The term functioning addict is somewhat of a paradox – in that it’s a phrase that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth. And what I mean by that is this: being a functional addict is possible in that you can seemingly have your sh*t together while behind the scenes is a totally different story – one of substance abuse, lying, manipulation, stealing, and overall desperation. In my active addiction, I had a good job, a stable residence, a car, and friends. On the outside, everything seemed peaches and cream but, emotionally, I was fast-approaching my breaking point. As I am coming up on my two years being clean and sober, looking back, I’ve realized these 11 things I learned as a functioning heroin addict.
#1. That everyone’s bottom looks different
When you think of a heroin addict who’s finally ready to get help, you probably picture a homeless, dirty, street urchin with festering sores and raggedy clothes. Not so for this former functional heroin addict. When I finally sought treatment, I still had a closet full of business professional clothes, my own car, a steady job, and a nice place to live. Other than having become way too thin, my outward appearance was pretty “normal” – no sores or really visible track marks (even though I was an IV user).
#2. That you don’t need to hit a financial bottom to feel ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired’
Again, I still had a lot going for me by the time I went to rehab. I didn’t have many of the negative consequences that other heroin addicts accumulate by the time they finally submit to treatment. For example, besides not being homeless and still having my car and job, I didn’t have any legal consequences such as pending charges nor had I ever done any jail time – although I certainly had committed crimes in my active addiction in order to support my habit. I had hit an emotional bottom, though. I felt completely broken inside and just wanted to die.
#3. That my life was unmanageable
Although from the outside, my life looked pretty good and wholly typical, it was, in reality, the complete opposite of that. I was banging dope in the bathroom at work, making drug deals on premises, staying out all hours getting and using drugs with questionable people, waking up super early to go cop and use before work – basically running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
#4. That being a functioning heroin addict made working so much harder
For those of you reading this that are or have been in active addiction, you know what it’s like to feed your drug habit. As they say, it’s a fulltime job in and of itself. So imagine actually having a fulltime (read: legit) job as well as the need to find, get, and use drugs on a daily basis. It’s taxing.
#5. That trying to solve my problem with the same thinking is insane
Another one of the things I learned as a functioning heroin addict is that trying to do it my way just doesn’t work. In the decade or so I spent using heroin and other drugs – there were many – I tried the “geographic solution” – moving from Maryland to Florida to Pittsburgh and then back to Florida; psychiatry, acupuncture, Suboxone maintenance, and a methadone clinic. None of these half-witted “solutions” worked; it took me doing the whole deal: inpatient treatment and working a program of recovery – in order to begin living a healthy, happy, normal life.
#6. That being dope sick and having to function at work is the worstttt
If there is such a thing as Hell, I imagine it would involve something like being dope sick and having to perform at a job, all while putting on a happy face. I will never forget that feeling. I thank my lucky stars that I never have to live like that again.
#7. That my coworkers probably suspected all along
In fact, I know they did, as I am still friends with some of them and they just so happen to be in recovery, too, because we’ve spoken about it before. They’ve told me that they suspected or even knew that I had a problem.
#8. That when the “outside” looks good people leave you alone
Other than a few of our regular customers mentioning my weight loss, no one came out and said anything to me about their concerns. They might have suspected that something was up but couldn’t quite put their finger on it. This is probably because the outside seemed so together when in reality I was falling apart.
#9. That I could ‘pass’ for a normal person
Some people were genuinely surprised when I told them later on that I went to rehab because, I didn’t “look like an addict.” Still today, when I tell people I’m in recovery, after which they always ask what my DOC was, and when I tell them I was a heroin addict, they usually say that they’d never have guessed it.
#10. The art of manipulation
Another thing I learned from being a functioning heroin addict was the art of manipulating others. For example, getting my doctors to prescribe me narcotics by asking in just the right way, that is, pretending I didn’t really know what I was talking about and feigning concern about having to take such a drug for my “problem.” Another example is the time I convinced my pharmacist to sell me a 100 count box of syringes despite not having a prescription for insulin – a requirement by most, if not all pharmacies when attempting to buy needles.
#11. The art of bait and switch
Along with manipulating professionals, there was the constant manipulation of loved ones. This involved dodging their questions – or them altogether – and learning ways to change the subject in a non-obvious way. Also involved was the art of the lie by omission and coming up with unique ways to ask for money.
Even if your life still seems manageable, there’s a better way. If you’re struggling with substance abuse or addiction, you can still turn it around and live a healthy, happy, and FREE life. Call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist today. We are available around the clock to answer your questions. You are not alone.