Addiction Chronicle: James C. Shively

Rather than delve into my own struggles right away, for my entry to the “Addiction Chronicles” I am going to give you all an essay I wrote sometime ago. Though I’ve never been a Heroin addict myself, I have struggled as an alcoholic and addict, so in time, you will certainly here more about those struggles. For now, I’m going to give you an essay I’ve written about how–despite never having done heroin–it has been a problem in my life. Increasingly, even if you don’t do this evil drug yourself, your are likely feeling some negative effects from it.

I was born in a suburban town called Erlanger, Kentucky. It is roughly a 15 minute drive from downtown Cincinnati. At a young age my mother moved my brother and I out of her hometown; she followed my grandmother to a small rural town called Cambridge, Ohio where I currently reside. After my parents divorce my father chose to stay in Cincinnati and see my brother and I whenever he could by traveling to Cambridge to get us; we spent whatever time we were dismissed from school with him. So my Christmas’s, Thanksgivings, Easters and Summers were spent in Cincinnati. Having been born in what is called the “Greater Cincinnati” metropolis, and having a significant part of my childhood there–I have always identified with urban Cincinnati as home as much as I have rural Cambridge. I got to experience the best and the worse of these two totally different worlds. I consider myself somewhat lucky for this and I am very proud of my connection to both communities.

One thing that was not so lucky was the fact that my father fought battles of addiction and alcoholism throughout my childhood. He was not abusive or belligerent towards us like the drunks you see in the movies, however, as a result of my fathers battles against these demons, I was subjected to a lot of experiences I wish I would not have been. I say battles because that is precisely what it was, the one thing about my Dad was his consistent fight to rid himself of addiction and alcoholism. Although he rarely achieved the reality, he never gave up on the idea of living life clean and sober. Though I seen things at ages I shouldn’t have, I loved my Dad very dearly. Most of my time growing up, he smoked pot and was an alcoholic, nothing more nothing less. He was vehemently against needles and any drugs that were related to them. However, when my great grandmother and then my grandmother passed away things changed. He lost his grandmother and his mother, both ladies had a huge influence on his conscience. Without their guidance, my Dad become depressed. He began to interact with people he previously would not have; this could not have happened at a worse time. Cincinnati was in the middle of a heroin surge that continues today. It has become as easy to get heroin as a bottle of whiskey. He began doing heroin, and then fighting to get clean from it. After a good stretch of sobriety, in late 2010 he relapsed and passed away from an overdose. Talk about hitting home.

Back in rural Cambridge, heroin was not something people could easily get there hands on; my mother left Cincinnati to get us away from the overwhelming cons of lower class urban life. She often referred to Cambridge as Mayberry, because for most of it’s existence it remained isolated from larger worldly problems like hard drugs. That is not to say hard drugs didn’t exist here, it just wasn’t something that was affecting large parts of the population. When I was 18 years old and had gotten my first apartment, I was so confident in my rural community that I moved my father here, it was an attempt to put him in an environment where relapse was not possible. If he could not find the stuff, how could he do it? I may have been a little naive but to my own credit, it worked. I was able to clean him up for a short period. After about three weeks, he just could not do it any longer and chose to take a bus back to Cincinnati, where eventually he went back to his old routine.

Since my fathers death in late 2010, things have changed here in my little Mayberry. It is no longer isolated from the problems that ravage urban America. It is no longer the refuge it once was from hard drugs, as every time I turn around, someone I grew up with, or someone my peers grew up with, has passed away from… You guessed it… Heroin overdoses. Just a few weeks ago I attended a funeral where I gave my best friends eulogy… You guessed it.. It was an overdose. Whats bothersome too me about this, is the perception of the public to these events. The immediate reaction from some people is to assume the people are dying because they are “junkies.” The public’s reaction is to blame the victim. When in fact, they died because they were not junkies. As I said earlier, when my father passed away, it was following a long stretch of sobriety. After becoming extremely aggravated with his roommates for bringing it around him, he decided to relapse as an attempt to upset them. Assuming his tolerance was the same it was before it he took more than his body could handle. The case of my friend is similar, not being a regular user of this drug, he too assumed he could do more than his body could handle. Low tolerance–from a lack of doing it often–is the primary cause and I believe peer pressure had as much to do with both of their deaths as anything else.

Ever more bothersome is in both of their cases, those peers ignored the fact that they were overdosing. My dad’s sister–my Aunt Pennie–has since dedicated her life to becoming an advocate for recovery and she tells me these things are avoidable. An antidote called Narcan can reverse the affects of heroin in as little as two minutes. So given the response times from ambulances being as little as eight minutes, that means it is possible to pick up the phone, dial 911, and save someone’s life in a total of ten minutes. However, because of laws that often place the callers in jail, heroin users are reluctant to call 911 when they are a midst an overdose, often opting to wait it out thinking the person will eventually wake up, subsequently ending with another dead friend or family member. My father was just 44 years old when he passed away, my friend just 32. It’s difficult to deal with this, knowing if someone had just picked up a phone and dialed 911, they could both have been saved in ten measly minutes and as a result lived to fight this battle another day. Three little buttons on a phone and they would still be alive. Yea.. It’s rough..

There are so many issues surrounding this epidemic. How is so much of this stuff getting to America? Well most of it is coming in from Mexico and more of it is grown by terroristsLocal stats across the nation have yet to be coordinated and put together, but all indications are pointing to numbers that are off the charts, and the victims are getting younger and younger. Speculation is that as heavy pain killers becoming more and more difficult and expensive to get and heroin becomes easier and easier and cheaper to get, it is like evolution–a natural transition–for the users. Lacking a history of these sort of problems, rural places are not typically equipped for them, they lack detox centers and urgent care for users. Many have to introduce new taxes to just begin the fight having nothing currently in place. Urban and suburban area’s also face issues with rehab centers becoming overcrowded, rendering the same issue, a lack of resources and care for the users. As a result, these issues spill over into jails causing yet even more overcrowding. That’s without even really getting into the fact that jails are not facilities designed to fight disease, withdrawal, and mental illness.

My Aunt Pennie will tell you, when someone is addicted to heroin, you cannot play tough love with them hoping they will get better. They actually need an “angel to come in and grab them out of the darkness.” This is an issue that is becoming more and more personal to us all. Unfortunately, it seems no matter where you go across this great nation, the heroin epidemic is no longer a distant problem. It is ravaging urban communities, and doing equal amounts of devastation to rural communities. No matter who you are this problem has now reached your doorstep. There are now millions of stories like mine of people who are losing mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins and best friends. The heroin epidemic hits home, no matter where you live.

The only way we are going to survive this is to change the way our communities deal with it. Personally, we need to stop looking at users and assuming they are junkies. Labeling people and looking down on them is not going to help solve this problem. Actually it will help fuel it. The more society ignores and looks down on addicts, instead of sticking a hand out to help them, the more isolated they will feel, and the more they will feel the need to use. Indeed it will take some forgiving from a lot of us. My tale is a good warning to those of you out there living in Mayberry. This problem is no longer one you can avoid. This has infiltrated every kind of community in our great nation, so get prepared, if it hasn’t reached your town yet, get ready because it is on it’s way.

The truth is, we have to become “angels that go in and grab our friends and family out of the darkness.” Once we pull them out of the darkness, we need places to take them to, professionals that are ready with open harms to help. This is too complicated for regular folks, we cannot win this war on our own. We need to vote for politicians that understand this and support policies that address it. Politicians that want to be creative with legislation, that want to help raise the funds needed to give us facilities to take them to. We need advocacy that organizes and lobbies for action. We need to support our law enforcement agencies and campaign for aggressive policing. They need to get to the drugs before they enter our communities, not after it has been sold and the money is on its way out. We cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer, the heroin epidemic is at your doorstep, and if you don’t do something about it, it will eventually hit home for you too. This is no longer an urban problem, a suburban problem, a black problem, or a rural white problem. Unfortunately, this is your problem and this my problem… But most of all this is an American problem.

*This essay is a part of an online series called the “Addiction Chronicles” written by addicts and the family members of addicts. If you’d like to write and have your essay published on our website, please send it or send it in a private message to our Facebook page.

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