Russell Brand wrote an article that I read lately that hit home to me. It spoke a language I understood- probably the first article I’ve read that I could so easily identify with. I knew what he meant at times, I knew what he was feeling. I understood the things he was saying.
In his article he writes about struggling with a heroin addiction. While my addiction was to pain medications mixed with anxiety medications that provided a deep sense of calm and sleep that left me numb and unable to feel physical pain or emotion, the similarities in the mindset that he discusses are so very similar. He writes:
I cannot accurately convey the efficiency of heroin in neutralising pain. It transforms a tight white fist into a gentle brown wave, and from my first inhalation 15 years ago it fumigated my private hell. A bathroom floor in Hackney embraced me like a womb, and now whenever I am dislodged from comfort my focus falls there.
It is ten years since I used drugs or drank alcohol and my life has immeasurably improved. I have a job, a house, a cat, good friendships and generally a bright outlook.
But the price of this is constant vigilance, because the disease of addiction is not rational. Recently, for the purposes of a documentary on this subject, I reviewed some footage of myself smoking heroin. I sit wasted and slumped with an unacceptable haircut against a wall in another Hackney flat (Hackney is starting to seem like part of the problem), inhaling fizzy black snakes of smack off a scrap of crumpled foil. When I saw the tape a month or so ago, what was surprising was that my reaction was not one of gratitude for the positive changes I’ve experienced. Instead I felt envious of this earlier version of myself, unencumbered by the burden of abstinence. I sat in a suite at the Savoy hotel, in privilege, resenting the woeful ratbag I once was who, for all his problems, had drugs.
I remember my first combination of medication. A fistful of Xanax mixed with 6 extra strength Vicodin. It quickly led to a release of all pain. I could feel nothing after the drugs took effect. Literally, nothing. I slumbered deeper than I even knew was possible and awoken to a feeling of being completely numb and isolated within myself. It’s hard to explain. And there are times, now, that when frustrations strike and I can not revert to those behaviors that I think back to that place (or one of the many others where over medicating left me far beyond functioning) and I get frustrated. I long to be there. I get jealous of that old me. I get jealous of the feeling of escape. Dare I say, I miss it.
I *know* that feeling he discusses when looking back. I sit with my therapist now and we discuss how far I’ve come over the last three years. We talk about the addictions programs I’ve completed under his care. We discuss the positive outcomes that have come from being 4 months free of these dangerous combinations. We talk about the mental clarity. We talk about the physical strength. We discuss how now I can fight through these cravings that I may have with positive coping techniques instead of hitting up the local hospital or doctor’s office with a lie and story in place in search of drugs.
But I often find that I am not grateful of these things. Do I feel better? Yes. Am I a better mom and wife, free of these medications? Yes. But, the power of addiction doesn’t allow for me to be free of that longing, that desire, that craving to be in an altered state of mind. There are times when I’m struggling emotionally that the numb escape of these pills is all I can think of. Drinking half of a bottle of liquid codeine mixed with Ambien, Xanax, and maybe a little Oxycontin leaving me near death on the floor actually sounds appealing. I can’t explain that. The demons of addiction are strong and destructive.
That is obviously irrational, but the mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and, unless they have structured help, they have no hope…
What was so painful about Amy’s death is that I know that there is something I could have done. I could have passed on to her the solution that was freely given to me. Don’t pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time. It sounds so simple, it actually is simple, but it isn’t easy — it requires incredible support and fastidious structuring.
Brand talks about when Amy Winehouse died. He mentions passing on a bit of advice to her… just stop. Don’t pick up another pill or needle or drink or other drug. But like he says- the advice IS simple. It just isn’t easy.
If this seems odd to you, it is because you are not an alcoholic or a drug addict. You are likely one of the 90 per cent of people who can drink and use drugs safely. I have friends who can smoke weed, swill gin, even do crack, and then merrily get on with their lives. For me this is not an option. I will relinquish all else to ride that buzz to oblivion. Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce’s yacht, it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house.
Oh, again how I understand. A simple glass of wine at a social gathering leaves me longing for more… and more… and more. And then I’m reminded of the lonely nights on the kitchen floor having downed an entire bottle of wine on top of a couple pills. And it all comes flooding back. The days of laying in bed unable to function. The longing for the mental escape.
We addicts are not bad people. We are sick people. That doesn’t mean we should not be held accountable for our actions, especially when compromised by these heinous substances. However, as we reach out to offer our love and support to those with cancer or heart problems or other varying diseases, let us learn to do the same for those who have mental illnesses. The ones who have a disease that is just as fatal. It may not be as noticeable or diagnosed as easily as reading the numbers on a report of a blood test, but it is still very, very real.
Brand’s story that he writes grabbed my attention and increased my respect for him. Ten years he has been sober. He still admits the struggle. I admire that. And I admire even more that he is open about how it isn’t easy. It’s not a simple thing that you just get over. Addiction is very real and doesn’t go away.
It is frustrating to love someone with this disease. A friend of mine’s brother cannot stop drinking. He gets a few months of sobriety and his family bask, relieved, in the joy of their returned loved one. His life gathers momentum, but then he somehow forgets the price of this freedom, returns to his old way of thinking, picks up a drink and Mr Hyde is back in the saddle. Once more his face is gaunt and hopeless. His family blame themselves and wonder what they could have done differently, racking their minds for a perfect sentiment wrapped up in the perfect sentence, a magic bullet. The fact is, though, that the sufferer must be a willing participant in their own recovery. They must not pick up a drink or drug. Just don’t pick it up — that’s all.
It is difficult to feel sympathy for these people. Can there be any other disease that renders its victims so unappealing? Would Great Ormond Street be so attractive a cause if its beds were riddled with obnoxious little criminals who had ‘brought it on themselves’?
…if we regard alcoholics and drug addicts not as bad people but as sick people, then we can help them to get better. By we, I mean other people who have the same problem but have found a way to live drug- and alcohol-free lives. Guided by principles and traditions, a programme has been founded that has worked miracles in millions of lives. Not just the alcoholics and addicts themselves, but their families, their friends and of course society as a whole.
Brand inspires me to keep stepping out, to keep talking no matter how hard it is. No matter how much stigma there is. And no matter how much criticism I receive. I want my story to be the reason that just one person reaches out for help.
Read the full article here.~Lindsay