When my friend Danielle was in high school, she was hanging out in her hometown of Merrick, Long Island, going to punk shows and fighting with her mom—like a lot of teenagers. But when she was 19, her mom died, and Danielle's experimentation with drugs and alcohol really accelerated. By the time she was 25, she was using heroin daily. She says that in some ways, her mom's death gave her a justification for using. "It sounds horrible to say, but I remember when my mom passed me kind of feeling a sense of relief," she told me. "I was like, oh, I finally have my thing. I have my baggage that I've been looking for."
I met Danielle when we were both in our late 20s. At that point, Danielle was about a year sober. We're close, but in the years since we became friends, I'd never talked in detail with her about that earlier time in her life. So I asked her if I could interview her about her heroin addiction and the process of getting sober. I also wanted to know how she thinks about it now—especially as she's preparing to become a first-time parent and go through childbirth with a medical history that makes things more complicated. "On the first visit with the midwives I told them I don't want them to prescribe me anything addictive or any opiates, if we can get around it," she told me. "If I do get prescribed something then I won't hold that bottle. I'll have my husband give me the pill."
Looking back, Danielle says she's acutely aware of how differently her story could have gone. Following another year of record overdose deaths in the U.S., Danielle says that she reads the stories of people who die from addiction, and it's an uncomfortable experience. "I see myself in them," she told me. "I'm not better than any of those people. I don't have a stronger constitution. I'm not more moral. I'm not smarter. I'm not anything. I just happened to hear a message, and was able to follow up and take steps and do some work and make this change."
Click here to listen to my conversation about addiction from the other side, with an EMT supervisor who's on the front lines of the opioid crisis in my hometown of Charleston, West Virginia.