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Intersections: Finding a way out is a lifelong struggle

May 21, 2012|By Liana Aghajanian

This is the third in a four part series exploring the impacts of heroin use on the greater Glendale area.

On a Friday morning at the New Way Foundation rehab facility in Burbank, 20 men slowly crowd into a room. The stark white walls are covered in motivational posters. The blue door swings back and they sit down.

Their offenses are varied. For some it's alcohol, for others heroin. For a few, cocaine or meth. Their backgrounds are varied too: They're Armenian, Indian, Latino, biracial and white. Some have been clean for six days, others for 80. They are open and honest and ready to tell me about how their lives were impacted by drugs.

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For close to an hour, we talk about life, their battles with addiction and the public's misconceptions about their struggles.

“We're not worthless, deviant people,” one of them says.

They are all here because they wanted to be, and New Way offered them a path to be able to feel whole and human again, to cope with and fill the voids in their lives with something other than destruction. But if you wanted to know why they used in the first place, the answer is simple: “All of us did this to be happy.”

I ask if any of them faced added cultural stigma among the tight-knit new immigrant families they grew up in. They answer yes.

Their addictions are kept hidden from extended relatives, out of shame. The long recovery process isn't understood by their parents. “They think it’s willpower,” someone says. “They ask, 'Why don't you just quit?”

But they can't just quit, because when drugs, especially heroin, grab hold of you, letting go doesn't come easy.

They tell me how potent a disease drug addiction is, about the lifelong struggles they face, but also hope to overcome. All of them look like any one and every one you know — your brother, your father, your uncle or husband.

Close by, a narcotics anonymous group convenes at the Armenian Relief Center, a facility that offers assistance and treatment for drug addiction, mostly to the city's Armenian-American population. As the sun sets over the Golden State (5) Freeway, the Armenian-language meeting starts — there's talk of heroin, of alcohol, of shame and loss, but also of hope and strength.

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