Here On

 Brandie, 18, visits her boyfriend at Summa Akron City Hospital after he develops an abscess from shooting up. Brandie and her boyfriend walk through addiction together.

Brandie, 18, visits her boyfriend at Summa Akron City Hospital after he develops an abscess from shooting up. Brandie and her boyfriend walk through addiction together.

In the hood they call it ‘here on,’ because things are going to be bad from here on out.
— Brandie

The number of overdoses kept rising. The reality of growing up in Akron is that those numbers became people I knew. I wanted to humanize the heroin epidemic by turning statistics into stories.

In June 2017, I met Brandie (last name withheld) through mutual friends on Facebook. She shared a post about being addicted to heroin, and wrote that she isn’t less of a human because of it. We met for coffee. When I told Brandie what I liked to do, she asked me if I could share her story.

This is a preview of Brandie’s journey so far. After I showed her these photographs, she said to me:

“Wow, look at my life. This is no life at all.”

 Brandie, 18, gets ready for her first night of working as a stripper. Brandie is from Akron, Ohio and struggles with heroin addiction. She lives with her boyfriend (name withheld) who also is addicted to heroin. Over the summer they stayed with his uncle.

Brandie, 18, gets ready for her first night of working as a stripper. Brandie is from Akron, Ohio and struggles with heroin addiction. She lives with her boyfriend (name withheld) who also is addicted to heroin. Over the summer they stayed with his uncle.

 On June 20, 2017, Brandie visits her boyfriend at Summa Akron City Hospital after he develops an abscess from shooting up. Cameras are placed in his room to make sure no one brings him “home medicine.”

On June 20, 2017, Brandie visits her boyfriend at Summa Akron City Hospital after he develops an abscess from shooting up. Cameras are placed in his room to make sure no one brings him “home medicine.”

 “And that's another thing we're scared of,” says Brandie. “When we get clean, that we're not going to know each other for who we really are, because pretty much most of our relationship has been using.”

“And that's another thing we're scared of,” says Brandie. “When we get clean, that we're not going to know each other for who we really are, because pretty much most of our relationship has been using.”

 Brandie calls her mom before checking into a detox clinic on Tuesday, June 27, 2017. Brandie says phone calls with her mom are usually difficult, but she can’t have her phone for the week she is in the clinic.

Brandie calls her mom before checking into a detox clinic on Tuesday, June 27, 2017. Brandie says phone calls with her mom are usually difficult, but she can’t have her phone for the week she is in the clinic.

 The young couple says their goodbyes before Brandie checks into detox. “I have to do it over and over again because you never know when you're going to get it right,” says Brandie about detox. “Like in baseball, you don’t know how many times you’ll swing the bat to hit a homerun.”

The young couple says their goodbyes before Brandie checks into detox. “I have to do it over and over again because you never know when you're going to get it right,” says Brandie about detox. “Like in baseball, you don’t know how many times you’ll swing the bat to hit a homerun.”

 Brandie goes over to her sister’s house and says goodnight to her nephews. Brandie wants to get sober so she can watch them grow up.

Brandie goes over to her sister’s house and says goodnight to her nephews. Brandie wants to get sober so she can watch them grow up.

 That fall, Brandie and her boyfriend moved out of his uncle’s house after he passed away from an overdose. Brandie doesn’t like the new living situation and wants to get sober so she can move back home.

That fall, Brandie and her boyfriend moved out of his uncle’s house after he passed away from an overdose. Brandie doesn’t like the new living situation and wants to get sober so she can move back home.

 Brandie and her boyfriend usually walk to the gas station by their house for cheap things to eat.

Brandie and her boyfriend usually walk to the gas station by their house for cheap things to eat.

 Brandie leans against the bathroom sink that says “Life is Death and Death is Life.” Brandie is living with users of methamphetamine and wants to move out as soon as possible.

Brandie leans against the bathroom sink that says “Life is Death and Death is Life.” Brandie is living with users of methamphetamine and wants to move out as soon as possible.

 According to Brandie’s roommates, the previous occupants of their room in the attic painted figures on the wall to cover up their hallucinations.

According to Brandie’s roommates, the previous occupants of their room in the attic painted figures on the wall to cover up their hallucinations.

 Brandie misses her family but explains that her addiction overpowers her. “My brain automatically goes into autopilot,” says Brandie. “I think of the fact I should be occupying my brain, but that disappears and I just think of ways to get it.”

Brandie misses her family but explains that her addiction overpowers her. “My brain automatically goes into autopilot,” says Brandie. “I think of the fact I should be occupying my brain, but that disappears and I just think of ways to get it.”

 Another night at the strip club begins. Brandie wears a bikini for work, and carries her money in a Crown Royal bag from the bar.

Another night at the strip club begins. Brandie wears a bikini for work, and carries her money in a Crown Royal bag from the bar.

 Another day begins. Brandie makes plans to move her stuff out of the house, and then check into detox when a spot opens up. If she completes the week of detox, she will move back in with her mother to start a clean life.

Another day begins. Brandie makes plans to move her stuff out of the house, and then check into detox when a spot opens up. If she completes the week of detox, she will move back in with her mother to start a clean life.

 Brandie and her boyfriend eat lunch at Steak and Shake.

Brandie and her boyfriend eat lunch at Steak and Shake.

 That winter, Brandie and her boyfriend moved their things out of the house and checked into detox together. However, Brandie left the clinic after three days and moved back into the attic. She says once she fails a detox, motivation to get clean is much harder to find.

That winter, Brandie and her boyfriend moved their things out of the house and checked into detox together. However, Brandie left the clinic after three days and moved back into the attic. She says once she fails a detox, motivation to get clean is much harder to find.

 The couple agreed they would break up if one of them bailed on the detox in order to protect the other’s sobriety. Although her boyfriend completed the entire week, he stays with Brandie out of love. Brandie later cries and tells me: “(He) says  what the hell do you need Brandie, what the hell is it going to take ? And I sit there and cry, and wonder...I don’t know. I pray to God all the time, please, please, please. I cry all the time and beg, please give me the strength I need to get through my detox.”

The couple agreed they would break up if one of them bailed on the detox in order to protect the other’s sobriety. Although her boyfriend completed the entire week, he stays with Brandie out of love. Brandie later cries and tells me: “(He) says what the hell do you need Brandie, what the hell is it going to take? And I sit there and cry, and wonder...I don’t know. I pray to God all the time, please, please, please. I cry all the time and beg, please give me the strength I need to get through my detox.”

 After moving their things out and then backing out of the plan, the couple now is without furniture and they sleep on the attic floor.

After moving their things out and then backing out of the plan, the couple now is without furniture and they sleep on the attic floor.

 Another night of work begins. Brandie wonders what kind of job or hobbies she would have if she ever overcomes heroin addiction.

Another night of work begins. Brandie wonders what kind of job or hobbies she would have if she ever overcomes heroin addiction.

Last spring, a young woman in rehab confronted a whiteboard with instructions to draw a timeline of her drug use. Her denial of addiction vanished.

“I didn’t realize until I was told,” says Brandie, 18. “Laid out on the board, from age 13 to 18, things just went downhill. I saw that was all my life was consumed of; all of my hobbies- drawing and painting- went out the window.”

Brandie is addicted to heroin. Returning multiple times to the same detox clinic in Akron, Ohio, she keeps fighting this demon as she fears a life in which she will never get clean. However, Brandie’s withdrawal symptoms keep her in fear of the detox.

“Waiting out a withdrawal is like waiting for the sun to come up,” she says. “My muscles are extremely uncomfortable; it feels like it’s never going to end. I can do nothing but cry and pace around my house.”

Brandie also suffers from restless legs that won’t stay still if she attempts to sleep without using. One night, she described licking her finger and tracing it around a drawer in hopes of finding “a pebble” of heroin to use.

At the age of 13, Brandie found a prescription sitting on the microwave prescribed to a family member in post surgery. 

Oxycontin

Brandie learned about drugs with the prefix oxy in health class, and remembered reading about their “euphoric rush.” Her mouth watered.

“I ended up taking them,” says Brandie. “I loved them, and I just kept taking them, and taking them; and when they ran out, I found myself fucking taking ibuprofen because I didn't want to go to school without a high that I craved.”

 A year later, the 14 year old mentioned the pills to a stranger she met at a bonfire. He suggested heroin to her, and she tried it that night.

“No one told me about the sickness,” she says. “The first time I tried it there was no negative consequence, so why not go back to it?”

When Brandie’s habit developed, she ran out of ways to afford it. By the age of 18, when I began this story, she started stripping to support her addiction.

“The stupid club made it so easy,” says Brandie. “I know that’s where I went wrong, I knew it right when I stepped into that club.”

Brandie’s boyfriend, name withheld, doesn’t like Brandie working in a club. She says she has little choice because she needs something without a schedule that pays a lot. 

Her boyfriend also struggles with heroin addiction. They met through their dealer, and now they both want to leave this lifestyle behind. In January 2018, they decided to check into the detox clinic again together.

“I have literally lost more than I've ever lost in my life before. When I got to detox this week, it dawned on me how much shit I'm going to have to take care of and how much I'm going to have to face and deal with in my clean life,” she says. “I feel like in my clean life, I’m going to be a shit person because of my past.”

“I want to get out of this lifestyle and get our lives on track,” her boyfriend said. “Basically this lifestyle is over, no one wants to be a ‘junkie,’ no one wants to live like this- no one wants to be living in poverty, blowing a grand a week on dope.”

Brandie refers back to the photos of her nephews when she gets sick to remember how much she wants to be in their lives.

“Please be patient with me. I tell (boyfriend) this all the time, it’s just getting worse, so one day it's going to get better. I tell myself that I know some people have bad endings, but I keep telling myself that maybe I'm just getting closer to my rock bottom so that I can finally go up. They tell us to stop digging, like I know I could consider all of this already a rock bottom. But for some reason, I don't know why Alyssa, I keep digging and digging."