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It was the classic question — do you want the good news, or the bad news first? After over a decade of substance abuse, my doctor summarized the consequences of treating my body like a toilet.
The good news: I had chlamydia. The bad news: I had also contracted Hepatitis C.
My mind shook with this news. I was 25, I had a college education and a great job.
I was a well-seasoned party girl, yes. Junkie? Hardly. I use the word junkie because when I received this news, I was living with 40 of them in a rehabilitation center where I was being treated for alcoholism. My dear self-described "junkie" friends used needles, making them prime candidates for Hep C.
“But aren’t you a bed wetter?” said my heroin-addicted roommate when she found out, using the rehab term to describe alcoholics.
"I used a needle once."
“Wow, that’s like having a prom night baby,” she sighed.
Could it be that? I racked my brain, conjuring the fuzzy memory of a party two years before.
I was at friend’s house with a bottle of vodka under my belt. This was at the stage in my drinking where parties were less about music and dancing but more about "getting on" -- searching for drugs, getting higher and higher, and combining the synthetic high (MDMA, coke, meth) with a steady liquor buzz. We partied for days, losing our grip on reality and very much, ourselves.
Liquor was my primary poison; however I would never refuse a line of coke or a pipe. At that time I thought nothing of drinking a case of beer (I’m a five foot nothing girl), but when someone spoke of injecting amphetamines I thought “Oh no! I couldn’t do that to my body!”
Granted, they are different beasts. However it’s all self-destruction in the end.
When I started to drink heavily, my choices, unsurprisingly, got progressively more terrible. In my head, there existed several lines that I’d never cross—don’t drink in the morning, don’t have unprotected sex, don’t use meth, don’t use a needle. I crossed these lines routinely—usually a few at a time!
The rules were just stories that I told myself to escape the fact that I was so out of control. Intravenous drug use was a big one for me. I felt as though if I did it, I’d finally have to take a look at my substance abuse.
This party was hosted by two meth heads who I knew used intravenously. In preparation for the party, they’d fixed themselves up six or so ready-to-go syringes. Later in the evening when their dealer came around with a new bag, they offered me "shot."
They assured me that the needles were clean, and flicking my mind back to their pre-prepared kits, I didn’t ask any more questions. I was too fucking ecstatic at the thought of getting out of my vodka haze and jumping around with my friends.
The liquor in my system removed any rational fear about what I was about to do; at that time getting high was my number one priority. They knew it was my first time, and they shot me up using a bathrobe tie as the tourniquet.
Meth is really fucking good. That may have been my first thought when I felt the heat rise up through my feet. The high was so shudder-inducing that I promised myself I would never again put a needle in my arm — the one boundary I finally kept.
I ticked that box and went about killing myself in other ways. And until that meeting at the doctor's office, I was delusional in thinking that I had come out of my warpath unscathed.
My diagnosis of Hep C has actually improved my life in many ways. If I pick up a drink, it’s game over for my liver, a solid incentive to stay sober. Through diet and exercise, my doctor believes, I’ll be able to clear the virus. Although I’m not sold on this, it’s enough to at least try.
It’s a hard process, this whole adult living thing, but I’m learning about raw food and the importance of moving my butt most days. Through living "clean," I’ve met other health-conscious people and my adventures today are full and nourishing.
Almost a year substance-free, I still fantasize about grabbing a bottle of wine and diving headfirst into a crowd. Hep C reminds me that my body needs other things—like water and rest, however tedious. The party is well and truly over.
Emotionally, my scars are still healing. For a while there I was very angry at myself for playing Russian roulette with my life and the lives of others. I’m slowly recovering, but I’m still not at the point where I feel comfortable enough to share my health concerns with my mom and those I’m professionally linked to, out of fear of judgement.
I talk about my sadness and guilt with the countless friends I met in rehab who also have Hep C. I’m writing about it now, which helps to shed some of the shame. Some days I even laugh when I refer to that crazy time in my life where chlamydia was "good news."
There are many treatments available for Hep C, some less aggressive than others. Until I go down that road, I’ve just got to take care of myself. Life, finally, is that simple.