Updated: Jul 19, 2020
Most addicts believe the worst that can physically happen to them is being in a jail, an overdose, being in a vegetative state or “brain dead”, or death. I can tell you from experience there is something much worse. A sort of purgatory that exists in life, and is the closest to death one can imagine. It’s an empty space where all you can do is think. You cannot move, talk or show any expression - you are frozen. You are left alone in pain with your own thoughts, and no one to express them to, no one to understand your needs or wants. I’m talking about Locked-In Syndrome.
I thought it would last forever. Fortunately, and against every medical expectation, my body began the extremely slow process of waking up from this isolated hell. During my recovery, I met a lot of people & learned so much about the havoc that all sorts of addictions can create in the human body. One bad drug can fuck you up forever. One bad choice can fuck your whole life up. Some addicts who don’t have the stereotypical symptoms of an addict may not feel as if they have a problem because they have their shit together. But it always ends up the same way. Either jail or death, or in my case, physically disabled. And certainly hurting everyone you love. Including yourself.
Looking back at some of my behavior before my traumatic brain injury, I now realize how many of my actions I absurdly rationalized. Normally, my ridiculous behavior went on unnoticed. For example, when I'd travel by airplane, I would check heroin or pills in my luggage so I could guarantee I had enough supplies for my trip. My addiction got to the point where I could not go without using for the duration of a plane ride from Massachusetts to Florida. I would also put some in my carry on bag along with my tinfoil, lighter, and Bic pen to construct into my inhaling device so that I could get high in the airplane bathroom. I did this so often, I had a proven method of smuggling it on the plane. I had unused antidepressant pill capsules that I’d twist apart at the center, empty out the contents, stuff them with the heroin powder, and slide the capsules together. When I was done, you could not tell the difference.
One day I was flying from Boston to Miami with 4 large capsules mixed into the bottle with the regular pills. I had a solid rock of heroin that probably weighed 1.5 grams that I decided to just loosely throw into the bottle for easy access. It was a typical airport travel routine. This time, when I went through TSA and put my bag on the X-ray machine, I saw the outline of the pill bottle as my bag went through security. Inside the bottle you could see there were several pills and then an oddly shaped rock. It was as clear as day - the heroin was visible and I almost had a heart attack. I thought about running, but I realized that would just make things worse, so I played it out. They did not seem to notice, and just when I thought I was all good, a TSA agent said “BAG CHECK!” It was a terrifying moment. They opened up the front compartment of my bag where I had about $40 worth of quarters. Why did I have all these quarters, you may ask? Probably because I wanted to bring every dime I had to Miami. As it turns out, X-ray machines do not like quarters, more particularly the copper and nickel they are made out of. After they saw it was only quarters, they let me through and I got high all the way to Miami.
I was always getting away with things like this. Living a fast lifestyle and trying to remain high all the time. The nickname for my illness is called 'chasing the dragon syndrome' which is what I was always doing or trying to achieve, an impossible goal.
I rationalized myself right into a spiral of serious addiction. When I was using heroin, I never used needles, ever. I only smoked, believing it was safer than other methods of using heroin. At first, it helped me sleep, but then it got out of control. I wound up selling it in order to supplement my income. I thought it would be very hypocritical to sell it without using it. When people don't have the heroin they're addicted to, the dope-sickness is so awful, you almost feel like you're helping when you supply it, although, you're just making everything worse. It's a vicious cycle that I was constantly rationalizing, like a never ending loop.
Though my disease is very rare, a lot of other bad things can happen when you choose to use drugs. Your brain and body are so valuable, and I now understand that. Once I was diagnosed with Toxic Acute Progressive Leukoencephalopathy, I thought things couldn't get any worse, but they rapidly declined over the next year. In the beginning, I would say aloud 'things can't get any worse.' Once I became unable to speak, before being locked in, I would say this to myself. Once I was locked in, I stopped saying this altogether because I realized things could always be worse. And things certainly got really bad. Being dope sick is like a piece of cake compared to what I've been through. I tried many times to detox myself, but I always went back to the drugs. I wish I could have gone through detox when I had the chance to do it on my own, rather than being forced to get sober by way of terminal disease. My advice is stop using before it's too late. Because it can always be worse.
Through my journey, there have been many moments where I've experienced physical and emotional pain, sadness, hardships, disappointments, and things to be anxious about. Overall, however, I’ve been in a more appreciative and happy mood. My life still isn't perfect and there are many things I would like to improve, but I am so grateful to be alive and I do not carry the same depression I once did.
Before my injury, even though there were many problems and much sadness, I really had a privileged and wonderful life. It’s interesting to reminisce about being able bodied, independent, and financially sound and then compare things to my current situation.
My addiction and drug use were only symptoms of a deeper pain; they're not the actual problem. I believe this is true for anyone struggling with self-destructive behaviors. With the help of others (or yourself, if you’re Locked-In) it’s feasible to pinpoint the underlying issue that is creating self destructive actions. Once you locate that internal issue and face it, you can then begin to heal and figure out how to move forward with a happier and healthier lifestyle.
Note from the author, Jacob:
This post was adapted from my first writings after being locked in. I used the Megabee to create this original content, and have since expanded upon the thoughts using my voice and other technology.