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Inside the Mind of an Opioid Addict

A recovered addict shares his story in hopes of killing the stigma surrounding the deadly disease.
opioid addiction, Chris Heide, Christopher Heide, opioid crisis

Christopher Heide, who recounts his struggles with opioid addiction in the following article. Heide is now a substance abuse disorder clinician based in Seattle. (Photo Credit: Chris Monsos)

After a huge battle, I reluctantly agreed to go to treatment. It was a 28 day, abstinence-based program. Despite obvious evidence that I had become both an alcoholic and an addict, I still could not admit it to myself. I had lost the power to control my drinking and using, I experienced withdrawal symptoms, and I continued to use after my injury subsided. I believed that I had a problem with prescription pills and that I simply needed to “cut back.” I didn’t believe I was an addict and that I could simply learn to control my drug use. Denial is such a dominant force. It keeps people stagnant and sick. It is paralyzing and a barrier to the necessary process of change.

Following treatment, I relapsed. I do not believe that treatment was a failure- rather, it was a necessary step on my path towards eventual sobriety.

For the next 1.5 years, I was engaged in a brutal and debilitating relapse, in which my daily existence revolved around drugs and alcohol. I continued to dismiss that drugs and alcohol were the roots of my problem. I could not see that they were the very reason my life was in ruins. I was virtually broke and homeless and the consequences only continued to mount. I was emotionally and physically estranged from my family and most of my friends had long since abandoned me. (And rightfully so.)

Addiction is a disease that exists in the brain––it distorts thinking, twists logic and overrides the positive aspects of your personality. It is a disastrous, cunning and baffling disease that can be difficult to understand from an outsider’s perspective truly. Make no mistake, however: addiction is a disease; a disease that robs a person of the ability to choose whether or not to get high.

My life continued to degenerate. I put myself in unsafe situations and did things I swore that I would never do. The entire point of my existence was to use. I was no longer using to get high––I was merely using to function and survive. My world had become so small. Jail and death became real possibilities. I have never felt so lost, hopeless and broken as I did then.

Finally, I had enough. March 19, 2013, is a date that I will never forget––it is my sobriety date. I finally realized that I had reached a point where continuing to use only guaranteed death. I did not want to die, so I decided to live.

Slowly, but surely, I began to piece my life back together. I got a job, I got an apartment, I made new friends. I amassed a great deal of social support and engaged in services (outpatient therapy for example) that I believed would help me maintain a long-term, quality recovery. I became educated on my disease and prioritized my recovery over everything else. Most importantly, I learned to think of my addiction as a disease. I was not a bad person. Rather, I had been a sick person who needed to get well.

It’s been five years and I am better than I have ever been. I have a career, a home and my self-worth. I have my family. I no longer feel the need to fill that internal void with drugs or alcohol; it has disappeared. Getting sober has been, and will always be, the greatest accomplishment of my life. For the first time in a long time, I was able to prove that I loved myself enough to try and get well.

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    Chris Heide is the recipient of the Kaplan Award for Narrative Journalism and is the co-Founder and ... keep reading