By Michelle Thompson
She lived in a circle of deceit. If the gram of cocaine she snorted every day wasn’t enough to blur the line between fantasy and reality, the 26 ounces of Black Velvet she drank certainly would.
Mary, who doesn’t want her real name used for fear of reprisal, wants to warn others about the dangers of dealing drugs. She managed to evade getting arrested and clean herself up after years of abusing her body.
Her story begins innocently enough. Three years ago, at the age of 18, Mary found living under her parents’ roof with a controlling father impossible. She hated him and he hated her.
Mary figured it would be easier to pack her things and move into an apartment with a friend. She was wrong — almost dead wrong.
After moving out of her home and stepping into her newfound independence, Mary began handing resumes out around town. The unemployment check she received each month wasn’t enough to cover her living expenses and after applying for dozens of job opportunities with no response, Mary was quickly running out of funds.
It was just after Christmas and no one seemed to be hiring. That’s when Mary began selling drugs.
If she had managed to find a steady job, working full time for minimum wage would earn her about $274 a week. By comparison, she often made $600 a weekend selling ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana.
It wasn’t long before Mary fell into the circle of the underground drug scene where only those who dealt or consumed drugs belonged. Soon her cocaine-addicted clients began paging her at all hour of the night desperate for another hit. It wasn’t long before she began living in a parallel reality with her customers staggering through a drug-induced haze.
Mary knew the signs of addiction better than anyone — she could see them staring back at her in the mirror. Granted, sometimes spotting a drug addict could be as simple as rolling over in bed.
“I remember waking up one night to a guy sucking on my finger. He broke in through my bedroom window and was begging me to give him another [ecstasy pill]. I dealt with a lot of wackos like that.”
The ‘wacko’ clients Mary dealt with sometimes ended up snorting more cocaine than they could afford to pay. In the end they would be in debt to her and would often refuse to pay until she began threatening and harassing them.
Other times she found herself being intimidated. At one point Mary owed close to $1,000 to another drug dealer and had no cash to pay him back. He phoned her countless times each day demanding his money and more than once confronted her at home. Rather than pay him the money she didn’t have, Mary turned for assistance to some thugs who settles the matter Godfather-style.
“This guy would not leave me alone. You sort of have to turn to different way of handling situations like this because it’s not like either of us could call the cops. I showed up to his apartment with two of my huge guy friends. They threatened to push him down a six-flight stairwell if he didn’t leave me alone. After that, he left me alone,” said Mary.
Sniffing $80 worth of cocaine every day and washing it down with a bottle of Black Velvet whiskey was probably how she fell into such debt in the first place. On Saturdays Mary would treat herself to an eight ball — which is three-and-a-half grams of cocaine.
Mary and her friends needed drugs like fish need water. Without illegal intoxicants, blood would gush from her nostrils, her body would break into cold sweats and her joints would stiffen up while her lips and hands twitched uncontrollably.
Mary recalls, with a tremble in her voice, the morning she suffered a drug-induced breakdown.
“I got so heavily into cocaine … I was doing it every day and my body just couldn’t take it anymore. I barely slept and one night when I did I woke up in the morning and started balling my eyes out. All I wanted was to die. That’s when I knew I have to stop.”
Perhaps she should have been dead long before that morning. Months earlier she went to a party where she and some friends popped a couple hits of ecstasy. Shortly after swallowing the pills, Mary’s blistered lips tripled in size, her eyes turned inward and she had trouble breathing.
Her friends were more concerned with getting arrested than saving the life of a friend and thus refused to take Mary to a hospital.
“At first I never even knew anything was wrong. My friend told me to look in the mirror but when I did I couldn’t see my own reflection. My eyes were crossed and I couldn’t move them. I’ve never seen lips bigger than my were, they at least tripled in size. My friends wouldn’t take me to the hospital because they were afraid of getting busted, so I never went. In the morning, I woke up and I was better,” said Mary.
Ames K. Sweet has been helping drug-dependent teenagers get better through the National Council on Alcoholism and Drugs. She’s helped treat many afflicted addicts — young and old.
“Certain signs may indicate a drug abuse problem. A few things to look out for are sudden, unexplained changes in mood or behaviour, loss of interest in regular activities [such as hobbies and sports], a significant drop in grades, withdrawal from family and friends, sudden sloppiness in appearance, overreaction to criticism, sudden weight loss, unusual secretiveness, decreased energy and drive, slurred speech, unclear thinking and poor short-term memory,” said Sweet. “Of course these signs may indicate a problem other than drug abuse. But no matter the problem, the person may need your help.”
Sweet worries that drug and alcohol abuse by young people may be on the rise.
“Unfortunately, the age of introduction to alcohol and drugs is going down, with the average age for kids to start using drugs being about 13 years old. Additionally, research indicates that the earlier a child is introduced to alcohol and drugs, the greater their chances of developing addictive problems later in life,” said Sweet. “So the problem seems to be getting worse in that the pool of people exposed at an earlier and earlier age to alcohol and drugs is widening.”
The friends Mary left behind when she decided to come clean have turned out as one might expect them to. Some ended up in jail, others are still out on the street and some, like her, are struggling to get sober.
“I’m happy I got out when I did. I know a 29-year-old guy right now who’s going in and out of rehab every day to cope with his addiction. They give him medication that helps wean himself off coke,” explained Mary.
Mary was lucky enough to escape her life of drugs before it was too late. She recently moved back into her parents’ home in Oshawa, and says her relationship with them has improved. She was able to get her demons under control without the help of rehab of professional health care workers. Having no money with which to buy drugs was one reason why she was able to curtail her abuse of illegal substances.
Mary is currently attending her college where she maintains a good average but realizes her life could have turned out much differently had she continued her downward spiral.
“If I were still living the lifestyle I was three years ago, there’s no question where I’d be right now. I would be either dead or I’d be in jail. I might as well have been in jail for manslaughter. If I had been caught with the shit I was carrying [ecstasy, oil, marijuana], I would have been in there for a long time.”
She admits to not being 100 per cent clean as she occasionally uses drugs. However she says she is no longer addicted and recommends that anyone considering selling them think twice.
“I still love drugs. They’re my weakness. It’s not like I’m addicted, I just do drugs from time to time because it’s fun. As for anyone who’s thinking about dealing drugs: don’t do it. It’s not worth it,” warns Mary.
If you know someone who may have a drug or alcohol problem contact the Ryerson counselling centre or the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health located on the U of T campus.