By Meredith Enright, N.P.
Hallmark Health Medical Associates
Heroin is an intense, life-consuming drug. In fact, Middlesex County has the highest rate of death by accidental heroin overdose than any other county in Massachusetts. I’ve watched heroin ruin the lives of countless young people, ripping them away from their families and roping them into self-destructive lifestyles.
I see these devastated families day after day. But do you know what keeps me going? The fact that people can beat heroin addiction if they want to. I’ve seen it with my patients. It’s not easy – in fact, it’s one of the hardest things they’ll ever face. But it can be done, and they can go back to a normal, functioning life.
My patient, Bryan “Snowman” Snow, is an example of a man who found his way back from addiction. Bryan has not only put his own life back together – he now helps others who are struggling to cope with the lasting effects of addiction. Here is Bryan’s story in his own words.
I grew up in Charlestown, a suburb of Boston. I had a good childhood early on, nothing out of the ordinary. When I was 6, my parents split up, and I took it pretty hard. I learned quickly that negative attention was still attention. I just wanted to be loved and acknowledged, so I would act out. I was a terror, looking back!
I bounced back and forth between my mom’s and dad’s houses, and I started lying and stealing at a young age. Mom and Dad had taught me moral standards, like working hard and being honest, but I was an angry kid, so it didn’t really stick.
When I was in high school, I was a pretty normal teenager, moody and rebellious. I went to the typical keg parties and I tried weed. I never thought it would turn into anything.
But really quickly, my partying escalated. Prescription pain medication – opiates – became popular among my circle of friends. People just had them on the street. We traded each other for weed, alcohol, and pills. I tried the pills, and I liked them – they covered up my angst and other normal, young adult feelings.
I started eating pills, and the next thing I knew, all the good things I was brought up to do – like get a job and work hard every day – became second in life. Running around, doing drugs, and partying became number one. It happened that fast.
‘Pills just weren’t doing it for us anymore’
After high school, my friends and I became more hardcore with drugs. Pills just weren’t doing it for us anymore. One night, I tried sniffing heroin. I knew a little about heroin – growing up, it was one of those scary things you shouldn’t touch, or you’ll end up a real mess. I thought I would be safe sniffing it, because using a needle… whoa, that was really bad. But I was very, very wrong. I couldn’t stop at just sniffing heroin, and I started shooting up.
At that point, I was only working a couple days a week to keep myself afloat. I started stealing to get money for drugs, and lo and behold, I got arrested. I had all these charges piling up, but I didn’t know when half of them had happened. Getting arrested shocked me. In that moment, I realized I was full-blown heroin addict. But it didn’t scare me enough to make me stop using.
So I went to jail, and I showed up at my court cases. I was introduced to detoxes, halfway houses, and programs, but I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was get the court and my family off my back so I could keep using. I wanted not to feel. With all the trouble I was in, my life had become even worse than when I was a kid. Being hooked on opiates was my main source of freedom. In my head, it worked. It numbed me so I didn’t have to deal with life.
One step forward, two steps back
Flash forward a year or two. One day, I just had enough. I had a bunch of court cases, and none of my family wanted to talk to me again. I was in a treatment facility, and for some reason, something clicked. I was serious about staying clean, so I went to see Meredith Enright, a nurse practitioner at Hallmark Health Medical Associates, and she helped me get on the right path.
Meredith pointed me toward a 12-step program. I’d heard about it, but never gave it a fair shake. I finished that treatment over a year or two, and I got clean and sober. Slowly, I started to put my life back together, and life was good. I got a job, a car, and a girlfriend, and I reconnected with my family. I got into the electricians union, Local 103, and was on my way to becoming an electrician. I was doing the 12-step program the way it was laid out, and my life was continually getting better without opiates.
Then I got in a car accident. I got some prescription painkillers to help ease the pain. I thought because of my clean time that I could manage dispensing them myself. Unfortunately, that really opened the monkey’s cage.
I still have no idea what happened. I relapsed hard. It was like I had never stopped using – after five years, I was right back where I started.
I sold everything I owned for drug money. Once the materialistic stuff goes, the moral standards start to go. I alienated everybody, and I started lying and manipulating again. The only thing in my head was heroin – heroin could fix it. Just do more, and it will all go away.
Somehow I survived another year, or maybe it was two. I dragged myself back to treatment again, broken and defeated. But I discovered that during my relapse, funding for treatment programs had been cut. A lot had changed in just a few years, and it seemed like my only options were to rot in jail or die.
Starting over again
After three days, I was finally able to get a detox bed. I was scared – I could have died. Now I was starting all over again.
I was determined to live clean, get the people I loved back in my life again, and be free of my dependence on opiates. And it was hard – really hard. I considered trying a drug replacement therapy like methadone, but I decided against it. As hard as detox already was, I didn’t want to have to quit something else later. It works for some people, but I’m glad I didn’t go that route.
After a few months, I slowly started to clean up some of the wreckage from my addiction – settling matters with the IRS, trying to get my electrician’s license again, and reconnecting with family and friends. There were many days when I wondered, “Am I going to be able to put my life back together again?” I almost couldn’t fathom it anymore.
But I made it. With Meredith’s support and the 12-step program, I’ve maintained a little over three and a half years clean time. Meredith was never judgmental about my addiction. But she didn’t take any guff, either. She’s done her homework about addiction treatment, and she was honest about what treatments she would try with me, and what she wouldn’t condone.
Meredith referred me to a therapist to help me overcome some issues I needed to manage. I realized I needed to do a few things differently this time to stay clean for good.
A light bulb moment
One of the best decisions I made this time was to take care of my physical appearance. I had a lot of dental issues caused by malnutrition and neglect when I was hooked on heroin. I had a broken smile.
So I saved up some money, went to a dentist, and got my smile back. A friend had been watching my progress, unbeknownst to me. He pulled me aside one day and said, “Snowman, I’ve watched you take care of yourself. This time you didn’t spend money on the materialistic stuff. You did the work, you fixed your teeth, and you can smile now.” My friend wondered if we could help others in the same way. What if we partnered with dentists to provide pro bono dental work for recovering addicts who were trying to better themselves?
That was a light bulb moment for me. Having a nice smile is a huge confidence booster. It helps on job interviews, and helps boost self-esteem. Imagine not being able to smile at friends or co-workers and say hi – it’s a horrible feeling, and it was detrimental to my recovery for a long time.
I had been given countless chances to start over – it was time to give someone else a chance, too. We met with a dentist who not only agreed, but also enlisted two colleagues to help. The dentists agreed to provide the dental work if we raised money to cover the costs.
So we started a foundation called Snowman Smiles. It took about a year and a half to get off the ground, but now we have a team of five who work to find people in recovery who need dental work. So far, we’ve helped one young lady get her smile back, and we’re looking forward to helping more people as Snowman Smiles grows.
Back when I was using heroin and even before, I was never into helping others or giving back. Now it’s a huge part of my life. It’s nice to be able to have integrity and responsibility back in my life, and to be there for the next person who needs help.
Since I got clean and sober, I obtained my electrician’s license, and I’m back in the union and working. Also, I found someone to marry me, so I jumped on that real quick! I’m 37 years old now, and I have a long, happy life ahead of me, thanks to Meredith’s knowledge, compassion, and unwillingness to give up on me.
The way I see it, if you get sober and you’re a jerk, you’re just a sober jerk. If nothing changes, you risk falling back into old habits. That’s why I’m telling my story, to show people there is a way out. You can have a life without opiates and drugs, but there’s some work to be done. That’s the key.