Whether it’s coke, heroin, or prescription medication, it all happens the same way. You are always un-suspecting your first time, and generally people don’t set out trying to use drugs, or drinking themselves completely stupid every single day. Things happen, and sometimes you end up trying things as almost an accident. The whole course of my life was changed by one event–a trip to my local doctor in Crandon for a minor operation to fix-up an infected toe on my right foot.
The pain was excruciating. For several months before I went to see the doctor my big toe was infected beyond belief. It was black and blue, basically just a big pocket of puss. The slightest touch was enough to send me into almost crying-pain. At some points it got so bad that I had to use a walking cane in order to get around. My mother finally took me to the doctor. My toe nail had to be cut; it was in-grown and caused a continuous infection. It simply wouldn’t heal on its own. My doctor that day was a Dr. Bradner, a real old-time doctor–my mother remembers him being her doctor when she was just a child. He was a good man, and widely respected in the community. It was March 2001. I had just turned 16 years old. I had never had a drink of alcohol, never had a puff of MJ in my lungs; I did smoke cigarettes but this was very casual. I was not in any way, shape, or form a drug user. I knew that dope was bad. I knew that my father destroyed his entire life with alcohol, and even at this young age I had a healthy fear of drugs and alcohol in general.
When we got to the clinic, both my mom and I were ushered into one of the back, examination rooms. Dr. Bradner explained to me that he was going to have to numb my toe with lidocaine, peel back the toe flesh by cutting it with a scalpel, and then cut the nail and remove a section of it right out of the root. “Am I going to feel this Doc?” I said.
“No, we’re going to numb you up real good. You shouldn’t feel a thing,” was his answer. Great, I was ready to go.
My mother went back to the waiting room while Dr. Bradner and his nurse’s aide prepared to cut. He gave me some injections and asked me if I felt anything. “I don’t think so,” was the answer. He began to cut with the scalpel.
The first few cuts I didn’t feel, but when he got to the nail itself, which was surrounded by nothing but infected flesh, I began to feel, hell, I began to scream because I could feel everything.
The doctor stopped for a second – “You can feel that?!?”
Ooh yeah, I was screaming, and I was crying. My wailing was so loud that my mother heard it in the waiting room, her instinct kicked in, and she came running back to me. I was holding the nurse’s hand, and Bradner told me something to the effect of: “Well Matthew, we’re already so far in, and your toe is so infected that the lidocaine isn’t helping, but I have to continue. This is going to hurt, I’m sorry.” By this point Bradner was obviously shaken by my screams–he was pouring sweat, and I could tell that he was very focused on the task at hand, shaken, but confident still. When he finally cut the nail he began to rip it out of its root. I cannot explain this torture; pain shot like white lightning through every fiber in my body. A bullet train of agony that derailed in terrible flames in the inner cortex of my mind. I had never felt anything like that before, and I’m sure that my screams were enough to unsettle the entire staff, and probably a few patients. All of a sudden this little country clinic where people went for a cold or flu was feeling like a triage unit on some field of war. I’m sure that some people probably thought I had been shot or stabbed, it was that bad.
God, thankfully Bradner finished. At this point my mother was there, and the nurse was released from the pit-bull like grip of my hand. I was panting like a dog, red as a tomato, and Bradner was looking about the same way. My mother was crying. I only remember her crying in front of me a few times in my life–this was one. This was totally different than anyone expected. My mother was asking Bradner what he was going to do for me; “Will you give him antibiotics? Should I give him some aspirin? Maybe you can prescribe Tylenol #3?”.
I remember this very clearly. He said, “No, I don’t think I’ll give him Tylenol 3. Believe it or not those things just make children tired. I’m going to prescribe him something called Vicodin, better for pain, much better.” The poor man was so shaken, I haven’t seen a doctor like that EVER, before or since. He looked as if he had just stabbed me and felt all the worse for it!
We went to the pharmacy and got my pain medication and some antibiotics. Fifteen Vicodin and a bottle of antibiotics. Now the drive from town to my house is 32 miles; takes a modest driver about 40 minutes to get there. I have driven this road more times than anyone can count, but this ride was different. We started the journey when I was still young and innocent. By the time we got home I would never be innocent again. I was completely transformed in that short span of time. I took 1 Vicodin thinking it was going to be similar to ibuprofen, but it was not so; this was something else, this was an OPIATE, and I fell deeply in love with it immediately. Changed forever.
My mother went out of the country to lead a class trip. She left me the bottle, and in the care of my grandma I began to take these and just felt so wonderful. I was at school, I had a crush on this girl (you know who you are!), and I felt that I could finally ask her out. I felt invincible. I felt no pain, my mind was clear, my soul felt purified as if by the touch of God himself. I couldn’t imagine that this was the beginning to the darkest period for me and any of my friends that were along for the ride.
I suppose, on reflection, that my addiction and morbid compulsion didn’t start right away; it was a very gradual thing. I remembered the name on that prescription bottle, and whenever I bumped into it in a friend’s parents’ medicine cabinet I made sure to swipe a few. This happened only every few months or so, but it was graduating, ever so slowly, into a mushroom cloud of mental and spiritual darkness. Hydros turned to Oxies which turned into Morphine and finally Heroin. Along the way, inevitably, you pick up things like cocaine, speed, and grass – the same goes for picking up methods; at some point every opiate user will begin intravenous injecting, and then the real trouble starts. You stay up at night worrying about Hepatitis, necrotic abscesses and AIDS. There is no real way out; if you have access you have problems.
The lowest point for me started in the summer of 2005. I had several good friends, all of them by now were drug people; my true friends had to turn their back, and I don’t blame them at all. I wasn’t a person anymore–I was a monster. Great people like Matt D. and Mike D. had had enough, so to fill my contacts I made friends with people like Peanut (who was actually a great guy, but sick people run together in packs, like wolves), Anna, and others who I don’t care to mention. Heroin by this time was my gold, but I was just snorting it at the time as the worst was yet to come.
I fell in love with a girl that summer, deeply in love, and at the same time I was using whatever I could get my hands on. I was forced into a corner where I had to try my best to maintain while also following love. This culminated into a fateful trip to Chicago on a heroin run (my first)– the strangest experience for a country boy.
Peanut was my mother’s age–a streetwise dude who grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago, just bordering the near west side. The west side of Chicago is a Disneyland for junkies of all persuasion. It’s a quagmire of violence, sex, hate, racism and enormous danger. Garfield Park is 98% African American, so for once in my life I stood out, and Peanut had to give me a run down on the rules we would be playing by on that fateful July night.
“I’m going to tell you exactly what to do; when I say turn you turn; if I tell you to punch a guy, you punch him. This is going to be dangerous, but if you listen to me everything will be fine,” Peanut said. This was my first visit to Chicago, and I didn’t start getting scared until we got to the West Side Proper, and then fear gripped me; I was very scared man. I was terrified out of my mind. We made our way north on Pulaski until we got to a “spot” (term for Chicago’s open air drug markets). At a spot the way it works is that you ride by with your window half down, then guys running the operation will literally shout at you as you pass by slowly, “rocks” or “blows” (crack and heroin). The operation was sophisticated. Gangs of Vice Lords or Gangster Disciples had certain blocks that they controlled. When you went to a certain block you had to be waved up the block by a guy that was checking everything out. If you didn’t get the OK from him, you weren’t going to be able to buy anything. Worst case scenario, you may get shot.
The first spot we got to was I guess some friends of Peanut’s; we even got out of the car!! I was almost shaking to death, but Peanut was cool: “You don’t have to worry about anything here. Reggie runs this block. Reggie and I go way back”. So, here we were, just hanging out on the porch of a dilapidated home, Peanut’s son Stoney was with us– maybe he was 2 at the time. He was playing with Reggie’s son of the same age while ten feet away a group of 10 guys was selling as cars kept coming up. It was insane. I felt insane. I had never seen anything like this, even in the movies. I felt guilty too because I allowed Peanut to bring Stoney with us. I still feel guilty about that to this day. As a 20 year I had no business being there, and Stoney certainly should have been much farther away.
We bought a few “bags” of heroin, which cost 10$ a piece. We were going to drive around to a few different spots, try a bag at each spot and then return to the best spot to make a bigger purchase. Peanut opened my bag, put it on a pack of smokes, pushed it toward me and I snorted it as I was still driving the car. Almost instantly I had no fear of where I was. I could have been in Mogadishu. I could have been in the middle of a great battle and it didn’t matter. I was more than ready to dance all night long with the devil.
We went to a few more spots–all this occurred at night, which is the worst time to be in the ghetto. We weren’t very impressed and decided that it was getting too late to operate safely, so we parked outside a park on the near north side, which is much safer, and called it a night.
The next morning I woke up and just felt petrified again. I told Peanut that we were going to go to the first spot and make our big purchase. The stuff could have been chalk dust at that point, but I didn’t care. It was high time to get out of the city. We went back into the Ghetto, which was all the more scary because now it was daytime and I could see everything. Now I knew what to be afraid about. We saw a dude, flagged him down, and I bought maybe 15 or 20 bags from him. “Let’s get out of here Peanut.” was all I said
“One more quick stop.” he said. “I have to do a line before we get heading back”.
Fine, whatever. Back to the park we went, and by this time Peanut’s girlfriend was there. I jumped into the back seat of her car, Peanut being in front with his girlfriend. I remember watching them blow their entire bags in one shot; “Good stuff, good stuff.” I thought that I would have the tolerance to do the same, so I opened up and blew my bag, all at once. The last thing I remember was saying, “Yeah, that is good stuff,” and then…lights out.
The next thing I remember was Peanut stabbing me in the shoulder with a pen to wake me up. I had OD’ed, and I was in serious trouble. The feeling was something like drinking 3 bottles of vodka in the space of 5 minutes. My field of view was dark and kept closing in. I just wanted to go back to sleep, but Peanut was keeping me up; “Talk to me Matt, talk to me, HEY, wake the fuck up, c’mon, do you like baseball? Let’s talk about baseball.” He hustled me out of the car and across the street to the park where I was just about put into the fountain. I was in a lot of trouble…..
When you OD on opiates there is a period of time I like to call “the Flash”. If you “Flash Out” and no one is around to help you, then you’re dead. The important thing is to keep someone awake long enough for the first rush to get out of their system; depending on the person this could be about 45 minutes. Falling asleep means that you quit breathing. I only found out later that the summer of 2005 was unique to the City of Chicago because some operations started cutting their dope with Fentanyl, which is one of the most powerful synthetic opiates known to man. This is something like using Everclear to cut regular vodka–you get a very much more potent product. A lot of junkies died in the city that year, and I was a hair away from becoming a statistic, but Peanut saved my life. I wouldn’t be around for him a year later when he was shot to death, only a few blocks from that first spot–a tragedy. I still think about him all the time, and I miss him.
Despite all the things I had seen and all the pain and trouble that is endemic to being a junkie, I still didn’t stop. I brought my habit with me to Poland in 2006 and ended up losing the most beautiful and lovely girl I had ever met. I stole money from my workplace, I burned my family and my friends ever more, and upon my return from that Poland trip I degenerated into a suicidal wreck.
Renee was there to witness my downfall. Renee was there to see the madness that I had become. No longer a man. I was closer to a sociopathic mad man. I remember getting messed up and burning an 8 inch by 1 inch section of my inner right arm, just to get the track marks out (Renee also witnessed this, with absolute terror in her eyes–how could anyone do that?). I lost many more friends in this time; even hardened drug buddies of mine were walking away; I was just too crazy for even them.
I couldn’t hold a job for more than a few months. I couldn’t pay my bills and got kicked out of my apartment, which I really loved. It was a shame to lose that place. By the very end I was so incredibly depressed that I would spend every cent on opiates, just to remove the pain for a short time, which in turn would make me even more depressed for being broke. I was on a collision course. My family even staged an intervention, which I refused on its face. I should have taken the offer because what ended up happening was worse than I could ever imagine.
I was in a little shit apartment on the outskirts of my town. I was very unhappy. I had just lost a great job at Shopko because of my poor attendance among other things. I really wanted to die at this point, but I didn’t even have the guts to put a gun to my head, or fill a syringe with liquid DrainO and fire away into oblivion. Next door to me was a hardened criminal type. The guy was a real scum bag. He looked like a “meth skeleton”. We made easy friends….7 years before this I would never have given this shit-head the time of day; that’s how incredibly overboard I had gone.
We used to get together and smoke dope. During these times we would be all messed up and talk about all sorts of criminal stuff–just real fantasy type stuff. This guy would tell me about his dirty deeds, being in prison, being on meth, etc. I would gloat about my thief like ways and all of my black adventures. Looking back makes me realize that I would have locked me up if I were a cop.
One of these nights we had been smoking and I started to explain a fantasy plan I had of making a perfect robbery on a local pharmacy, just total madness. It was very unrealistic. I didn’t even own a gun, and I had never even hurt another person physically…, but you would never know that by the way I was talking. This guy got a real kick out of it. He went back to his apartment and told his girlfriend, who didn’t understand that it was a fantasy, nothing more. She ended up telling her employer, who in turn called the sheriff. The sheriff ended up surprising this guy and compelled him to wear a wire on me the very next night. The police put me under surveillance that day, and at one point they lost me and scrambled cops to a few different pharmacies just in case I popped up with machine guns, armor piercing rounds, bullet proof vests, and what the hell, maybe even a TANK. They didn’t know me, and I had no idea I was being watched.
That was indeed a fateful night; probably the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. The guy showed up to my place right after I had gotten home. He brought some MJ with him, and we began to smoke. Little did I know there were 4 detectives and several units of regular police decked out with machine guns, all around the building, just waiting for the go. After we smoked we were just talking gibberish again, but this guy was on a mission. He started, “So, remember that thing you were talking about last night? Well, that sounds pretty cool man. Why don’t you tell me how that would go again?”
Like a complete fool I started talking about the fantasy again, with all the dramatic inclusions of bullet proof vests, lots of guns, and a suicidal approach. Not only that, but I just had to brag about literally almost every crime I had committed in the last 3 years. It was such a foolish thing to do. I was singing like a canary. I was downright delusional.
This guy left my place, and about 10 minutes after he left I got a friendly knock at my door. I opened the door only to see 3 detectives and 2 heavily armed deputies; I think the mix was 3 machine guns and 2 pistols, all of them aimed right at my face. I was beyond shocked. I don’t think I could even talk, let alone move. I had this feeling, all at once, a very strange feeling that I never had before. It was a feeling of absolutely knowing that whatever happened in my life before that moment and what ever happened after were two completely different things. Nothing as I knew it would ever be the same. It was a revelation that came on all at once, a flood. In that instant I was cured of trouble. That moment did more for me than 45 days of drug treatment, more than 5 months in jail, more than anything. It was very powerful. I knew that I was going to do anything to make sure THAT never, ever happened again….
My ordeal into being a junkie lasted from March 15, 2001 until February 1, 2008, just short of 7 years. It’s coming up on the two year anniversary of me being arrested, and I haven’t had any problems. I moved to Oshkosh determined to change my life, and I have!! I hold 3 jobs at this point, have never missed my rent or failed to keep my serious commitments. I am learning to heal. Things are still a struggle from time to time, but I’m doing very well. I have my plans all lined up now to go back to Europe. I have made amends with my family and old friends. Just last week I saw Matt D. for the first time in 2 years. I have the opportunity now to really be sorry, to make all the amends I have to make, as well as have a clean view and live the life of a man raised well by his family.
I’ve been waiting a long time to tell this story, and I feel that all of you deserve to know all this. I have no problem talking about it anymore. I am a changed man, a different man. My road out of all of this is still very long, but I suppose that I will walk it and live my dreams again.
Let this be a warning to all of you; keep your guard up. I take responsibility for the terrible things I did in those 7 years, but I always remember that it all started with a trip to a local doctor, a single stroke of amazing bad luck, but these things will happen to us all to one degree or another, for our entire life. As bad as all these things were, I thank God for the lesson, and I feel smarter and stronger for all the trouble.
Thank you all who have stood by me, or have come back to me in the time since I’ve gotten out of jail. Even if you have forgiven me I still have a long way to go to forgive myself, a lot of guilt left to be dealt with. But, I’m finally dealing with it, thank God.