By Ryan Obradovic, staff writer

*The names of the subjects in the following piece have been changed for anonymity*

The sun is tired, but the streets are thriving. A man and woman glide by laughing on their bikes. In a glimpse, their laughter trickles away to silence as they continue on their way. An elderly woman strolls with her small, brown haired dog, as they enjoy the 75-degree springtime dusk. Not far behind the woman and her dog, walks a man whom, at first glance, seems no different from anyone else strolling the street. The man has a skinny build. He’s wearing blue jeans, a gray vest, a snapback, and has tattooed forearms. As the man comes closer, I notice a pistol magazine peeking out from his jean pocket.

“Sorry about this man; you know how it is over here,” he says.

In addition to his pistol-wielding tendencies, his past life, memories, and experiences are much different than the average person’s. This man is an ex-heroin addict, and his name is Johnny Grand. This is his story.

A Day in the Life of a Heroin Addict

You wake up in the morning at like 10 a.m. because you’re already starting to get sick. You wake up and you get the hot and cold sweats. You’re hot but you’re cold, and you’re sweating but you take the cover off and now you’re freezing. So when you wake up, the first thing on your mind is, ‘How am I going to get high today?’ You’re damn near dreaming about it already. Call around on your phone, ‘Hey do you still have that?’, ‘You still have this?’, ‘Hey do you wanna buy this [stolen goods]?’, ‘If I do this will you do a return for me because I can’t do more returns.’ You can only do three returns on your ID every six months at Walmart.

So it’s like, ‘Damn if we go steal some shit who is going to return it because we already used all our returns.’ So you hit up your other dope fiend friends that are on a mission too, like, ‘Hey let’s put our heads together and figure out a way to get high.’ ‘You steal it, I’ll return it,’ and shit like that. Then you have to scrounge up some gas money and only put two or three dollars in. I didn’t care if we ran out of gas on the way back; at least we were high.”

For three and a half years Grand surrendered his life to the powerful drug, heroin. He woke up every single day and followed the same schedule with one goal in mind: to get high. He fought many times to gain control and overcome “the sick”, which is what Grand called the period where his body was withdrawing from the lack of heroin in his system. However, “the sick” is a persuasive entity. It is one of the main reasons why so many people continue to use, and like Grand, struggle to recover.

***

Grand got into the heroin scene about eight years ago, when he was 21 years old. He became acquainted with heroin when he saw a business opportunity arise in Fenton, Missouri. Grand claimed to be one of the first people to bring heroin to Fenton, and therefore made a killing selling it. He dealt heroin for two years and at first had no desire to experience it firsthand.

At the beginning of Grand’s selling career, he preferred taking percocet or lean [promethazine], which are both categorized as opiates but not as strong or addicting as heroin. After he had been dealing heroin for a while, Grand started to dabble and take small amounts to see what the customers wanted so badly. “I started doing it just a little bit, not much, just a little every day in the morning,” Grand said.

Grand coined his usage of heroin a, “dealer’s habit.” Since he was a heroin dealer he could get high basically for free with the heroin he didn’t need to sell. “I was a big shot drug dealer, having all money, so that’s why I didn’t feel bad when I was doing it,” Grand said. But as time went on Grand acquired his addiction to heroin because he kept increasing his doses.

Then after two years of selling, Grand was arrested and charged with distribution of heroin. His dealing money had vanished and now his seemingly innocent dealer’s habit had turned into just a habit he had trouble dealing with. “I got money. I can get high if I want to. But then that shit stopped and I was just an actual dope fiend,” Grand said.

At this time in his life Grand didn’t have any money, but had a controlling addiction to a drug he needed to take every 12 hours to avoid the inevitable sickness. Grand turned from a successful drug dealer with money most will be jealous of to, “somebody that wakes up every morning and doesn’t have any money, and all the money I get goes straight to getting high,” Grand said. His affair with heroin is much different than the drugs he used to take. He never experienced a drug that transforms your mind into thinking you need it to survive. “You can have a mental addiction with some stuff but with heroin you have to get high… You have to do it everyday or you’re physically sick,” Grand said.

Luckily for Grand at the time, his girlfriend (now ex) was a heroin user as well. They would enable each other and help each other get high. “She’s pulling you in, you’re pulling her in… and you don’t feel so bad because they’re out there as bad as you,” Grand said.

***

Grand later found out that his girlfriend was pregnant. In addition to the surprise of the pregnancy, Grand did not know if he was the father or if the father was his best friend. The added turmoil in his life caused him to start using even more than before. Grand found out the baby was his, and was excited but still worried about the new prospect of life he will have to live.

Five days before his girlfriend was scheduled to have the baby, the baby passed away. To make the situation worse, Grand’s brother overdosed around the same time Grand found out about his baby’s premature death. His brother did not overdose on heroin, the cause was fake promethazine. What Grand’s brother drank was crushed up pills in NyQuil. Grand was only 21 at the time and his brother was only 19. The simultaneous traumatic experiences Grand endured propelled him farther down the ladder of his heroin addiction, leaving the top of the ladder virtually out of sight. “When you don’t have shit you care about you’re just like, ‘Fuck it might as well get as high as I fucking can,'” Grand said.

Since Grand was unemployed, he resorted to stealing anything he could so he could get money for heroin. He and his friends, who were also users, would steal from Walmart and then return the product they stole for a Walmart Visa card in hopes of trading the card to a dealer as a way of currency. Grand and his friends could only steal so much because Walmart had a three item return limit on an individual ID every six months. When Grand could not make any more money stealing from Walmart, he decided to steal elsewhere.

Grand’s girlfriend would steal jewelry from her mother so they could sell it at a pawn shop. Grand and his girlfriend decided to steal her grandmother’s gold jewelry heirlooms, which had been in her family for years. “You’ll steal from your momma and you’ll steal from your grandma while she’s at church… It’s not like you don’t have a conscious or guilt about the shit that you do but you put yourself and your need to get high over everything else,” Grand said.

Heroin can be characterized as a living being residing inside the mind of an addict. Heroin is controlling, manipulative, and makes people do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t using. “It’s the drug that’s making them do this,” Grand said. “A normal, sober person in their right mind would never steal from their mom, but when it comes to getting high, it tells you in your head, ‘It’s ok, you’re an addict, they’ll understand.'”

***

Grand did not want to stop using heroin during his first two years of addiction. He was in a bad emotional state and heroin was a way of escape for him. However, after his first two years of using, he did not enjoy being high anymore and tried multiple times to stop using. “I hated getting high so bad. I was just doing it to not be sick,” Grand said.

Everyday Grand would wake up and swear to himself that he was not going to get high. He swore he would overcome the sick but the pain was too strong to conquer. He continued to use for two more years, everyday hoping his addiction would cease. “There were times I sat there and nearly cried to myself like, ‘Damn man, I don’t think I’m ever going to get clean,'” Grand said.

During Grand’s last year of addiction, he stayed with a friend, who was also a heroin addict. His friend’s mother, Carol Mills, was once a heroin addict herself but triumphed over her addiction. Mills would make a habit of going to the casino every day to make money, and turned out to be a pretty successful gambler. Mills would give Grand and his friend (her son) $100 every day for a year to get high on heroin. “She was supplying our habit because she knew what it was like to be sick and she didn’t want to see us like that,” Grand said.

According to the National Institute of Health, only 20 percent of the nation’s heroin addicts have sought or received treatment. Luckily, Mills stopped giving Grand and his friend $100 a day and made them go to a methadone clinic to receive treatment. Grand and his friend did not object to going to the methadone clinic because they did not even like getting high anymore, they were just getting high to beat the sick. “We both wanted to quit. We hated it. But we needed someone to help us out of it. As much as you want to do it for yourself, no one has the options that you need in order to quit by yourself,” Grand said.

Grand and his friend started making regular visits to the methadone clinic in hopes of overcoming the sick. Within three months, Grand and his friend were no longer users of heroin. In addition to beating his addiction, Grand obtained his driver’s license with the help of Mills teaching him how to drive. Mills also bought Grand his first car, which he is very proud of. “Within three months I was completely clean, had a car, a license, and was about to start college. There’s no turning back from that,” Grand said.

Grand went to ex’treme Institute by Nelly, where he learned about the music industry and how to produce his own music. Grand graduated with an associate degree and is now a big name in the underground rap scene in St. Louis. Grand hosts other rapper’s shows as well as produces his own music.

There is much more to overcoming a heroin addiction than just stopping the usage. Grand had to cut multiple people out of his life to lead a heroin-free lifestyle, including his ex-girlfriend because she still wanted to get high. “I don’t want to be around any dope fiends,” Grand said. “Even my brother, I cut them off and you have to do that.” Grand had to put himself above everyone else, and “that’s just something you have to do to get clean,” he said. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40 percent to 60 percent of recovering drug addicts will eventually relapse, but with recovering heroin addicts the percentage skyrockets to an outstanding 80 percent. Grand is very fortunate to be a part of the 20 percent who have successfully overcame their addiction to heroin.

Grand’s upgraded lifestyle has boosted his self-esteem to a mark that he hasn’t seen in a very long time. “Back then I had real low self-esteem because I was just some dope fiend; everyone hated me and I fucked everyone over… but now whenever they look at me I have this sense of pride. You have to use that pride to never let yourself do drugs again,” Grand said.

Without the help of Mills, Grand may still have been addicted to heroin to this day. “If I was not in this situation [help from Mills], I would not have been able to get clean,” Grand admitted. The saving grace of Mills goes to show that a support system, or having someone believe in you, can make all the difference in the fight against addiction. Grand is now 28, about to turn 29, and has been clean for four years.

“You couldn’t pay me $10,000 to get high,” he smiled.