I Was Born An Addict

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of drug abuse which may be upsetting to some.

“My name is Jesse, and I was born an addict. I was born and raised in Northwestern Ontario in a small town called Fort Frances, population 8,000 people. I was raised with my younger brother in a loving Christian home. My childhood, from what I remember, was full of encounters that only remind me of addict behaviors.

In grade school my biggest shortcoming was co-dependency. All I can say is I craved attention but didn’t know healthy ways to get it. One was being physically and verbally abusive to classmates and my brother. I didn’t listen and was always trying to hurt someone, all for attention. When I was misbehaving at home my parents used the only tool they knew, which was disciplining with a leather belt or a spoon, basically whatever was handy.

Entering high school I was the kid on the outside being made fun of. I didn’t play sports, nor was I really good looking by any means. In 9th grade, something I remember most is that one girl was into me, and I had one friend who was also into the same girl. We fought over her and both tried to impress her. I was bullied by most the kids and some tried to fight me at lunch time. Most times I ran away and hid at my friend’s house up the road.

10th grade was a big year for me, though. I entered high school with a different outlook at life. I recently got back from a family vacation to California. I had a different wardrobe and felt more confident. As the year went on, I met a girl. Her name was Jamie. We started dating and our relationship moved from dating to a co-dependency within weeks. We were always together, day and night. You could say she was the first love of my life.

We were together for 11 months when she broke up with me. Her reasoning was because of my co-dependent behaviors. I didn’t blame her because I knew it myself, but I was heartbroken. At that time, I never drank, never went to parties and never did any drugs. I was 15 years old.

A few weeks after the break up I ended up hanging out with a guy I grew up with. He was already into his addiction, but I didn’t know about it. He offered some marijuana to me. Again I’ve never tried it, nor have I ever been drunk. That night was the beginning of it all. I remember smoking it for the first time and felt the warmth and sense of belonging I’ve always craved. From that day on for the next week or two, I smoked it every day.

After those two weeks I tried cocaine for the first time. Using cocaine, all I remember is wanting to have sex. A few weeks after that, I tried oxycontin. Now after doing that drug, I felt the hand of God on my shoulder. Everything I’ve ever felt, lost or wanted didn’t matter. I was in the moment.

Man who says he was born an addict sitting at table smiling as teen
Jesse Barnard

11th grade started off with me and the gang. We were a bunch of hippies. We smoked weed at lunch and did ecstasy, popped hydromorphines and took oxys. At this point of my life I was just along for the ride, doing any kind of drugs I could get my hands one. I had no preference. We used anything we could get our hands on from 8 a.m. when school started, until we slept.

12th grade was a different story. Some friends who were a few years older than me went to Alberta for work, and came back with 900 tabs of MDMA. They ended up giving me most of the load to sell at school. I sold and did them all day long. It turned into me doing 5-10 tabs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and when there was a party in the evening I would end up taking 10-15 tabs a day. I was still doing hydromorphines and oxys whenever I could get my hands on them. People who used to bully me didn’t anymore, but only wanted what I was selling.

This is where my story gets more raw. After high school we used to hang out at a friend’s apartment, use drugs and watch Seinfeld. One evening a friend of mine came to the house. His parents had horses on their property and he ended up stealing one of the needles and horse tranquilizers. I was 18 years old and using every drug under the sun. He yelled out, ‘Who wants to try it?’ Instantly I threw my hands up and yelled, ‘I DO!’

I must have hit a vein because I don’t remember anything after that. I went home that night, and the next morning my mother tried to wake me up and I wouldn’t. She said she yelled and shook me but got no response for a several minutes. After that I was so curious about needles I just had to try it again. I ended up getting an oxy and some clean needles from the pharmacy, went to the drug house and I.V. used again. From then on, I couldn’t use drugs any other way. As a teenager, I was a full-on I.V. user.

Teen addict smiling on balcony over looking city and body of water
Jesse Barnard

At 19 years old I decided to move to Vancouver to try something new in life. My friend and I drove from Ontario. Once we arrived, within minutes we were looking for dope. Two guys caught our attention as they were waving for us to come see them.

They asked what we were looking for and I said heroin. The guy sold me what I thought was heroin, a white powder. My friend and I parked at a Burger King, I set up my cooker and rig, I put it in my arm and felt nothing. But I noticed a big red rash running up my arm to my chest.

I was terrified I was going to lose my arm, so we rushed down to the INSITE safe injection building. I showed the nurse on duty my arm and she said she couldn’t tell me what I used but I should be fine. I took her word for it, but still in the back of my head there was only one thing, heroin. I asked her ‘Is there anyone here that you could point me towards that I could trust?’ Basically I was saying, ‘You either tell me someone here who is trustworthy, or I go back out and test my luck.’

She pointed me towards a guy whose name was ‘One Arm Kevin.’ He was laying on the ground, with blood stains on his shirt, long dirty hair and probably weighed 120 pounds. So here’s me, 19 year old Jesse, walking up to him asking him for heroin. Right away we were en route to get what I came here for. We picked it up and he took us to his place, which was basically a cube with garbage bags and clothes covering the floor. That was the first night I used heroin.

My friend and I had a one-bedroom apartment where we slept on an air mattress on the floor. We were both using heroin and had been in Vancouver for about 3 months. We just picked up H and were using at our apartment. He used a little, and I used most of my bag. He went to the bathroom, leaving his dope on the table. While he was gone, I switched his bag for mine because he had more. He came back and accused me of doing it and I denied it. I said, ‘You must have done more than you thought and forgot because you’re so high.’ He didn’t buy it.

The next day, I went out to get some more dope for myself. On my journey back from Kevin’s, I decided to call my parents to catch up. My mom was crying and I couldn’t understand her. She told me my friend had called them and told them everything, that I was an I.V. heroin user and have been lying to them about everything, and as long as I’m out in Vancouver she’ll never trust me and would have to give up on me.

I told my mom I would pack up my car and head home right away. I went back to the apartment and my friend wasn’t there. I grabbed all my things and drove back across Canada by myself. Once I got back I promised her I wouldn’t use anymore, when in all reality, I had no intensions of stopping. I ended up staying in Fort Frances, Ontario, for 2 years, and continued to use Oxys and hydromorphine or fentanyl patches, basically whatever I could liquify and shoot up.

Young man who was an addict smiles with arms wrapped around mother
Jesse Barnard

Around my 22nd birthday, I was fully dependent on opioids. I was selling weed, mushrooms, oxys and morphine to support my habit. One night when I was using at home, I ended up leaving my needle and cooker with a morphine pill on my table while I went to the bathroom. My mother ended up coming upstairs and saw my s–t on the table. Once she figured out what was going on, she told me it was either go to treatment or leave the house.

I told her I would go to treatment. We ended up driving to Kenora, Ontario, where my dad had spoken to someone on the phone about getting me in, but he didn’t know they only meant it was a detox, not a treatment center. The only treatment center that was close was in Winnipeg. I didn’t end up going and headed back home. I promised my family I would give it an honest try and ended up staying clean for 4-6 months.

I started dating a girl, Kate, when I moved back from Vancouver. She was an opioid user too, and I told her I wanted to get clean and we should both try to do it together. I ended up detoxing at my parent’s house, with her next to me and withdrawing too. At least that’s what I thought. I found out she was faking the withdrawals and stealing my money to buy dope. I left her. I was now clean and didn’t know what to do with myself.

I wanted to leave Ontario, and for some reason I thought moving back to Vancouver and trying to live a good life there would happen. Within the second day of me living there I scored dope. I lived in Vancouver for 6 years, becoming addicted to Fentanyl.

Drug addict smiling while holding clear plastic cup
Jesse Barnard

At the end of that time in Vancouver I went home for Christmas and ran into Jamie. The girl I dated in 10th grade, the first love of my life. Every emotion was exactly the same as when I was 15 years old. I still loved her. We decided to get back together. I was using and on methadone. I told her everything and she accepted it. I told her I wanted to quit and be with her. I put all my things I owned on the street, bought a greyhound ticket and moved back to Ontario to be with her. I stayed at her parent’s where she was living with her 18-month-old daughter to detox off methadone and fentanyl.

I got through the withdrawals and was able to stay clean for 2-3 months. After 4 months of us being together, she asked me to marry her and I said yes. I was so excited that someone wanted to be with me forever. I would never have thought that was possible due to being a junkie. We went to the town hall after being engaged for 2 months and got married. The day of my wedding, I thought I deserved a treat, so I went out and picked up a needle and a hydromorphine. I got loaded before I got married.

I thought I could just do it once and not do it again. Of course I was wrong. I ended up using every day after I got married. After 4-5 months into our marriage she found out, and kicked me out. I didn’t speak to her for 3 weeks after that. She eventually called me and told me we needed to talk. She was pregnant and wanted to keep it, but said I needed to go to treatment and when I got back, we could work on our marriage and have the child.

I signed up for in inpatient treatment in Winnipeg. They told me I needed to wait a month to get in. Within that month she had a miscarriage. We both were so hurt, but I was still on board to get better and go to treatment. My time came and I went to detox in Kenora for two weeks. After 5 days of being locked up in detox, I was allowed to leave for half an hour, twice a day, to the library or to the store to get smokes.

My first pass, I went to the library and called my wife. I told her how excited I was to be clean and live a good life with her. After I was done talking she told me she didn’t want to see me again and I wasn’t allowed to see her daughter again and hung up. I was so hurt and didn’t know what to do. I of course went down the road and picked up dope and took it to the detox and used in the bathroom. I used for the rest of my time in detox, right up to the day before treatment.

Finally, I got into treatment. I figured out what I needed to about myself in order to move forward and stay clean. It all came down to being honest with myself and to others, being grateful for my life, and being around like-minded people. I need to learn to be open, honest and willing with them. I attend NA meetings and take the suggestions. Here I am now, living in Victoria, British Columbia, attending meetings, working the steps. I have a sponsor, and I am a sponsor myself. I go to detox and treatment centers and share my story of experience, strength and truth.

Man who finally got clean smiles with sunglasses on
Jesse Barnard

I have so many friends in the program who care and love me for who I am, and would always accept me. I have a beautiful girlfriend who has a beautiful daughter that I get to experience the gifts of life with. I have learned what pure happiness and love feels like.

Today, I am so grateful for my life and breath. I am coming up on two years clean on September 15. That’ll be the most clean time I’ve ever had since I was 15 years old. I have a wonderful relationship with my family, and am so eager to start my own and teach them everything I have learned in this life.

I would like to end this with a quote I found in treatment that I tell myself all the time: ‘The past does not defy me, it ignites me. The past is not a part of me, it has placed me.’”

Man who got clean stands smiling with infant daughter in his arms
Jesse Barnard
Man who got clean stands smiling with infant daughter swaddled to chest
Jesse Barnard

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jesse Barnard of Victoria, British Columbia. Subscribe to our free email newsletter, Living Better—your ultimate guide for actionable insights, evidence backed advice, and captivating personal stories, propelling you forward to living a more fulfilling life.

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