The Walking Death: The Pain and Darkness of Addiction
by Kate T.
Addiction Was a Full-Time Job
Writing this, my own personal story and journey of addiction, is a painful exercise. That is because addiction is, in itself, filled filled with shame, secrets, and lies. And the lengths I went to, in order to avoid their exposure, was a full time job in itself. Never mind the equally full time job of maintaining the expensive habit. But it opening up my experience to the world is also a cathartic process. It helps me move forward, and I hope that others will relate and therefore feel less alone.. Because there is nothing more lonely than being in the throws of addiction and trying to hide it. I was terrified I would lose my family, my friends, jobs, relationships. And by the end I had indeed lost all of these. I could not function in a ‘normal’ world where people get up everyday, go to work, create families of their own. Instead I was left in a parallel world. A world where you get up, find money, buy drugs, use drugs, go out again, find money, buy drugs, use drugs
I am considered a ‘dual diagnosis’ patient. That is I have bipolar, and this was there before, during, and after my drug use. Sometimes that is easier to talk about because it is seen as fully due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Addiction, however, is far more stigmatised. Because whilst more and more of the scientific community now see addiction as a choice, there are many that see it as a ‘lifestyle choice’. There are still the negative connotations. ‘junky’, ‘skaghead’ and so on, or for pure hedonism. It is here that I will clarify, I NEVER except maybe my early 20s used substances for fun. Heroin is not a ‘fun’ drug. It’s an ‘I am hurting drug’
Drugs Meant I Felt Comfortable in My Own Skin
It was at a young age that I realised drink at that time, and then drugs made me feel better. It was a revelation. I was shy, introverted, depressed from an early age. Then BANG, I got drunk at 13 and I was free. From that age I tried anything that came my way. I was a human waste bin. When offered something, I didn’t ask what it was; I didn’t care. All I knew is chemicals made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. They were my medication
Addiction, be it choice or illness, for me was 90% self medication. Before you judge remember that an addict (not a casual user) holding a can in the street, or sticking a needle in the arm at 9am or doing it for a reason. They may have an agonising mental health condition. They may have just suffered a devastating bereavement. They may be the victims of abuse and violence. Or simply they may struggle with life on a daily basis, or inherited a genetic predisposition. Of course not most abuse survivors don’t end up with a crack pipe in their mouth. That is a myth. And of course many addicts have never been abused. Many had the most idyllic of childhoods. An addict is just as likely to be a businessman walking in a suit with his briefcase as someone on the streets. The point here is think before you throw stones from your glasshouse
A Dark Hole with No Escape
My addiction story is divided into two parts. I got clean at 24 for nearly 7 years. Then came a devastating relapse. As I wrote earlier, I started drinking and taking drugs at am early age. That, mixed with my depression and medications for such, only escalated until I was in a dark hole I could not escape. My world was black. I was taking handfuls of sleeping pills and valium. I would go to bed at night and not care whether I would wake up in the morning. The secrets were build up. The debts built up. My health deteriorated, and I moved on to harder drugs that I had never tried. The only thing I never did at that point was injects. I felt like a dying animal. It was the summer of 2003 and I was sent to rehab. It was a 12 step rehab and at first I fought it to the death. In the end I realised that I was just fighting myself. I embraced NA and stayed clean for a number of years. It was like a miracle to find out that there were other people who thought like me, acted like me. I had felt like I was a freak. Now I found a whole family of freaks who i related to.
I even received an Msc in Psychology and addiction counselling which I utilised in several treatment centres. But while I remained abstinent from drugs I kept getting mental health issues. They started as a ripple; finished as a tsunami. I was left unable to work. Though I loved my job, I still remained clean. But the problems did not go away. And traditional addiction treatment could not treat the bipolar disorder. I have been hospitalised many times. And believe me NHS Psychiatric wards are not nice, therapeutic places. They are violent, understaffed, not enough beds. And they know little about addiction
It was when my brilliant first psychiatrist left, and the mental health wouldn’t treat addiction, and addiction wouldn’t treat mental health, that I started to fall through the net. I relapsed. Big Time. I didn’t do a bit here, a bit there. I went straight to the needle. Firstly just heroin and taking valium. Then smoking crack. Then injecting crack. This relapse was a million times darker than my last period of using. And I was in a rough area. I saw people stabbed for £30 debts. Guns. Break ins. Getting drugs was easier than getting a pizza.
While my mental health was being managed well by that first psychiatrist I was still clean for around 3 years. When I got ‘lost’ in the system, I made that ‘choice’ to medicate myself. It made sense at the time. Diamorphone (heroin) is a potent painkiller. I was in pain. And paradoxically, for a while, drugs kept me alive. They alleviated the symptoms. But they brought their own. Crack gets you through as much money in an evening as heroin does in a week. It makes you psychotic. My health was poor. I was about 45kg, malnourished, walking the streets, picking up buts. And I became addicted to the needle. Anything that you could (or even couldn’t) put in the barrel then I did. I started to get infections. Out of shame I ignored them. That is until I became desperately ill. I have horrific abscesses. Even the Drs were shocked. In total I had five operations to save my arm plus constant iv antibiotics to eradicate the sepsis and cellulitus. After one operation, the second, I work up screaming like an animal. The anaesthetist stood above me, smug, saying she hadn’t given me morphine because I was an addict. My shame was already bad enough just by being there and having to tell them what had happened, let alone to have that judgement cast upon me. Following each operation I had open wounds which had to be packed every day which is extremely painful.
Recovery – Sometimes Quickly, Sometimes Slowly
Thankfully I got an opportunity to move away from the area. My drug use didn’t just stop. But it started to abate. Slowly I cut to smoking, to not using everyday. Then, I had a suicidal depression. I was admitted to hospital. While there I went on subutex. Since then, 18 months ago I haven’t used anything else. I must admit NA hasn’t had the same hold over me as it did the first time around. But I have to give it time because I do know, and have seen, the magic it can work. I am starting to feel free again. It’s just that it’s been, as they say in the literature, “sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly”.