Heroin is a powerfully addictive drug, and breaking free from its grip can be especially challenging. When heroin addicts attend Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups that focus on alcoholism recovery, they sometimes feel like they don’t belong. At times, it seems, there’s a certain stigma attached to heroin addiction. For recovering heroin addicts, whether being rejected at AA meetings is real or imagined, the result is the same. They may stop going to meetings, setting themselves up for a high risk of relapse. A group of women in Toledo, Ohio, has solved this problem by forming a women’s Heroin Anonymous group. They follow the 12 steps and 12 traditions, but their focus is on recovery from heroin addiction specifically. By not including men in their recovery group, the founders say dialog and communication is simpler and more open. Some of the group members have experienced rejection at AA meetings. Many heroin addicts aren’t able to successfully recover, and sponsors in AA may not have a thorough understanding of what it takes to beat heroin addiction. The women in this group have experienced stigmatization for being junkies, both from their families and from members of AA. Yet they know that continuing to use and abuse heroin will lead to almost certain death; members of this group know people who have overdosed on heroin and died. They don’t want to continue down that path, but without a Heroin Anonymous group, many don’t feel they have had the support they need. At Toledo’s Heroin Anonymous meeting, a woman with 39 years of sobriety serves as a powerful example that life without heroin is possible. She teaches the younger women that, ultimately, they will be able to hold a job, and have a family and a home. Their lives no longer need to be defined by their addiction. This mentor is aware that her life story could have had a different ending. Most of the people she used with years ago are dead. She knows she is lucky to have found a path to recovery, and helping others gives her life purpose. It’s a way for her to give back.
The Journey of Female Heroin Addicts
The women who attend Toledo’s Heroin Anonymous have much in common with their non-using peers. Some are married with children, while others have been able to form relationships with only drugs. Some have lost their children. Some are struggling to regain custody of the children that their addiction has cost them. Through HA, they are learning a better way of living. They are learning to rely on each other and a higher power, however they might define that. They are learning the difference between religion and spirituality. They are learning that they are not bad people, and that they can have a better life, one that doesn’t include heroin. They are women who have been brought to their knees by life, but have risen to face their demons. With the help of the 12 steps, they are facing their faults and finding a path to making better choices. With the special support they find in their women’s group, they are learning to forgive themselves for their mistakes. They are learning that others have walked a similar path and have come out on the other side.