I took my friend’s hand, and thanked him for being in my life. I watched him turn into a shell, choking on a breathing tube in his hospital bed.
My friend survived his overdose; it remains the greatest miracle I’ve witnessed to this day. Nine months later, I found myself in the same hospital, where I took this photograph.
This is a story about Brandie, an 18 year old woman living with heroin addiction. When we met last summer and she asked me to share her story, I had no idea how much she would mean to me.
After I showed her the first photographs I took of her, she said:
“Wow, look at my life. This is no life at all.”
Brandie, 18, gets ready for her first night of working as a stripper on June 4, 2017. Brandie is from Akron, Ohio and struggles with heroin addiction. She lives with her boyfriend at his uncle’s house, who also is addicted to heroin.
Sobriety keys, letters and foreign currency are kept in a box by Brandie’s bedside. As a preteen, she loved to draw and paint, and always dreamt of traveling the world. However, since the age of 14, her energy is constantly split between supporting her addiction and then trying to get clean.
After Brandie’s boyfriend developed an abscess from shooting up, she visits him at Summa Akron City Hospital on June 20, 2017. Cameras are placed in his room to make sure no one brings him “home medicine.”
Brandie says goodbye to her boyfriend before she checks into detox on June 27, 2017. “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.”
Late summer, Brandie kept up on strides towards sobriety. Brandie’s older sister invited her over to spend time with her nephews, who are key motivators in her journey to a clean life.
That fall, Brandie and her boyfriend moved into a house with users of methamphetamine after his uncle passed away from an overdose. Brandie doesn’t like the living situation and wants to get sober so she can move back to her mom’s house.
Brandie leans against her bathroom sink where someone wrote “Life is death and death is life.”
The couple usually walks across the street to the gas station for cheap things to eat. Brandie is still stripping to support both of their addictions.
When work gets loud and overwhelming, Brandie retreats to the bathroom in the dressing room. Her friend Noel (last name withheld) breaks down and wonders if she’ll ever get away from this lifestyle. “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.”
In January of 2018, Brandie and her boyfriend checked into detox together, and made a deal to break up if one would mess up the other’s sobriety. However, Brandie’s boyfriend stays with her after he completed the week of detox and she didn’t. Brandie later cries and tells me: “(my boyfriend) 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 she doesn’t complete her detox, Brandie becomes self-conscious and sees herself as a failure. Therefore, motivation to get sober slips further away.
Brandie misses her family but explains that her addiction overpowers her. She doesn’t get high when she does heroin, she only does enough to stop her withdrawal symptoms. 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.
Before the failed detox, the couple moved back to their parent’s houses. Now that they are using again, they sleep on the floor of the attic in the house they tried to leave behind. Brandie gets ready for another night at the club, and wonders what kind of job she’ll have in a clean life. “I feel like in my clean life, I’m going to be a shit person because of my past," says Brandie.