Dope sick. For the better part of a decade, I battled opiate addiction. My struggle started like it did for many addicts: OxyContin (OC), in the early 2000’s, flooded the streets of Atlanta. I was 19, living without caution or consequence after leaving the structure of my dysfunctional family home. OxyContin made the ever-present emotional pain within me subside temporarily. It made me feel limitless. I was a singer-songwriter and jazz guitar student at Kennesaw State University. I also taught guitar lessons at a music store while performing most nights in different bars around Atlanta. OxyContin made me feel invincible, and I was temporarily spellbound by everything around me. Quickly OC became what I needed to sustain myself throughout the day. If it was a good day, OC was my reward. If it was a bad day, OC softened the edges of life and I felt no pain.
The line between good and evil is blurry in the game. Ethical drug dealers and ethical drug users don’t exist. Every drug dealer and user is out for themselves. Everyone “in the game” and “on the streets” wants something from you. They want more than your money, and they want more than a quick meet-up: they want to keep you where they are. Dealers and users alike rejoice in a “friend’s” failed attempts at sobriety. Failure means they can still use you, and if using you kills you…they’ll leave you to die. Slumped over in your car in an empty parking lot, your infant in the back seat crying until a stranger notices. Or, maybe they’ll leave you overdosed and alone in a gas station bathroom stall. Forget calling 911 for Narcan.
I’ve seen it happen. More than twice.
When I became pregnant with my oldest daughter at 22, I was in active addiction. I moved from Atlanta, Georgia to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Roanoke, Virginia. I was escaping a violent relationship, and it was urgent that I become sober for the health of my unborn daughter. I white-knuckled the withdrawal from OxyContin late in the first trimester of my pregnancy, hunkered down in my dad’s basement. She was born healthy to a sober mother, but I still had no concept of recovery. I was abstaining from opiates, not necessarily giving them up. I attempted college again, and I was briefly successful. Yet my desire to use opiates became louder and louder…I dreamt nightly of an endless chase for OC pills. My sub-conscience wouldn’t allow me to use the dope in my dreams. Without fail my body continued to remind me nightly of how much I wanted it, even when I was sleeping.
It was less than a year after my first daughter was born that I met some folks who were eager to introduce me to that new mountain junk: HEROIN.
6 Months into using heroin, I was hospitalized. Not once, but 7 times over the next 4 years.
The destruction that occurred due to my drug abuse is the most powerful, tragic, and beautiful experience I’ve been through. Like most addicts, I had a stormy early childhood and an absent father. I experienced emotional and mental abuse by my biological and adoptive father(s) who suffered from unmedicated (or overly medicated) mental illnesses. I felt hated by my fathers when I was a child. The loathing I felt from my dad(s) led to self-harm behavior beginning at 11 years-old. Throwing myself down stairs, punching walls, beating my body and my head with my fists. I became sick and enraged at my adoptive father because of his blatant contempt towards me. I was promiscuous in my teenage years in a quest to find approval and love. Once I discovered opiates, I was already so broken that drugs made my life feel less tragic. It allowed me to accept my reality and then swim around in it.
There’s nothing unique about my story. It’s the same story all drug addicts have lived a thousand times over.
This was the scene: I had many prostitute friends. Sex work is a typical way to make drug money. I knew all the pawn shop owners in my town, because I sold every single thing that had meaning or value to me. I stole jewelry and money from family members and friends. I manipulated and lied to serve my habit. I watched people who overdosed and died just to wake up ENRAGED that I revived them. I’ve seen people overdose and nearly die and I was forced NOT to call the police for narcan by other addicts. I put my addiction before the well-being of my children and myself. Opiates were so effective in making me feel better, and the distance between becoming clean and daily heroin binges felt insurmountable.
People will only change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.
Feelings aren’t facts. I’ve heard this expression in every rehab, hospital, and mental ward since beginning my spiritual journey of healing. During active addiction, and before I started effective therapy, emotions ruled my flesh. I had no self-control or coping mechanisms to achieve recovery. I finally removed myself from my enabling environment (including from a guy who let me crash on his couch and paid for everything including heroin) and put myself back into another treatment facility to begin detaching from my addictive thought patterns. I then deleted every drug user and dealer from my phone while the nursing staff supervised me (I had to do this a few times). I had no idea that beginning a life of sobriety would start the healing process of my deeper soul. I began to feel all the true feelings that lay hidden beneath the use of heroin. All the loathsome feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, self-harm, self-loathing, anger, resentment, and shame at being an absent parent came clear. These feelings were the source of my drug use. HEROIN addiction was only a symptom of the greater spiritual illness I was enduring.
I carried my guitar throughout this journey and into each mental ward, rehab and hospital that allowed me to have it. I played and sang for all the junkies coming off their brand of dope. Even in severe withdrawal, people would temporarily brighten up when I started to play. People are starved for connection in places like that, and music is the great unifier.
How did my cycle of addiction change? I searched high and low for something to get me off heroin painlessly. I took Suboxone, a prescription medication that connects to the opioid receptor but doesn’t get you high (except that it totally gets you high). I tried the methadone clinic. I tried every out-patient rehab in my community, and I even went into the woods for six weeks with an experiential therapy program in Asheville, NC. The only thing that worked? I didn’t give up. I kept trying. I kept searching. I’ve been to wildly expensive rehabs. I’ve been to government funded rehabs. I’ve been in the mental ward, and I’ve been on silent vision quests in the name of becoming free from addiction.
The real break came when I finally came to believe in a power greater than myself that I am also a part of. This shift was as simple as honoring the energy from which we all emerge.
I began to create a support network. I went to AA meetings daily, and I formed relationships with people. I prayed. I started bonding to my community rather than a drug. I started dialectical behavioral therapy, a year long program that focuses on observing your thought patterns so that you are able to change them. You can’t change a problem until you know what it is. Identifying the path my thoughts traveled was paramount to changing. The first thing that shifted for me was re-learning how to be present with genuine warmth rather than manipulative intention. In all of my personal encounters with people before discovering true recovery, I looked at every situation or person as a resource. How could I get something from them that I needed? With support and therapy, that outlook changed.
My own path to recovery was overgrown with obstacles, but, nonetheless, I persisted.
I’m one year and six months clean. The transformation that is taking place around me and within me is dramatic. My higher power, whom I call God, broke into my life through my addiction and trauma. It was this gift of desperation and my greatest weakness that has become my greatest strength. Over a year ago, following my last treatment center, I was hired as a choir director at a local church. I started a children’s choir where there had not been one in years. Soon thereafter I was called to be the worship leader and composer for Foundation, a new worship service at Huntington Court United Methodist in Roanoke, VA. I was accepted into Hollins University, an all women’s private school, with over 30,000$ paid in scholarships and grants for Fall 2017. I’m engaged to my best friend, and I’ve never seen my children so content and secure. I went from being a wayfaring drug addict to having a home, my family and a purpose.
Age 31, taken with my fiance.
A year and a half ago I was promising myself every day that I would quit shooting heroin tomorrow. Every hit was my last. I always just needed enough to “ween down on”. The gifts that were silent within me for 10 years are now being used to bring joy to my church and healing to my entire family.
For 10 years, I’ve been dormant as a recording artist. I’m now recording my sophomore album: Organ Donor. Organ Donor is the audio memoir of a decade through heroin addiction, and my transformation into the light.
If you’re reading this, and you’re still suffering from addiction, keep trying. Keep asking for help. Go to Narcotics Anonymous (818.773.9999) or Alcoholics Anonymous (212.870.3400); go to rehab for the 20th time; go back to the hospital. Stop trusting street pharmacists to heal your pain. Addiction is a symptom of a greater problem. I believe the true problem is rooted in spiritual, mental, and emotional trauma and it can be healed.
Organ Donor is the title track to my upcoming album Organ Donor. It really describes the emotional turmoil I experienced throughout my years before finding recovery. “After all, I’ve given you all my organs. Warm, red flesh for your treasure chest. You’ve been collecting me piece by piece, you oughta be new.”
“…new wind is gonna blow, but I’ll be dancing there, in the middle of hell’s throat. Where I’ll be able to see…the DISEASE COMING”
Charley is what my group of friends called OxyContin. This song embodies the drug hazed party filter I existed within for the better part of a decade. “Charley this and Charley that, I’m not picking up anymore Contin crap, I hate it. Please can I have some more?…”
Share this with anyone you know who is struggling with addiction. Share it with people who are affected by the heroin epidemic. Share with people you love.
About the author:
Amanda Bocchi emerges from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia as an Americana soul artist. She marries together jazz harmony, roots music and a soulful voice to create her own brand: Americana Soul Flood. Her lyrics swing from the sweetness of motherhood to the death rattle of addiction. Organ Donor, Amanda’s sophomore album, is a memoir of her experience through heroin addiction and her transformation into the light of recovery. Cereal Box Murder, Bocchi’s debut, was independently released in 2006.
Amanda is also the host on the Kingdom of Rock podcast for DIY musicians. Kingdom of Rock podcast is centered around shaping musicians into music entrepreneurs. She interviews authors, legendary performers and independent artists to increase dialogue surrounding feminism, music and entrepreneurship.
If you would like to support Amanda’s music, please click on the following link or the banner below: http://bit.ly/2z0RA1i