Living healthy despite drug-free past

If you missed it, I posted this on a website called Criminal U, which is focused on positive prison reform and advocating for ex-inmates. Hope you enjoy it– Doug

If you’re an ex-I.V.-drug user like me, your past life may not be filled with decisions made in the best interest of your health and longevity. If you’re still an I.V.-drug user you’re not reading this; you’re either out copping some dope or helping yourself to someone else’s stuff so you can. I completely understand, and I’ll talk to you later if you’re lucky enough to still be alive.

My reckless behavior included shared dirty needles, which is a little like Russian roulette. The difference is you never really know when the bullet is fired.

I had been out of prison and ten years sober when I attended college to restart my life.  I was grateful that there were no obvious effects to my personal needle exchange program. Or so I thought, right up until the day I tried to sell blood at the local blood bank so I could eat.

Who wouldn’t want to buy my blood? Apparently, everybody, I soon learned. A white coat with clipboard and a concerned look approached me.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t want your type here,” he said and turned off the spigot.

“What do you mean?” I asked indignantly, grieving over my financial loss.

I vaguely remember the questionnaire had asked if I had ever been an I.V.-drug user. I put down an emphatic no. Hell, I’d been sober for years.

Turns out what they really meant was, “have you ever been an I.V.-drug user?”

The white coat pointed this out to me.

“You have the Hepatitis C virus,” he said to me matter-of-factly. “Your blood is tainted.”

“Tainted? It looks O.K. to me,” I bellowed as I pleaded my case. “There’s no way I could have that, I’ve been sober more than 10 years. You’re wrong.. What do you know?”

Just because he had a funny accent didn’t mean he was ignorant, I soon discovered. I learned that he knew all the things taught to him in medical school over a ten-year period and that he was an expert in the area of infectious diseases. I also learned that the virus soldiered on even though my behavior that birthed the virus had stopped. And I learned that there were ways of arresting the virus.

I’ve certainly been arrested a number of times in my day. The thought of making an arrest did appeal to me, even if it didn’t turn out to be as fun as I would have hoped.

I made this arrest by being a participant in my own life, staying sober and asking for help. I discovered liver-friendly foods and changed my diet. I got hooked up with a liver clinic and started Interferon treatment paid for by the drug manufacturer and donations to the hospital. They did this for me because I believed I was worth it and they wanted to. I followed through with the treatment, 48 weeks of hell. It worked for a time and was worth it.

The doctors never judged or shamed me for being a junkie in recovery. I found out there was a whole world of people waiting for me to show up so they could help.

Ten years later my Hep C is back and I have started a new and improved form of treatment. In some ways, it is another example of the change I made in my life. One of my self-care action steps has been that I pay for health insurance. Month after month, year after year, the chip on my shoulder grew and grew. I couldn’t understand why I needed to keep throwing money at the insurance company for no good reason. My good reason has arrived and my new treatment is fully funded with a 95% chance of being 100% cured.

I made some bad decisions in my day, but they don’t have to be a death sentence. Sober, I am able to be my own best advocate. It enables me to live an amazing life drug- and prison-free. It’s my hope that many will believe they’re worth it, make a decision and take action towards a long, healthy and rewarding post-addiction life.

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