showed me, and I am determined to not follow the same path she did. I carry the note I wrote her that day in my wallet wherever I go to remind me.
I can't let her death be for nothing. I will learn from it and do everything in my power to get better. I know the disease of addiction is something I will suffer with my whole life, but I know it can be controlled. I won't just wake up ten years from now and be able to controll my drug use. I know that, and for that reason I strive to live my life substance free from February 23rd till the day I die. It has been the hardest thing to overcome, but it has been worth it. I consider myself fortunate to have had such a profound experience so early on in my life. I know not many kids get to go through what I have, and I believe It is what distinguishes me from the rest of my peers. I have truly seen what is important in life; I have experienced the tragic loss of a friend, and most importantly I have have overcome a weakness that almost killed me. I am not that scared drug using kid anymore. I truly am an adult.
*note that The names mentioned in this essay have been changed in order to protect the identity of those involved.