The truth someone lives in becomes their reality, and eventually, their destiny.
Nick Perillo believed a lie, a lie that wrapped its warm arms around his soul, entwining him in its sweet kisses, flooding his being with euphoria, a euphoria that simply made him feel OK.
And that was enough. From day one, he was hooked on the lie of heroin.
Nick Perillo believed a lie, a lie that wrapped its warm arms around his soul, entwining him in its sweet kisses, flooding his being with euphoria, a euphoria that simply made him feel OK. And that was enough. From day one, he was hooked on the lie of heroin.
Perillo grew up in a small, brick row-house development in Wilmington, Del., and played army with half a dozen neighborhood kids who went through school together. They started hanging out at one of their homes because alcohol was readily available there, and they'd smoke and drink.
One of the friends ran into someone from Philadelphia who introduced the friend to heroin, who in turn brought it to the group back home. Perillo resisted for a time but succumbed one day with his friend in the restroom of a gas station. His friend took half a bag of heroin - a nickel bag back then - cooked it up and injected it into Perillo's arm.
"I felt this warmth, this warm feeling rushing through my body," Perillo said. "It just kept coming and coming and coming."
Nausea hit him, and he vomited. But the euphoria kept flowing. "It was such a euphoric feeling of not worrying about nothing ... And because it felt so good, I wanted the other half of the bag," he said.
He was 13.
Now 60 and a recent Williamsport resident, he's been clean from heroin for about 15 years, but it was a long, rough road getting to this point, battling relapse after relapse.
From the moment he took his first hit, heroin seemed to fill the void. "As soon as I did it, I just knew that it was my everything," he said. "I found something I never had before: (heroin was) my mother, my wife, my lover, my everything. When I had children, they came second."
Perillo lived afraid, not of the heroin, but rather of the fear that drew him so irresistibly to it. Even though people told him he was smart and handsome, he couldn't believe it, and suffered social anxiety.
His father's alcoholism watered that fear, and it grew mingled with hatred and resentment as Perillo watched his father yell and throw things at his mother. "The only time I saw my dad was when I'd wake up to him arguing with my mom, watching him from the banister throw a TV at her," he said. His father had a great persona in public and people always told Perillo what a great man his father was.
When he got older, he realized his mother played a role by staying, and he started to resent her, too. "I was full of hate, anger and resentment," Perillo said. "The dope took it all away. I didn't care."
Perillo first was locked up at 18. There he met even more connections for the drug and learned a new trade: forgery. He bounced in and out of prison and spent about 15 years in prison for burglaries, forgeries and thefts. "The forgeries helped because I had grown such a dependence on heroin, I needed $200 a day," he said.
He also earned his GED in prison and became president of the toastmasters (public speaking) club, boosting his confidence.
After years of being caught in the web of heroin's caress and clutches, he recognized it for what it was. The lie revealed was this: it made him feel OK while destroying him.
It was a cold day in Philadelphia and he had a train ticket in his pocket. He had moved to the city when he was 16. At 45, he wanted to get away and got on a train headed to Virginia. He fell asleep, woke up in the Carolinas and decided to head out to Florida.
"I ran out of my heroin I had left on the train and started over. I had $200 in my pocket" and no idea how to begin anew, Perillo said.
It was a rough start, as crack came into play in Miami, and he still was drinking. After "going all out" on crack, he got sick of that same cycle, too.
He's been clean since and moved to Jersey Shore with his wife, Amanda, in October, to be near family, then moved to Williamsport.
But his happy ending is tainted with the reality he built all those years. Though he's free from heroin, it's left cruel traces.
Cirrhosis of the liver.
Cancer of the liver.
And doctors recently found a tumor in his throat. Tests are pending.
"All in the name of the lie that you're OK, and you're not," he said.
He felt healthy for years, but got the cancer and hepatitis diagnoses about five months ago.
His father died at age 51 of lung cancer and it haunts Perillo now with his turn of events, as he waits on a liver transplant list.
But within all this, something remarkable happened. "This is one of the times in my life when a big issue has confronted me - 'You got cancer' - and I didn't think of a drink or a drug," Perillo said with an incredulous smile, his blue eyes wide.
Instead, he took a different stance. "It can either be 'poor me,' or say, 'f-- you, cancer,' and I choose 'f-- you, cancer. You're not getting me, you're just not going to do it.' It's gotta be God, it's gotta be something better than me, because if I took control over me, I'd f-- it all up, that's what I do. I do it well," Perillo said, his resonate voice rasping.
He took a breath and silence settled in to fill the space his words created.
"I sit back and say, 'Holy s--, I didn't even think of getting drunk.' And that is so normal, but I am 60 years old, experiencing something normal, and feeling good about it," he said.
Now, he has a renewed purpose. "I'm on a mission to take a negative and turn it into a positive," Perillo said. "I just figure it's time to give back."
He wants to show that recovery is possible.
"If I can go away knowing I did everything I can to help one person see a different way, and it is possible to get off of heroin, then I'm cool with (that)," he said.
To further his efforts, he is a member of the Community Committee on the Lycoming County Heroin Task Force.
Today's heroin epidemic echoes from a time past. "It's a different era, but it's the same feeling, the same actions," he said. "The general public reaction is different today than it was then, but the bottom line is the misery is the same."
He knows a "dope fiend" when he sees it: "The face drops, the muscles loosen in the face, the eyes are glassy," he said. "I've yet to see a heroin addict smiling; their muscles relax from the opioid. There's just the look," and the itching and resulting sores.
He knows young people look at him and think that could never happen to them, that they feel invincible. "It can and will happen to you" once heroin has its claws in them, he said. "This is where you're going to start. I can't say when, but I can tell you by what you're doing, this is what you're going to get."
Heroin leads to one path. "It is you, I am you and you are me, and damn it, it is going to happen to you," Perillo said. "What you destroy along the way, if you live long enough, you'll regret it. ...
"Your loved ones are the first victims because they're the people who are there for you and love you and are the easiest targets - until they give you tough love or you take them down the toilet because they love you. ... Nobody sits down and says, 'Let me destroy my mom's life, my sister's life.' You're the apple of your gram's eye, and there you are, locked up. Your name's in the paper with your upstanding local family where everybody knows everybody, and that's what it is here in these little towns, these small communities. ...
"That's the way it is, and anybody who thinks it won't happen is wrong."
But anyone who can recognize the truth about heroin has hope. "Heroin is a lie, and it took me a long time to realize (it) because of the false sense of security, of reality, of everything because you think everything's OK in that addictive phase of it. It's a lie - you do it and you think it's good. There's nothing good about it - it's poison, it's a lie, it's a devil, it's waiting to take you down," Perillo said.
"I'm not a thief, liar or con artist, but addicted, I'm all that," he said. When he's clean, "I'm a good person. I'm a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who has to stay away from a drink or a drug one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time."
Those moments consist of choices to not isolate himself, to keep being honest with himself, to not make excuses, to ask for help, to reach for the phone instead of a drink. Otherwise, relapse hovers. "You start the process of using before you use," with the above choices, he said.
It's a scary feeling to remember how tenuous recovery can be. "It takes a lifetime to build it up, and not long at all to lose it," he said.
A key part is forgiveness. "If I start holding resentments, if I start looking at the negatives, what good does that do? The person it affects the most is me because I can feed off that. I could find any excuse to get loaded," Perillo said.
No matter what happens in the end, he knows one thing. "I'm a miracle. There is a God," he said.
And finally, after years of unrest and unsettled fears that heroin could never resolve, he has found peace. "I feel good about myself today," he said.