"Seek Heroin, Will Travel"

A Teenager Confesses How Her Drug Dependence Drove Her Across the Continent in Search of Heroin, and How Narconon Brought Her Back From the Brink of Oblivion...

For more than 40 years thousands of addicts have been given their life back through Narconon - people who had submitted to their addictions found new hope and a new life. Indeed, that is how Narconon started four decades ago when an incarcerated heroin addict, William Benitez, decided that he had to try something new to save himself from his addiction as well as to help other similarly afflicted friends. He requested permission from Arizona state prison officials to start a drug rehabilitation program with 20 addict inmates, but was at first denied. Thankfully, he persisted because on February 19, 1966 he was finally granted permission and founded what he called Narconon, meaning NARCotics-NONe.

William Benitez (far right) with the
first Narconon group in 1966

The program Mr. Benitez founded grew and, in 1971, the first Narconon center outside prison walls opened in Los Angeles.

Today Narconon’s services are available at 39 drug rehabilitation and drug prevention centers in Canada, United States, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, England, Russia, New Zealand and South Africa. It is officially recognized in several countries as the most effective drug rehabilitation available and receives government funding in a number of nations. Narconon has an unsurpassed success rate, according to independent studies, with up to 72 percent of its graduates still off drugs after two years.

In this interview 26-year old S.A. provides her personal testimonial of Narconon's effectiveness. She started using drugs as a teenager and rapidly escalated from marijuana to heroin. Within two years she was emotionally dead, not caring about friends or family. This is her story, one that gives hope to countless teens who suffer from addiction. She did the program at Narconon in Quebec, Canada. And like William Benitez and many others she got her life back.

What were you doing before you did the Narconon program?

That was 10 years ago: I was about 17 years old and living on the streets. I ran away from home over a year before that and was doing drugs. I lived mostly in Montreal but moved around a lot to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. I lived like this for about two years. Before that I was going to high school and living with my parents.

When where you first introduced to drugs?

In high school; there were many people I knew who were using drugs, almost exclusively pot and alcohol, though some were using acid (LSD) & mushrooms too. I tried smoking pot once or twice with people I thought were friends, but I hated "buzz." Alcohol wasn't something I was very interested in, and I wasn’t about to try acid. To be honest, I never had the intention to use drugs; the first times I smoked pot, I just tried it because I was curious.

It seems odd to say that after all that happened, but I was really against drugs at first. My curiosity was peeked with artists that I admired being on heroin, such as Kurt Cobain from Nirvana and Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy, but I still didn’t have an interest at that point.

Were you attracted to drugs from the beginning?

Initially no; like I said I didn’t want to do any drugs. Besides having no interest in them, another reason I wasn’t interested was because my father had already given the "the talk." I avoided drugs like the plague because he had his own drug history, he let me know that he would be able to spot it – he’s been clean since several years before my birth. So, since there was no "getting away with it," I didn’t even attempt being curious, for years.

How did you end up living on the streets?

A few days before I turned 16 years old, I ran away from home. Maybe a year before that I would go downtown on weekends while lying to my parents about staying at a friend's place. I’d hang out in Gothic Industrial clubs, staying in shelters or with people I admired, mostly street punks - so I was already familiar with how to survive on the streets. I know it sounds strange, but I loved this life style with a passion.

I saw it as a form of "freedom;" I did not want such strict restrictions as early curfews, revoked phone and music privileges (etc) that I had recently incurred as a result of being less and less responsible and reliable.

That I love the mix of punk, Gothic Industrial and the likes, made the life of street punks very appealing to me from a young age. The difference is that back then I also especially loved anarchy, chaos and romanticized the idea of the end of the world. So I felt very at home on the streets. Thankfully I dropped the latter through the Narconon program! The other reason why I loved living on the streets was because it seems like you don't really exist, it feels like you're off the "grid" or off the "radar."

So how did you get into the "drug culture"?

I know it would seem I got into it in high school, like my parents thought, but while I was still at home, I didn’t really get into drugs, I just tried them a couple of times. Once I ran away from home, I didn’t care anymore. It started with PCP, as it was the first one presented to me. I remember that I thought I was with friends. I later discovered that one of them was a dealer; and dealers are never your friends, it‘s an oxymoron that I learned too late. He'd offered some very casually & for free of course, with a look on his face that one would have if they were giving a friend a lift to the store when it’s raining out. I had no idea what to expect and ended up taking so much I almost overdosed.

Why I ever tried it again, is a mystery to me, since I had such a bad trip, but in later attempts it’s the mind numb and pain-killing effect it had that I sought. I ended up taking it virtually every day for a whole summer once I figured out the “right” self-prescribed dose. It’s amazing that I had no idea I was playing with fire. All I knew was that the pain would go away. The physical and mental pain I had in me, and all the anger I had; it seemed to bring relief. I hated myself, I generally hated people, didn't think my life was fun, and it seemed there really wasn’t much to live for. I really had no idea why I was alive or lived; drugs seemed to be the only thing that helped me feel better.

Most street punks I hung out with only drank, smoked pot, did mushrooms and some chemicals (acid/LSD and PCP) - but never any junk (cocaine, crack and heroin) and definitely no needles.

I was curious however, and since I was doing drugs now, I wanted to try heroin. As there was absolutely no way I could do it with them, I never mention it.

Eventually I heard about how easy it was to get it on Hastings Street in Vancouver, so I hitchhiked to Vancouver with some "friends". I remember getting stuck in Calgary when I lost my hitchhiking partner on the way, and ended up staying there for about three weeks. At that time I did a lot of mushrooms. Because my first mushroom trip was really good I would often consume so much that I wouldn’t be myself at all. I couldn't understand anything that was going on. I bad tripped every time. Just like marijuana, yet I was guaranteed a bad trip on pot, I hated that buzz, it always messed me up so badly. It was the hardest thing to keep control of my body, vision or thoughts while on pot.

Once in Vancouver (always downtown) I met up with people I knew from Montreal and ended up staying for about two months. I went out looking for PCP, since it was the drug I was most familiar with. It’s odd but when I look back, although I didn’t see it this way, the only thing I really did was always around drugs. I would panhandle for cash, then once I had enough, I would go looking for a dealer. Rinse and repeat. Oh, and by the way, in the Canadian cities I visited, I never met a panhandler that begged exclusively to "get ahead" in life. Perhaps some would buy food with part of money they’d get, but 99% would always go to drugs or alcohol. Just remember that the next time you give your change. You’re enabling and encouraging this life style. It’s certainly what made it easier for me to live on the streets and never think twice about seeking real help, since I was getting by just fine.

Tell us how you escalated to using heroin...

When I arrived in Vancouver, it wasn’t long before I started looking for heroin, but it was more of a covert search. I knew it wasn’t something to be proud of. The majority of people I met made it clear that junkies are the lowest of the low, it’s a dangerous drug, no one actually wants to do it, you don’t go after it, you don’t ask, etc. So I didn’t because I didn’t want to risk being talked out of it and maybe prevented from doing it.

After about two weeks in Vancouver, I remember hanging out with some friends, and one guy started smoking some white powder in a disabled light bulb. I just knew this was heroin. When I was offered some, I didn’t refuse. It’s funny how the first trip wasn’t exactly pleasant. I felt like the world was spinning and I got so nauseous that I vomited less than thirty minutes after. Yet, I tried again.

While in Vancouver I was only smoking it, or "chasing the dragon.” However, I started using needles (or shooting it) when I returned to Montreal. I started with cocaine since my first hit “happened” to be free.

The truth is that I was already hanging out with junkies before I went to Vancouver. I knew I would do needles, so while I was still in Montreal I would find free needles at needle exchange places and practice taking blood out of me – just to get familiar with how to do it. I’m so grateful that I only used needles for about five months in all and was taking heroin for about nine months in total. I was messed up enough, no good would have come from a prolonged consumption, and it’s a miracle my parents found Narconon and that I was alive long enough to get there!

How did you find out about the Narconon program?

I found out about Narconon from my parents. If they hadn’t looked before this, they certainly looked for it after I was hospitalised for a heroin overdose. I was in Toronto when that happened. I was still in touch with my family while I lived on the streets. I would sometimes come home for a few days before going back to the streets. I can only imagine what my parents went through and how helpless they felt. Unfortunately, I never took them into consideration at that time. I was angry with them and felt confined to where I felt claustrophobic and had to leave.

I recall waking up in a Toronto hospital after my overdosed and seeing my parents. I remember being furious! I felt like they had no business being there, it was an invasion of my privacy, it was so embarrassing. That really prompted them to find a solution for me. After the overdose, I was really scared and never wanted to touch drugs again. Yet by the third day, I was being discharged from the hospital and my parents were taking me home, all I could think about was that I needed heroin.

For the first week or two after the overdose, I was staying at my mom’s. The only Narconon centre in Canada wasn’t yet set up at that time. I didn’t know anything about rehab really, and had no idea my parents were trying to get me to go as soon as Narconon was available to take on clients. All I did while at my mothers was think about heroin. I knew this one girl who was using and I would call her up and all we did was talk about Heroin. My life was heroin; it’s as simple as that. I was lost to it, gone, just a shell you could say. This one time I called an old friend from high school and convinced him to get money to use. I got friends like him to do it with me because I actually thought I was doing them a favor. After those 2 weeks, I ran away again, back to Toronto and my junkie lifestyle. I remember getting sick when I stopped using and thought it was just a cold or something, and didn’t even notice the symptoms disappearing or wonder why they did. I really knew nothing about drugs, just drug users and dealers "educating" drug users and dealers.
Did you stick with the program?

I did. I don’t know how, or at the time, why, but I did. I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to leave the program, sure, but I stayed and stuck it out. Looking back, I’m surprised I even went, because I didn’t want to stop using. I just hit a rock bottom and snapped out of it long enough, really, and I’m convinced that’s what it takes for any addict to really want help.

I just woke up this one fateful morning, while I was still in Toronto, utterly depressed. Everything had hit me; what I was doing to myself, to society, to my friends, but more importantly, what I did to my parents. I was just overwhelmed with grief. I called my mother but couldn't even talk because I had this knot in my throat. My pride prevented me from saying too much, but I was so broken that my mother just knew this was the opportunity she had been waiting for.

She told me to call the director of Narconon Canada, who was fortunately in Toronto, which I did. He and I made an appointment to meet as soon as I could make it to the address. I recall being just filthy, smelling like a dirty street punk in his office but he was so cool and never made me feel ashamed or worthless. He was so easy to talk to and very caring and I still admire him to this day for his down to earth yet professional demeanour. He helped get me on a bus that night, and when I arrived in Montreal the next morning, it was Marc Bernard, our current ED, who’s been the main pillar at Narconon ever since, who picked me up and that was it.

So now you wanted to get off drugs?

Actually no, I didn’t and I didn't think I had a problem either. I had been doing drugs, which is what I thought I wanted (back then) and that was it. But when I got there, I was apathetic and I did the program because I felt bad for my mom and dad. I’m convinced I stayed because the withdrawal program helped to handle one of the reasons why I was in so much pain in the first place and so depressed, which I only aggravated every time I took drugs - severe nutritional deficiencies. I’m also convinced I stayed because the staff, particularly Marc Bernard. He’s an amazing man, caring, knowledgeable, and determined; a great example for me even today. Never once did I feel like I was judged, made to feel guilty or worthless by him - I already felt this way on my own, if I got this from him too, I wouldn’t have stayed, that’s for sure.

I’m also convinced that I stayed because they program is just amazing! The Narconon program doesn’t delve into "how do you feel," "why do you do drugs," or kill the fight in you by surrendering, berating you as a means to control you, or turning you into a victim by dubbing addiction as a mental disease to which there is no cure (instead of just admitting they don’t know how to free anyone from addiction for real) like most centres do.

I would have left in a heartbeat if that was what the program was about. There is no way I would have been helped by being asked questions I didn’t know, or focusing on my addiction instead of my problems in life, or my physical health the way Narconon did!

Because the Narconon program focuses on solving real tangible problems, at some point I was able to turned things around for me: I no longer cared about drugs - my only interest was doing the program. I recall someone offering me cocaine half way through, and I said no, easily. The interest was just gone! It was so evident right then that the Narconon program is really effective.

What benefits did you get from doing the Narconon program?

I really had so many, but one big win for me occurred one day during the Detoxification program: all these memories of being a toddler came back to me! In the sauna, all these memories of me being a kid with my parents - all these happy memories came back. I remember jumping with enthusiasm and shouting "Oh my God! I was a kid at one point!" Before the Detoxification program I had not realized that I had forgotten ever being a child. I didn’t see the zombie, or mindless drone that I turned into. Drugs ended up hiding my past and deleting my future from me, without my even knowing it. It was an incredible feeling to remember all this!

With that, I also started remembering who I was! The real me, all that is good in me, started coming back. I was a vegetarian and an environmentalist before I started drugs and when I was living on the street, but the more drugs I used the less I cared about everything. But thanks to Narconon’s amazing program, I started caring again. I started going around Narconon to make sure that the recycling was properly separated from the garbage; I would ensure that I was eating healthy again, I went Vegan, and so on and so forth. It is so incredible to me that I actually cared once more! Even my supposed hatred of mankind faded to reveal that I actually love people and want to help. All because of the Narconon program!

Currently you are working for Narconon, how did that come about?

I'm an honest person and I don't like hiding things. I did drugs, I lived on the streets and that's a part of me. I don't like having to hide that and I don't have to do that here. Also, I love seeing people get their lives back like I did. I love being a part of the only real solution to truly rehabilitating people, seeing someone get to a position where they can really help themselves and achieve what they want to in life. It’s such a good feeling to see the change these people go through by the end of their programs!

Is there a particular success story you wish to share?

One success story that stands out for me is a mother of three kids, who ended up becoming an alcoholic and as a result wasn't really being a mother as far as I understand, not even in contact with her children at all for a few years by the time she arrived at Narconon. Because of the Narconon, she finally got in touch with her kids and her daughter even came here for her mother’s graduation. It was such an awesome reunion; they were both crying tears of joy. It was a huge win for all concerned.

This woman started working for Narconon herself, and managed to get her son here to do the program too. He was also lost in the drug scene. He successfully completed the program and started working here too, helping to get others off of drugs.

After completing the program, it was the first time in years that I had a future. Because of Narconon, I can plan things and make them happen. I can create my life and my future and have fun doing it. Just knowing that it is possible to create a future I really want is a considerable win. Today I have a wonderful fiancé, with plans to advance in my career, buy a house and have children. All that was something that I considered impossible before.

What do you like the most about working with Narconon?

ABesides seeing people arrive on the brink of death, and completely turn their lives around for the best, I love that the staff really care about people. They have respect for everyone that comes through our doors. They also know that they can help addicts get off drugs for good.

These factors are very important elements to the success of the program. At Narconon, staff know that down deep people are good, that there are specific reasons why someone got into drugs, and that Narconon can help someone handle these underlying reasons. Some of our clients, when they come here, think that all they're going to do is get off drugs and are afraid to go home and have to face or deal with family or criminal activities that they had done and are now going to court for, and so on. They learn that we're here to help them handle that too. That's usually one reason why they got into drugs, or why they stayed on them. Narconon gives them life skills (in many cases for the first time) so that they can address the situations that they couldn’t before. They learn to face problems so they don't have to run away from these issues and resort to drugs.

Sometimes our clients are afraid that our program will change them, and they’re reluctant to continue (or even start) because that’s the last thing they want to do, but change is completely not what the program helps them do. It literally rehabilitates them. All that ends up happening is the real them comes forth. Not some unknown person, but who they have been all along, suppressed long ago; the real them that their family, real friends and themselves love!

At Narconon we deliver actual rehabilitation and this is why the program is such a success.