Learning to love through years of addiction

I wanted to begin my new column with a story about injecting heroin into my penis, but my girlfriend, Nicole, warned me it may be too soon. The audience might not be ready, she reasoned, it was like going for anal on the first date. I laughed. Her joke made me so proud.

I don’t deserve to have such an amazing girlfriend. If you read my opinion article last week you’d know why. Being a dirty weasel of a heroin addict doesn’t get you many friends. And recounting disturbing stories of intravenous drug use can turn away even the most understanding of women.

I can count the number of long-term girlfriends on just three fingers. My first one was in high school. I was 16. At the time, I wore a black leather jacket every day, no matter how hot it got. I was so cool. I didn’t know much about heroin then, but I had found alcohol.

Without alcohol I would have never gotten a girlfriend. I would’ve stayed a virgin well into my 30s. As a teenager, I often fantasized about having a girlfriend. Not because I wanted a loving relationship. I just wanted to look cool. I didn’t know how to love people, only how to manipulate them. Kindness embarrassed me.

My high school girlfriend and I spent most of our time drinking MD 20/20,  aka “Mad Dog,” aka bum wine, on the train tracks, under bridges and in our bedrooms. When Mad Dog became too intense, we drank Keystone Ice. After we broke up, she got together with some old dude and started doing heroin, coincidentally.

My second girlfriend I met in rehab. She was unstable, and a drunk. I was deep into heroin then, and had already lost touch with reality. I moved into her house just weeks after we slept together, not because I liked her, but because I needed a place to live. The next few years were rough. A tumultuous relationship filled with booze, drugs and abuse. At least I had a roof over my head, and just enough of my girlfriend’s money to steal for dope.

We were both sick.

Looking back, we never loved each other. She needed a man in her life, not any man, but one who could never measure up, never meet her expectations, someone worse off than her, someone to blame, someone to feel superior to. I definitely fit the bill. I only wanted to be cared for. And, of course, I needed her to foot the bill. An $80-a-day heroin habit is tough to manage with no income.

Soon after we broke up, I left town hoping to get sober. God only knows why I made it. Not everyone is so lucky. She’s still out there.

A year and half after getting sober, I started dating Nicole. She is the sweetest person I’ve ever known. In April, we will celebrate three of the happiest years of my life. Who would’ve thought, a hopeless junkie like me, could ever get sober, let alone fall in love.

Learning to love is challenging. My past still haunts me. At the center of my greatest fear, not feeling good enough, is really an unhealthy obsession with how people perceive me. It is an obsession that seems so trivial and boring, but it has the power to kill. I imagine that I’m not alone in worrying what others think. For me, the consequences are too great. Feelings of insecurity are one step closer to taking a drink or a drug, and for me — that is to die.

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