The Secret Life of Heroin
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

The Secret Life of Heroin


secret life of heroinIn Baltimore that summer the best heroin was sold in little glass vials with white stoppers. White tops. The color of the stopper was like a brand. If it was good, its reputation would spread. (“Where’s Dom?” “Dom’s dead.” “What was he doing?” “White tops.” “Who’s got ‘em?” “Fathead.” “Where’s Fathead?”) Eventually dealers with inferior product would start using the good color, and then the people with the hot dope would have to change to red or blue stoppers. It was a cycle. I’d been off the stuff for almost six months, but as soon as I saw that empty white-top, I got a funny, destiny feeling.

You might think the whiteness of the white tops isn’t that important. After all, over the past few years I’d bought red tops, blue tops, black tops, and even yellow tops. Of course, the drug itself is often white, but it can also be brown, and the white is really just an effect of the cut. But the first stuff I ever did was in a vial with a white top, and its whiteness showed me dope’s magic secret.

The secret is that the power of dope comes from the first time you do it. People know the first time is important, but mostly they’re confused about why. Some think addiction is nostalgia for the first mind-blowing time. They think the addict’s problem is wanting something that happened a long time ago to come back. That’s not it at all. The addict’s problem is that something that happened a long time ago never goes away. To me, the white tops are still as new and as fresh as the first time. It still is the first time in the white of the white tops. There’s a deep rip in my memory.

Dope never gets old for addicts. It never looks old. It never looks like something I’ve seen before. It always looks like nothing I’ve ever seen. I kind of stare. I’m kind of shocked.

“White tops, Henry? Really?” It’s always the first time I’ve heard of it, the first time I’ve seen it, every day, forever. Take a look at your shoe. Your television. Your car. Your girlfriend. Now compare that sight with the first sight.

You see? When you first get a new car you notice everything about it. The color is so beautiful, so shiny, so deep, so intense. After a few weeks you hardly see it. After a few months, there’s a sense in which you don’t see it at all.

That doesn’t happen with dope. Dope never gets old. It never gets familiar. It’s always new. It’s a deep memory disease. This disease is much stranger and simpler than nostalgia. With nostalgia, you see a thing. The thing triggers a memory of a good time. Then you start to want that good time to come back. That’s complex. It’s a multi-stage process.

Now watch what happens to the addict. I’m sitting there at Dom’s, minding my business. Henry’s kind of talking, I’m kind of listening. Then I see a white-topped vial. Wow. I stare at it. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. I know I’ve seen it ten thousand times before. I know it only leads to bad things. I know I’ve had it and touched it and used it and shaken the last particles of white from the thin deep bottom one thousand times. But there it is. And it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. The first time I encountered dope isn’t somewhere else, it isn’t in the past. It’s right over there. It’s on the table.

Something that’s always new, that’s immune to habit, that never gets old. That’s something worth having. Because habit is what destroys the world. Take a new car and put it in an air-controlled garage. Go look at it every day. After one year all that will remain of the car is a vague outline. Trees, stop signs, people, and books grow old crumble and disappear inside our habits. The reason old people don’t mind dying is because by the time you reach eighty, the world has basically disappeared.

And then you discover a little piece of the world that’s immune to habit. There’s a little rip in my brain when I look at a white-topped vial. The rip goes deep, right down to the bone, to the very first time. People love whatever’s new. Humans love the first time. The first time is life. Life is always fading. The work of art is to make things new. The work of advertising is to make things new. The work of religion, the work of science, the work of philosophy, the work of medicine, the work of car mechanics. Their tricks all work, a little bit, for a little while, then they get old. The addict, alone among humans, is given something that is always new.

It’s not the feeling of doing the drug that stays new. The drug high starts to suck pretty quickly. Pretty soon it sucks so bad you quit. Never again. Then you see a white top. Or even imagine you’re seeing one. And it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it. Addiction is a memory disease. Memory keeps things in the past. Dope white is a memory disruption agent. The powder in the vial is a distribution technology. It carries the white down the tiny neural tunnels where the body manufactures time. Dope white turns up in my earliest memories. I remember Mom’s white teeth. My future whites out.

I’m cured now. Ten years. How? How did I escape my white mind and body? How did I exit the white pollution of the past and the future, the white mind where every thought and feeling is a long or short road to the white tops? I’m outside. I’m free. But how? Can you run from yourself? Try it. It’s impossible. But I did it. I ran out of myself. How? Once you get a glimpse of something that never gets old you’ll never be able to live like the others. I don’t want to give too much away. There’s a flaw in my memory. Luckily there’s also a flaw in time.

This passage is an excerpt from Michael W. Clune’s critically acclaimed memoir White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Michael W. Clune is the critically acclaimed author of the memoirs Gamelife and White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin. His academic books include Writing Against Time and American Literature and the Free Market. Clune’s work has appeared in venues ranging from Harper’s, Salon, and Granta, to Behavioral and Brain Sciences, PMLA, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He is currently Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, and lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio.