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Why Heroin Should Be Legalized: A Story

Legalize Marijuana, Because It's So Harmless ~ Legalize Heroin, Because It's So Dangerous

By Punkerslut

Image by Thomas Marthinsen, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 License
Image: By SasaSi, CC BY-NC-SA License

Start Date: February 28, 2011
Finish Date: February 28, 2011

"I notice that many people never laugh when they are alone and I suppose that if a man doesn't laugh when he is alone his inner life must be relatively barren."

--George Orwell, 1940
"New Words"

     Heroin -- the greatest high imaginable. Before trying it, my mind was full of all the popular and even underground conceptions of drug use, from DARE propaganda and government "educational films" to Hunter S. Thompson and Allen Ginsberg, from "I saw the best minds of my generation..." to "We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine..." From the misery of loser junkies in Trainspotting to the adventurousness of the Drugstore Cowboy -- from heroin users screaming about the death of their neglected infant, to some craft addict picking the locks on backdoors of pharmacies.

     From sources I respected, like the underground writers who lived through it, to the most respectable of society's reputable figures, little positive has been said specifically of this substance, heroin. I even remember the most popular of Erowid's reports on heroin as I put it into my veins: "a great void, full of warmth, but still a nothingness."

     So, after seeing almost everybody fail personally from using heroin, I guess the question of "why?" still comes up. Curiosity played the strongest role, and for some vague reason, I was expecting it to be similar to a variety of other drugs I tried: painkillers, psychedelics, stimulants, but heroin is so completely different. Some people think of it simply as the epitome of all drugs, but for me, in my involvement, heroin was completely different from everything I had tried. "Pure love," is the phrase that comes to mind. Or, occasionally, "an LSD trip where absolutely nothing can go wrong." Sure, I needed to know what it was like for myself, so I traveled down the tunnel with a thousand warning signs telling me to turn back. For me, after just a few moments of stumbling in the dark, I found a rock and pulled out it from a crevice -- revealing the warmest spring day on the other side, birds chirping and squirrels chasing each other. Yes, after fumbling in the darkness and finding my place, heroin was a matter of skipping through a Spring Day.

     I was much more "lucky" than others, I suppose. My training with psychedelics certainly gave me a strong advantage. While I only played with heroin a few times, my interest with heroin lasted very briefly. In many ways I expected I might have an unbelievable experience with it, like I might be the one to reach into the glowing pit and putt out something beautiful from something that produced so much evil. In the words of Bill Hicks, "Never murdered anyone, never raped anyone, never robbed anyone - laughed my ass off, went and about my day." This is the appropriate response that covers my experience with heroin. There was never addiction, never loss of my interests in hobbies, or anything in general that might be considered the sacrifice of my soul.

     I was not ever arrested for it either -- a situation that differs from my use of cannabis or psychedelics. Essentially, the experience was an intense, painkiller high, with a strong hallucinatory aspect. I was half-disappointed. It was not the tidal wave of pleasure that is often described, but it's not too far from that, either. I wanted to think for a while that those who lost everything to heroin were taken in by something that simply overpowered them. Even then, I still experimented. While I may have learned a bit about myself, the involvement with others has given me a great amount of perspective and knowledge. Essentially, nine out of ten people I saw use it became addicted, and did lose everything. Either their addiction destroyed them, or when they rejected heroin, the rejection destroyed them. Once you have that taste, you cannot forget it. And after it, you may never be satisfied by anything else.

     But I was the one out of ten who got away. It was never something that consumed my consciousness, but was only something curious and interesting that rarely entered my mind's frame of view. There were new jewels or treasures hiding in the cave, but I didn't experience addiction or a destroyed life. Just a few tastes here and there. What I may have gained, though, is a better understanding of those who do suffer from absolute compulsion toward heroin.

     So, why did I survive? Why was I the one who looked into the throat of the monster, only to be turned away, as though unfit food? If I had to answer any of these, I would say I survived because of will-power. This is probably and most immediately misinterpreted as, "Heroin was a great feeling, and I had the strength to reject it and live cleanly." Living "clean" has nothing to do with will-power. I gave up heroin because I realized that it would not help me achieve what I wanted to do. I left it behind not because of my struggle against addictive intoxication -- but because of that finite struggle between myself and the world around me, where I try to reach the fullest development of my unique individuality. It is part of that infinite struggle, played out on a planet of people who are different but similar enough. That, and smoking marijuana while on heroin gives you the most unpleasant, spinning dizziness imaginable. But I hate to think of myself as special, as my understanding of will-power came not from my experience, but from watching those around me.

     Those people who became addicted to heroin, what were they like before? It's an amazing question to ask, largely because many of them are completely normal in every imaginable way. There was no inherent or particular weakness in anyone I met addicted to heroin. I became very convinced that it is the mainstream culture that prepares these creatures for subservience to dope dealers. It is our popular, capitalist, patriotic, religious order of society that gives people nothing to live for except themselves. If there is no one to live for, but yourself, then heroin should be acceptable to society. To rip open a vein in your flesh, see it back back and forth away from the needle like an insect running from a shadow, and then to penetrate it with that black, mucky dirt -- it's only a few degrees away from enjoying television, honestly. You perform a single, meaningless ritual to "turn on" so that you don't have to entertain yourself by thinking. This "spiritual emptiness" just catches more attention with heroin users. After all, why would the same alienation from civilization produce a mind-numbed, media-fixated consumers on one hand -- and an overdosing, limp junky on the other? There must obviously be a relationship, between society's sanctioned and criminal forms of destroying your memorable experiences for the sake of immediate and shallow gratification. The acceptability of television and the illicit nature of heroin, though, obscures the similarity between the two.

     Let me take an example that fits this thinking well. A friend, who I will call Harold, I knew somewhat before he became fully addicted to heroin. My knowledge of his experience, then, is a knowledge of the full transformation that can take place. Before heroin, he was an alcoholic who spent his nights at punk rock shows, coming home sometimes with vomit stains. But wait, there's more -- he was a supervisor at where I worked, edging on manager. At least 40 years old, he was involved with an adorable girl at least two decades younger. I remember the pride he talked about in his work -- when he lost his job, anyway. "I hate fucking working," he said, "I could never do it! But I have no problem telling people, 'Hey, get back to work!'" Obviously, as I was a subordinate at his company (not his subordinate), I didn't like him very much. Here, you can see how society's values encouraged everything reckless in this person: do what is good for you and nobody else. Do what comes easy, do what is simple, do what is put before you, do what you won't have any obstruction from, do anything you want, and never consider others as you consider yourself.

     The phrase "I lost my car, then my house, then my wife, then my job," exactly applies to Harold, though his job was lost first and his girlfriend last. His selfishness was obvious: as a supervisor, he blew his money on booze and shows, flat screen television sets and leather jackets. Trading his paychecks for whatever felt good, this is what society set him up as. When he got addicted, he gave away a $300 TV set for $15 worth of dope. It was the most pathetic sight I have ever seen. AT first, the dope dealer offered 2 bags, or $30 worth, and Harold said he'd think about it. Only 1 hour later, he called the dealer and agreed, to which the dealer said, "No, it's only worth about $15 to me now." And, he took it, without arguing. In his "respectable" life, anxiety encouraged Harold to do whatever was good for him -- and rewarded him for it. In his "addicted" life, he's still believing the same, but I guess he judged the high to be an efficient switch.

     A man gets paid to watch others work while enjoying society's luxuries. The same man a month later gets up at 5 am to get a job at Labor Ready, after sleeping in trash. The work is shit -- digging holes, and the pay is always the smallest amount they are legally required to pay. And it's not uncommon for the managers to steal half your paycheck, then and there, either. I've seen this happen more than once, as a tactic directed largely against non-English speakers. This man, Harold, made such a significant change in such a short while, but I still see the same man. I still see the same person, chasing the same stimuli, in search of the same satisfaction. His girlfriend left him after he struck her, in an argument over who was gonna get high first. Last I heard from her, she was clean and staying that way with a Bupronorphrine treatment. Last I knew of him, he was living in close quarters with others in the same position.

     Now let me give a character of an addict I liked. His name was Mason. Everything about him was different than you'd see in Harold. Mason was a blue-collar worker, laboring everyday in some shitty factory, but at least he made a decent rate. He was very friendly, and a quality rare among heroin users, he was actually quite generous. Yet he was still stuck in the frame of mind you could see in Harold, or anyone, who was raised in the "consume-all culture." Like Harold, he drank a lot, previously having been an alcoholic. On both of their parts, as well as that of their friends and other users, they avoided Marijuana like the plague. As one heroin-loving friend remarked, "It makes you think," and alcohol, though potent in releasing emotions, is fairly suited to the interests of those who don't want to think. Unlike Harold, Mason had been a heroin user for years, nearly a decade or more. As far as integrating with society, he was the most socially adjusted user or non-user I had met in a very long time. But, also unlike Harold, Mason felt bad about his heroin use. He often remarked, "You know I'm a Catholic, right? I'm just not a very good Catholic." Harold's world spun out of control when he marched into that cave. Much worse happened to Mason when he tried to leave it.

     I have no idea how someone does something, every morning of every day, and then one day decides to stop. But Mason could do it, and in that act, probably showed more will-power than me in avoiding addiction. He didn't just quit for a day or a week. It was months and months. The profound personality change of Mason was noticeable to everyone. At first, it was just determination clearly in his voice, but maybe I noticed it most of all: he began losing his well-deserved, social adjustment. In the beginning, he attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings two or three times a week. I disapproved of such openly puritanical methods of "drug treatment." In fact, the whole city was -- bars here would give you a free beer for AA tokens (coins they give you at AA meetings to prove how long you've been sober). I obviously was not saying that Mason should use some heroin, but that he was developing very negative attitudes to life in general. Only a week or two after being "saved," he even chastised me for smoking weed, which bewildered me for a bit -- to be called an addict by someone who just quit heroin recently. His phrasing was not too convince, "Just trying to forget everything, right?" I didn't say it, because he was going through a rough transition, but I felt like responding, "No, I'm not like from two weeks ago."

     Mason's behavior became less and less stable in the coming months of sobriety. He went to more AA and NA meetings, where he drowned his misery in their coffee and tobacco. These conferences were three to four hours long, and what he described as "listening to a lot of unhappy stories." I began to notice his addiction to anti-addiction meetings when he attended three meetings in a single day. His week was work, then a meeting after work, and his weekend was 3 meetings Saturday, and church with two meetings on Sunday. At this point, Mason changed from the friend whom I had known for so long. He was always so miserably serious, never making jokes anymore, and there seemed to be so few moments where we could get along together. His abhorrence of all drug use led him to reject even my friendship, since I could act as a trigger for heroin intoxication, since I smoked Marijuana. We never clicked anymore: the gang of the heroin-user and the pot-smoker had to break up when the heroin-user went clean.

     As time continued, he became more erratic. He gave up coffee and tobacco, fending off anything that could be habit-forming. His intensification in his goal, I believe, was because he was slipping away from his grasp on reality. A week later, he said he was becoming addicted to sugar. I remember talking to him, "Someone at one of those meetings said I was going to become addicted to food next, because I can and I'll used it to fill the gap inside me." For once, he had some money, and in more than one case, he'd spend $30 or $40 at the bakery, getting pastries. But that, too, had to stop in Mason's mind, because he would just become addicted to food. No alcohol, no coffee, no tobacco, no sugar, and definitely no weed. Once or twice I caught him flipping through religious pamphlets or the Bible. He didn't really seem interested in them, but he handled them like he was supposed to be. As a person, he was just anywhere he could to find a source of strength. He was letting go, and he didn't seem to listen to my "every human needs some form of pleasure as a means of release. You need to have fun somehow."

     At least two months sober, Mason came back to the house and told his girlfriend that he was fired from his job of almost three years. His description of the event I will never forget. He told me that his manager called him in to the office, told Mason that he wasn't working as hard anymore (now that he was sober), and that if he couldn't pick up the slack, then there was no place for him there, and he should just quit. Mason, my poor, Catholic friend who has listened to everyone in a high position, agreed with his manager and quit his job. If he was fired for being slow, then he would get unemployment benefits, health insurance, and other forms of employment security, but no, the manager badgered him and insulted him, convincing a weak man to let go of that one strand of thread keeping him together. He was convinced out of his rights, which he shed so quickly like a prisoner being told to strip. With no work, he attended AA and NA meetings all day, everyday. In my mind, at that point, it was too late. Mason was going to kill himself from his inability to adjust to the world around him as a sober man.

     I can remember that sight -- walking into the living room from the kitchen, and seeing Mason, all rolled up, on the floor, in the position of someone who falls forward from a chair. "Is he all right?!" I ask, and they respond, "Oh, shit! He's not!" Not one single detail of those seconds escapes my memory. One day, he decided, "Fuck it, I need some heroin!" Mason, who had used heroin everyday for nearly ten years, quit for three or four months, and then relapsed. On his first day of using again, he managed to overdose. My hand across that sweaty cold of his neck, slapping and slapping, "Wake up, Mason!" Vomit in his nostrils and mouth, his lips had turned blue, there was no breathing, and I was too busy to take a pulse at that exact moment. I remember, more than anything, those eyes, blank and staring right through me, like they had already become fixed on that distant star. I never really thought that I was cradling a dead man's head in my arms -- I cleared out the vomit and splashed ice water down his neck. His entire body kicked with a force at the splash on his face. Then slow, muffled, but steady breathing. An ambulance came and took him away in a stretcher. There was a half-thought that I would be arrested. There was not one scar from heroin on my body, though I did reek of Cannabis. Bags of heroin, some unopened, lined the floor around the body of Mason, but the cops didn't even loop at them. I remember watching those tiny balloons bump and bounce under the crushing of those police officer's combat boots, as they walked past a man thought to be dead, and searched my room, without permission. I suspect my obnoxious, home-made poster of "Resist the State" drew their attention. Not one seizure of anything, except the man who might be dead. "He might make it, he might not," a paramedic said to me, as though I had been the one to sell him the heroin. When I saw Mason's blank stare and lifeless body, my heart exploded. He survived, after two weeks in a coma, and amazingly, after six months of physical therapy, he was about back to normal. But in my dreams, when I slap that cold, sweaty neck, with those blank eyes, he always dies in my arms. In that faint delusion of sleep, it is always too late.

     So, how does Harold have any relation to Mason, besides buying from the same dealer and partying the with the same clientèle? Harold never cared about anyone, and adapted well enough to heroin use as he had to society in general when he was only an alcoholic, or probably when he was sober Mason, though, could only handle life well when he was high. When Mason tried to change, he couldn't, because he could not develop a healthy alternative to heroin. His healthy alternative, Catholicism and NA meetings, pushed Mason to the point of overdosing. Mason did better than Harold, though, in maintaining a socially respectable life -- girlfriend, job, hobbies, etc.. This is because Mason understood why he chose heroin, and adapted to it. Mason didn't care for the lies of mainstream society, so he made something just as selfish but much more effective: addiction to heroin, instead of TV. When he re-entered the system of lies, it would only be a matter of time before they failed, leaving him in a very weak position: the addict who has been hungering for months, with no satisfaction of any kind. Harold had no socially-respectable life in the end, but he had no misconceptions about who he was or what he wanted.

     In both cases, it is the inability of society to provide meaningful interaction to its participants that leads them to more efficient "systems" -- heroin use versus Consumer Capitalism. This is what I meant by "will-power" that I was talking about in the beginning. Any system based on narrow-minded, hollow stimulus will not provide you with the ideas or people for making yourself happy through your own efforts. I could walk right of heroin addiction, because I could do the same for every other diversion that makes me out to be less of an individual: Capitalism, god, commodities, nation.

     Capitalism, and the meaninglessness of its social relationships, produce people who will accept other meaningless systems as long as they satisfy basic, human wants. Not just Capitalism, but the State, the Church, and the culture are mutually-enforcing powers that convince people of the value of heroin, as much as they do to the addiction of consumer lifestyles. Even though I have seen quite a bit, I still believe completely in the legalization of heroin. Nobody's going to seek it out, except those who can find it anyway, and those who have reached such a low point of satisfaction in the present system, that anything else would be better. And, when administered by hospital personnel, it guarantees safety, while providing the patient with access to those who can help them change, if they want to. Besides that, the heroin user is no more or less functional than the average person who lives to consume. Unless we indict Capitalism and its culture, we will be looking in the dark for the paradigm of "drug addiction" -- why people fail to adjust to the world around them in harmonious and satisfying ways.


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