The Grief Girl

Escape from Heroin

April 21, 2016

In this mesmerizing episode of The Grief Girl, you'll hear a former addict's detailed story of his 20+ year battle with drugs and alcohol—including how his addiction began at the tender age of 12, his life of crime on the streets, detoxing in prison, and how he finally overcame his addiction. This story will give hope to addicts and their families, so please share it with anyone you know who needs a message of hope! 


1:30 - Host Kristi Hugstad introduces Johnny Pearson, who is now the Drug Intake Specialist at Reflections Recovery Center in Orange County, CA. Johnny goes into vivid detail about his normal upbringing, and what led him at age 12 to try alcohol and quickly move onto drugs.

4:20 - Johnny's problem escalates, and his mother notices that her cigarettes and beer are missing. Embarrassed after she confronts him, he retaliates and runs away on the weekends, and his drinking increases. He begins sleeping in broken cars and his friends' backyards when he's unable to stay at friends’ houses, and he starts skipping school and stealing money. He begins to feel sad and guilty when he’s not drinking, so his goal becomes to always have the feeling of freedom through the "high."

7:30 - Johnny's progresses to vandalism, assault and battery, and even incarceration as a result of fighting on the street at just 13 years old. He discovers meth, and explains why he loved it. His family hopes he will change and doesn't know how to deal with him, but he continues running away.

10:18 - Johnny explains that alcohol was the gateway that led him to experiment with other drugs including heroin, meth, marijuana, and the criminal lifestyle. He also talks about how he moved on from stealing from his family to breaking into cars for electronics, gift cards, and jewelry so that he could procure drugs. His juvenile years—at least six months out of the year—are difficult: he's unable to behave and stay clean, and at 18 gets transferred straight to county jail.

12:50 - He talks about his life in jail from 18 to 34, and how easily he was able to access drugs. He provides details of the politics of prison, and the rules of race that exist in the prison system—it's a life or death matter if you don't participate. "You can get away with a lot more in prison than you can in the streets," he says. He talks about how easily he was able to access drugs. He provides details of the politics of prison, and the rules of race that exist in the prison system—it's a life or death matter if you don't participate. "You can get away with a lot more in prison than you can in the streets," he says.


19:08 - Johnny's son was born in 2009, and he discusses the impact of becoming a father at that timer—he has good intentions but is too wrapped up in prison and drug life to leave it. His son's mother and his son live with his parents, and that becomes a crutch knowing that they are well taken care of. He feels guilt and is unwelcome at his parents' house. He is able to watch his son grow up only from the outside of his parents' house, watching through the window.

24:30 - Kristi asks Johnny what it meant to not care about life, and Johnny explains that he had accepted his fate: he was good at being a criminal and could function in prison with little effort. He felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness yet he had a sense of "better than" and never believed that he would overdose. He gets high enough that he is in an altered state, and is able to walk away from his family. Kristi explains that it's the mindset of an addict, and loved ones don't often understand that they shouldn't take it personally.

26:50 - At 34, Johnny has an overdose, and after leaving the hospital, he can't stop thinking that his life is passing him by. He has a street bike accident, and ends up with nerve damage in his back; he later gets arrested for possession of heroin, and explains how he manipulated a friend to bail him out.

30:38 - "Spiritually bankrupt" and physically disabled, Johnny hits rock bottom, and his turning point arrives. He decides to avoid living "life on installment plans," and makes a conscious decision to begin his cold-turkey detox in the medical unit of Orange County Jail. 92 days later, he is released to Reflections Recovery Center. The Intake Specialist at Reflections shows Johnny care and interest, and this ends up making a world of difference to him.

36:45 - Johnny explains a "blackout period" at his sober living house, and that it was a "magical" ten days that allowed him to learn how to meditate, journal, reflect, and read. He finds himself open-minded and willing. 

39:30 - Johnny answers the question that's on everyone's mind: "Is there anything anyone could have done to make you stop?"

41:00 - Johnny talks about his role now as the Intake Specialist at Reflections Recovery—ironically, the same role of the person who first made a difference to him. He discusses his work at Reflections, and the importance of sharing experiences and stories. Johnny points out that change is very hard for people who are struggling with addiction.

43:07 - Johnny's advice to anyone beginning or in recovery: "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting." Johnny also advocates Alcoholics Anonymous: treatment is a place to get quiet and get direction, but the time comes when you have to do it yourself, and AA can help you do that.

45:45 - Kristi and Johnny break down a few myths:

  • Is heroin more dangerous than alcohol?
  • What do you do someone overdoses on heroin?
  • Are drugs more dangerous when injected?
  • Is abstinence an appropriate treatment for heroin addiction?
  • Is heroin only abused by older, more experienced addicts?

49:26 - Kristi and Johnny discuss how the heroin epidemic is affecting all socioeconomic classes. Addiction does not discriminate. 

51:27 - What has grief taught Johnny? "My grief has taught me what's important in life," Johnny says. He has learned that his problems are fixable, and there's no need to resort to using.

Contact Info
If you would like to reach Johnny Pearson, you may contact him at Reflections Recovery Center. Do you have ideas for future shows on The Grief Girl, or are you interested in being a guest? Contact Kristi Hugstad at The Grief Girl.

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