Matt Ganem is no stranger to opiate addiction. By the time he was 21, an addiction to heroin that started with OxyContin had all but destroyed his life. Miraculously, Ganem made it out alive, and at 26, he has now been clean for more than five years. Ganem has taken a creative approach to the horrors of opiate addiction through his hard-hitting poetry and writing, which can be viewed on YouTube and Facebook. His first book of poetry, “Carried By Wings Of Protection,” is due out this fall. Watchdog asked Ganem to fill in fans about his personal story, and share how Oxy and heroin changed his life forever.
Watchdog: How did opiate addiction happen to you?
Matt Ganem: I started taking Percocets in high school after I hurt my arm playing baseball. One day someone offered me something stronger. It was an OxyContin pill. He split it with me and we crushed it up and snorted it, and it was an unbelievable feeling to say the least. The ball started rolling right there.
W: How common was OxyContin abuse?
MG: OxyContin was everywhere; everyone I knew did it. When all your friends are doing it, you feel like it’s socially acceptable. Nobody knew that splitting an 80-mg OxyContin would lead you to shooting up dope, or dying, or committing suicide.
W: How quickly did your Oxy addiction progress?
MG: My best friend committed suicide and I took him down from where he was hanging from the shower pole. When you see something like that, it haunts you. He was already cold when I took him down. From that point on, I didn’t want to live anymore. I wanted to kill myself, but I didn’t have the balls to do it. So I started doing an insane amount of OxyContin. Soon I was holding up corner stores to get ten 80s a day. I had to do it, or I’d be curled up in a ball. Once you can’t afford the Oxys, it’s $40 for a bag of heroin for the same high, versus $250 for the pills. At first, people would offer me dope, and I thought I was too good for it. But I progressively went from snorting Oxys to smoking and shooting them, and then from sniffing dope to shooting it, smoking crack, mixing dope and crack. I was asking for death, but it never came for me.
W: What were the Oxy withdrawals like? Is it worse than heroin?
MG: Coming down off Oxy is way worse than heroin. It’s the worst feeling in the entire world. Your bones ache, you can’t hold your bowels, your skin is cold, your mind races, you’re anxious, you want to die. You can’t physically move for 5-7 days, you’re curled up like a little baby sucking its thumb. I’d rather break my arm than go through Oxy withdrawals. With dope, it’s also physically painful but only for 1-3 days, then it’s more mental. Oxy seeps into your bones.
W: When did everything change for you?
MG: I had lost my relationship with my family, I had no friends, I was just getting high by myself. One day I was sitting in my friend’s mother’s house, I was dope sick, and she was shooting up in front of me and she told me I had a problem. I looked at her, she had just finished a five-year prison sentence, and I couldn’t believe she said that to me. I went over to the mirror and I saw a straight skeleton. Death was in my eyes. I could not tell you who it was in the reflection. I got myself to a detox, and after that I went to a halfway house and sat there for 8 hours to prove to the director how bad I wanted to get clean. I knew if it didn’t work, I’d end up in jail or dead. It was predetermined that I was going to get high. Finally, the director brought over a pillow and a blanket.
When you’re an addict, there’s nothing that will stop you. It’s a sad thing to say, but it’s reality. It’s a nice thought to have that your child or your family will stop you, but plenty of people will leave their children and families to get high. The only thing that can stop an addict from getting high is the addict themselves.
W: Why do you think you made it out of opiate addiction, while so many others do not?
MG: If I could tell you, I would tell everyone I know. I don’t know what worked for me. It’s something that just clicks. During my drug addiction I was stabbed, I was almost murdered for selling drugs, I shared needles. I’m one of the luckiest people alive, for all my drug use, I’m healthy. I was at an open mic a few weeks ago and a 30-year-old guy came up to me, he was a recovering Oxy addict who stopped when he was 23. He has full-blown AIDS. It’s stuff like that that makes you think about what a different situation you could be in. You play Russian roulette with your life when you’re an addict because you want to get high above all else. You’re in a relationship with dope. Now I’m 26, and the worst thing I can say is that my sports skills have deteriorated. I can say that today’s the day I can choose whether I get high. I’m very lucky.
W: In “Don’t Bring Me Back To That”, you recreate the temptations you faced when you first got clean and how hard it is to escape the grip of addiction. Do you still struggle with the temptation to get high?
MG: If I see a needle getting injected into somebody, I flash back to the process of getting high, but I don’t feel the actual urge to get high anymore. In the beginning, we had weekends off in the halfway house, and I’d be thinking the whole time about what my friends were doing, whether they were getting high. I learned that even if a bad thought comes over my head, I can write it out. I was honest and spoke out loud to friends, “I want to get high right now.” But then I would start writing and see where it led. That’s the greatest thing about writing, there’s no boundaries, you have the freedom to release whatever emotion you have.
W: Do you feel that your writing has a redemption quality for you?
MG: If you go back 7 years, I was a horrible person. I’ve done my share of wrong. I held up stores. You don’t realize the effect of a masked bandit on someone who’s just there getting orange juice for her husband, she’s scarred for life. I affected completely innocent people. And not that I’ll ever make that up, but to have people come up to me and say they identify with my stuff, it’s the most unbelievable feeling. It’s a long way from the places I’ve been to have both friends and strangers support me.
W: What would you say to the kid who’s about to pick up an Oxy at a party?
MG: I would try to show him my life story. You’re going to end up dead, whether by Oxy or by heroin.
Watch Matt’s latest video, “Fading Faces,” about lives lost due to drug addiction.
Dedication by Matt Ganem: Rest in peace Danny Nunes, James Slattery, Stephen Pacheco and Michael Sparks. I’ll see you guys on the other side of eternity.