Blinding rays of sunlight beamed through my driver’s side window, illuminating my pale grey skin. Music boomed from my speakers and reverberated throughout the peaceful suburbs. I remember nonchalantly parking my car in front of a fire hydrant on Main Street, Southampton.
I walked into several shops and tried on outfits, but the fabrics were finer than I could afford. The owner of one such store was unaware that I left her boutique adorning a pair of high-end sunglasses I never paid for. I sat on an unoccupied sidewalk bench to eat an açaí bowl. I wondered if the people passing by knew that I was a junkie. It was the summer of 2018, and I was at the height of my heroin and crack addiction — but liberated at last from the restraints of agoraphobia.
When I picked up the needle after maintaining nearly eight years of sobriety, I promised myself it would be a one time slip. I’d been battling cravings for several months and inevitably, a reservation formed. I longed to bask in the euphoria, warmth, and elation. Just one last time.
I was 27 years old when I relapsed for those eight long months — as the saying goes, one is too many and a thousand is never enough. When contemplating a relapse, I’ve mastered the art of convincing myself one-time use is possible for me. Even though trial and error have proved me wrong, time and again. But it was during this last relapse, that I unveiled the secret that my drug use rid me of my agoraphobia.
When I commenced my recovery journey at 19 years of age, I had already been diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression. My phobia didn’t develop until I reached my early twenties. Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes those who are afflicted to feel fearful when leaving environments they deem as “safe.” In severe cases, a person’s home becomes their only safe place.
Agoraphobics are typically reluctant to go places where the dreaded possibility of terror seems to lurk. They take preventative measures to protect themselves at all costs in an effort to avoid potential anxiety attacks. Personally, I’ve sacrificed so much to satisfy this condition. I have lost interest in hobbies, friends, the ability to work, and most of all, I’ve lost a part of myself.
I’d been seeing a therapist for two years when I unraveled and began using illicit drugs again. Attending weekly therapy, with a psychologist specializing in phobias, minimized the fear I associate with leaving my house. It’s a very, very gradual process, though. And while treatment is possible, curing agoraphobia is not.
As an addict, instant gratification proves to be more alluring. With each shot of heroin (accompanied by a few hits of crack,) I was actively freeing myself from the confines of my home. While my activities weren’t always healthy or even legal, I was no longer trapped in a box. I’d get high with other addicts, in their homes. I drove all over hell and back to buy enough drugs for a 24-hour time period. And I immersed myself in the dangerous world of prostitution. Often, I’d stop by my drug dealer’s residence, having every intention of returning home afterward — only to walk back through my front door multiple days later with no recollection of where I’d been.
But it wasn’t always about hustling up enough money to get high or stay high. I ventured to The Hamptons almost every weekend. Sure, I didn’t abide by traffic laws and I happened to shoplift occasionally, but sitting on that sidewalk bench provided me with a sense of normalcy.
I was capable of running simple errands and enjoying outings, the same ones I once wrote off as impossible — grocery shopping, visiting my family (when I was sober enough) doctor’s appointments, going to restaurants, movie theaters, and stores. Prior to my relapse, I endured anticipatory anxiety every minute of every day leading up to tasks such as these. Braving the world beyond the safe four walls of my home precipitated panic attacks. And I lived in fear of them.
Despite discovering a “cure” for my agoraphobia, I was laden with guilt for disappointing and worrying my family. I overdosed countless times in the midst of my relapse, several of which I flat-lined— even after Narcan had been administered. The frightful combination of near-death experiences, bouts of homelessness, and trading my body for cash caused my family to believe I would die a tragic, untimely death. Occasionally, I’d notice my mom attempting to mask her sobs of despair while we spoke over the telephone.
The bigger picture emerged as clear as day. I was selfishly treating my agoraphobia with IV heroin and crack-cocaine, and in doing so, I had no regard for the pain I was inflicting upon my loved ones. It was time to put the drugs down.
The first few months of sobriety were a challenge. I opted to stay housebound most days — once again. My panic attacks resurfaced. The symptoms of my generalized anxiety and depression were back, and they were seemingly amplified. I began attending therapy again; I desperately needed it. I was honest about my relapse and felt fortunate my therapist was willing to continue treating me.
The early stages of recovery were no walk in the park. I don’t think they ever are. For me, the cravings felt intensified, in comparison to my first run with sobriety at age 19. I think my temptation to flirt with the devil one more time was predominantly the result of craving an escape — an escape from my mental illness. I won’t pretend that I didn’t also find pleasure in the euphoria drugs elicit. I most certainly did. But I was not willing to sacrifice my family’s happiness for my own. (Did drugs really make me happy, anyway?)
Today, I have almost two years of sobriety. I continue to engage in therapy for substance use disorder, agoraphobia, anorexia and yes, family therapy as well. Cravings have become scarce. I know a temporary fix isn’t a legitimate form of treatment for agoraphobia. It’s merely a band-aid. I haven’t gone shopping in Southampton since my return to recovery, but I pride myself on my smaller accomplishments.
This week, I went to the grocery store twice. I showed up for therapy and a doctor’s appointment. I made an appearance at my mom’s house so I could see my family. I didn’t stay more than an hour, but I went. I’m proud of myself every time I walk out my front door. Even more so, I’m proud to be able to say I am sober today.