On September 1, 2020, my co-authors and I released The Addiction Diaries —a collection of 18 stories intended to humanize addiction, end the stigma, and offer hope to those who are still struggling with addiction.
And I am pleased to announce The Addiction Diaries quickly became an Amazon Best Seller in multiple categories. This is excellent news for the work we are doing in terms of humanizing addiction.
(On a side note, if you would also like to participate in ending the stigma, you can share your story of addiction or loving someone who is struggling with addiction. However, if you don’t feel comfortable, that is totally okay. You are helping just by sharing or commenting on this post)
But, today I want to share a sampling from the book: it’s my personal story –a story I’ve kept secret for 18 years, and it’s called Home Sweet Heroin.
So, sit back, grab a cozy blanket and pour yourself a hot cup of coffee because it’s storytime!
Home Sweet Heroin by Monique Elise
I’m alive today because death didn’t want me. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. By all rights, I should have died long ago. But here I am, bundled on my deck with a hot cup of coffee and a cozy blanket, looking out into nature. It’s more than looking, though; it’s savoring the tranquility within. It’s feeling happy to be alive—grateful, even.
I feel it now, on my deck, looking at the rows of towering Douglas firs. It’s like they are shielding and protecting me inside a warm, safe haven.
But it wasn’t always this way.
My childhood was chaotic. My mother was a wild and adrenaline-seeking kid when she had me at 16. She did her best. I can only imagine how terrified and traumatized she must have been after the death of my biological dad. He died two months before I was born while drinking and driving.
She found new dads for me, but I don’t think she loved herself enough to choose the healthy ones. The men she loved carried deep wounds and hurts that led to addictions as well as physical, sexual and emotional pain against our family.
But even in the midst of chaos, addiction and abuse, my mother managed to go to school, get her GED and even become a social worker who helped at-risk youth.
But that didn’t last. How could it?
I woke up one morning and there was my new stepdad. I was 11. I had met him once before on the street, randomly; he recognized me as my mother’s child and gave me a candy bar. I didn’t know they were dating until the morning he was in my house.
They were in love and on drugs.
They were up all night and slept all day and you didn’t dare wake them. That’s the year things went from bad to worse.
My previous stepdad was gone by then. The day before, he had been pacing back and forth in their smoke-filled bedroom, listening through a baby monitor to my mom and her new guy having sex in the garage. He swallowed bottles of Budweiser and sucked on a string of cigarettes, alternating between fits of rage and down-on-his-knees despair. Later that night, he stole my babysitting money, stuffed it into my school backpack and disappeared for years.
I was a good kid growing up, not only living with my mom and stepdads but also with my grandma, younger brother and two younger sisters. I enjoyed school—my escape from the chaos at home.
But by the time I was 12, that all changed. I didn’t want to be at home and I didn’t want to be at school.
So I hitchhiked to escape.
The first time was when I was 12. Instead of going home after school, I hitchhiked to Calgary with my friend Kelly and her boyfriend, David. We didn’t care where we were going and Calgary just happened to be where our driver was headed. When we needed a place to sleep at night, we broke into a camper or slept outside of storefronts. David had stolen meth from his dad and we snorted that.
It was my first time using hard drugs.
I didn’t really like how meth made me feel but I had this attitude that I would try anything once. I didn’t care what happened to me. I kept hitchhiking and doing drugs. In some ways, I almost hoped that I would die. I had this fantasy of being with my dad in the sky.
Days later, I acted on this feeling: barefoot, arms outstretched like Jesus to the cross, robe wide open—my 12-year-old body naked and exposed. Resembling the girl from The Exorcist, I sprinted toward oncoming traffic in a violent rage.
“Hit me!” I screamed. “Just kill me!”
Fast-moving vehicles swerved around me. I dropped hard to my knees, listening to the wailing horns fly past me.
By 14, I was hitchhiking regularly and sleeping in the streets—always wondering if this would be the time my 92-pound body would be flung into the ditch. It’s not that I was actively seeking to be strangled to death—more that I was okay if it happened.
It wasn’t long before I wrote goodbye letters, chopped off all my hair and swallowed two bottles of pills. Days later, I woke up with feeding tubes in my nose, unable to open eyes that felt heavy—as if my eyelids had been stitched shut. A nurse held my hand and told me that I was lucky to be alive and that someone was looking out for me.
I knew it was my dad.
But then, when I was 15, I met heroin and I no longer wanted to die.
Heroin wrapped me in a warm, heated blanket of euphoria. It loved me with blissful eyeballs-rolling-back intensity—a love that coursed through me with warm pulsating explosions.
The first time I tried heroin, I was with my brother and my boyfriend, John. We had stolen the heroin from my mom. I thought as long as I wasn’t prostituting myself or using needles, I was okay. Those were the only two criteria.
But over the next several years, our family addiction to heroin worsened. My grandma and two little sisters watched as my mom, stepdad, brother and I spiraled.
We dragged them into a nightmare.
Police raids were common, as was an eviction almost every three months. Heat and hot water became scarce. There was never any food. If they were lucky, I’d remember to steal them something to eat. My malnourished grandma with her degenerating mind would smile meekly and thank me. But my guilt was quickly replaced by a desperate hunger for heroin.
So I’d stand on the corner and pretend to be a prostitute. Because I robbed the johns instead of selling my body, I thought I was okay.
I wasn’t an addict yet.
The worst thing, though, is that heroin stopped working. It stopped loving me. There was no more happiness—just loss and despair. I felt it most fiercely after my sisters were removed and placed in foster care.
A couple of months after my sisters were taken, I woke up to an eerie voice methodically speaking to me from the television: “Who you associate with determines the outcome of your life.”
These words flung me upright in bed.
I looked around. I was with my mom and some random man in his apartment at the Rafter G Hotel. We were all on heroin. I scanned the room and saw the crack pipe, needles—the whole train wreck of our lives—and had a forceful urge to get out of there.
The urge to run lingered in my bones for days until an unlikely man knocked on my door. It was Mike. It had been three years since I’d last seen him, when I was 15 and he’d punched me in the face, knocking me out of a moving boat. Today, he was looking for my roommate, who had stolen his truck.
I expected anger, but instead, he looked at me with concern from behind his thick, 1970s aviator glasses.
“I heard you’re pretty fucked up,” he said. “I find it really sad. I thought of all the people, you would be the one to get out of here.”
He gestured inside and asked if he could come in and talk. I led him into my living room and sat across from him on a white plastic stool. We sat in silence a moment, as he lit us both cigarettes. Mike inhaled. “I’ve always felt bad for you. You don’t seem to have anyone looking out for you.”
His words wafted from his mouth in a cloud of smoke and punched me in the chest. It wasn’t that I didn’t already know, but hearing it said out loud physically hurt.
“If I gave you an opportunity to get out,” he asked, “would you take it?”
I told him I planned on getting out. He smiled. “Well, I’m actually looking for someone to run a grow-op for me in Vancouver. I could set you up, but you have to be clean. You cannot be on heroin. And you cannot tell anyone where you’re going. That’s the exchange.”
I left with him.
In some ways, I was shocked that I would leave with a 40-year-old man who had already been violent with me—and not tell a soul where I was going. But I knew this was a lifeline and it was my only chance.
And so, just like that, I was in Vancouver, five hours from home, alone and sick.
I wasn’t the only one alone, though—our family had been decimated. Each of us split off, like branches broken from a tree—my brother and stepdad in jail, my sisters in foster care, Mom floundering God knows where and Grandma at home grasping to the remains of her fractured mind.
There was nothing I could do but get myself out.
So I stayed in Vancouver. And over the next several months, I used prescription opioids and methadone to slowly wean myself off of heroin. Within one year, I stopped taking all opioids.
At the grow-op, Mike introduced me to Ryan, who was the only person with whom I was allowed to have contact. He talked to me about what I was doing with my life. And over time, he taught me how to enter society with life skills—such as how to drive a car instead of hitchhiking and how to create a resume to get a legal job. He convinced me to go back to school and leave the grow operation.
He gave me the tools to create a new life.
In the end, as unorthodox as it was, my experience running the grow-op led to success getting clean since it provided me with what I needed while I was in transition. I had housing and food, but most importantly, I had a job— a sense of purpose: thirsty plants in need of my attention and care. Having my basic needs met provided a foundation to build a new life.
It felt like I had entered a new world, a different dimension altogether. It was a steep climb from where I had circled down into hell and lived beneath the people who bustled to and from work.
The air had been different there—thick and heavy, weighing a thousand pounds. The color was different there, too: perpetually overcast and darkened by shades of bleak, grey sadness.
But in this new world, my life changed color. And in time I built a real estate business and became a homeowner and landlord. I cultivated positive friendships and improved my relationships with my family, including my mother, who has also been off heroin and crack since 2010.
Today, my wild and adrenaline-seeking mother finds joy in running, dragon boating and building new memories with her family.
Not all of my family made it out. Some died and some are still strung out.
But I still strive to break the long family legacy of addiction for my sisters and nephews by modeling a new life. In the end, just as that eerie voice had once warned, the people I chose to associate with helped to shape the outcome of my life. And I hope to do the same.
Today, I’m happy death didn’t want me.
I’m happy to be alive, even though it’s been a long journey—one that’s not yet over. For years, I built my life on the surface with a career and homes, but those old wounds and ghosts that led me to heroin addiction and suicidal feelings were still there, lying dormant beneath the surface.
I would soon learn that healing happens in stages.
I wasn’t out of the clear. But luckily, our bodies know when it’s safe from imminent danger, and show us what we need to see.
What we need to feel.
And what we need to heal.
Going forward, I want to help others cultivate the calm life that I experience today—a life I no longer try to escape. I’m building an online platform for women to heal their trauma and addictions. It’s a nonjudgmental space where women can dive into the dark and gritty parts of life.
It’s my hope that by sharing our stories, we can all heal, transform our lives and create profound change.
I hope you enjoyed this story! If you’d like to read the whole book, I am giving away free copies here. All I ask is that if you love this book as much as I do, please share this link to the free book with others who could benefit, or share this post, or leave an Amazon Review here if you’re in Canada or here if you’re in America.
Always remember, by sharing these stories, you’re helping to combat societal stigma and you’re helping to give hope to those who are seeped in the pain of addiction.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of your voice to do good ~ Thank YOU!