Syringes to Sobriety

Stories and Advice from a Real Heroin Addict
The Power of Imagination

How to get off Drugs- The Power of Imagination

How to get off Drugs

Mr. Rogers said, “Imagining something may be the first step to making it happen, but it takes the real time and real efforts of real people to learn things, make things, turn thoughts into deeds or visions into inventions.”

Fred Rogers was, unquestionably, one of the wisest men to grace daytime children’s television, but I don’t think this quote gives enough credit to the power of imagination. If you feel locked in a hopeless cycle of drug abuse, changing your mindset is invaluable to your recovery. A positive perspective will not only make it easier to stop or cut down on drugs use, it will allow you to move faster toward your goals once you make these initial changes.


If drug use has left you feeling hopeless, you may find yourself in a number of different situations. You may be:

  • living in your own house, sneaking away from your spouse to get your fix
  • living on the streets, stealing to make money to get you fix
  • working full time, sneaking into the bathroom to get your fix
  • living in hotel rooms, selling your body to get your next fix
  • renting a trap house, selling dime bags, to support your habit
  • living with your parents, stealing 20s from their wallets to get your fix


  • leasing an apartment near campus, using the money your parents send you to get your next fix.

Whatever your situation, feelings of guilt compound to shame, and hope goes right out the window. Eventually, ever drug user starts to feel a gnawing pain in the pit of the stomach. For some users, the first sign of pain is enough to make a change. However, those of us with masochistic tendencies, choose to ignore the initial pain until the suffering becomes unbearable.

So what is this pain? Where does it come from?

Bellies Full of Balloons

How-to-get-off-of-drugsImagine a deflated balloon in your stomach.


Each time you get high, steal to support your habit, or make any other bad decision fueled by drugs, a puff of air enters the balloon and the balloon starts to inflate.

Each puff of air is symbolic of a dream you have or a value you hold. You are trapping your values, morals, hopes and dreams, inside this balloon with every fix.


Eventually, your balloon completely inflates, and the puffs of air (your values) try to escape, creating a pain in the pit of your stomach.

This is how your body and conscience tell you, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

What do we usually do to get rid of this pain? We get high of course! After all, using has helped us live devoid of pain, physical and emotional, for this long! Unfortunately, getting high is only a temporary fix.

I would like to suggest another technique involving nothing more than your imagination. But first, I will explain how this technique helped me alter my course.

Case Study: The Role of Imagination in Getting off of Drugs

During the darkest of drug using days, my boyfriend and I frequently talked to each other about what a sober life together would look like. We discussed various plans to get sober, but more importantly, we discussed exciting things we would do together after getting sober.

Sharing our individual passions and expressing what we hope to accomplish in life, helped each of us see the light at the end of the tunnel. Talking about jobs we would apply for, which apartment we would rent, what vehicle we would save for, etc. showed us the direction we had to travel to reach the end of the tunnel.

We would try to make it to family gatherings. During these functions, we relayed our future plans to our families. This was important because our family was able to see we had not given up in our battle and when we finally took a step toward change, our families knew exactly what we were working towards.

Lastly, we reminisced with each other about sober times. Even though we had never spent a single day together sober, we listened. Hearing his stories helped me remember my own life before drugs and vice versa.

These discussions encouraged us to start making changes and proved an invaluable tool to keep us on track once we did.

How Can Imagination Help You?

If you are not happy with the way drugs are affecting your life or the consequences of drug use have become unbearable, try taking a few minutes to go on a little imagination vacation. Think about what your life looks like when you are truly happy.

DO NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN WORRYING about what you have to do to get back to this happiness. Worrying about detox centers, rehab, recovery meetings, and all the other overwhelming aspects of recovery will NOT prove useful. In fact, stressing about those things may actually push you into a more negative head space, increasing your urge to use.

In my case, I had a significant other to talk to, but you are perfectly capable of using this technique on your own.

Phase 1:

  • First, get yourself a journal:
    • It does not have to be anything fancy, as long as you can write in it.
  • Sacrifice ONE high a day:
    • Think about how many times you get high each day and decide which one you will sacrifice. For example, if you get high eight times a day, try cutting out your afternoon fix.
  • Write down five things you want to accomplish in your future:Make a list
    • During the time you would have spent in the bathroom getting your afternoon fix, (and we both know this can be a significant amount of time), make your list.
    • Don’t list things other people think you should do.
    • Focus on things you are passionate about.
      • Traveling to Bali?
      • Learning how to paint?
      • Playing on a volleyball league?
      • Finishing your degree?
      • Starting a blog?
    • Things you IMAGINE bringing you joy.

Phase 2:

Set Sub GoalsAfter a few days, you should have a pretty solid list. You can build on this list as much as you want. When comfortable, cut down a bit more on your using. Some may feel comfortable with this after a few days, others may take more time. Either way is fine because you are moving in the right direction.

When you are able to cut down on this second fix, you will have more time to focus on the steps you need to take to accomplish the things on your list. Try putting three bullet points under each item in your list of future accomplishments. Develop three small tasks you can do to get you closer to each respective goal.

Here are a couple examples: Remember, no two people’s goals will be the same because each person ‘s current situation differs.

  1. Getting an apartment
    1. Call methadone clinic to ask about locations
    2. Jot down work history in my journal(so I have it when I create my resume)
    3. Make a list of amenities you would look for when renting
  2. Visit family in California
    1. Google prices on flights and hotels
    2. Check with probation department on how to get travel permits
    3. Make a phone call to sister in California, just to ask how she is doing.

If you take this seriously, you will start to get excited about your future. The details you wrote down in your journal will leave you feeling confident in your ability to achieve happiness.

Oddly, as you get more excited, you will find it easier to cut down using even more.

You may even find yourself reaching out to sober friends for support, just as my boyfriend and I did with each other. If you do, you are on the right track.

The less you isolate yourself, the less you will use drugs.

Is this B**** Serious?

Sound cheesy to you? Maybe it is, but what do you have to lose at this point? Remember, no matter how royally fucked your life has become while using drugs, you never lose your ability to imagine yourself in a different situation.

I mean, come on, I went from law school to homeless in handcuffs, but I imagined something better for myself and eventually, I was able to make small changes. Although I have not accomplished anywhere close to what I would have hoped by the age of 30, I know I am working toward those goals I talked so much about while using, working toward happiness.

Recovery of the Recovery Industry

Tradition Three of Narcotics Anonymous states, the only requirement for membership is a DESIRE to stop using. If I were to start my own recovery group, I would amend this rule, making the requirement “a desire to stop OR CUT DOWN on using.” This would attract more users, giving more people the support they need and ultimately, saving more lives.

Many inpatient centers build goal setting into the curriculum, but the only guidance given to those who are still using is GO TO DETOX and GET TREATMENT.

Well, recovery industry, I hate to break it to you, but the majority of users will not follow this advice.

A small percentage of users will take this advice.

An even smaller percentage will benefit from it.

A larger percentage will ignore the advice and overdose or die from drug use related complications.

An even larger percentage will be incarcerated, wasting away, when they could be doing wonderful things for the world.

Maybe it is time to meet users where they’re at.

Let’s be willing to start recovery before detox. Let ‘s change the ALL OR NOTHING approach that has failed us time and again.

If we do, more users will decide for themselves to make a change AND more users will stick with it because it was their idea to change from the beginning.

A Note on Laziness

Do not misunderstand this post. There are rarely solutions without action. However, we all have the right to take the time to consider what it is we truly want before blindly following the advice of people who think they know best.

Do not let the ALL or NOTHING approach to getting off drugs discourage you. People are dying drug related deaths every minute or so in this country, so it makes sense why the industry pushes for immediate detox and forced treatment. However, if you are not ready to quit completely, but you are willing to cut down on your use, DO IT.

Do not let anyone discourage you. Just cutting down is a huge accomplishment in itself and will allow you to spend some time using your imagination.

Some Encouragement

A mentor of mine, the late Gerry Cullity wrote, “There is always a tomorrow after every darkest day.”

During some of the darkest moments in my life, especially while incarcerated, I repeated these words to myself over and over again. My path thus far has been littered with obstacles of my own creation and it would be naive to think the path ahead will be free of failure. However, I will never stop focusing on my ‘tomorrow.’

  Inhale the future and exhale the past because tomorrow has the potential to be whatever you imagine it to be.

Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below. Also, share this post with ANYONE who may need to hear this. You could be saving a life.


15 comments on “How to get off Drugs- The Power of Imagination

  1. Thanks for sharing- I really enjoyed this! It has motivated me to cut back on my own vices. That actually seems attainable, instead of aiming to quit forever. And I liked the balloons in the belly, I’ll definitely remember that!

  2. I loved your reference to Gerry Cullity who was such an inspiration to so many kids…The practical steps were awesome. Keep up the great work…

  3. Hey Ana,

    I absolutely love this article and your website. I am a recovered addict so I have a heart for this subject. I really admire you for reaching out and trying to help people in this way. There is a depth in you that makes you a very valuable person.

    The way you used the subject of imagination was really cool. It reminds me of something I heard one time. It was how there are two types of friends: dream supporters and dream killers. They talked about having dreams similar to how you talked about using your imagination and of course, how you need friends that support your dreams and believe in you!

    Awesome Article Ana!

    Stay Passionate!

    1. Thank you for reading. Dont you wish everyone could find it within themselves to be dream supporters? The world would be such a different place. Congrats on your own sobriety Shiloh.

    What a fantastic post! I like how honest and real you are.
    I agree that our own mind can be very powerful, we just need to know how to effectively use it.
    I think taking one small step at a time (towards the intended goal) is a great suggestion. One step leads to two steps then to three and so on.
    Writing things down is another wonderful suggestion. I have used this technique in my life. My circumstances were different but the strategy of journaling really helped!
    Thanks for your awesome post. You are a real inspiration! I hope many people will be helped through your experience/sharing/website.
    Take good care of yourself!

    1. Thanks Angela. Journaling has been one of the most powerful tools in my recovery. It allows me to organize my thoughts. Before i write things down, my head is swimming with confusion, but putting everything down on paper gives me perspective. I hope others will give it a chance, no matter how silly it feels at the beginning. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I am so inspired by this and hope people will find this and have a read. I believe that people struggling with multiple challenges can benefit from these ideas. Taking a small amout of time to imagine things that they hope for. No matter how low someone feels there is always hope. I loved your ideas about even cutting down on one high…. that person is moving in the right direction. This is what people need to hear. Even just waking up each day…. everyone has a purpose and value regardless of their journey so far. A life is something to be celebrated and encouraged no matter what. If people heard this on a regular basis imagine the change we would see. Keep writing! I can not wait to hear more 🙂

    1. Thanks Krista! And you are absolutely right, this method is applicable to anyone. Anyone has the capacity to change anything they wish in their life.

  6. Very inspiring!
    I have a few “addicts” in my life.. close loved ones I will be sending this link to.
    This is not only informative but I can see it also comes from the heart. Thankyou

  7. Hi!

    I just want to say that I really enjoyed reading this post. I can tell you had a good flow of energy while writing it.

    I have some friends going through the battles as the ones you had. Some already won and have already realized their purpose in life.

    Im glad that you are sharing your experience to help others.

    This is great content.
    Thank you for this. 🙂

  8. Very important post. This is definitely a problem that affects societies around the world either directly or indirectly. I hope this post finds the person that needs it because there are some very helpful tips. There is no solution without action, but the steps are easier said than done!
    Thank you for this post.

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I think many will benefit from hearing there are different ways to recover, not just the one society says is correct.

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