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."
She had a staph infection in her blood around the time she got fired, but toward the end of the second year, the decline in her health accelerated. "I had abscesses all over my body. When you're shooting [speedballs], if you miss the vein, it'll abscess really bad, and it turns into a big infection." She rolls up her sleeve, revealing a ribbon of scar tissue across the crook of her elbow. "They almost lost that arm. My veins weren't very good, so I was shooting up wherever I could. One friend told me to look in the mirror -- wherever you see blue, that's where veins are. I would have all the drugs I needed, but I would start withdrawing because I couldn't hit a vein."
She started ending up in the hospital, but she didn't stop using. "I remember being at the ucsd hospital, unlocking my IV, going down to the bathroom with my clothes between my legs, changing into my street clothes, taking a cab to boost some clothes, going to the connection, getting some drugs, coming back to the hospital, changing, and going upstairs, in, like, an hour and a half."
Once back, she mixed the heroin and cocaine in a spoon, put it in a syringe, stuck the syringe in the clavicle IV, and loosened the drip. "It was such a relief to me to be in the hospital and be able to hit and get a vein without even trying. I had the plunger halfway in, and it hit me from the feet up. I went into a seizure. Every time I used, I went into seizures. Otherwise, it wasn't worth getting loaded to me -- I needed to get high, not just get well. My hands would shake, and my head would shake so fast and hard that I couldn't see anymore. I thought I was going to overdose."
All this time, V.T. was living with her. "She's seen a lot," says T.T.. "A lot" includes her mother being put in handcuffs. V.T. accompanied her when she stole clothes, and when her luck ran out, T.T. was arrested several times. Eventually, she served three months in jail. A social worker threatened to take V.T., who was staying with her paternal grandmother. "One day, I just called [the social worker] and told her, 'I can't handle it anymore. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I can't take care of V.T..' I could see how messed up I was, but I didn't know how to quit."
At the end of her sentence, she was committed by the court to a drug rehab program, and V.T. wasn't taken away. But after two weeks, she left the House of Metamorphosis because of a fight, and the only place with room for her was Victory Outreach, a Christian program. "The counselor at House of Metamorphosis told me, 'If you can't make it here, believe me, you are never going to make it there.' It's a really hard program. You get up every morning, and you pray for an hour, you read your Word, and you go out and work all day, and then you come back home and you pray. You go to Bible study. You go to church four times a week. It's a voluntary program, but once you get there, it's mandatory.
"I was one of the rottenest people they had there, I think. I just kept going to the church and doing whatever they told me because I had to. [But] I would be in the church services and the pastor would talk about the love of God, and it was really so simple. And I remember one day tears started coming down my face. I felt the touch of God. It's not like anything else on earth. I've used a lot of drugs, and I have never experienced anything like the touch of God, like the love of God. That feeling of love, it just permeates your whole being."
Her voice begins to thicken with tears. "He saw that I was struggling to get out, and He saw my daughter -- we were stuck, and I couldn't get out. He just reached out and pulled me up out of that. I know that He did.... No matter what happens to me, I know God is there. I don't have to go through anything alone anymore. I don't want for anything.
"There are so many people on drugs, and they're mothers of kids, and their kids go through what my daughter went through -- seeing their moms strung out, living on potato chips and soda. It's only God that can transform the mind and start making someone look up, start putting hope in someone's heart -- 'I can do that, God did create me with a destiny and a purpose.' God can do that."
After graduating from Victory Outreach in January of 1996, T.T. and V.T. lived on welfare. Eventually, T.T. took a free ten-week course at the San Diego Urban League and found a job eight months ago as an administrative assistant. She and V.T. live in a studio. Wednesdays, T.T. teaches Missionettes. "It's like Girl Scouts, but with a God emphasis on it. I just know the purpose for me to be alive is to help somebody else to get out of where they are and just feel the love of God in their lives."