A Junkie’s Story: Once Hooked on Heroin, Now Free

“I got out of it for my kids”

It’s next to impossible for an ex-heroin addict and dealer to make peace with his old demons. Pierre had to pass through dark periods of remorse and rejection before he could feel reborn. And during his climb back into the light, he received help from two unlikely sources: his sons, who reconciled with him after a long absence. Today they stand by Pierre’s side as he fights to lead a drug-free life, forever wrestling with his former self.

Dominic Desmarais        Files Drug Addiction

Pierre thinks he’s been sober for 20 years. But he’s not completely certain. Heavy drug use has damaged his memory. “It’s tough for me to figure it out exactly, because in the early 90s, I had relapses of two or three days at a stretch,” he admits. “I don’t have the same powers of recall. I forget things real fast. Because of the LSD and the glue. They destroy your brain cells.”

Pierre speaks slowly, deliberately, often hesitating as he searches to recall events and people from his turbulent past. Sometimes, there are long pauses; when they end, Pierre has lost his train of thought. There are flashes of lucidity followed by fogs of doubt. His years of substance abuse have taken a heavy toll. “It took me a good 10 years to really get back on my feet,” he says. “Physically, I’m still hurting. I was never exactly a hunk, but in my youth I was at least presentable. Today, look at me.”

Pierre’s skin is limp and yellow; his few remaining teeth are rotten. He is 49, but could pass for 65. His outward appearance is the least of his concerns. His liver sputters; he has trouble sleeping and even walking.

 Scarred for Life

“I still bear the scars,” he admits. “It’s affected me mentally. Nowadays, when I live through a stressful period, I can get through it without drugging myself. But before, when I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin I’d dream about junkies injecting themselves and I wouldn’t sleep a wink. Sometimes, even today, I flash back to my addict days and I feel depressed, nauseous. A lot of things can trigger those flashbacks. I get scared I’ll go back to my old habits, even though it’s been years… I’ll never forget. I’m scarred for life.”

Having frequented some of the seediest, most squalid places imaginable; having cheated death numerous times; Pierre’s vulnerabilities have finally been given the space to emerge from the shadows. Now he has to confront who he was.

“When I think back to what I did to certain people,” he says, “I feel sick to my stomach. It takes a real creep to give a needle to a pregnant woman. I pretended I wasn’t to blame by telling myself she’d asked for it in the first place. I wasn’t myself, getting heroin for someone like that. But for me, when I was dealing, a junkie was just another number.”

Opening up about his life Pierre is obviously ill at ease, a haunted man. But he perks up when he thinks of his sons. “That’s what brings me back down to earth,” he says. “My kids. I’ll never again stick a needle in my arm. I’ll never let my sons live through that. It’d be impossible. I’d shoot myself through the head first.”

A Father’s Love

Pierre got hooked on drugs to escape his cold, distant father. Today, he wants to be a different type of role model for his own children, ages 17 and 16. Pierre missed their childhood because of the rift with the mother. “She’d been sexually abused by her own father,” Pierre recalls. “I tried to help her, but it just made things worse. The breakup was inevitable. She was focused on money and material things. But I hold no bitterness towards her. She gave me my two sons. In the end, I understand that she did the right thing in getting away from me.”

When his wife left she took both their infant sons with her. Pierre fought for visitation rights. She fought back. “She gave me a lot of trouble,” he recalls. “She phoned the police more than once when I showed up on her doorstep. That was demoralizing. I went to see lawyers, which I really didn’t want to do in the beginning because I was broke. But looking back, I can accept what she did, how she acted. She had her own problems to work on. So did I.”

From a distance Pierre tried to stay in contact with his sons. On Christmases and birthdays he’d send cards and presents. Everything he sent them was returned, unopened. “They never saw what I’d sent! She was scared they’d build a rapport with me, so I was never allowed to build a rapport with them. She was telling them I was a rotten, no-good junkie. I only learned that recently”

So the junkie accepted the situation. He waited patiently to see his sons when each would turn 18 and could decide for themselves. Then one day, out of the blue, Quebec’s  Youth Protection Services, the DPJ, contacted him. It was about Brian, the youngest.

“He was 15. He was causing trouble looking for his dad. He hated his mom for keeping us all apart.” When Youth Protection gets involved, they meet with both parents. “If I have a great relationship with my sons now,” Pierre beams, “it’s because of Brian. He forced me to see things as they are. A child needs two parents.”

A Difficult Reconciliation

Pierre had stopped taking drugs – but he still found it enormously difficult to reconcile with his family. His own father had remained forever distant, cold, untouchable. “I would have loved for him to open up and tell me he loved me. But in the end, I understood that that would never ever happen. For his generation, a real man never shows his feelings. That was his mindset: real men don’t cry,” Pierre says. “It was like that when I was growing up, too. Our relationship was chilly right up until the day he died. I grieved his passing, but before he passed, I realized we’d never be friends, or even father-son to each other. So I’d given up trying.”

Things were just as bad with his own mother. “Worse, even. She always saw herself as a housewife. Clean and do laundry. Have supper hot on the table when her man comes home, to make him happy. There was no family life. When we went on vacation, we didn’t talk or share our experiences. We kept our thoughts to ourselves. I would have liked us to open up a bit. My mom never hugged me or told me she loved me either.”

It may have been impossible for Pierre to re-establish bonds with his parents that had never existed in the first place. But he knows that he can offer his sons the love and understanding his parents never gave him. “With my kids it’s completely different,” Pierre sighs. “We enjoy friendly relations. I accept the mistakes I made with them. I tell them about my life without them. I ask them to tell me when I do something that hurts them. If I’m still upbeat about my future, it’s because of them.”

Pierre stares into the distance. “I was a junkie. People are dead today because I’d sold them drugs. But my two sons are proof that my life hasn’t been completely wasted. I’d give my life for them. They come before me.”

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