Being only semi-virtuous, I have not taken full notice of those who peddle the twelve-step message of 'complete abstinence from all mind-altering substances'. I haven't smoked crack for some months now, and feel quietly confident that I'm not secretly planning to any time soon - but this decision is ongoing, needs monitoring, refreshing, and rebooting. It seems to me that if you avoid all mind-altering substances, then strictly you shouldn't eat, take medicine (even responsibly), and certainly shouldn't choose to unwind with a spliff or a glass of wine. Of course, it's personal choice in the end. Some might argue that any sensory 'indulgence' is an avoidance of emotions one should be addressing, whilst others, like me, think that I'm doing quite a bit of emotion-monitoring, and, like most people, can occasionally justify a bit of a trip. All things in moderation, including moderation, as a counsellor of mine once said.
So, in my state of semi-virtue, I was in the 24-hour shop one night last week, getting a bottle of wine and some Amber Leaf tobacco, and I noticed, even with my limited eyesight, a guy, standing there, looking at the crisps, calculating out loud which he could afford. Doritos, 99p, Monster Munch, £1, but smaller bag, Quavers 40p, big bag, but insubstantial. He noticed my white cane, and asked me if I was okay. I was, pretty much. He looked very thin, like a breadstick in baggy black clothing. Somehow, I took the initiative, and asked him if he wanted a bit of cash. I gave him a few pound coins, and he thanked me in a high-pitched, though gravelly voice, saying, 'I can get some breakfast in the morning now.'
We left the shop together, and when he deduced I lived in the local flats for blind people, he offered to walk me home, although I didn't need him to. He told me he'd been thrown out by his mum, even though he was forty or so, and was now sofa-surfing from friend to friend. He said he'd not been able to see his daughter, which was destroying him, and made him turn more and more to drugs, which was the reason he wasn't allowed to see his daughter in the first place. I pictured him going round and round on a carousel, awkwardly lighting and smoking his crack-pipe, as the gaudy, marbled horses bobbed up and down, and the steam-organ blared a fun-time tune. More of a misery-go-round than a merry one.
He certainly had the air of someone in the thick of addiction, gaunt, confessional in tone, with an air of resignation and self-pity, heavy on his back like a rucksack. Even so, a part of me got to thinking, plotting, planning...mmm, maybe I've earned a little break, a night off - after all, I've no major commitments in the days ahead - I could go to ground, or bed, and recover at my leisure, the Discovery Channel muttering in the corner, night and day, about Hitler, pyramids, and ancient aliens. Truth is, I don't think I'd get back in the habit of it, if I did use again. And he seemed quite trustworthy...
But what would be the point? Shambling alongside me in the shade, he seemed so authentically sad that he reminded me of how I'd end up if I did 'pick up'...mentally flat, clinically bored, victimmed up, sorry for myself, remorseful, worried about money, blotchy skin kicking in like a subtle Jackson Pollock on cheeks and chin.
As we neared the lights of my building, he asked if I wanted to swap numbers. My mobile was indoors, so I gave him my number with one digit wrong. I said, 'I'd invite you in, but I have company...' He understood, and replied that he was going back to his mate's, and had walked me home because he believed in karma. So maybe, one day, even in another life, someone will walk him home (if he has one).
All things in moderation, including moderation. This may sound like a tightrope to some people, and perhaps it is, but surely it's all about personal choice. If I slip, and tumble into the gorge, someone can stand there jeering, chiding, patronising, follow me home without my knowledge, make frightening calls from a withheld number, because judgment is easy. But no two people are the same, and I feel the twelve-step ideal of 'complete abstinence' is fine if you choose it, but a myth nonetheless, because the mind's always altering, even if you're sitting as still as a Hindu god in a state of near-Nirvana.
It was my birthday at the weekend and, for the first time in years, I actually managed to invite a handful of people to the pub over the road. At times, as eight or so of us chatted round a table, I was verging on feeling almost happy - they certainly do some nice sweet potato fries there. I felt appreciative of everyone's presence, and their presents. The landlord and staff there seem to like me, too. I organise a comedy evening there, every Wednesday. It's the Duchess of Cambridge, in Chiswick, London. So if you're ever passing, do drop in, especially on a Wednesday night, when our comedy soiree should be in full swing. The postcode is W6 0XF, and you can ring 'em on 0203 602 5456. It's near Stamford Brook tube, on the District Line. It has a suntrap of a courtyard, hearty selection of ales, succulent wines, and don't forget the sweet potato fries.
So there we are - I actually managed to have a little birthday gathering, which did involve ale, and sweet potato fries. It was probably the best birthday I've had since I was about six, which was forty years ago, so I guess that's a kind of result, kind of a joy of the semi-recovery I've managed, so far, to cobble together.
Since I've got some time away from crack, and the people and places associated with it, things have sometimes felt very empty, but it's a genuine emptiness, perhaps the emptiness I was partly trying to fill with crack. And, on the whole, people, professional and personal, have shown much patience and compassion. I've even been reading a self-help book, and finding it helpful - but that's for another day.
So anyway, I guess the moral of this story is 'you can walk to the edge of the precipice, but it's up to you whether you jump or not' - or maybe it has no moral at all.
Thanks for dropping by.
Here's the latest trailer for our comedy night, featuring Daniel Craig, as James Conned.