Hi, and thanks for dropping by. As you may know, the first 22 posts of this blog are the text of my ebook, 'How To Become A Crack Addict' (Jan to April 2013), which you can read here, or buy for £3 on Amazon, if you do that kind of thing. Since then, it's random ramblings of yours truly, Benjamin Lo-Fi. And here is today's ramble, so get your hiking-boots on...
AFTER ADDICTION: If There Is Such A Thing
(The picture is the Duchess of Cambridge pub, where, currently, we have a comedy evening called 'Duch Ado About Nothing', every Wednesday. It's on the cusp of Chiswick and Shepherd's Bush, London, if you're ever in the neighbourhood. It's a lovely place, and does great sweet potato fries, too).
In the bleak, cobweb-clad world of twelve-step fellowships, I found myself strung up on a twitching web of all-or-nothing thinking. Don't get me wrong, I can only talk from personal experience, and from the attitudes I choose to adopt, and practise adopting as time goes by. When I first attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, it was a dim, tranquil room, with a tank of tropical fish lighting up one corner, topping off the scene. There were about a dozen of us, one or two females who 'seemed interesting' to my slightly addled mind, but, all the same, it was one of the strings that tugged me, puppet-like, back a few days later.
At that first meeting, I thought I'd arrived in a panacea, a place I could return to, again and again if needed, to tap into the happy defiance I thought I'd found. The readings, the mellow sharing, even the tea and custard-cream, left me feeling pretty chilled. Even the joining hands bit, and the reciting of the serenity-prayer, didn't put me off that much. Perhaps that was testimony to how desperate I was feeling, because I'm not a natural joiner-inner. Even at a gig, when I like the band as much as everyone else, I still feel as if any collective behaviour could be one step away from the formation of some kind of cult, or a Fourth Reich. But even so, I went home and defiantly listened to 'Irish Blood, English Heart' by Morrissey, and actually felt free from what was normal at that time, that flat, resigned, dead-end kind of feeling, that, even with the evidence of my addiction all around me, the empty fridge, barren cupboard, and husk of a flat, was my default state. I even had thirty quid or so in the bank, and I didn't feel like blowing it on a couple of bits of crack, and a smudge of heroin to come down with. I really believed I'd arrived somewhere special, and I had...but I don't think it was a 'special place' for me, at least not in the long-run.
I committed heresy more than once in a meeting, by saying that, although I wanted to quit crack, I didn't really want to stop drinking, or smoking the odd spliff, because these weren't a problem to me. I got various responses, such as 'drink will lead you back to crack', 'alcohol and cannabis are still mind-altering substances' (and therefore off the 'complete abstinence' menu), 'drinking and smoking puff is still avoiding your feelings, mate', and many variations on these themes. There was, it seemed, no middle ground, and it's not nice finding yourself in the midst of a 'support group', trying to be honest, but discovering your honesty is sacrilege, too off-message.
That initial glow of positivity I felt after that first meeting disappeared within weeks, although I continued going back to meetings for several years (and may again), but it got to the point where I was turning up just for the tea'n'biscuits. Things had got so bad at one point, I suppose about six years ago, where I turned up for a meeting and, when the person taking it was out the room, I pocketed a load of biscuits for later, because I literally had nothing in the kitchen. By this point, I didn't know who or what to blame, or turn to. My life was use when my benefits came in, spend them in a day, go to bed for three, then cadge twenty or thirty pounds of my ailing, suffering, worrying mum, to tide me over 'til the next money-day. It wasn't a good life, yet still I thought I looked ok, even with a puffy, blotchy face, old t-shirt flapping about, and jeans like two cloth cylinders hanging from a beltless waist.
I write this partly because I met someone from one of those first meetings on the street a few days ago. He spotted me first (I wouldn't have spotted him, because of my limited eyesight), and I felt instantly awkward, in case he wanted to know 'how I was doing', 'was I still going to meetings', etc, etc...
But, when he approached, in the brilliant light of the milk-aisle of Tesco Express, even I could see that he didn't look good. Ghostly stubble veiled the lower half of a saggy-looking face, and the coat he had on didn't look appropriate for the kind of day it was, making me think he'd put it on because it was one of a very select selection of clothes currently hanging in his wardrobe (if he still had one). 'It's Ben, isn't it?' he said. 'Yeah, that's right,' I replied, 'Daniel...' I had remembered his name, at least. 'Are you still going to the meetings? You look well,' he observed, in a warm tone. I told him I'd been to a few, because I was now thinking that he might benefit from doing the same. When I arrived in that first meeting, he'd picked up a celebratory key-ring for being six months, or maybe nine, clean.
He told me that he'd been going to lots of meetings until a few months back, when he relapsed soon after his girlfriend starting drinking again (also from 'the fellowship), and now they were both back in a state, begging, fighting, their flat gradually becoming a stop-off point for anyone who'd scored, and wanted a quick place to smoke, or inject. I've heard it said, although I'm not sure it's universally true, that when you get time clean, then relapse, you don't pick up where you left off, but where you would have been if you'd been using throughout. I don't think there are any universal truths about anyone's relationship with drugs, drink, or whatever. For a time, I got three months clean of crack, but leaned quite heavily on red wine and cannabis, relapsed on crack, and then it took me another six months to get away from it again, with plenty of self-will, and support, and that time, because I'd joined a meditation group, I found myself a little calmer, and wiser.
Daniel asked me if I could lend him (like I was going to see him any time soon) a couple of quid. He already had two cans in his hand, but wanted to get some lasagne, or some such sludgy ready-meal from the reduced cabinet. I gave him it, and said I'd better be on my way because I had a friend waiting at home, which was a lie.
So Daniel and I shook hands, his rough, mine loose, not wanting to get too entwined, and I said 'I hope you can get back into meetings, maybe, if you find them helpful...it's not about pride, lots of people relapse, no one'll be on your case...' or words to that effect, and he said he would go back. I reminded him of the drug-service round the corner, like some walking 'good rehab guide'. Our hands disentwined, and I went towards the exit, he to the checkout, ready-meal and cans in hand.
I haven't seen him since. Don't know if I will. But, twelve-steps or not, I think the bottom-line of substance use, or abuse, is personal choice. It's just my opinion, but if we start classifying problematic using as a 'disease of addiction', we sidestep the fact that it is always a choice whether or not to have a drink, smoke, or whatever, and I know from personal experience, and choice, that it is possible to give up one drug, but continue, occasionally, to have a drink, or even a bit of cannabis, or pot as I believe the kids call it. That's my personal choice. I may choose to go without them, too. I may not.
I don't know if that shambling little anecdote was of use to anyone, but I suppose I'm just trying to say that everyone's different, and sometimes the twelve-step fellowship, Narcotics Anonymous being my main experience of one, can seem a bit 'one size fits all', and that can contribute to people denying themselves their right to selfhood, independent thinking, considering alternatives, etc. Obviously, I don't want anyone to go down the pan on drugs, and if someone goes the NA way, it's not for me to try and dismantle it, it's their personal choice, and may have saved their life - and I guess it's better to live in a uniform than die in your own clothes.
Here's one of my songs, just in case you have a spare two minutes twenty seconds. It's called Windswept - just click on the name and it goes to my youtube channel. There are more songs, and comedy postings to come - arguably.
Anyway, that's enough of me. Until next time...