I spent the next three days in bed, brain flatter than a leaking battery, torn red t-shirt on the floor, and one of the Discovery channels burbling away as I drifted in and out of sleep, occasionally raiding the cupboard for whatever was left to eat, which was never much at this time. When I rose, in a bout of desperation, I wrote a handwritten letter to my doctor, asking to be sent to rehab, or a psychiatric ward, or wherever there was a vacancy.
A few days later, I made an emergency appointment, and my doctor, almost impotent to help, sent me to my local drug service. I made an appointment and went in for an assessment. I was assigned a counsellor, who I saw for about six months. She was very good, knowledgeable, honest, and patient, but she couldn’t stop me using week after week, and coming in with tales of increasing dissolution. By this point, the compulsion to use crack, with a heroin chaser, felt like something separate from what I considered to be myself. It was as if the decision was made in me, but not by me. ‘It’s happened again,’ I’d say, time after time, and she would say, ‘You mean you’ve used again.’ Whilst this was true, I had used, none of the complementary tools and therapies offered me had any effect on my using. I just became a more literate addict, and could talk at severe length, week after week, month after month, sometimes quite engagingly, about the same thing – I’d used. Truth is, at this time, I wanted my coke and smoke it – I wanted to use, but didn’t want to consider the expense and consequences, and heroin, sneaking up on the rails, had only made the whole cycle seem slightly less unmanageable, softening, as it did, the harsh comedown from the crack.
Ear acupuncture, shiatsu, reflexology, cupping, body acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and various relaxation CDs, all made a minimal indentation on my pattern of use. I even wrote a few worthy articles for the drug service newsletter, all teacher’s pet stuff, saying how wonderful the therapies were, and how I found the service so very valuable as a community hub, but they were all just words, worthy, placatory, hollow words. The drug service subscribed to a magazine called Black Poppy, a health and lifestyle magazine written by users and ex-users alike. Over the months, I wrote a few articles for it, even compiled a cryptic crossword, with mostly drug-related answers, but even this, coupled with volunteering at the magazine’s office, and the new friends it afforded me, made no difference to my using.
So far, the most successful path I’d found to getting a period free from crack was going to my parents’ by the sea, which I did many times at this point, in various states of disrepair. There, I’d be spoken to frankly, in a spirit of concern, and bewilderment, by both parents. Then, having had another good think about my predicament, I’d return to London and relapse. The hypnotherapy, dispensed by a chap in a shack in Ealing, and paid for by my parents, seemed to work for a few days. Hypnotised on a Monday, I managed to abstain from crack, with money in my pocket, ‘til Friday. But then, when I blew it, it was back to scoring at every opportunity, regardless of the time of day, or the danger.
By now, I was firm friends with Faith, especially when I arrived at hers fresh from the cashpoint. It was kind of unfortunate that she lived on the same street as the drug service. In fact, it was probably possible to see the drug service from her window. Often I’d have an appointment that I simply wouldn’t show for, because I’d stumble into Faith’s place literally yards from safety, like a rugby-player with a knack for tackling himself.
One afternoon, I was marching to an appointment, knowing full well I wouldn’t get there, because I’d already decided to trip myself up at Faith’s place. Torn at her door, half hoping she was out, half wishing she’d hurry up and answer, I was surprised when my old chum Dennis appeared before me. Butler-like, he ushered me into the living-room. He’d already scored, and furnished me with a pipe, which led to a flurry of notes being pulled from my pocket, accompanied by the request, ‘Can we get something?’ He was happy to oblige, and called down the hall to Faith to let her know he was popping out. She came into the living-room, and was equally delighted to see me, and the notes I was by now scrunching into Dennis’s palm. She returned to whoever she was entertaining out the back. Dennis and I were negotiating what we wanted, and who we should get it from, when another figure appeared in the doorway. It was Jacob, and he didn’t seem very happy.
He said a cool hello, and reminded me of a previous warning, given some days before, not to hang out with Dennis. According to Jacob, Dennis would con me, keep drugs back, was a known criminal, in fact was everything Jacob was himself. Then he addressed Dennis directly. ‘Ben is my associate. I look after him.’ ‘He just wants to score,’ Dennis said lamely. ‘Ben, come with me,’ Jacob instructed, ‘I’m taking you home.’ I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to score. ‘I’m ok,’ I said, trying to appease the now approaching figure of Jacob, ‘I’m happy to share whatever we get.’ ‘You won’t be getting anything,’ he replied, ‘I’m taking you home.’ I didn’t believe this for a minute – he just wanted me away from Dennis, so he could take control. ‘I don’t want to have to slap you,’ he warned. His crazed yet cold eyes were up against me, and I thought I’d better go along with things. Then I was being escorted down the road, with Jacob saying, ‘Ben, I know if I let you go, you’ll find someone to score through, so if you want to get something, tell me now.’ So my protector and I went round the corner to this couple’s place in White City, just off Wood Lane, near the BBC. I’d kind of dreamed of going in there, having established myself as a known comedian, or some such. Now I was skulking past, at pace, desperate to top up the pipe I’d had courtesy of Dennis, some half an hour ago – not much of a party-piece.
We arrived in some dive, a flat that even the How Clean Is Your House team would have had to touch up before filming. It was inhabited by a guy who looked like a cross between Wayne Slob and Mr Sneeze, haggard’n’gaunt, hair an explosion. His partner, who it turned out he beat (no doubt the bond that brought him and Jacob together), seemed quite friendly and normal, even made me a cup of tea, and took an interest in my various aborted dreams and aspirations. She’d had them too. Somewhere in the undergrowth of their living-room, there was a puppy skulking, apparently acquired from someone at the very same drug service I’d been fruitlessly attending for some months. Formalities over, Jacob popped out with my clutch of twenties, and I took tea with my hosts. My host, Spike, had been a postman, until he got sacked for intercepting chequebooks, and allegedly gardened for a well-known 80s singer. My hostess, Suzie, showed me pictures of her children of whom she was very proud – they were scattered about the globe, and seemingly quite happy.
I faked conversation until Jacob’s return with the crack. Unwrapping the bits, he went first, of course, then me, then our hosts, on a variety of hastily constructed pipes. Then Spike and Suzie began discussing something discreetly, and it soon became clear they were injectors, of which Jacob roundly disapproved. He would smoke crack, but not heroin, and he certain wouldn’t inject anything. I, however, hell bent on experiencing all I could experience, made a mental note of where I was, and to call back some time when Jacob wasn’t around. Spike and Suzie disappeared into the bedroom and bathroom, respectively, to inject in peace, leaving me and Jacob smoking just the crack in the living-room. When they returned, Spike moaning he couldn’t find a vein, and Suzie talking so fast it was hard to keep up, Jacob popped out to the cashpoint. I managed to cajole a heroin spliff in his absence, which helped with the crack cravings. Then, after an agonising wait, Jacob returned, and we all four smoked away until the money ran out. The heroin hadn’t really been enough to calm me down, but, somehow, having said our goodbyes, we left, and Jacob and I parted on the street with a handshake, as if having just sealed a small business deal, and later, there I was in bed, sweating, and desperately trying to get to sleep, cursing every second, wracked with regret that one, I’d ever touched crack, and two, I couldn’t go on smoking forever, if necessary to death, cos it seemed there was no way out of this slow nosedive my life had become.
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Just A Little Prick