By: John Schrey, Help For Our Heroes Alumnus

As  I was about to sit down and write today, I was told that my recovery family out in Texas lost another young man to the insidious disease of addiction.  About an hour earlier, I had finalized my arrangements to fly back to Austin at the end of the month to attend the memorial service of another member of this same family; a dude I held near and dear to my heart. This is the reality today for me and countless others as we try and navigate through sobriety and active addiction. If we don’t die, it’s almost guaranteed someone we love will because the only way out of the pain and anguish of active addiction for a guy like me is to stay in the proverbial trenches and fight. And just like in combat, no matter how hard you fight, people will die, but just like in combat we must keep fighting. Make no mistake about it; we are at war right here in our own backyard.

Recently, we honored those we’ve lost on Overdose Awareness Day, and just like Memorial Day, it really got me thinking; my first thought was, “when did this become a Day?”  So I Googled it and it was first recognized in 2001. I can say I spent quite a few “Overdose Awareness Days” in active addiction and never once did I hear about this day in dope holes or crack houses I frequented.  In these places, if you overdosed, it was well known you cannot call 9-1-1 and if there was no car there you were gonna have to die because we couldn’t give up that spot. Many of us have watched as others sat turning gray while we just continued to use. The thought of overdosing for many of us was almost welcomed at times and it damn sure didn’t scare us. So this day isn’t really about overdose awareness for me.  This day is about educating those that have never felt the grips of heroin. Helping them to understand why overdoses happen and why when given the choice between possibly dying and not getting high we will take that chance every time.

When I was using and didn’t have any heroin I was like a fish out of water. Now if I told that fish I would throw him back in the water but he would lose his family and probably end up in jail what do you think that fish would say? He would say put me back in that damn water and we will figure out the rest later. You see, heroin was my water. I could not survive without it so if it came down to choosing my wife and daughter or heroin it was a no brainer. That may sound horrible to some and it is, but if you know me now you know I cherish my daughter and her mother. At the time though I truly believed I could not live without heroin and I could live without them so they had to go.

When I lived on the street in Miami everyone knew when there was an overdose because it was the best advertisement for the dealer who sold the “dead junky” the dope.  In Overtown, the bags were color-coded so you knew which corner the dope came from and the minute someone overdosed the first question wasn’t “did he die?” It was “what color bag did they fall out on?” Because then you knew it was strong and as I said before, getting high was far more important than the possibility of death. Death is easy when you are deep in active addiction. It doesn’t scare us. What scares us is the thought of living with the guilt and shame of what we have done.

This is why we have recovered from these hopeless circumstances and we must be the voice for those who are still suffering. This is how we fight today through writing and educating. When someone explained to me that I wasn’t a piece-of-shit junky and that everything I did in my addiction wasn’t the real me, I was able to begin to shed that guilt and shame and make way for love and other emotions. I said earlier that I couldn’t live without heroin and I could live without my daughter.  Well today, thanks to a solid program of recovery and the men and women who came before me, I can say that I am living better than ever without heroin and my daughter is asleep in the room next to me.

If you or someone you know is struggling, we’ve got your back!