This is a rewrite of my February blog.
The nail in the coffin of my addiction, so to speak, had nothing to do with my frequent near death experiences in various hospitals and public lavatories all over London. It was the fact that a doctor in charge wrote me off as a hopeless case. Such is my perversity that I decided I had had enough, enough of waking to cramps and a vomit or two as I searched for a recalcitrant vein in my shotaway arm. The buzz itself had diminished so that it was no longer orgasmic, more a twitch of contentment.
The start of my heroin usage was equally mundane. I lived with three people who were users and I schlepped the drugs in my handbag and acted as gofer for them. How this came about I can’t remember but I vowed not to touch hard drugs, I remember saying piously that it was a revolting habit and I would never indulge. Three weeks later I had my first delicious fix, I vomited and it didn’t diminish the joyful buzz. I vowed never to get hooked but this followed as naturally as night follows day.
I used heroin on and off for twenty years with gaps of relative sobriety during which I got married, worked at various boring jobs and drank. In fact I worked at a garage for years while I was using. It is perfectly possible to work and to lead a ‘respectable’ life while using heroin. I have known people who have used for forty years or more with no ill effects. If anything it stabilises any neuroses, or at least keeps a person in a state of semi awareness of the joys and miseries that make up life. One is self satisfied and completely immune to passion. In a word it is a bore.
This state of affairs only exists if drugs are prescribed. This limits the addict and makes it impossible to travel for more than a couple of days and the vagaries of international drug laws make it hazardous to travel abroad.
For me the initial attraction was the hazard and it was a long-term self destruction job. I would crank up goofballs which contained cocaine and heroin and feel my heart lurch while it decided whether to carry on in this faulty body or to give up. Sharing my life with other junkies was also part of this I found addicts remarkably democratic and non sexist in my memory. I always describe the scene as incredibly boring in retrospect it surely is but if must have held its charms because I took part in this ritual for a very long time. After I gave up drugs I spent a little time with users and found it insufferably dull and smelly.
I will describe the average addict day: get up have a fix if you have had the foresight to save some for the morning otherwise shiver, crap and quake as you trot off to the quack (doctor) meet your fellow hop heads (we never used this phrase but I like it) gossip about who ripped off who and who is getting favourable treatment from our admirably patient NHS doctor,(paranoia is built into the addict scenario.) Next was the script collection and climax and indulgence of the day a nice big fix. Then the gouch out , this is the event of the day and it involves sitting around in a semi conscious state – always keeping an eye out lest one of our number might fall of his perch when we would walk him round to stop him dying, sounds thrilling eh?
Let’s get one thing straight: in my case heroin shrinks the mind, the imagination and all life is frozen into an extremely pleasant comatose state. Needs no longer require satisfaction a steady self satisfaction a contentment and dull joy are all there is. The personality shrinks along with the sex drive, this was so for me and I know there are people who are creative while addicted, not me I became a vegetable, a comfortable vegetable. It is true that I spread chaos and profound discomfort among my non addict friends but part of being a junkie is total disregard for ‘straights’ who we affected to despise. This vegetable state was interspersed with withdrawal symptoms of extreme unpleasantness.
It certainly sounds very dull and nasty which is probably why I stopped from time to time and took up the drink with a dreadful ferocity – far messier and less controlled than the drugs. I discovered both mescaline and acid during these breaks. My first experience of mescaline was shared with Bill Burroughs –an accident and if I had known he was a legend I would have taken notes – as it was we blathered for two days and I have no memory of the words .I bet they were wise. I found the experience of LSD illuminating and saw into myself and had an insight into why I took heroin. I also had a couple of bad trips which were very nasty indeed.
In fact I had moved to Bournemouth with my non addict husband before I decided I had had enough, was bored with the whole bit and would enter the straight world. The final straw came when ‘they’ the enemy in the shape of the local medics set up a clinic for us junkies and decided that I was a hopeless case. ‘No use you taking part in this project you are beyond help’. Were the spurring words, I was incensed into the decision to get off smack. I can’t emphasise enough how important it was that I had the support of my husband, a sympathetic doctor ( a Quaker of infinite patience) and, most important of all enough money to treat myself well and to isolate myself form all contacts. I moved house, took up Yoga as soon as I was drug free and made many promises to myself including a holiday in Istanbul and some breast implants. I fulfilled my promises and have not touched heroin since 1975.I still keep junkies at arms length and don’t feel I am missing anything at all.
I became a feminist shortly after my nice breast implants were inserted got involved in the Anti Apartheid movement, the Anti Nazi League and various other interesting leftist causes, and found new friends.
I think it is time we stopped treating addicts as criminals and treated them as sick people and potentially useful tax paying members of society. I don’t feel that addicts are bad people; in fact many are sensitive beyond the norm and take drugs to help them cope. They are forced into crime by the expense of drugs and lack of rehabilitation facilities. My own view is that the cost of having addicts turned into criminals is vast and that it would make far more sense to prescribe for them. I believe that in Portugal where possession has been decriminalised there has been a pronounced downturn in petty crime. Perhaps we should follow their example?