San Diego T.T., 36, matronly, with a sweet face and a soft, wondering voice, doesn't match the expected image of a recovering manic-depressive acid-head, pill-popper, and heroin addict. It is hard to picture her fencing clothes to support her habit, sneaking fixes in hospitals, and speedballing herself into seizures. She looks more like what she is -- an ordinary single mother, living and working in Spring Valley. Just as unlikely is her ten-year-old daughter V.T., a serene child who, at five, watched her junkie mother get arrested for stealing.
When she tells her story, it is not with the remorse of a confession, nor with the abstracted distance of a clinical history. She is eager to describe the depths she has visited, because she is eager to share the route by which she left them. This is a testimonial, aimed at people who are where she was four years ago.
Born in '60s San Diego in "the Point Loma-Ocean Beach area," T.T. grew up living with her mother, an alcoholic. Her grandparents lived nearby, across the street from Point Loma High School. Her grandparents "got to see how kids acted: they would come down in their backyard and smoke weed." So, when she was 15, they sent her to Christian High in El Cajon. "I think they just really didn't want me influenced," she explains. Christian High "was great. It was a source of stability for me," recalls T.T. Friends' families "seemed normal."
But Mom had a fight with her parents and wouldn't let them pay for T.T.'s senior year. She attended Point Loma High, but when she was asked to share something about herself and said that she was a Christian and loved God, "all the kids started laughing. I got up and ran out of the class, and I never went back there. I think that kind of got me started on a rebellious attitude toward my mom."
She moved in with a friend soon after and got a job on Point Loma Boulevard. She started partying and going to clubs -- "places downtown, like in the warehouse district. There was just a door you would go in -- no lights outside or anything." She began taking party drugs -- lsd, cocaine, crystal, crank, "this stuff that was called mda" -- and when she wanted something before the weekend, marijuana.
Her party period lasted until around 1983, when she got pregnant with her son. "I took pretty good care of myself, because everything made me sick. I had my son, and soon after that, I got a pretty good job with the Department of Social Services." A year later, she was back to marijuana, along with prescription drugs, "mostly downers. I had to have something, so it ended up being pills."
In late 1984, she tried to kick drugs, entering the House of Metamorphosis, a local rehabilitation program. Her son went to live permanently with his grandmother, now recovered from her alcoholism. T.T. graduated from the House in 1985 and had V.T. in 1987 with a man she met there. After V.T. was born, however, she relapsed into pills and marijuana. In 1992, she discovered heroin.
"I just happened to run into Karen, a friend that I had met in [House of Metamorphosis], and I told her, 'Let's have lunch or something; I'll come over on my lunch hour.' I went over to her house, and she goes, 'Come on in!' She was in her bedroom, shooting up. I was like, 'Oh, my God.' I'd only seen heroin and needles in movies. I was, like, 'Every other drug, but not heroin.'
"Looking back on it now, I think the devil knew just when to hit me and put something like that in my life. I was taking 10 to 15 painkillers a day. I couldn't even feel them anymore. They weren't doing what I needed them to do. I said, 'Oh, wow, I want to try that.' [Karen] didn't want to let me at first, but I talked her into it. I came over the next day on my lunch hour, and I said, 'I want to do that again.' And I came over the next day, and it was like I was hooked. I stayed hooked for two years, day in and day out. After three weeks, I started speedballing."
T.T. tried to quit on her own, with no success. "I was so sick that I thought I was going to die. I've had two babies, and withdrawing from heroin is ten times worse than having a baby. I got loaded, and it just took all that sickness [away]." She tried a three-day switch to methadone through a clinic but found herself fixing in the parking lot before the clinic opened. Twice she tried a program at Mesa Vista hospital. "Both times, the day, the hour I got out, I was right to the [heroin] connection. It wasn't in me to stop." In October of '93, after a year of heroin use, she was fired from her job.
She moved in with her connection. Karen had already taught her to boost clothes from local stores and sell them "to families in like, it's probably the Logan area," and now she took it up full-time. "I'd wear oversized clothes, and roll clothes up really small, and stick them underneath. I could fit three pairs of Levi's in a pair of oversized shorts. You could sell Levi's, brand-new with the tags still on them, for $27.
"I would get in with one person who wanted me to steal just this or that kind of thing, and I would go in and burn out whatever those stores were. I would go in once, twice, three times a day, and just get gobs of stuff. I couldn't believe I was not getting caught." She allows that it might be because she didn't look the part.
"After my car got impounded the second time," T.T. continues, "I found a taxicab driver that would drive me around. I paid him $75 a day, and he drove me around for four hours to the different stores. I would go in and boost the stuff, leave it [in the cab], and go into another store. [Then] he would take me to where I needed to go to sell it. Most days, I would have anywhere between four and seven hundred dollars." Eventually, she just sold the clothes half-price to her connection, who paid her in drugs, except for some spending money and $50 a day for the room she was renting to T.T.. She estimates that by the end, she was using "six bags a day of heroin and three bags a day of cocaine."