Alexis's drug problem prevented her from enjoying this type of Christmas. Image via.
The holidays are a terrible time to be a drug addict. Christmas trees, bright lights, and Mariah Carey songs are a constant reminder of how shitty we feel about ourselves and how we're emotionally incapable of crowding around a warm fireplace with our loved ones. During the 2010 holiday season, I wasn’t able to sit by a fireplace with my family—I was a heroin addict, and my disease was worse than ever. After leaving jail that summer, my using increased to an all time high. I repeatedly promised myself I would quit using, but the inevitable continued taking place—I was constantly back on the black.
I hadn’t always spent the holidays searching for dope. As a child, I loved Christmas, because it was the one day of the year where nothing could go wrong. My family's dysfunction ceased to exist, and I could act like a kid, but in 2010, I couldn’t get excited about cooking a huge family dinner or running down the stairs to find presents. I was an addict, and I was just trying to get by.
That Thanksgiving, I ran out of dope and became violently ill at my stepmother’s house. I called my father to drive me home, and when I arrived at my house, I searched for a smidgen of heroin to feel better. Because I had no heat, I spent hours shivering as I scraped old straws I had used as smoking devices.
At 5 PM that night, I completely ran out of dope, so I called a boy I knew and promised him I would buy us heroin. He agreed to drive me if he could also take me to dinner and a movie. I didn’t like him romantically—I simply wanted a fix—and looking back, I feel bad for leading him on. After he picked me up, we drove into the valley. We rolled up to Balboa and Ventura and pulled into a gas station. We waited for hours for our dealer to arrive. When I saw his runner's car, I immediately exited the boy’s car and jumped into the runner’s vehicle. (The only feeling more indescribable than the anxiety I experienced waiting for my dealer’s car is the adrenaline rush I experienced when my dealer’s runner arrived.) I handed him the cash, and he spit three balloons of dope from his mouth.
The boy and I got high, ate dinner, and then watched a movie. Afterwards, I asked him to drop me off at my mother’s house. I didn’t know why I wanted to visit my mother, but something told me that if I did, I would finally feel better. I entered her house, and something was different. I couldn’t decipher what had changed, so anxiety kicked in. My solution to my anxiety was the same solution I always had—get high. I walked into the bathroom and pulled out my dope, some foil, and a straw. (Because I had no rigs, this was the most efficient way to get high at my mother’s house.) As I exhaled, a deep sorrow washed over me, and I realized the house hadn’t changed—I had changed. I was experiencing a brief moment of clarity. Looking into the mirror, I saw a new girl staring back at me—a girl who was tired of being a slave to a crippling disease. I finally recognized that I had very little left in me; continuing to live meant to live a life of misery. I had already panhandled for money, and I knew prostitution was the next step. As a victim of sexual abuse, I knew I would have killed myself before I sold my body, so I sunk down onto the floor and said, “God, universe, whatever you are, I can’t go on like this anymore.”
Once I calmed down, I cleaned up my supplies and crawled into bed with my little sister. At 6 AM, I woke up feeling ill, because too many hours had passed since my last fix. I grabbed my wallet and went back into the bathroom to get well. I pulled out my sack and realized it was only enough for one hit. If I smoke this now, I will have to go a minimum of four or five hours before I can get to my dealers, I thought. I decided to wait and go back to bed. One hour later, the cops arrived at my house to take me to prison, because I hadn’t shown up for probation in two months. For some reason, they only had my mother’s address on file, and that’s where I happened to be that morning.
I tried to blame my dope and supplies on my little sister. (This is absolutely horrendous, but when I was in the grip of my disease, I was a really ugly person.) Obviously, nobody believed that the heroin belonged to my 17-year-old sister. The cops arrested me and dragged me to jail. Once I was in my orange jumpsuit, I realized I would probably spend Christmas in prison; I would be in an orange jumpsuit, and my family would be behind the glass looking at me with pain and sorrow in their hearts. My life is over, I thought. I’ve already dealt with so much shame and embarrassed them so much. I can’t deal with this holiday scenario. Over the next few days, I kicked heroin cold turkey. I tried to end my life by drowning myself in the toilet before I had to spend Christmas in jail, but my suicide attempt predictably failed.
The next day, the guards woke me up at 5 AM and told me I was headed to court. I quickly ate my breakfast and exited my cell. The guards handcuffed me around the waist and then sat me in a holding cell in the Criminal Courts building in Downtown Los Angeles, where an attorney came to see me—at least, he technically was an attorney. He was really a messenger from Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Are you ready to take responsibility for your life?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said hesitantly.
“Well, then you are going to go beg for the mercy of the judge and ask to go to drug rehab.”
As I walked into the courtroom, cameras moved towards me. I hadn’t showered in days and still had toilet water in my hair from my suicide attempt. I was so embarrassed. The district attorney told the judge, “Ms. Neiers is a multiple offender now and clearly is unable to perform the simple task of checking into probation. I feel that she should have her probation revoked and serve the full sentence.”
The judge looked at me. “Do you have anything to say for yourself, Ms. Neiers.”
“Yes, your honor. If you send me to prison, I will only come out with an even harder heart. The truth is that I am a heroin addict who can’t stop using on my own, and I need help.”
Out of nowhere, a man in the audience stood up. He told the judge he could offer me a year in his treatment center if the judge didn’t give me a prison sentence. The judge accepted his offer.
This meant instead of spending Christmas in a jail cell, I was going to spend Christmas at rehab. When I arrived at the recovery center, I felt scared. I had no idea how to interact with my family or function without drugs. A few weeks later, my family visited me on Christmas. My mom was happy to see me—in her eyes, I could do no wrong—but my stepfather seemed stressed. I had always felt like I was a burden or a disappointment to him, and without the use of substances, my burden was even more pronounced. But we were cordial to each other until they left.
On Christmas night, I was alone, because everyone else had gone home for the holidays. Is this really what it is going to be like for the rest of my life? I wondered. How did I get from shooting up at my family's house on Thanksgiving to being in rehab by Christmas? I walked outside and lit up a cigarette.
I told myself to stop thinking about the future and focus on the present. This helped, but I was still upset. I climbed into my bed and rolled into the fetal position. What the fuck have I agreed to? I thought, as I cried myself to sleep. At least in prison, I would have had an opportunity to get high. New Year's Eve was equally depressing. Once again, I was alone and in bed by ten—it didn’t help that I was 19 years old and used to living a “glamorous” lifestyle that meant celebrating New Year's in a nightclub with drugs.
Looking back on that terrible holiday season, I see how these experiences were important for my recovery. By the next holiday season, I was a different person. I met sober friends through 12-step programs, had a community of friends I loved, and knew how to have sober fun. We cooked a huge Thanksgiving feast together and exchanged gifts on Christmas. I have had several sober holidays now, and this year, I feel blessed to share Christmas with my beautiful baby daughter. Since Thanksgiving, I have been listening to Christmas radio with her non-stop, and taking photos of my baby with Santa was an amazing experience I never would have had if I hadn’t spent Christmas in rehab three years ago. Life without drugs is great. Turning that life into a fulfilling and exciting life is even better.
Alexis Neiers is a drug and alcohol counselor at Acadia Malibu. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and newborn baby.
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