2015 SHAWC Award-Winning Essay on Heroin Addiction

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Derrick Clarke, a student at SUNY Sullivan, wrote the essay, “The True Story of a Liar,” in his Creative Nonfiction class during the spring, 2014 semester. The assignment was to write about an obsession, and Derrick wrote about his struggle with addiction. His essay won the SHAWC (Sullivan Honors Annual Writers’ Competition) award. Derrick died of a heroin overdose one year later, in March of 2015.

WJFF’s Kingfisher Project will devote their program on Monday, March 14, at 8:00 pm to the memory of Derrick Clarke. For more information on the Kingfisher Project, go to thekingfisherproject.com

The True Story of a Liar

Derrick Clarke

Derrick Clarke

The progression of time is an unchanging, perpetual experience of the universe and with it comes change; the change of technology, the change of values and ideals, and ultimately the change of human life. Human society has reached a point of development that allows people to have more time for recreation and access to sources of entertainment. The human psyche is a complex, fragile mechanism that allows individuals to interpret the world in a subjective manner to create a meaningful existence. The ability to construe our conscious perception this way is what leads to people developing their own motives, thoughts, and feelings and expressing them through preferred hobbies, activities, and routines. However people can also become so deeply involved in their own personal interests that certain behaviors and routines go from being enjoyable or methodical to completely obsessive.

An obsession, according to Dictionary.com, is “the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, or desire.” An addiction is defined as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” The line between them is often blurred, so that obsessions are mistaken for addictions, as well as addictions being mistaken for obsessions. Sometimes it’s inevitable for them to combine into something way worse. I had an obsession that turned into a different obsession and eventually into an addiction.

When I was 14, like every other young teen in high school, I was obsessed with my social status. I wanted to be that guy everybody loved and wanted to be around. So I used to spend hours every night (more time than I did on homework) coming up with witty remarks, jokes, and one-liners that I knew would make people laugh and then thinking of ways to create situations that would allow me to use them. Well, within two years my obsession was perfect; I had money, I had freedom and little responsibility, my home life was the best it had been for years, I had a great group of friends, and I was dating the only girl I’ve ever loved. This is also the time when smoking marijuana became a recreational hobby of mine. However, by the time I was seventeen, because of reasons beyond my control, I lost parts of my obsession one by one until I was just left with the money, a fraction of my former self. Ultimately, my first obsession provided me with an incredible sense of empathy and mastery of social psychology.

These skills that I ascertained combined with my existing existential outlook on life helped me create a theory about life that I believe holds true with most people. In our world the key to happiness is human relationships. Family is the prominent societal structure responsible for integrating individuals into society as well as providing the proper support when one’s life takes a turn for the worst. The sad truth is not everyone is blessed with the support of their family and instead their home lives are dysfunctional. This dysfunction makes it impossible for some to experience feelings of stability and security which leaves them filled with animosity, apathy, and antipathy towards the world as a whole. While family members may seem replaceable at times, the roles they play are not and sometimes it is necessary for friends to fill that role. However there are times when that isn’t a possibility either.

People lose the key to open the door and instead isolate themselves. This state of vulnerability and loneliness leaves people more susceptible to losing themselves to self-destructive mind states and behaviors.

Being able to reflect on that, it’s not that surprising that my obsession with my social standing at school, home, and work transformed into an obsession with being high. When my junior year in high school began I started experimenting with different highs and learned quickly that money didn’t buy back feelings of love or happiness, but it bought the closest thing to it. It bought the illusion that those feelings never left me, that my life hadn’t changed, that I wasn’t all alone. So I embarked on a drug odyssey in search of the perfect high. In the process I developed a tumor in my social life that slowly started pushing away room for my friends and other hobbies, all the while adulterating my personal beliefs and principles resulting in everything else seeming dull and inconsequential; all there was was getting and staying high. I no longer considered weed a “true drug”; at this point I smoked weed as soon as I woke up and it was the last thing I did before I went to sleep every single day for three consecutive years. However, I was always more focused on the weekend and what other high I would be experiencing for the next one to three weekends. That was the duration I felt was necessary to make a true assessment of the high. I found uppers to provide way too much stimulation mentally and sensually, I’m already more sensitive to stimulation than the average person, and drugs like cocaine and the ADHD, “good grade”, drugs (Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin) just exacerbated it. Ecstasy was something I had only done with my ex and it’s called the “love drug” for a reason, so that was out of the question. I thoroughly enjoyed hallucinogens, and I understand why a lot of brilliant minds consider tripping an important life experience, but those kinds of drugs are too physically draining to use repetitively. Aside from searching for the perfect high, another reason I always switched my drug of choice was so I didn’t develop a dependency on any one drug. My philosophy of life was: there is nothing wrong with use until it is abuse. And then I stumbled upon a drug named OxyContin.

Posted by Ron B Muziq on Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Related Video: Derrick Clarke performs “A Letter to My Teacher”

During my last two years of high school I also operated my own street pharmacy. I mean, after all, I had to finance my new obsession and a part-time job on the weekends just wasn’t cutting it. A good friend of mine had been turned to me by the underworld and the only drug he wanted to buy was OxyContin. By chance that exact night I stumbled upon a steady connection to that very drug, and that was the beginning of the end. It spread through my school like wildfire and ravaged the student body like the Bubonic Plague did to the European population. My friend had money to blow and I couldn’t believe how much money this drug had him spending, so I let my curiosity get the better of me. I tried OxyContin myself; it felt so close to falling in love. I slowly went from using it on weekends to a few days a week to all day, every day. I was now an abuser of prescription painkillers and I had broken my personal philosophy for the first time of my life; little did I know it wouldn’t be the last.

Since then a day hasn’t gone by in which I don’t hate myself or beat myself up. I haven’t been able to forgive myself for my weakness because, honestly, I feel I don’t deserve forgiveness. I’m the one who started the pill epidemic in my school, I’m the one who successfully ruined not just my life, but my cousin’s life, the lives of a bunch of other kids, and the lives of two of my best friends. Albeit, a majority of those kids could have found their fix elsewhere, I’ll never forget that I’m the reason my best friend dropped out of high school. Every day I had to sit in the same classroom, in the same seat, next to the same empty spot and know that I was the reason he wasn’t there anymore. If l hadn’t handed him that first pill things could have been different, the addiction never would have happened, and we’d still be those same “natural geniuses” on our way to success. I know I’m solely responsible for his addiction because there were plenty of people who were able to obtain Percocet or Vicodin, but he didn’t want them, they’re not as strong as OxyContin—and I was the only guy around with it.

I’m the one who started the pill epidemic in my school

I’m the one who successfully ruined not just my life, but my cousin’s life, the lives of a bunch of other kids, and the lives of two of my best friends. Albeit, a majority of those kids could have found their fix elsewhere, I’ll never forget that I’m the reason my best friend dropped out of high school.

By the end of high school I no longer had the self-control not to use my own stash and I found myself in the same boat with all my druggie friends. Any recreational or extra time I had was now dedicated to the pursuit of my high. As time went by more and more drug busts were taking out huge suppliers, pills were being synthesized to be non-crushable (a junkie’s worst nightmare), and our drug tolerances were increasing, which made our lifestyle harder to maintain. So our last ditch-effort to continue the illusion that we were enjoying our lives was to turn to using heroin. By this point I was a true addict, meaning that going over fourteen hours without my fix would result in withdrawals.

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Withdrawals were the worst, most agonizing experiences of my life. You go through cold and hot flashes like there’s an internal light switch inside you that someone is incessantly flicking to create a strobe light effect. Every joint and muscle in your body aches and you realize you have muscles in areas you didn’t even know had muscles, and any food you put into your body comes back up or goes out as liquid. And don’t even think for a second that you will be able to sleep through it. Waiting for the Sandman to come close my eyes was like waiting for my dad to come push me on the swing: it never happened. My sober moments felt like an eternity of crawling naked up a hill of shattered glass and salt.

This double life I created was manageable for the first couple years, but after a while all the lies, the guilt, the undernourishment, the time spent making money they all take their toll on my body psychologically and physically. My addiction was this looming entity always following behind me. It was like my shadow at sunset, bigger than me and always right behind me, yet most people would remain oblivious to it. As a result, the cognitive dissonance that my addiction created was tremendous. Cognitive dissonance is the tension that arises from holding two opposing, competing thoughts or feelings simultaneously. Most people held a high opinion of me, that I was this great kid, sort of like I was a symbol of integrity and intelligence in their heads. It was especially difficult to have conversations with my mom’s friends because they’re like aunts to me and they always tell me how proud they are of me and they’re so happy I’m doing the right thing. While in my mind, I was always thinking “What are you proud of? I’m a fucking terrible person; I’m a selfish liar and a fake. I wouldn’t even be standing here talking to you if I didn’t pop two pills two minutes before I got here,” but the facade had to continue.

So for a couple years I ignored the guilt, I believed my lies, and I suppressed the urge to break out in tears and beg them to help me; instead I forced myself to put on my famous smile and make small talk with them and pretend that nothing was wrong in the world. I would make up excuses as to why I couldn’t get help yet and the days turned to months then to years. From the very beginning I rationalized my behavior by thinking “at least I’m not doing this every day, at least I’m not crushing my pills and snorting them, at least I’m not doing heroin, at least I’m not smoking it yet, at least I’m not shooting it, at least…” I just kept lowering the bar until I couldn’t stand the sight of my reflection. I even stopped wearing my contacts and started wearing my glasses for a while just to avoid mirrors, and I’m very self-conscious about wearing my glasses anywhere in public. But, I was more disgusted with the person I had become. Mirrors just show the opposite of the image you present, and that’s what I was, the reverse image of the person I thought I’d be at this age and the image everyone else had of me.

at least I’m not doing this every day, at least I’m not crushing my pills and snorting them, at least I’m not doing heroin, at least I’m not smoking it yet, at least I’m not shooting it, at least…

My addiction established an unchanging daily routine; I would exhaust all of my resources in the pursuit of my high and once that was accomplished there was no more bitching about work, school, weather conditions, or the arguments from last night, the rest of the day was just a daze. That lifestyle did indeed create the illusion of time becoming stagnant; heroin was the only thing that mattered anymore. The drug had more control over my brain than Big Brother does over Oceania. If heroin were a person, his name would be Hitler. I turned 20 this past summer when my addiction was at its worst. I spent my entire birthday alone in my room shooting up heroin. I didn’t see any of my friends or family; hell I didn’t even check my phone or Facebook to see who thought of me. I just sat alone with the company of my cat, Nirvana, and a Nirvana CD on repeat. Again I had broken one of my personal philosophies, I had mainlined, one of the few things separating me from most junkies. I had hit rock bottom. The one thing that I thought would eventually improve the other aspects of my life was, in reality, the main problem that was pile-driving my once manageable life into oblivion.

The thing about having an addiction is that you’re fully aware of what it’s doing to your life. You know it’s ruining all of your personal relationships, you know it’s the reason you’re neglecting your responsibilities and hygiene, you know it’s raping you both mentally and physically (along with your wallet), you know it’s the most counter-productive aspect of your life, but you just can’t stop because you accept this paradoxical solution to your problems. As soon as it’s in your system you don’t care—and you like that you don’t care.

Derrick and his little brother, Anthony

I was only capable of cherishing time spent with my little brother, Anthony. He’s twelve years old and a sports prodigy; all of the athleticism that I didn’t get he was born with. He’s too young to fully understand it now, but he is the main reason I’m still on this planet alive and breathing. Before my addiction, a wedge was driven between my mom and me that caused me to move out. As a result, I seldom saw my brother until I finally got my driver’s license. Then I started to take him out to play basketball or baseball on weekends. Sometimes I would teach him how to drive in the parking lot of his elementary school. Then I’d always end the day by taking him out to lunch or dinner. People tell me I spoil him a lot, which is true because I’ll literally buy him anything he wants, but normally he just wanted to go to McDonalds or Pizza Hut. I preferred going to Pizza Hut with him because that’s when I had longer opportunities to talk and connect with him as a brother. It filled me with so much joy when he would share with me what was going on in his life because we’re both more reticent and taciturn than the average person. We have family members that we have known for his entire life and he still won’t open his mouth to communicate with them. He just shrugs his shoulders or nods his head to answer their questions. So just the fact that he would still talk to me even though distance had been placed between us is what began fueling the fire to fight for a return to a sober lifestyle instead of taking the easier way out. I couldn’t stand that I could no longer hang out with him while I was sober and that I needed a pill or a bag of dope to be able to do anything with him. So I entered myself into an outpatient Suboxone program. Suboxone is one of a few drugs used to wean people away from opiates. I was on the waiting list for months, but then my day of reckoning finally arrived in January 2014. I was able to dedicate myself to maintaining an opiate-free lifestyle. I was able to honor my brother and pay him back for reminding me, during my darkest hours, that even though I didn’t love myself anymore, I was still surrounded by people who do.