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Drugs Dilemma

Today, Jane — not her real name — talks about how she developed cocaine addiction and how it devastated her life. A few facts have been changed to protect Jane's anonymity.

When Liz asked me if I’d tell my story so others could learn from it, I didn’t want to because who wants to go back and visit hell. You know? You stick that pipe in your mouth and that’s where you go. Straight to hell.

I decided if it helped one person, it’d be worth it. Parts are changed here to protect my anonymity.

It started out with me selling. I loved money; figured I could sell a little cocaine. I didn’t use. I had a child to consider. I looked respectable. I owned a house far from here, was a “white girl” who dressed and talked nice. So who better? The professionals wanted to do business with a safe bet, not go to the ghetto. Ha. Like I was better than a black guy on a corner. Pretty soon, a major supplier and I got together and I began dealing weight. Still not using. Making the bucks.

Then I fell for a customer. A heavy user. I started using with him. Big mistake. I had tons of cocaine, tons of money. Very attractive. Later, when I got honest, I could see he was in love with my cocaine, not me.

Soon I didn’t take care of my child, the house, the laundry, the grocery runs — nothing. I was always in that triple cycle: about to get high, was high, or was crashing. Then, my supplier didn’t get paid. Dangerous. I wasn’t together enough to deal and I owed money everywhere. The love of my life and I began to fight as only two addicts can. Teeth bared. Knuckles crimson. My ex said "get it together or I take our child." He should have done that long ago, but I was too ashamed to tell him. She didn’t even have enough to eat, not to mention clean clothes. I got foreclosure notices and dumped them. I insisted I’d get help. He said OK.

I wanted to stop, so why couldn’t I? What was up with that? Denial, addiction’s long shadow, is vital to the addict’s psyche. Without it, we quit or commit suicide. So I just kept skidding along, arms windmilling. I began to look bad, smell bad and talk bad. I hid, terrified of everything.

I’d quit for a “couple of minutes,” then the shame would move in. My shame was this huge planet. The Planet Shame. I couldn’t see over the piles of shame to a life without coke. Couldn’t see around the corner where salvation lay. The garbage was stacked too high, my need to escape too strong, so I’d use again and again to drive Planet Shame back.

Of course, it all came crashing down on me. Someone came along and took my boyfriend, my ex took our daughter, the bank took the house. No one took me. I was no longer able to fake normal. I was too scary, a low-bottom addict who didn’t have a key to my name. Keys say a lot about you. They say: I have a car, a home and an office, and my neighbor wants me to have a key in case there’s an emergency. No keys. None at all.

Somehow I got to detox. Somehow, I began the slow climb back to civilization. It took six months before the fog lifted. Six months before I could think in a straight line.

During that time, I was in treatment for 28 days and a halfway house for six months getting myself the time it took for my brain to clear out and make the necessary repairs. Six months before I could use the memory of the shameful things I did to stay sober instead of high.

I’m OK today because I work a program of recovery. Because I don’t want to go back to living/existing in hell. Not today.

I don’t refer to myself as normal. Most of the people I sold to are dead or destroyed. You ask me; there’s no war on drugs. There is no “us against them.” There are only addicts and lost families, friends and opportunities. I will never forget my part in those losses. Never forget hell.

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Cayuga County resident Liz Barnes has been a credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor for more than 25 years. This column is not meant as medical advice; for that, see your health professional. If you have a question, write to this column at The Citizen, 25 Dill St., Auburn, NY 13021 or use the comments section on


Features editor for The Citizen.