Dezarae, 21, and Paul, 25, became addicted to heroin when they were teenagers. They have been dating for about two years and have gone through repetitive stints of relapse and sobriety. At this point in late fall 2014, they don't know which is stronger: their love for each other, or their love for heroin.
Dezarae shows her syringe and tourniquets she used to shoot up, before she threw them away in a dumpster at her Chandler, Ariz. apartment. She has thrown away what she calls her “rigs” several times in the past and regretted it, only to have Paul retrieve them from the dumpster for her.
Dezarae and Paul eat dinner at her apartment in Chandler. They have experienced periods of sobriety and relapse. “If one’s in, the other’s not,” she said.
Paul, who moved to Arizona from Delaware to get sober, gets ready for a sober living house meeting. While Dezarae was detoxing at her apartment, Paul stayed in a sober living house.
“We can grow without one another for a second, because that’s the only way it’s gonna work—is if we both have a support system outside of each other,” he said.
Paul works on his 12-step recovery program after Dezarae went to a meeting with one of her friends one night. One of the steps involves admitting that one is powerless to drugs and alcohol.
Paul was once sober for a year, but said relapsing and starting over again is harder each time.
“If I have it my way, I’ll never have to detox from another drug,” he said. “I would literally—if I could—I would die sober.”
Dezarae and Paul smoke together on her patio. The two argued about whether addiction is a hereditary disease or if it is something that happens after incessant use.
Paul shovels debris while helping his sponsor with construction work in Mesa. One of the requirements for being in his sober living house was obtaining a job within two weeks of admission into the program.
Paul relapsed on a Monday after he said he had been sober for two weeks. That Thursday, after he talked to the president of his sober living house, Paul found out he wouldn’t be able to move back in unless he could pass a drug test within 72 hours. Less than an hour later, Paul got high in a bathroom during a 12-step recovery meeting.
After Paul's friend Devin flushed the rest of the heroin, he let Paul spend the night at his house. Paul said that after he relapsed that Monday, he stayed at Dezarae’s apartment during the week and admitted that he used every day.
Paul eats whipped cream at Devin’s house. Despite multiple requests from Devin to keep quiet, Paul played video games late at night.
“I don’t wanna be with anybody that does heroin,” he said. “And I don’t wanna be with someone if I’m still using, because I’m not the greatest person when I’m getting high.”
Despite Paul’s continuous heroin use, Dezarae had allowed him to stay with her and said she had remained sober herself.
“I think I’ve come to terms with that and accepted that like he has his own disease,” she said. “I can’t make him be sober and he can’t make me be sober.
Paul smokes a cigarette outside Devin’s house. “I wanna be the type of friend that my friends deserve; I wanna be the son that my mom deserves; I wanna be the boyfriend that my girlfriend deserves,” he said.
“If there’s no action behind my words, I’m not gonna change.”
Paul prays before talking to Dezarae and his sponsor on the phone at Devin’s house.
“He was there for me when I was at my worst,” Dezarae said. “So I’m there for him, but… I don’t think we’ll ever have like what we did before.”
Dezarae later broke up with Paul and said she has been sober since early summer of 2015.