In the movies, we see how life flashes before someone’s eyes right before they’re about to meet their maker. It didn’t quite happen like that for me.

No, I’m not writing you from the grave. I survived.

But it was touch-and-go for a while. There was a time when everyone thought they’d lost me. And when I awoke, I wished they had. You see, I was an addict. My life was a complete waste, and I only saw misery.

I brought misery to my parents, siblings, and friends. They tried to hide it, but I could see it in their faces every time we met. While I was using, it was painful for them to be around me. What they didn’t know was that it was even more painful to be me.

My near-death experience

On an otherwise typical Sunday afternoon, I took a lethal dose of heroin and survived. Barely.

I think my friends and family still question whether I tried to kill myself. I didn’t. Well, not in the traditional sense. I knew I was slowly killing myself, and I wasn’t afraid to take risks. So I risked my life on a batch of heroin that I knew had killed before. That was the good stuff.

Most people would steer clear of something that took someone’s life. Addicts do the exact opposite. To understand, you may have to know a little bit about how drugs work.

How drugs work

When you take a drug like heroin for the first time, it’s intense. You feel a euphoria that’s unlike anything you’ve ever felt. But your brain can’t quite handle the intensity. So it does the brain equivalent of putting in earplugs. What it’s actually doing is limiting natural dopamine and removing dopamine receptors so that it can handle the drug.

Dopamine is the feel-good chemical that tells your brain when you’re experiencing pleasure. Drugs like heroin boost dopamine by anywhere from two to 10x of natural levels. It’s really more than your brain can handle.

If you were talking to someone and they popped earplugs in their ears, you’d have to talk louder. The brain’s reaction works the same way. Now that your brain has its earplugs in place, you’ll need more of the drug to produce the same effect. This is what we know as tolerance. The more of the drug you take, the more your brain adjusts and the less you feel the effects.

This is why addicts seek the most intense street drugs they can find. So if you hear a drug was strong enough to cause overdoses, you might be able to find some level of euphoria. We’re always chasing that high.

My eureka moment

In the movies, you’d see a sense of relief wash over someone’s face in the moment they survive a brush with death. I didn’t feel any such relief.

When I overdosed, I felt like I was ready to die. Addiction had destroyed anything I had ever loved and stole my reasons for hope. All I cared about were drugs, and they were just keeping physical withdrawal symptoms away.

The silver lining in all this was that I knew it was time for a change. I saw the worried look on my family’s faces. If I didn’t know it before, I knew it would destroy them if I had died that night. Before this moment, I felt like I had nothing to live for. But when I saw my mother, father and sister huddled together in the corner, I knew I had to get my life together.

A second chance at life

Recovery was the most difficult period of my life. The physical symptoms were intense, but they didn’t last very long. The hardest part of starting over was rebuilding an entire life.

There’s some hope in this, for sure. And I also wouldn’t trade the struggles of recovery for anything. Those difficult moments taught me more about myself than I’d ever have known without addiction. They taught me that I’m stronger than I know, and that life is a beautiful mess worth showing up for.

I don’t remember the exact moment the depression lifted, but all that really matters is that it did. I started seeing the beauty in life’s little moments, and that’s something I hadn’t seen in a long time.

They say life is like a rollercoaster. But like a roller coaster, life won’t last. Embrace the ups and downs while you can. – Trevor McDonald (Click to Tweet!)

If you feel like you’re in a dark place, know that it won’t last forever. Pain and happiness are both fleeting. That’s part of what makes life so interesting. Have you ever felt like you’ve had a second chance on life? How did it change your outlook? Please let me know in the comments below.

Trevor McDonald is part of the content marketing team for Detox Local and a recovering addict & alcoholic who’s been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.


Image courtesy of Vojtech Okenka.