‘What I Want to Tell You About Heroin’ is a new series from VICE friend and contributor Hannah Brooks. Hannah is a Melbourne-based writer and musician, who has spent the past several years battling a heroin addiction. These articles were written while she was a guest of Hope Rehab in Thailand.
In March this year I had “retained products of conception,” a condition I got from having a medical abortion after becoming pregnant to a man I was not in love with. I was 37-years-old, three months clean, and six weeks pregnant.
Being six weeks pregnant and three months clean from long-term heroin addiction is not advised. Getting a pet or a boyfriend during the first year of recovery isn’t either, although I had both. A plant, possibly. A baby, no.
Because I was only six weeks pregnant I had the option of choosing a medical rather than surgical termination, which is more invasive. I was told it was a safe and effective option, that only one percent of women had complications. I could have my abortion “at home”. It could feel “more natural”.
I went to the clinic to collect the medication needed to induce an abortion. It was early, and I was miserable. I saw a nurse, I saw a doctor. They wanted confirmation that I was sure I wanted to abort the pregnancy, and even though I was a long way from “sure”, I told them I was.
A medical abortion involves two pills: Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, and a second pill, Misoprostol. I swallowed the Mifepristone. I was given the Misoprostol to take home with me, to be had 24-48 hours later; plus Panadeine Forte for the pain, which, because I was an addict, I was reluctant to take because I was clean.
As I was leaving, the receptionist called me over.
“I’m sorry, but there is a protestor outside. Just to let you know.”
She smiled, grimly.
I opened the door where a solitary old man held a large photo of an eight-week-old foetus embellished with the slogan: Murder! I ignored him and walked to my car. Then I changed my mind.
"Why?” is all I asked him.
In the car, I cried.
I was sad for myself and I was sad for the old man. Instead of nibbling croissants and sipping espressos, or lying in bed with a lover, or mowing the lawn, we were at an abortion clinic at 8 AM on a Thursday morning, despising each other.
The next day, an hour after swallowing the Misoprostol, I began to cramp and bleed, heavily. The Misoprostol was “emptying the uterus.” I was told I could expel “large clots”, the size of a lemon. The pain was horrendous and came in sharp waves. My doctor was concerned when she saw me a few days later. I was still bleeding and had a high fever, which is a sign of infection. I may or may not have “retained products,” she told me, which seemed to imply I was hanging onto something; that I did not want to let go, which I did not.
I wanted a child, but logic told me I must terminate. What if I could not stay off drugs?
My friend Susan, who was clean and sober for four years, is now a black-out drunk with a three-year-old, in and out of rehab.
A child will not keep me clean.
I do not know how many 37-year-old women who want a child have abortions, but I know it feels counter-intuitive.
I meet a woman one morning in the swimming pool at Hope. She is floating on her back. She’s an alcoholic and has just arrived from England. She is 37 too and wants a child. She’s been trying with her partner, but she can’t stop drinking and she gets depressed about the whole situation and that makes her drink even more.
The ticking clock.
She ducks under the water and re-surfaces, her blonde hair slicked back.
“I feel like there’s a gun to my head,” she says.
This is a family disease.
I talk to Steph. Her mother is still a heroin addict.
“She’s an awful mother,” she says. “We got high together. She stole from me. She yelled at me. She had hissy fits when she couldn’t find her drugs. I’ve had to call the police on her”.
Steph grew up in a foster family but left when she was 15.
“That’s when I met my pimp,” she says.
“He wasn’t a typical pimp. He wasn’t eight feet tall or physically abusive. He was a 34-year-old white male. He always kept really nice food in the house. He never yelled. He had a tone in his voice sometimes, which freaked me out, but I was high, so I didn’t care. We were always cuddling and kissing, cutesy, but at the same time he’d be selling me to clients.”
Steph’s pimp introduced her to heroin. He wanted her to inject it, but she refused. She preferred the apathy of meth. When her pimp was arrested for running an underage prostitution ring that employed about 20 girls, she was left in the apartment withdrawing from gear alone.
She helped the police with their case. A detective with the Vancouver Police Department’s Counter Exploitation Unit started lending her books and taking her to a psychiatrist. He would sit in on her appointments. Steph says that the detective sexually assaulted her, numerous times, while she was still underage. She, and one other girl came forward with their claims.
“At this point, I started using more meth than I’d ever used,” says Steph. “I’d be up for, like, 10 days. I was having psychotic breaks where I was completely delusional. I thought that the world around me faded away. I thought that I faded away into nothing. I forgot my name.”
In March, the detective pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation and breach of trust charges. Two weeks ago, he was sentenced: 20 months in jail. Steph, who left rehab a few weeks earlier, was present for the sentencing.
I talk to John, a 30-year-old Australian cocaine addict whose mother was a heroin addict and a drunk. She was a sex worker. From a young age, he took care of her and his three siblings. She calls him “Daddy”.
“I remember being sent to school one day without having pants on,” he says. “I remember she could not afford to put petrol in her car, so I filled it up with water from a garden hose. I remember my little brother and I eating frozen fish fingers because we could not work the stove.” He did not like the men who came in and out of the house. “Us kids would run and hide. You’d feel unsafe. You didn’t know what was going on, but you knew it wasn’t right.”
By the time he was 29, John had built an empire from numerous concreting and industrial development businesses, and he retired. All John ever wanted was a family of his own; to be a stay-at-home Dad. After the birth of his first son, it took John’s mother four weeks to come and see the child. When his second child was born a year later, John’s cocaine addiction had escalated. “I’d been up for 12 days. I went into the hospital feeling like a fucking corpse,” he recalls. “I felt no instant connection, like I was witnessing the birth of someone else’s child.” He stopped using cocaine that day. His second son was just three weeks old when he checked into Hope. He talks about how he’s made millions, but he is in rehab and for all his bravado, when he raises his Ray Bans he looks sad.
He lights a blueberry Camel, brushes his hair back.
“People say: ‘Oh you’ve thrown so much money at your addiction, you’ve lost this and that’. I haven’t thrown a single thing away until I lose that connection with my kids. That’s something I’ll never gamble with.”
He grinds his jaw.
“As much as addiction beats love, there’s no way I will ever put a substance before my children. I’d put a bullet in my head before that.”
We believe these things as we say them.
A new guy arrives at Hope: Charlie, who’s 23 and British. I’m loading shredded cabbage onto a plate when he approaches me.
“My mum’s reading your articles,” he says. “She works with addicts. She’s in recovery herself.”
Over lunch, Charlie tells me that his mother and father were both heroin addicts. His mother was still using when she found out she was pregnant with him. She checked herself into a long-term rehab, which was religious and run by nuns. Charlie was born in rehab.
Both his parents have been clean for years. He grew up in Narcotics Anonymous meetings but none of it helped him when he started doing crack.
His girlfriend called him yesterday to say she is pregnant.
About two weeks after my abortion, still suffering from “retained products”, I relapsed. I was bleeding and exhausted and having an ultrasound every week. I was sad, possibly depressed. Even though I know that heroin had stopped working for me, I scored and shot up, “just once”. I spent the next few weeks vomiting constantly. I could not keep food or liquids down. I lost six kilos. My body rejected the heroin but day after day I kept spearing myself with syringes, determined to get high.
What I wanted was oblivion, but what I got was a habit.
John shows me a video of his two sons, who are babies, the elder blowing kisses.
Charlie’s going to be a daddy.
Steph found a frog and called it Egg.
I am questioning my decision.
In my weekly one-on-one session, Mindful Paul tells me: “There are no choices ”.
I told the nurse and I told the doctor: “Yes”.
“Everything”, he says, “is inevitable. There are no choices except for the choices you are comfortable with”.
I am not comfortable.
I tell him that I went to Hell Garden, and that the anti-abortion statues inflamed my ill will.
“I don’t know what it is like to be a woman”, he says, kindly.
Being a woman is like this: “My mum had nine abortions before she had me,” I am told by the new girl from Bahrain.
“I started using meth, then heroin, after having an abortion,” says Akiko. “I was 13.”
It is like this.
I tell Mindful Paul about a moment I had, years ago, while waiting to cross a road with my fiancé. How, in that moment, as the pedestrian lights changed from red to green and the little illuminated man began to flash, and the beeping sound began, I had a deep realisation that everything was meaningless.
It was a moment of joy.
If nothing means anything, then everything is possible.
That night, I cannot sleep. It’s a full moon. I realise that, had I not had an abortion, I would be almost seven months pregnant. I imagine myself with a big, round, tummy and then remember that I am in rehab, still sleepless from ongoing withdrawals or Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or Post-Abortion Syndrome, or maybe I am just sad, because I am thinking about a baby I believed I could not have.
In the darkness, I smoke four more Camels and count stars.