i lost my job, my home and my mar­riage: an ad­dic­tion mem­oir

To the out­side world, I was a happy Toronto mom. Pri­vately, I was fight­ing a se­ri­ous heroin ad­dic­tion. I re­cov­ered, but my heart didn’t

Toronto Life - - Front Page - By Shan­non McKin­non Pho­to­graph by Derek Shap­ton

When I was 14 years old, I started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing bru­tal pains dur­ing my pe­ri­ods. The first one hit me one day at the beach. It started with a twinge in my back. A few min­utes later, I felt as though a con­struc­tion crew had fired up jack­ham­mers and blow­torches, tear­ing down the walls of my uterus. When the pain reached its cli­max, I fainted. Dead cold on the dirty beach-bath­room floor, I woke up to the smell of con­crete. I tried to fig­ure out what was wrong, but every­one, even my fam­ily doc­tor, told me that pe­ri­ods are sup­posed to hurt. Just about ev­ery month af­ter that, I’d pass out from the pain. On the floor of my bed­room. At the of­fice at school. In the al­ley be­hind the bus stop. I later found out I had en­dometrio­sis, a dis­or­der that causes the uter­ine lin­ing to break off and at­tach to other parts of the body.

I didn’t let the pain ruin my life. Af­ter high school, I came to Toronto to study jour­nal­ism at Ry­er­son. In my third year, I moved into an apart­ment on Jarvis Street, next door to my fu­ture hus­band. We met on a Sun­day, slept to­gether that Thurs­day and spent ev­ery day to­gether for the next 17 years. I worked as an in­tern at the CBC in my fourth year and got a job as a re­search as­so­ciate on Big Life With Daniel Rich­ler be­fore I grad­u­ated. I loved it there. I spent the next decade work­ing my way up from as­so­ciate pro­ducer to di­rec­tor to se­nior pro­ducer. I worked on Coun­terSpin, The Hour and Dragons’ Den. I even had the op­por­tu­nity to host and pro­duce seg­ments on Ci­tyTV for a cou­ple of years. I didn’t al­ways like my jobs, but I loved my ca­reer.

Soon af­ter we mar­ried in 2002, my hus­band and I bought a house in Les­lieville. He’s an en­gi­neer, and he im­me­di­ately got to work build­ing clos­ets and in­stalling a fire­place and ren­o­vat­ing the kitchen. I was in charge of cool light­ing and paint chips and mak­ing him laugh. It was a cozy life. Ev­ery Sun­day we had din­ner with our clos­est friends, and ev­ery morn­ing he’d bring me a glass of juice in bed and kiss me on the nose. We were very lucky for a very long time.

We both wanted chil­dren badly, but my en­dometrio­sis had left scar tis­sue on my fal­lop­ian tubes and ovaries, which was a ma­jor speed bump on the road to get­ting knocked up. We’d try at the right time, I’d wait to feel some­thing, and, in­evitably, the Endo Con­struc­tion Crew would show up to rip down the walls of my uterus. One day I was cry­ing in the kitchen. I told my hus­band that he should be with some­one who could give him kids. He started cry­ing too and told me he didn’t want kids with just any­body—he wanted my kids.

Af­ter five years of un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts to get preg­nant, I be­gan tak­ing Clo­mid, a fer­til­ity drug. I’d start on day three of my pe­riod, take one pill daily for the next five days and have sex all the time. Within a few weeks, I was preg­nant with twins. For the next nine months, I wor­ried that I wouldn’t be able to get over the pain I would ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing labour and de­liv­ery. By that point, en­dometrio­sis had scarred more than my in­ter­nal or­gans; it was seared into my mind. When I went into labour, both ba­bies were breech; they were de­liv­ered by C-sec­tion. Our twins ar­rived happy and healthy on De­cem­ber 23, 2008—a boy and a girl.

When we brought them home, I be­gan to feel crushed un­der the weight of be­ing a mother. One morn­ing I took them to the gro­cery store, which is only about a six-minute drive from the house, but it took me about an hour to get there. I bun­dled them up and car­ried them one at a time to their car seats. I folded the mas­sive dou­ble stroller and shoe­horned it into the trunk. When we got to the store, I did the whole process again in re­verse. I was ex­hausted.

I breast­fed as much as I could. By the time I was fin­ished feed­ing one of them, the other would be ready to eat. I didn’t ad­mit to any­one—not even my­self—that I wasn’t do­ing well. I wasn’t sleep­ing. Ever. Not just be­cause the twins needed me, but be­cause I was con­stantly fight­ing the anx­i­ety that I was a ter­ri­ble mother. In the morn­ing, I’d sol­dier on, telling every­one how well every­thing was go­ing. I’ve al­ways been quick with a lie.

I was des­per­ate to be a good mother. I bought cloth di­a­pers (threw them out af­ter two days). I tried mak­ing my own baby food (nope). I loved my ba­bies des­per­ately—we cud­dled and snug­gled and I would have died if any­thing ever hap­pened to them. But I was try­ing too hard to do every­thing right. I’d con­stantly for­get to put their laun­dry in the dryer and have to wash it again. I didn’t know what day the re­cy­cling or garbage bins were sup­posed to go to the curb. Bags of used di­a­pers piled up all over the house. I didn’t know how to ask for help. When my hus­band started trav­el­ling for work, we hired a nanny. The first day she came I in­sisted she sit on the couch while I vac­u­umed the liv­ing room.

I went back to work on Dragons’ Den when the twins were seven months old. Soon, my pe­ri­ods re­turned—and they hurt. I was ter­ri­fied of the pain. I was work­ing and look­ing af­ter the twins and deal­ing with de­pres­sion. So I went to see my fam­ily doc­tor. I left the ap­point­ment with 15 Per­co­cets. I was to take two a day, for five days ev­ery month.

I filled the pre­scrip­tion a few weeks later, as soon as I felt my back cramp­ing up. I took one and the pain went away. One night I was ly­ing in bed and I felt like my calves started glow­ing. A golden warmth spread through my body. Af­ter a few months, I found my­self think­ing about the pills. (“How many days un­til my pe­riod is due?”) When I was at home, I was con­stantly, vaguely aware that they were corked up in a bot­tle on a shelf. I wished they would come out and dance. Then it hit me: I could take these things even when I didn’t need to. That was the day I left my old life be­hind and be­came a drug ad­dict. P er­co­cet was a rev­e­la­tion. I’d take two, lie down and have a two-hour or­gasm. I mea­sured time in pills—how long be­tween when I took them and when I could take them again. My doc­tor gave me only 15 at a time, but af­ter a few months I was swal­low­ing four to six at once. I was con­stantly run­ning out. I googled “how to cre­ate a fake pre­scrip­tion” on my com­puter and shazam! About a hun­dred ex­am­ples popped up. I made a few changes, en­tered some fake names and started print­ing them out.

I hit small phar­ma­cies and al­ways paid in cash. I got 60 pills ev­ery time, for $20. I was re­fill­ing once or twice a week, and hid them on the top shelf of my closet. I did all of the stu­pid­est things you could do. I went back to the same places too many times, and long be­fore my “pre­scrip­tions” should have been fin­ished. I messed up on the dates once and tried to fill a pre­scrip­tion for the fol­low­ing year. One day I went into a drug­store I’d never vis­ited be­fore. The phar­ma­cist looked me up and down, took the script and walked into the next room. I saw him pick up the phone, so I turned around and walked out. Then I went to a dif­fer­ent phar­macy. Within a year, I was tak­ing 24 pills per day. Per­co­cet has ac­etaminophen in it, which dec­i­mates the liver. So I grad­u­ally switched to a drug that was much stronger and cleaner: OxyCon­tin.

My hus­band fig­ured out what was go­ing on af­ter about a year. I used to put six pills un­der my side of the mat­tress be­fore I fell asleep so I could take them at 5 a.m. In the morn­ing I’d slip my hand un­der the mat­tress and grope around for the pills as qui­etly as I could. I could feel him watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to me. I could feel his dis­ap­point­ment and his heart­break.

He tried hard to un­der­stand what I was go­ing through. When the twins were three, we left them with my in-laws and flew to Mi­ami for a child-free va­ca­tion. He found a bag of Per­co­cet hid­den un­der the mat­tress. I did the clas­sic ad­dict’s shame dance about how I knew I needed to stop, and he started cry­ing and told me that we’d do it to­gether. We had a week away from the twins and our jobs, and he’d help me through the with­drawals. He thought by the time we went back home, every­thing would

be okay. I loved him for that, but he didn’t know with­drawal. I told him I’d do it, and then I se­cretly used my backup bag of Oxy, which I’d crush into pow­der and snort.

My hus­band would usu­ally get up with the kids, and I’d stay in bed un­til he had to leave for work. I’d drag my­self to the couch in the base­ment and wait for the nanny to ar­rive. And then I’d go back to bed. The kids stayed with our nanny from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. She’d cook din­ner and help get them ready for bed. They needed me, and my heart broke ev­ery time they’d try to climb into bed with me.

Our nanny was wor­ried about me. She loved the twins and she loved us, and she tried to make things as nor­mal as pos­si­ble around the house. She mostly kept the kids away from me, and she stayed with us when I walked them to the play­ground. She kept our house sparkling clean, but I made her prom­ise never to clean our bed­room, be­cause I didn’t want any­body find­ing the pills I’d stashed on the shelves or un­der the mat­tress.

In 2011, we went to a friend’s wed­ding, where I found out that one of the guests was an ad­dict. I didn’t speak to her at the wed­ding, but a cou­ple of days later I Face­booked her and asked if she could hook me up with some­one who could sell me pills. She gave me the name and num­ber of a dealer she knew. Per­co­cets were $5 a pill, Oxy 40s were $30 per pill, and Oxy 80s—he called them Green Mon­sters—were about $50.

At work, I was fall­ing be­hind. When my col­leagues and bosses started to fig­ure out what was go­ing on, I left the CBC and took a job as an ex­ec­u­tive at Shaw Me­dia, over­see­ing pro­gram­ming for HGTV, Slice and the Food Net­work. My ad­dic­tion robbed me of any sense of mo­ti­va­tion, but at the same time I felt in­cred­i­ble pres­sure to meet dead­lines. I was con­stantly fak­ing it. I’d get to work, lis­ten to mu­sic for an hour, then make notes on the episodes I needed to de­liver that week. I’d leave at lunchtime and go home for two hours to take pills. Af­ter about a year, I just stopped show­ing up. I knew I was prob­a­bly go­ing to get fired—I think I was prob­a­bly try­ing to get fired. But they didn’t fire me. So I quit.

The health care sys­tem had caught onto the fact that ad­dicts were scrap­ing Oxy pills into a fine pow­der to snort. So the drug com­pany changed the for­mula to make the pills un­snortable gel­caps. For ad­dicts look­ing to get high, they weren’t nearly as ef­fec­tive. The price of a Green Mon­ster sky­rock­eted—any­one who had them could get about a hun­dred bucks a pill. The In­ter­net was full of recipes for how to turn the gel pills back into snortable pow­der. I tried mi­crowav­ing them, leav­ing them in the freezer overnight and pound­ing them with a ham­mer, grind­ing them down in a mug and scream­ing ob­scen­i­ties at them. Noth­ing worked. O ne day in 2013, I was des­per­ate to buy Oxy. My dealer said he didn’t have any. He of­fered me heroin in­stead. By this time, I had crossed so many men­tal lines that it only took me five sec­onds to say yes. I hated my­self. While I waited for him to de­liver my gram of heroin, I taught my­self how to shoot up. I googled “how to in­ject heroin safely,” and a very help­ful YouTube video popped up, in­struct­ing me on how to use a tourni­quet and find a vein. I was kind of scared

about us­ing heroin, but I like feel­ing scared—it’s an emo­tion I con­fuse with be­ing thrilled. I went to Shop­pers and bought a bag of sy­ringes—10 for $5—and texted the nanny to make sure the twins were nowhere in the vicin­ity.

I shot up alone that first time and ev­ery time af­ter. I was be­ing dan­ger­ous, stupid and ir­re­spon­si­ble. I never thought about what would hap­pen if I OD’d. My dealer had warned me to only use a point (a tenth of a gram), and I was as metic­u­lous with the mea­sure­ment as my des­per­a­tion would al­low. Shoot­ing heroin was like walk­ing into a vac­uum. I didn’t feel bliss or like I was wrapped in a warm blan­ket or like Je­sus was mak­ing love to me. It wasn’t like Trainspot­ting. I didn’t gain a feel­ing—I lost all feel­ings. It didn’t mat­ter that my mar­riage and my ca­reer were fall­ing apart. It felt like a very peace­ful death, and I started dy­ing a few times a day.

I took a job at a de­vel­op­ment com­pany run by a few friends. I prob­a­bly showed up to work once a week. Af­ter seven months, they no­ticed the track marks on my arms. When one of the own­ers sug­gested that I go to re­hab, I quit. My re­la­tion­ship with my hus­band had turned into a hor­ri­ble game of cat and mouse, where he would ac­cuse me of be­ing on drugs, and I would lie and say I wasn’t. He’d text me a pic­ture of nee­dles hid­den in a drawer or a box in the bath­room. I’d freak out and call him, in­sist­ing that I wasn’t us­ing, that he was find­ing old equip­ment that I for­got about. Ev­ery few weeks, he’d kick me out of our house, and I’d stay with friends, who had no ex­pe­ri­ence with this kind of drug ad­dic­tion. They’d trust me and lis­ten to my bull­shit ex­cuses while I waited for my hus­band to calm down and let me come home.

At my hus­band’s in­sis­tence, I com­pleted a 21-day in­pa­tient pro­gram at CAMH. He told the twins I was on a trip, which was con­vinc­ing be­cause we both trav­elled reg­u­larly for work. I was de­ter­mined to get clean, but I was a re­hab rookie. My mom and mother-in-law came to the lit­tle grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony they had for us at the end. My mom even cried.

A week af­ter leav­ing CAMH, I called a guy I met at re­hab and bought more heroin. My hus­band was still trav­el­ling a lot, so my mom came to help with the twins. I spent months in bed, de­pressed and shoot­ing up five times a day. I wal­lowed in my ad­dic­tion.

One day in 2013, I got a phone call from a woman I used to work with at the CBC. She asked me to pro­duce a show about the NHL dur­ing the Sochi Olympics. I felt in­tense pres­sure to get a job—from my hus­band, from my mom, from my­self—as if work­ing would solve every­thing that was wrong with my life. I tried to stop us­ing heroin and switch back to pills, but it was too hard. The best I could do was shoot up less of­ten and take pills in be­tween to keep me go­ing. There was no such thing as get­ting high in my life—by this point, drugs were the only thing keep­ing me from fall­ing apart.

My dad was di­ag­nosed with stom­ach can­cer in Jan­uary 2014. We weren’t very close, but I vis­ited him of­ten and brought the twins to see him when I could. I tried to do my job, be an ac­tive part of my fam­ily and sup­port my dy­ing dad. I was try­ing harder than ever not to use drugs. My hus­band and I were openly hos­tile by this point, and I knew he’d leave me soon. I didn’t blame him. One morn­ing, I woke and found a video on my iPhone that I had recorded at 3 a.m. the night be­fore. I warned my­self that my hus­band was go­ing to di­vorce me and take the twins. I told my­self that if I didn’t stop, I was go­ing to lose my job. Maybe I’d die.

I was fired from my job in July, af­ter miss­ing a shoot in New York with Dustin Brown, then the cap­tain of the L.A. Kings. When I got back home, my hus­band tried to keep me out of the house. It was mid­night, and we were both so ex­hausted that he fi­nally just let me walk up up­stairs and sleep in the guest room. I left the next day to stay at a ho­tel.

On July 13, 2014, I turned 40. I knew I was in trou­ble when no­body aside from my mom and twin brother called me on my birth­day. Three days later, I went to see my fa­ther at the hospi­tal for the last time. By this point I looked like a junkie. I was thin and pale. I rarely show­ered. I didn’t no­tice when the nurses gave each other a look af­ter I asked what meds my fa­ther was on.

I was over­whelmed and dopesick—I hadn’t used since that morn­ing—so I left my dad’s room and sat in the wait­ing room for a break. Two se­cu­rity guards ap­proached me and loudly told me that there had been a com­plaint that I was steal­ing med­i­ca­tion from the hospi­tal. They told me they needed to search me. I hadn’t touched any­thing, so I told them to go ahead. They looked through my bags, I turned out my pock­ets, and they left.

When I went back to my dad’s room, my twin brother—who I didn’t see very of­ten—had started to re­al­ize how se­ri­ous my prob­lem was. “Shan­non, the nurse was just here with the po­lice. They said you stole some­thing,” he said. “I’m not an­gry at you but I’m not deal­ing with this to­day. What­ever you’ve got, get rid of it. Now.” I told him I didn’t do it, but he didn’t be­lieve me. I wouldn’t have be­lieved me ei­ther. I left the hospi­tal to pick up drugs, and my fa­ther died an hour later. I wasn’t there.

The au­thor (and her mom) in the years af­ter re­cov­er­ing from her ad­dic­tion

The au­thor in hospi­tal af­ter emerg­ing from a 19-day med­i­cally in­duced coma

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