Names have been changed to protect identities.
Cocaine addiction has many faces.
It is the middle-aged corporate executive who is buckling under the pressure of heavy decisions and long days.
It is the new mom whose long-suppressed trauma from a long-ago rape has surfaced following the birth of her child.
It is the emergency room nurse who is burned-out from the constant life-and-death stress and inhumanly long shifts.
It is the high school student who has been a target of bullies for a long time.
It is the university student who, caught up in a moment of impulsiveness at a social gathering, decided to try it “just once” and could not stop after the first time.
It is the young adult whose anti-anxiety medication is not working, and who just wants some relief from the torment.
It is the man suffering from an alcohol addiction that has mutated into a polysubstance addiction.
It is the parent who has lost a child, the brother who has lost a sister, the husband who has lost a wife, the young boy or girl who has lost a best friend.
Everyone who has experienced a cocaine addiction has a story.
This is Emily’s story.
Desperate for cash
Like many college students, Emily was broke. The meagre funds that she earned doing a soulless low-paying job were not nearly enough to cover her tuition, books and living expenses, let alone the occasional night out with friends. When the opportunity arose for her to sell small amounts of cocaine to her fellow students, she didn’t see the harm. She reasoned that her customers, most of whom had some cash at their disposal, were going to be cocaine users no matter what. And it wasn’t as if she was selling a lot: she just supplied the occasional gram or two to her acquaintances.
In her early days as a drug dealer, Emily wasn’t using cocaine herself. She had no need to get high, she was simply trying to make a bit of extra money. The students liked buying from her: she looked respectable enough, and she was a neatly dressed, well-mannered white girl who seemed a safe enough bet.
During the early days, Emily wasn’t exactly getting rich from selling cocaine, but she was making enough money to ease the crushing financial pressure. Small things sometimes have a way of turning into bigger things, though, and before long, Emily got together with a major cocaine supplier. It was then that she started dealing serious quantities. She still wasn’t using the drugs herself, but she started raking in tidy sums of money.
Then, she made what was probably the biggest mistake someone in her position could make: she fell in love with one of her customers.
James was a heavy user of cocaine, one of Emily’s best customers. Awash with both cash and a steady supply of drugs, she started to casually use when she was in his company. She did not realize until much later that James’s declarations of love and his gestures of affection were merely tools that he was using to gain access to her bottomless pit of cocaine.
As Emily sank deeper and deeper into her cocaine use, the things she had once cared so much about fell by the wayside. She neglected her studies, she withdrew from close friends and family members, and she stopped taking care of herself and her apartment. She fell into a pattern known as the “triple cycle”: getting high, being high, and crashing down from the high. The crash would coincide with a craving for more, and the whole cycle would start again.
Then the inevitable happened: she neglected to pay her supplier, she stopped paying her rent and she ran up her credit cards. The cycle of debt she found herself in got bigger and more vicious with every passing day. At the same time, she and James, both trapped in the web of addiction, started to have vicious arguments. Once, in a state of rage fuelled by cocaine use, he hit her in the face. She went to the hospital, where she received stitches above her eye.
In an all-too-common scenario, the next morning James professed guilt at the attack. He apologized and promised Emily that he would never hit her again. Desperate to feel a sense of love and belonging, she took him back.
By this point, Emily’s life was in tatters. She was so far behind on her rent that she couldn’t keep track of how much she owed her landlord, and she had completely abandoned her studies. Her personal hygiene took a nosedive: she hardly ever washed herself or her clothing, she never brushed her teeth or washed her hair. The few acquaintances remaining in her life dropped away one by one, leaving her alone with an abusive boyfriend.
And still, Emily did not seek help. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, including a crushing sense of guilt every time she came down from a high, she believed that everything was fine. Caught in the long shadow of denial, she could not see past the shame of her drug use to what a life without cocaine might feel like.
It is often said that drug addicts must hit rock bottom before they can be helped. The problem with this is that for many people, rock bottom means death. Fatal overdose, whether accidental or deliberate, is a tragic outcome of cocaine use disorder that happens all too often.
In Emily’s case, rock bottom was a place of utter hopelessness. She knew that there was no chance of her passing any of her college classes. Now that her easy supply of cocaine had dried up, James lost interest in her and left, and her landlord finally evicted her. Alone on the streets with no future and no place to go, and desperate for drugs, Emily resorted to prostitution.
Back from the abyss
The turning point finally came when Emily looked into a mirror in a bathroom stall and realized that the person looking back bore no resemblance to her former self. She realized that unless she hit a reset button and asked someone for help, she would very likely die the way she was living: alone, homeless, and suffering from unbearable anxiety and paranoia.
Terrified of being sent away, she mustered up the courage to talk to her family. Far from chasing her off, they rallied around her and ensured that she would finally get the help she needed. She started with government-funded rehab facilities, and suffered two or three relapses before her family put their heads together and came up with a way to fund a private addiction treatment and rehab program. It was there that Emily started to make real progress. With the drugs out of her system, she learned all over again how to make sound decisions, how to cope with the stresses of life, and how to maintain positive relationships with her loved ones.
Emily’s story has a happy ending. With the help of her doctors and counsellors, she was able to rediscover herself, and set positive goals that she could work towards. She has successfully rebuilt her life, and she still participates actively in her rehab aftercare program activities.
Emily’s message to the world is that a life that has been ruined by drugs can get better. No matter who has fallen to addiction, be it a father or mother, a husband or wife, or a teenage girl like herself, everyone has it in them to fight their addiction and recover.
Photo credit: D. Sinclair Terrasidius. This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.