How I Supported My Heroin Addiction by Selling Meat

By Wendy Adamson 01/18/19

After I pushed in the plunger, all the anguish, self-hatred and regret faded into blackness. Heroin was an anti-depressant and the only thing I found to ease the constant sadness that clutched my throat.

Woman at meat section in supermarket, examining meat to steal to support heroin addiction
Not just any meat would do. I wanted only the most tender, most expensive cuts, with the USDA stamp of approval on them. ID 11690881 © Vladimir Voronin |

It was the blistering hot summer of ‘75 in Los Angeles. I was over-dressed as I headed to the supermarket in a brown corduroy jacket, jeans, and a faux leather purse that bounced off my bony hip.

I pushed my cart through the automatic doors, my eyes darting back and forth behind my $10 aviator shades. I was on the lookout for the store manager. I knew that he was in his early 40’s, with a crew cut and a paunch belly that hung over his belt.

Relieved that he was helping a customer on the far end of the store, I rolled straight for the cereal aisle, but I wasn’t there for the Cocoa Pebbles or Frosted Flakes. I just used the boxes for cover. I was there for meat. And not just any meat would do. I wanted only the most tender, most expensive cuts, with the USDA stamp of approval on them.

I was 21 and strung out on heroin for the first time. I had been shooting up in moderation for years until my boyfriend Max and I crossed some sort of invisible line. I can still remember the first morning I ran to the toilet throwing up until there was nothing but slimy yellow bile.

That was a game changer for me. I was now addicted and had to find a way to support my habit. But how? I couldn’t sell my body like some of the junkie girls did. The thought of sleeping with a greasy old man made my skin crawl. Instead I asked Sammy, another junkie, to teach me his trade. Boosting: what the police would refer to as petty theft.

At my first day of on-the-job training with Sammy, we pretended to be a married couple grocery shopping. But in reality I was watching him steal with laser-like focus. By the end of the day it was apparent I had a natural talent for stealing meat. After we stole the meat we’d sell it half price and get our dope money. It didn’t take long before I had customers all over town who wanted to buy my meat. I soon had a reputation with other junkies for being the best cattle rustler west of the 405.

I sped down the cereal aisle and grabbed three boxes of Corn Flakes. I then headed to the butcher section. My gaze landed lovingly on the bulging pink meat packaged in tight saran-wrap that lined the open freezer. I took a deep breath before loading my cart up with filet mignon, New York and T-bone steaks. In less than a minute I had what I considered to be a pretty good haul. I covered the packages with my Corn Flakes boxes and did a 180 with my cart.

I headed down the back of the supermarket until I found an empty aisle. There, I stopped midway and loosened my belt. My heart pounded so loudly I could hear it beating inside my brain. I bent over, grabbed a steak, and shoved it down the back of my pants. It was cold. Goose bumps erupted all over my sun-starved flesh. I moved fast, stuffing one steak after another around my waist.

Suddenly, a fresh-faced mother with a toddler tucked in her cart headed toward me. I dropped the steak back into my cart and reached for a can of Campbell’s soup, pretending to read the ingredients. The click-clacking of the other cart’s wheels drew closer.

Whenever I boosted, my super powers kicked in. My mind could easily shift between thinking, observing, and analyzing my surroundings for any threats. This hyper-vigilant state was the direct result of growing up with a schizophrenic mother who was loving one minute and ballistic the next. When I was 7, my mother drowned herself in the bathtub but by then the neural pathways in my brain had already been set. This vigilance, which had once been a handicap, became a gift whenever I boosted.

The cart was behind me now and the mother’s voice sounded soothing as she spoke to her child: “You can have a cookie after dinner sweetie.”

Hearing their tender interaction turned my stomach into a tight fist. I felt the familiar pang of resentment. I often imagined how things might have been different if my family hadn’t been so fucked up. What if I’d had a loving mother who was there for me through all the benchmarks in my life? Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be standing in a market with a steak stuck in my pants and blood dripping down the back of my legs.

I watched them disappear around the corner before stuffing more meat around my emaciated waistline. By the time I was done I resembled a suicide bomber ready to blow the place up. With meat.

Once the last two steaks were securely tucked away I abandoned the cart and moved stealth-like towards the front of the store. My goal was to slip out without any employees noticing me. But with blood seeping down my legs I was afraid I’d draw unneeded attention to myself. All my favorite jeans were ruined.

My breath grew shallow as I turned sideways through a closed cash register aisle. I was several feet from freedom when the paunch belly store manager yelled from his station, “Excuse me miss. Hold it right there!”

I quickly assessed the situation. The manager was walking toward me. I could see my car parked close to the front of the store. I asked myself if I should run or wait to see what the manager wanted. It turned out to be a no-brainer. My foot instinctively hit the rubber mat causing the automatic doors to spring open. I ran as fast as I could, my arms and knees pumping, my tennis shoes slapping the hot asphalt ground beneath me. A steak slipped out of my pants. I hoped this minor obstacle would slow the manager down. But no.

Having watched plenty of nature shows as a kid, I could imagine how this scene might have resembled a cougar chasing his prey. Unfortunately, in this action adventure I was the prey and I was afraid a claw would reach out and grab the back of my coat any second. And then what? I’d be arrested. I’d heard plenty of horror stories from junkies kicking heroin in jail. I was determined not to let that be my fate.

I don’t know if I imagined it but I felt the manager’s hot breath at the base of my neck. I leaped inside my Volkswagen Bug and punched down the lock. The manager grabbed the door handle at the exact same time. With his face inches away, I could see his nostrils flaring, his eyes wild with rage.

“Open this fucking door!” he yelled.

My hands shook as I fished inside my jacket pocket for the keys. The car rocked as he pulled on the door, the peace sign hanging from the rear-view mirror swaying back and forth. I slipped the key into the ignition and the engine sputtered and popped. I made a mental note: If you don’t want to go jail, get a frigging tune up ASAP.

I hit the clutch and threw the gears in reverse. As I backed up the manager pounded the driver’s window with his fist and yelled “Get the hell out of the car!”

After clearing the parking spot, I shifted into first gear just as this wannabe hero stepped onto the running board. He grabbed the mirror with one hand and the door handle with the other. All I could think was: What the fuck? What the hell is wrong with this crazy idiot?

I pushed the pedal to the floor, picked up speed, and shifted into second gear thinking surely he would jump off. But he appeared to hold on even tighter. I yanked the steering wheel and made a hard right. He finally lost his grip. I watched him in my rear-view mirror tumble away like a loose hubcap.

Oh God! Had I killed him?

Relief coursed through me when he hopped up, yelling and waving his fist as I pulled onto Venice Boulevard. My chest heaved as I peeled the steaks from my waist and tossed them onto the passenger side floor. My mind raced with paranoid thoughts: someone must have gotten my license plate number, the entire police force would be out looking for me. I had to get the hell out of there.

My eyes darted to the rear-view mirror and I twisted my head from side to side like the Exorcist on the lookout for any patrol cars. I had to get rid of the evidence and fortunately, I had plenty of people around town who would buy it.

Fifteen minutes later I pulled up in front of a house in the suburbs. I hopped out of the car, walked up the path and rang the front door bell as casually as an Avon lady. Moments later, Mrs. Wilson appeared, dressed in polyester pants, head crowned with pink sponge curlers under a paisley scarf. She squinted over my shoulder. “Oh, hi there, Wendy.”

I nodded toward my car. “I have something for you, Mrs. Wilson.”

After we did a quick exchange, I had 100 bucks and she had double that in meat.

Ten minutes later, I was a rat-a-tat-tatting on the drug dealer’s door. Eddie opened it just a crack and glared at me with bloodshot eyes. With a taut nod of my head I handed over all my cash. In return, I got four colored balloons the size of marbles. I followed standard junkie protocol and tossed them inside my mouth. This was done as a precaution in case you got busted. Hopefully you’d have enough time to swallow the evidence before the cops could get their hands around your throat. Thankfully, I made it home that day in one piece.

Max was still at work so I had the place to myself. Our apartment was six blocks from the beach. A tourist destination for some, but the ocean wasn’t even on my radar back then. Beauty and nature ceased to exist when I was doing drugs.

The living room was a strange landscape of overflowing ashtrays, beer bottles, and trash from the night before. Others could accuse me of slacking on my domestic duties but who had time for dishes or dusting when you were supporting two people’s habits every day?

After retrieving the tied red bandana in my panty drawer, I headed for the bathroom and straddled the toilet to face the wall. I laid everything out on top of the tank. Syringe, matches, a cup of water, spoon and cotton. Biting the tiny knot of the balloon I ripped it open with my teeth. I was careful not to spill any as I poured the contents into the spoon. I used the syringe to squirt water and then lit an entire book of matches, holding the flame underneath the spoon until it started to simmer. As the powder dissolved, the smell of Sulphur, burnt sugar and dope filled the air.

I pulled the brownish liquid into the syringe, spun around and wrapped my left bicep with a belt. There was a bit of resistance before the needle popped through my calloused vein and then my blood mushroomed like a bomb going off inside the syringe. I pushed down on the plunger with my thumb and I was instantly filled with a soothing warmth as the heroin turned me inside out.

Afterward, I dabbed the blood with toilet paper while my chin drifted down to my chest.

All the anguish, self-hatred and regret faded into blackness. Heroin was an anti-depressant and the only thing I found to ease the constant sadness that clutched my throat.

My life was never meant to look like that. I went to a private Catholic school, for Christ’s sake. I knew the difference between right and wrong. When I was a little kid I didn’t see myself growing up to be a junkie. What happened to the little girl who desperately wanted to make a difference in the world? Sadly, she was in a dark place where she would remain for nearly two decades before reappearing tattered and broken in the county jail.

It was there, while lying in a cell, I realized I had been blaming others for everything that was wrong with my life. It was my mother’s fault, my father’s fault, and then, in a moment of clarity, I realized I was the one who had broken my own heart. And if that were indeed the case, only I could fix it. But how?

I knew I’d have to be sober to find out.

In the last 25 years I’ve learned that my mother’s absence left a huge black hole inside my heart. Everything I knew, planned, or imagined for myself changed in an instant. But I was a 7-year-old child and no one seemed to notice my despair. My sadness eventually morphed into anger and I took my anger out on the world. If I were to stay sober, I needed to forgive my mother. It didn’t happen overnight but over time. When I was finally able to let her off the hook, I was the one who was set free.

I underwent a deep and profound transformation, but some things never change. Every once in a while I find myself craving a steak: medium rare.

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Wendy Adamson is the author of Mother Load, her memoir on addiction and finding a life of purpose. Wendy is also a counselor, speaker and facilitates writing workshops. Wendy believes that only by sharing our personal stories can we heal the shame and eliminate the stigma associated with addiction. With over twenty years in the field of addiction and mental health, Wendy is a seasoned professional, who not only possesses a comprehensive understanding of psychiatric issues, but the recovery process as well. You can find Wendy on Facebook and Linkedin.