Issue 3: Blow Smoke & Hard Candy

Introducing our drugs issue, with personal essays and confessional writing concerning drugs, recreational and addictive. With writing from Kevin Power, Padraic E Moore, Conor Creighton, Roisin Kiberd, Amo Downey, Grace Dyas, Neil Watkins, Michael Egan, and Maeve Devoy. With artwork by Steve McCarthy.

Roisin Agnew | Editor's Foreword

Some of my happiest moments have been spent on drugs. One often hears that. In her essay “Joy” Zadie Smith talks about the surge of undiluted happiness that drugs bring. How they alone create that sense of release and possibility that is akin to the feeling of love.

Statistics show that drug use is on the rise and that new drugs are being invented at a faster rate than ever. In October 2014 one in three people in the UK reported having made recent use of illegal substances, according to The Observer. A quick inventory of the people you know will likely produce similar results. 

When drugs were made legal in Ireland for 24 hours this year through a constitutional loophole, it didn’t matter much. Their illegality had never really stopped anyone. We’re a late-night city that parties hard. We’re a city where homelessness and drug-addiction are never far from the headlines, especially since the death of homeless man Jonathan Corrie. The mannerisms of our heroin addicts have become more synonymous with Dublin than any of our landmarks. And yet we never talk about drugs.

In this city your choice of drugs is as much a social signifier as accent, education, fashion sense, and musical taste - we regroup and marginalise accordingly.

Writing about drugs presents very obvious problems. People with experiences of  addiction often aren’t able to articulate their stories with poster-worthy, Trainspotting eloquence. Often it falls to ‘others’  more fortunate than them to tell their stories for them. As a middle-class, university-educated person in her 20s, should my recreational drug use be written about alongside stories of addiction? I don’t know. Drugs have been glamourised by fashion, cinema, literature, and music to such an extent that it’s impossible to speak positively of drug use without appearing irresponsible or privileged.

 

The great junk-propagandist William Burroughs says, “Be a deviant or die of boredom.” Whether you are a strung-out heroin addict or a pill-popping session head, you experience a communion in this statement. It is not about rebellion or counter-culture. Rather, it is about deviating from normality in search of something. It’s about hoping for something larger, your consciousness stretched, your eyes opened suddenly to something new. It’s about friendship and intimacy. It’s a deviance undertaken for the sake of pleasure, an escape from pain. That initial compulsion to get high, stoned, out of it, wrecked, medicated, is something that many people share. It’s what happens after that initial impulse that changes everything and  makes the distinction between recreational and addictive.

It’s hard to represent heroin addiction alongside the use of other drugs. The abuse, violence, lack of prospects, and lack of education that often  precede an individual’s addiction are hard to understand, let alone portray. Pop culture is unrehearsed in its depictions of dependency. Burrough’s odes to junk were of a different era, and his addiction did not develop out of a lack of choice. But according to the participants in RADE, it is important to speak of their experiences in a lighter way, restore normality, humanity, and humour to the hooded featureless figures we’ve become so numb to.

Blow Smoke & Hard Candy - coke, weed, and heroin - is about drugs in Dublin, recreational and addictive.

Nothing is being minimised, we don’t pass judgment, and we don’t condone, but we do want to talk about it.

This issue is dedicated to RADE and the Rialto Community Drug Team who work with people with dependencies.

R.


Steve McCarthy | Issue 3 Illustrator

Steve once did an exhibition centred around a poem that went, “A man of no importance did nothing, on no particular day, at a time I don’t remember,  a man or something, did nothing, and everything he was became something else... For one whole hour he was the full stop at the end of this sentence.”

The next time I saw him he was working on a piece for something called 99% Invisible. I bumped into him a few weeks later wearing a necklace of bones for the Day of the Dead and going to a place called Imaginosity. His first show was called The Man Who Tasted Shapes. Sometimes he seems like a figure seen through a mirage walking a tight-rope between abstraction and hilarity.

At the beginning of each year Steve makes a huge list of resolutions in his passport-sized notebook, which his Japanese stationery shop has just discontinued. It’s the best thing I’ve ever read. But I’m not going to share it with you.

He misuses the word contingency all the time, using it to signify  “a group” instead of “possibility.” He knows it doesn’t mean that, but it’s just become a habit he can’t shake. I like that  ‘a group of friends’ is easily interchangeable with ‘possibilities’ in his mind.

On his smoke breaks he’s worked on Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea, murals for the Dublin Fringe, the Aul Haunts project for Jameson, and children’s book Sally Go Round The Stars. The James Joyce quote on Dun Laoghaire seafront is also his.

Steve has a funny bone that tickles easy and a lumber-sexual beard that mainly seems to attract other hetero men. He normally lives in an ultra-sensitive space capsule of absurdity, which we have grabbed hold of in order to illustrate the delicate subject of drugs. It’s darker than what he normally does and beyond perfect.

He often repeats the phrase “Other people’s love is disgusting.” So I’m going to take his cue on this one and stop talking about him now.

 

Roisin Kiberd | Rasputin of Potomac

It is the end of December 2012 and there’s American football on TV. I’m having a seizure on a sofa in Potomac, Washington, and the end is very much nigh.

The TV is the size of a school blackboard. The Dallas Cowboys are playing the Washington Redskins, whose name I feel uncomfortable saying aloud. Nathan, the nice Jewish 22-year-old who has invited me into his home as well as his continent, sits on the opposite sofa watching the game with his brother and alternating hits from a bong. He intermittently asks me how I’m doing, and offers me sips of Diet Snapple.

Between blackouts I tell him it’ll pass in an hour or two. This has all happened before. I should have remembered from last time.

Nathan’s kitchen has a crate of Snapple, in a store cupboard the size of a box room. There’s also a crate of pasta, one of matzo crackers, one of breakfast cereal, and another one full of wine. His home is a McMansion and everything here comes in crates, stocking up for an apocalypse long past. 

I should say now that I love America. It lulls the soul into dreamy solipsism. America is the cure for my messy state, working in London, medicated and hating life, vulnerable enough to go along with the romance of a transatlantic visit to see someone I’ve met twice before. 

The seizure is also due, indirectly, to depression. When it happened before, at a party on Bethnal Green Road, we were told by an emergency phone line that the bong hits I’d taken an hour before had interacted with my high dose of Prozac. That was one of the reasons I stopped taking Prozac completely two weeks before flying to Washington. It was the end of the year and I wanted a new start. Stepping off the plane I felt frost bite my nose and forehead, shocking me awake. Or maybe it was the brain zaps–it was hard to tell.

Nathan’s friends are the preppiest people I’ve ever met. I meet them at a brunch where I skip the food and only sip coffee: they wear white and navy, speak politely and all look unfeasibly clean. Hair unbleached. Skin clear of tattoos. In bed Nathan tells me he’s never been with a girl who has a tattoo before, and wouldn’t normally. I decide to take this as a compliment, and plan to get mine lasered off.

I am trying to put a nail in the coffin of a miserable year, so I ask Nathan for advice. He says to do what makes me happy. I have just walked out of my job as a creative at an ad agency on the Thames.

In London, Prozac made me dream in the daytime and sleep away my weekends. I fell out of time and into a dream-state, one where advertising’s leaps of logic made sense. Society could be broken down into appetites and categorised: age (lad, father, mother, slut), gender (blue men and pink women), wage bracket (London, Zone 1, Zones 2-3, Zones 3-6). I hated the campaigns for beer and skin cream and ‘solutioneering for mums’ but worked on them anyway. I had started to be one of the people I took Prozac as defence against. 

I had believed that having an office job would make me normal. Instead it drove me further into strange: I started throwing up all my food, lost contact with friends, arranged a torrent of internet dates I failed to show up to. Sometimes I would stand at a distance from the meeting spot and watch them waiting, as panic attacks drained the blood from my head. I left a girl at a record store, a guy in an underground bar. I turned around on the way to Great Eastern street, switched my phone off and walked home with neon swimming in the corners of my vision.

I was very sensitive to Prozac, and realize this might not be the same for everyone. It skewed time into speedbumps and blackouts, periods where I spoke a mile a minute bookended by naps in empty conference rooms on the third floor. On Prozac I would sit down on the bus then not be able to get up again because of the medicine-ball weight of my own leg bones. Depression gave my body a new clock: I would roofy away weekends with Zopiclone, also prescribed, then wake up every week day at 5am. 

And London demanded its own logical leaps: everyone around me seemed only to be tolerating it, working until they could afford somewhere else. The city segmented life into Tube journeys, gym visits, and Marks and Spencer’s ready meals. Everything was provided for in fascistic specificity: it disturbed me but made me feel guilty for my unhappiness.

 This is where the idea of ‘cosmetic pharmacology’ comes in: people take medicine to be acceptable inside, to measure up to what they imagine to be normal.

 

I left Dublin in the fallout of a breakup, and by some miracle of slut luck met Nathan. He became a presence on my laptop, target of sentimental Zopiclone chats. Finally we arranged a visit.

And now I find myself seizuring on his sofa. The cycle of lucidity and blackout feels routine by the second hour: voices grow dim, vision blurs as if through somebody else’s glasses. It feels like I am falling into my own body. I had maybe two hits before all this started.

The football players on TV have transformed into dancing ants. The patterns inside my eyelids are more interesting: Liberty paisley crossed with bacteria under a microscope. I wonder how much of this stoner fantasy I have inherited from trip sequences in films. It’s like how I wanted weed to be when I was fifteen. 

Patterns distend and reproduce: inside the patterns are more patterns. Inside those, figures appear from gospel and myth. Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his wheelchair, angry because I posed on his statue’s knee in pictures at his memorial. I zoom into the lens of his glasses: Margery Kempe, wailing the name of the child Jesu. I zoom into the bloody stigmata on her hand: it is Lestat the vampire. Then Eddie Izzard wearing women’s shoes, offering cake or death. Then later the child Krishna, blue-skinned and inane, puffing on a shrill little flute. 

Finally Rasputin shows up, shouldering heavy cloaks on skinny bones. His beard is jet black. His eyes are stones. He is moving like a figure in a side-scrolling computer game, or the priest in Age of Empires. Rasputin is angling to convert me.

Rasputin was very good at finding friends in high places, the kind of Russians who would have McMansions of their own. He would have shunned Snapple for simple rice and Georgian dessert wines (his favourite drink, by reports), and probably would never have done bong hits.

Rasputin would have cured me or seduced me. He would have induced fits akin to the one I’m having now.

“Don’t worry, it’ll go away soon.” I am having a very pleasant and colourful blackout.

Looking back and Googling it I have found screeds about serotonin syndrome, which can happen when other substances interact with an SSRI. The Prozac was very much in my system–in fact it took another two months for the brain zaps to go away. The shivering and seizures match almost exactly with symptoms. Websites say it heightens the effect by eight hundred percent, that it’s serious and potentially fatal. But my sources are Bluelight and Erowid and the old tormentor, Web MD, which has warned me about death so many times already that I hesitate to believe it.

“I was going to offer you some of my Adderall, but maybe not after this.” Nathan’s brother. My heart sinks. It would have been more fun on Adderall. 

In an hour’s time the visions have gone and the Redskins have won. A human action figure called RG3 has triumphed over Tony Romo, and Nathan and his brother are baked out of their skulls. 

Later that night Nathan wants to have McMansion sex in the bed he grew up sleeping in. I find myself staring at his bar mitzvah portrait on the wall, and thinking about Rasputin. I sneak back to the kitchen later and open both doors of the fridge, enjoying its UFO glow in the dark. I’m aware it’s never going to work out with Nathan, but I want to understand where he comes from. I want to see the contents of his fridge. 

Two days later I fly home and pick at my tinfoiled airplane casserole and try to work out what to do next. The dish is frighteningly oily, but the flight attendants offer it to me with a dizzying American warmth which soothes away my brain zaps. 

I tell myself that when I land things things will be different. Clearer and calmer. I am going to stay in Dublin this time.

Something is gone, exorcised away by Rasputin. Something has been seizured out of me.

I finally leave the apartment at 9 am. The world has a hard, bright, watery clarity, an amphetamine shimmer. This is the docklands, where you can sometimes hear the ghostly harmonics of a big shore breeze winnowing its way between the tall glass towers. But not today. It is winter, just before Christmas. Although it is a Saturday, the Googlers are still going to work with their lanyards round their necks. I am chewing gum for my clenching jaw. I hail a cab and we drive over the bridge, past the black water of the canal basin with its scurf of bobbing refuse. The sky is there and not there, the world is there and not there, I am there and not there. During the final hours of the party my left leg developed a Parkinsonian tremor, and it is still pumping up and down of its own accord as the taxi stalls in townward traffic, the radio broadcasting RTE voices like the rumour of a grown-up world. The driver wants to talk but it’s okay, everything is okay, because I am still very good at conversations, I have been very good at conversations for six or seven hours now.

3,4-Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine acts on the sympathetic nervous system by blocking the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters accumulate in the synaptic clefts and are released into the bloodstream, one immediately perceptible effect of which is that you become very good at conversations. 

People love talking on drugs and people love talking about drugs. People want to tell you about their druglives, their sojourns in drugworld. They want to tell you their drug autobiographies. I once met a chemist at a wedding who told me that he had used pharmaceutical-grade ketamine to treat his depression. His girlfriend kept warning him not to talk about drugs with people he had just met. But he was a chemist, he said, what else could he talk about but drugs? He said his depression was gone, pfft, just like that, after three or four doses of ketamine. The first time I ever heard of ketamine was when a college friend came back from a year in London and told us all that ketamine was a really good rollover drug. I didn’t know what a rollover was back then. I asked the chemist at the wedding if he was still taking ketamine and he said he was, recreationally. The traffic moves and my mood shifts, and I begin to worry – I begin to worry that I am worried. I try to nudge things back towards my mood of five seconds ago, when I was unselfconsciously enjoying the warm afterglow in my stomach and the pastel depths of the winter dawn, but in doing so I trigger a chain of interrogative metacognition that leads me unavoidably to the fear that I have now permanently altered the neurochemical balance of my brain and will never be able to perceive reality accurately ever again. But then my mood shifts once more and I am calm, and there are traces of crimson in the brightening sky, and even the tremor in my leg feels comforting. But there are flaws in the perfection of the moment. Beneath the scouring minty flavour of the gum my mouth tastes like some kind of industrial polymer. As the party ended I kept reminding myself to drink more beer, because beer exerts a depressive effect on the sympathetic nervous system and is supposed, therefore, to soften comedowns, but every time I tried to drink I recoiled from the foul anti-taste. The beer tasted venomous, as if through some mysterious process everything that usually served to make beer palatable had been stripped away to reveal what beer actually, really tasted like – a fizzy grey broth of chemicals that made you want to retch. A man I had never met before was wandering around the darkened apartment holding a teapot filled with vodka in which floated four or five slowly dissolving pills of different shapes and colours: green dragons, blue ghosties, yellow lions. 

Blue ghosties were popular for a while but the comedowns were nasty, sure by Tuesday morning you were calling the Samaritans, blue ghosties give you the fear big time, man. Yellow lions are way better, everyone agrees. The man with the teapot explained how he once smuggled forty yokes through airport security by rolling them up in a gripseal plastic baggie and taping the baggie to his shaved inner thigh. He asked me how old I was and then apologised for asking such a personal question. I asked him what he did for a living. He told me he worked in finance – investment banking – but that he really wanted to get into professional outdoor sports. Another man I had never met – he wore a large Victorian beard, like George Bernard Shaw’s – came over and said sure wasn’t Christmas great craic altogether, gas banter with the lads. We vociferously agreed, my teapot friend and I. We had obviously all hit it off in grand style but I felt the urge to go to a different section of the apartment to see what was going on there. At the edge of my awareness was the suspicion that at some point in the future I would not be at this party, I would not be feeling as good as I felt right now, I would not feel as warm or as purposeful or as good at conversations as I did right now. But in the kitchen I found a knot of friends, three of them, two boys and a girl, their bodies seeming to radiate soft light like presents under a Christmas tree in a television commercial, although this soft-light effect may have been because they were all covered in a shiny layer of yellowish sweat or because they stood beneath the apartment’s sole functioning fluorescent light.

3,4-Methylenedioxy-methamphetamine is known for its entactogenic properties, meaning it generates feelings of emotional openness, empathy, and oneness, and oneness is a pretty excellent word for how I felt about my three friends as I joined them in the kitchen. Hadn’t we known each other all our lives? Hadn’t we all dropped at the exact same moment four or five hours ago, and weren’t we all on the exact same buzz right now?

I glanced back at George Bernard Shaw and the Teapot Man and congratulated myself for having transitioned from a provincial backwater of the party to the bright cosmopolis of the kitchen, where the banter would be sparkling and everything would be alright. I leaned against the formica countertop, through which I could feel the buzz of the bass amplifiers that some DJ had set up in the living room, humming under my hand like a fly trapped under glass. But everything was not okay, there was drama, the girl who was my friend was upset because one of her friends was still seeing this guy who was bad for her, he was a real dickhead, he kept cheating on her and one time he even hit her, and what were we supposed to do? And because of the general wave of entactogenic bliss that was buoying me aloft, I was fully capable of generating a good deal of sympathy for both the girl who was my friend and the girl who was her friend, but on another more profound level I wanted to explain that I didn’t care at all about this situation, and that what I was actually worried about was the effect it would have on my buzz. (Like a fly under glass.) But then a moment later I had acclimated to this new mood of drama and concern and frustration, and I realised that in fact I had a good deal of useful advice to give to the girl who was my friend, and when I looked around a few seconds later, half an hour had gone by and we were alone in the kitchen, me and the girl who was my friend, and we had been talking intensely for the whole intervening period. 

And even though she was still talking in very emotional terms about her friend whose boyfriend was a real dickhead, I had now entered into a new mood or phase of feeling in which I was seriously weighing up the pros and cons of kissing the girl who was my friend, even though her boyfriend was in the next room at that very minute and I was in no way sexually attracted to her. And now, in the taxi, as we enter the brown grid of the city, I am profusely glad that I did not kiss the girl who is my friend, and simultaneously amused at what a foolish, sentimental fellow I was, two or three hours ago, what foolish thoughts I entertained. The taxi has almost reached the street where I live and all at once I am pinched with dread at the thought that I will have to go into my empty apartment alone and lie down in my cold and empty bed, and at the knowledge that when I close my eyes there is no telling what I will see – once it was a man with rusty nails driven through his eyelids, and once it was a chorus line of strawberries with big smiling mouths full of shark’s teeth– but for the next thirty or forty seconds I do not have to face this, I am still in the cab, and my mood remains unbroken. 

And I am still back there, at the session, in the middle of my Friday night, and dozens of people still in their dark duffel coats are piled on top of one another on all the couches, and a man I do not know is nodding and frowning over his laptop, producing trancy beats that are almost certainly the greatest music anyone has ever heard, and in every room blue smoke is hovering shoulder-high in altocumulus formations, and I have a full pack of smokes still in my pocket, and two guys with earrings and undercuts are trying to get the Playstation to work, waving the controller at a yellow screen, and someone asks me if I want to do another half and I say Ah go on sure I might as well, and twenty minutes later I come up so hard I have to find a bathroom and vomit in the sink, and my heart is beating so fast it feels like I’ve been defibrillated, and someone has pulled the curtains against the dawn, and nothing is even funny anymore, and I am having a good time I am having a good time I am having a good time.

 

There was a guy called Andrew, from Ballymun, due into RADE for an assessment appointment.  His mate John, who was already in the programme, had told Andrew about the project.  Andrew had phoned our office five minutes before 2 pm to say he was running late and he was lost. “Do you know Patrick’s Cathedral?  No?  Do you know Clanbrassil Street? No?  Do you know Kevin’s Street, no?  Kevin’s Street Garda station?  Yes?  Great, John will meet you at the gates of the station and bring you over to RADE.” 

It was 3 pm before they returned.  I had given up on them by this point, but they had a good excuse.  A garda coming off duty had spotted Andrew at the gates to the station scratching his arse and though most of us would consider the gates of a Garda Station the most inappropriate place to stop and ram a fistful of drugs up our holes, Andrew had been taken into the station, told to bend over and drop his trousers and the long arm of the law, dressed in blue rubber gloves went about its business. “Yeah, right” had been the Garda’s response when Andrew had pleaded that he would be late for his job interview for a theatre group. 

Andrew was affected by some form of opiate substance when he arrived into RADE that day, his scratching of himself that the garda had witnessed is another tell-tale symptom of drug use.  He was asked to come back for a second interview on a later date, but he never showed.  A short while later John told me that Andrew had died.  He had thrown himself off the balcony of one of the Ballymun towers.

People often say when they present for assessment in the Recovery through Art, Drama and Education programme, that they want to build their confidence and self-esteem or that they want to have something to do, that they’re fed up doing nothing all day.  The paradox for them and for RADE is that they often rely on their familiar confidence builder, opiates or valium, to help them through the anxiety of a job interview.  Our strategy is usually to ask them to return for a second interview when they are not affected.  The RADE project accepts that participants take drugs.  The rule on the programme, is that they are not allowed present affected during work hours: what they do in their own time is their business.  This policy is in line with what would be expected in any job, be it for a judge, bishop, police or politician, they would be expected to keep their indulgence in their drink ordrug of choice outside their work hours.  A secondary benefit and net result of RADE’s non didactic approach is an overall reduction in drug use and drug harm for those engaging in our service.  Our focus is towards exposing people to alternative buzzes.  The buzz off creativity.  The buzz that comes from performing and being lifted by the energy of the audience.  That high you get after delivering a performance that gets peopleto their feet, that buzz that later sees you sit at home, just being with yourself, a pleasant tingle of satisfactionin your gut.

From 10 to 2, five days a week, workshops in RADE consist of either art, drama, creative writing, Tai Chi or drug relapse prevention.  As I write this piece Paula Meehan has delivered her fourth and final Creative Writing class in her role as Ireland’s Professor of Poetry.  For the first hour we practiced Tai Chi, as we have done at the start of every day for the past ten years.  We don’t speak during this class, instead we move our bodies slowly, carefully and mindfully.  We finish the season with a short period of meditation and stillness.  After a quick smoke break, we read out our homework from Paula’s last class: An exercise in Dadaism, collaging words from two poems we’d been given to cut up and randomly put backtogether. Paula then talks us through a poem by Allen Ginsberg, Kaddish, and another from Padraig Pearse.  Both these poems are about mothers and the group is assigned the task ofwriting a poem through the voice of their own mother.

The group work as an ensemble and participation in all workshops is expected. Amazingly most of our catchment group seem to be up for performing and willing to try their hand at acting.  In fact, it is quite rare that anyone feels shy about taking to the boards.  For the few who are reluctant, there is plenty to do backstage and opportunity to express themselves through writing, painting, and sculpture. It’s important to do more than simply whoosh people up on stage and confront their confidence. Instead we seek to capitalize on their individual turn of phrase, accent and authentic Dublin character. We focus on stagecraft and delivery, emphasising diction, projecting voice, and commitment to the illusion we are creating.

Society hangs a lot of negative concepts and opinions on people who have or have had problems with drugs.   I imagine that the salacious stories in the press, exposés of celebrities on their way down, and underworld criminality, have impacted on our impression of the people we associate with drug use.  As a result of the public nature of RADE, by being members of our project our participants are declaring their drug problem.  For this reason I feel obligated to declare my hand.  There have to be a lot of people under 65 today who took illegal drugs at some time in their lives.  But it’s a taboo subject.  We keep it to ourselves; we’re ashamed of our drug-taking past, or maybe we don’t want to encourage younger generations. 

In retrospect now I realise that I don’t like coming out about my previous drug use.  I’ve moved on and I know that drug users are often saddled with this one dimension of their past.  At the end of the 70’s after almost a decade of getting high on acid and hash, I started taking the powder drugs.  I did not expect to get addicted to heroin.  I had first-hand knowledge of the misinformation that had been put aboutin the media about the addictive nature and many other exaggerated claims about LSD and marijuana. I believed that the newspapers invented the same scare stories about heroin.  It took at least a year before I realised I was strung out on smack and I needed it every day.

Although I had done countless cold turkeys, it wasn’t till I found my way into working in theatre that I was able to put a distance between my constant relapses.  Like Andrew from Ballymun, I was in despair and in a very dark and hopeless stage of my life.  The hippie dream was over and I had no qualifications having left school before Junior Cert and I could see no future.  My luck changed when I was invited by Peter Sheridan to join in an experimental community theatre company, City Workshop.  I particularly found my voice writing with the group.  I co-wrote with Peter the first of our trilogy of plays The Kips, The Digs, The Village  and a year later I wrote A Hape A’ Junk, the final play in the trilogy.  This final play told the story of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland against the backdrop of what became known as the heroin epidemic of the 80’s.  Writing the play was a sort of purging of my drug dependence.  I performed in the three plays, which toured the country and travelled to the Royal Court Theatre in London. Finding a place in society, a job, something to do, was the platform for me to let go of drugs. 

One of the many unique aspects of the City Workshop theatre company was that the company evolved from a community context and all of the actors were new to theatre performance.  I knew that this could be replicated among drug users when I started the RADE project.  I’d had a very successful trial run in the 90s, putting on theatre shows with clients from the Merchants Quay Project and in 2004, I needed a job. The acting jobs that I had done in theatre were too irregular to make a living from and I couldn’t find the motivation to write a theatre play in the isolation of my ivory tower.  I knew that bringing people on a similar journey that I had experienced would allow for a tremendous amount of learning and progression in their lives.  The thing about theatre and art-making is that people don’t need degrees to practice these activities. 

Many of the people who come to RADE have experiences that help in becoming an actor.  The raw exposure of life on the street and closeness to the underworld can be an excellent university for many elements of stagecraft, improvising, and character study. 

After ten years I still love getting up for work every day.  I feel greatly privileged to be doing the job I do.  I get to practice in the arts and theatre with incredibly brave people and I get to be part of a small organisation that demonstrates so profoundly that people who have been outcast can find a way to make apositive contribution to their families, communities, and to the wider society.

In the summer of 1966 psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary delivered several lectures at the University of California as part of a conference on the subject of LSD.  The fact that this conference was sponsored by -and taking place at- an academic institution emphasises how the psychoactive substance was then still viewed as worthy of serious medical research.  Although it would become synonymous with the countercultural movement, there was a period in the 60s when many people publicly promoted LSD as a cure to a constellation of psychological and social ills.   

Leary was one of many advocates from a cross section of society - including respected psychotherapists - claiming that LSD possessed potentially beneficial properties. For this reason  – and the fact that it was still relatively new - the substance was for a time considered somewhat different from other drugs. However, as LSD was adopted and endorsed as an almost sacramental substance by many of those affiliated with countercultural movements, the status of the wonder drug soon changed. It soon came to be viewed like any other substance used and abused recreationally; a scourge, something that contributed to a sick and deviant society.  

Although Leary never condoned taking LSD as an end in itself, legions of hedonists adopted his idea to justify their appetite for recreational debauchery.  In an effort to curtail the surge of interest in and consumption of acid that had reached pandemic proportions legislation was passed in many countries by the late 60s.  

As the 70s dawned it became apparent that the revolution some had believed could be brought about via the consumption of LSD would not come to pass.  Moreover, new socio-political urgencies and cultural trends emerged which were incompatible with the psychedelic experience and all that it entailed. Although there were still those for whom tripping on acid remained a transcendent experience, the drug would never again be given serious or legitimized attention as being a potential catalyst for change within society.  

As the hippie movement was assimilated into the mainstream the more radical aspects of 60s counterculture were neutralised. Nevertheless, significant ideas and practices first popularised in that decade flourished in its wake. In particular, a spectrum of what are now termed ‘New Age’ beliefs offered the central tenets for countless alternative therapies and self-help psychologies that in the 1970s began flourishing in the West. Astrology, occult tarot, and the use of crystals became integral to a variety of easily commodifiable methodologies offering a means of self-improvement.  

One individual who epitomizes this movement is Marcia Moore (1928-1979) a celebrated Yoga practitioner and author of several books on astrology and occultism including Astrology: The Divine Science, Diet, Sex, and Yoga and Reincarnation: Key to Immortality. In the seventies, Moore worked as an ‘astrological counselor’ and developed a method of reincarnation therapy which she called hyper sentience which she promoted at the renowned town of Ojai in Southern California.

I first encountered the work of Marcia Moore three years ago through her 1978 book Journeys Into The Bright World.  The book instantly appealed to me, representing as it does one of the more arcane chapters of late 20th century utopianism. Essentially, the book is a summation of Marcia Moore’s experiments with the anesthetic ketamine and a declaration of her conviction that the drug had profound potential for consciousness expansion.

Moore was first introduced to ketamine at the in 1976 when she was 48*. Although she had always been interested in exploring planes of consciousness until that point she’d been doing so without psychoactive substances, only through meditation or yogic practices.  However, it would seem that this first encounter with ketamine was so revelatory for Moore that she soon eschewed her ascetic existence and began integrating intravenous ketamine consumption into her yoga and meditation regime.  For Moore ketamine was more than just an anesthetic, it was an elixir that enabled her to attain the meditative absorption that she had been trying to attain for three decades via natural and psychic means.

Moore and her husband (then an accomplished anesthesiologist) embarked upon numerous ketamine trips some of which are detailed in the book. The descriptions of these experiences reveals the extent to which Moore believed ketamine was a capable not only of hastening access to levels of inner consciousness, but also facilitating astral travel and allowing one gain knowledge of their past lives. So convinced was Moore of the power of ketamine that she devised a system of therapy around it. This system, which devoted yogic exercises and group meditation with sessions of Jungian psychotherapy punctuated by ketamine consumption, is outlined in a chapter of Journeys.  

From a historical perspective Moore’s aspirations should be viewed as representing the last gasp of the utopian doctrine that Leary had also championed a decade before. Whereas Leary had proposed that LSD could precipitate an evolution of consciousness, Moore envisioned ketamine would bring about a ‘religious renaissance'.  However, while such ideas gained a degree of traction amongst a particular contingent in the 60s (when they were still novel) they were no longer considered permissible by the time Moore’s book was published in 1978. By then a backlash against such ideas was underway and the doctrine Moore advocated would have been viewed at best as outdated and at worst dangerous.

Although in the book Moore defends her ketamine experiments as distinct from recreational drug use - of which she is highly critical - and claims that her use of ketamine had a rejuvinative spiritual value, in the book Moore inadvertently and naively reveals numerous details suggesting that her relationship with ketamine was perhaps less healthy than she realized. 

This is exemplified in the tendency to make grandiose claims regarding the potential of ketamine, which become harder to swallow as the book progresses and the fact that she begins to refer to herself as “priestess of the Goddess Ketamine”. The book exemplifies the extent to which some individuals were so determined to contribute something to the evolution of human consciousness, that they became captivated by a New Age illusion and became completely delusional in the process.

Journeys Into The Bright World descended into obscurity soon after it was published and was never reprinted. As a result the book is now difficult to acquire, although one of the 5000 copies printed in 1978 occasionally shows up on eBay. Many factors contributed to the demise of the book and the idealistic vision its author promulgated. The tone of the language and whimsical notions promoted by the book were out of kilter with the period in which they were published, being more in tune with the kind of consciousness expanding literature that had been popular in the previous decade. Another factor that proved even more damaging was the fact that the book emerged around the same time that non-medical use of ketamine was rapidly escalating.  Inevitably, a repercussion of this rise in the illicit use of ketamine was that it came to be viewed both legally and morally in the same negative light as any other drug consumed recreationally.

The tainted status of ketamine ensured that Moore’s reputation and that of her husband was seriously compromised by this book that reads as a declaration of their belief in this substance as a catalyst for a religious renaissance.  However, what really cast a shadow over Moore’s book and blighted the philosophy it condones, was the mysterious fate that befell its author in the year following its release.

While no one has ever established precisely what happened to Moore, several facts regarding her tragic end are certain and knowledge of these invariably alters how one reads and interprets Journeys.  What is known is that on the 14th of January 1979, Moore disappeared from her home in Washington. Her whereabouts were a mystery for two years until 1981 when her skull – identified via dental records - was discovered in a forest some distance from where she had lived.

The cause of Moore’s death and the circumstances which precipitated it, remain unexplained although various scenarios have been hypothesized.  One is that Moore – who had been consuming excessive quantities of ketamine in the months leading up to her disappearance - went wandering on that wintry night, became disorientated and froze to death.  A more sinister explanation posited by Moore’s children was that she had been murdered - perhaps even sacrificed - by a faction of sinister occultists. It has also been proposed that Moore committed suicide, and that her book contains clues which suggest that she had been intending to do so for some time.  In any case it seems probable Moore’s death was connected in some way to her dependence upon ketamine, which is reported to have worsened in the period after her book was published. This proved that while ketamine gave Marcia Moore the ability to tap into the idealism that was still available in that period, it also undermined her sense of reality and ultimately proved to have life negative properties.

It is easy to see flaws and be cynical about a book authored by a person who sought to make herself a high priestess of Ketamine and was convinced that this psychoactive substance she had such a penchant for was an antidote to society’s ills. Yet, regardless of how misguided (or not) one thinks Moore may have been, there is much of significance to be found in her book.  

Journeys is a valuable record of a certain brand of visionary idealism that became nonviable -and was eradicated- in the time that has elapsed since Moore’s book was published. Today there are probably more people than ever using psychoactive substances but gone is the glimmer of ambition, it is now simply a means of accelerating into a cul de sac of oblivion. There are no longer figures like Moore who attempt to separate potentially beneficial properties of drug use from the problematic, destructive behavioral patterns they are inextricably connected with. Reading through Journeys one gets a strong sense of this idealism, founded upon the conviction that the transcendental experiences psychoactive substances offer should be taken seriously and responsibly. They could expand human consciousness beyond the limitations of the material, visible world.

Perhaps what makes Moore’s book so important is that it serves to remind us that people once believed that unlocking ones consciousness had social and political implications. It encourage one to think subjectively and question the rigid structures that dictate one’s everyday life. It reminds us that people once believed that consumption of certain substances could be combined with humanitarian ethics and spiritual evolution.

*Before ketamine became known as a recreational drug it had been administered as an anesthetic by American surgeons on the battleground of the Vietnam War.

In November I was invited to take place in a ten-day Transformation Retreat in rural South Africa. The retreat was led by a shaman called Fabian Piorkowsky. Using the psychotropics Ayahuasca, Mescaline and Iboga, the retreat aimed to heal addictions, physical pains, disease, various mental health problems, and bring participants back to what you might call, their essence.

Day 1: Bored mostly. We're making friends in a very adult way. Diplomatic, fair, not wanting to hurt the person you're talking to, but you can't help but look over his shoulder at the other people and feel jealous that they're laughing and you'll never get a laugh out of the person you've chosen to speak to. We trade stories around the pool. Alcoholism, drugs, self-harm, depression. CCTV cameras hover above the gates like they do everywhere in South Africa. There are some monkeys in the trees. They begin to flash their pink asses at us. When they come close to pick the low-lying fruit they make a noise with their mouths like this: kahisssstttchzop! We look at each other and make a noise with our mouths like this:  oh my! 

Day 2: We get high, but we don't get very high. After an afternoon eating vegan food, lounging by the pool, upgrading friends, identifying potential matches, identifying potential dangers. You can't stress the importance of that last process enough until you've been deeply immersed in an ayahuasca session, body numb, mind a fritter, teeth on the shake, only to have the person next to you make strange and appear to want to bite your nose off. But that doesn't happen. Tonight's dose was just a mild dose. Enough to bring a few fractals to life. Mandelbrot's babies. Aztec patterns that repeat and transform as soon as you grasp their integrity. But no great visions quite yet. Ayahuasca apotheosis is an experience known as rebirthing wherein you feel yourself both in and then out of the womb. I had it once and I can confirm it was terrifying, and then light and then wonderful. But there will be no rebirthing tonight. Tonight is just the beginning. An appetizer. A basket of grissini sticks seasoned with rosemary and a half full glass of prosecco.

Day 3: The next morning there are some rumblings. People have paid plenty of money for this trip. Fabian has to defuse their impatience. He does so by promising tonight's show will knock their socks off. That aside, nothing much happens during the day. We're slaves of time. Lying on cut grass, too lazy to read, waiting for 7pm to come so we can go back into the ceremony hall with our mattress and our purge bucket and begin the next session. Last night we took just small cups. Tonight we're allowed double or triple doses. I experience a type of emotional incontinence. I cry and laugh at the same time. It's very pleasant. The sadness is real but the laughter dissolves it. Oh, and there's a fox. A skinny shadow of a fox, a woodcut fox. He keeps reappearing, beckoning me. Hmmm. I decide to call him Kanye out of a deep-seated fear that I'll begin to take this too seriously.

Day 4: In the morning we wake up in the same place we slept and take mescaline. Oh baby let me tell you about mescaline. Mescaline is a goo scraped from the insides of a cactus and it makes you feel like you are a cactus insomuch as you surmise all cacti want is to stretch out under a hot sun. Glorious African daylight floods the room. The birds are singing. Some people start to cry, others begin to puke, I feel like dancing and running around. I feel like stretching out under a hot sun. But this is where you have to be careful on a transformation retreat. The experience is shared but the suffering is personal. In the competitive world of self pity, daddy knocking you off the swing is not the same as daddy knocking the swing out of you. So while a few of us go for a stroll and a chat and a giggle, our arms T-shaped like prickly branches, there are others still in the ceremony room rolling on sweaty sheets and dry heaving. At some point I think about Kanye. Does he have a message for me? I look down at my hand. I guess I've started smoking again.We take more ayahuasca that night. Big glasses. The taste is sour and nickel-ey. I wash it down with a grape. The grape tastes better than life itself. I forgot to mention: we haven't eaten in two days now.

Day 5: After another night of fractals, memories and my woodcut fox appearing then disappearing into the middle distance, we wake up, take mescaline and decide to leave the compound. We pile into cars. I've made friends with a UFC fighter. He has a BMW. Are you okay to drive? I won't take her outta third bru. We head into the hills to a watering hole to swim. The BMW is low to the ground and scrapes the road. Shit bru, the UFC fighter says. He has comic book hero arms. They are bigger than my head. I think about asking him if I could touch them, but straight men don't ask those questions. We round another corner. bru, he says to me, I think I'm too high. I reach over and hold the wheel. We're both driving now. He handles left turns, I'm in charge of the rights. The chassis embraces the hard dirt road. We hear a noise like paper tearing. Fuck bru, he says, maybe we give it some aya later. What will that do? Fix it, he says, like a rebirth. Ja bru, we can rebirth the BMW.

Day 6: I cheated and news is out. The previous night I skipped out on the ayahuasca session. I cleaned my face, pulled the twigs from my hair and left the compound. I hitch-hiked into the nearest town and found a Wimpy. I went in and ordered a mixed grill before I'd even time to realise I don't eat meat. I don't eat dairy either. I called the waitress over. She's adorable and treats me like I'm her only customer in the world. I asked her for a tutti frutti milkshake. And when she came back with that I also asked her for a coffee.

Outside the window black people were waiting for buses. Kids were coming home from school. There was a man with no shoes on his feet rolling a bald tyre along the side of the street. I went to the bathroom in a hurry and did something I haven't done all week. While I'm in there, I closed my eyes and saw Kanye. Go back to the ceremony, Kanye said. I paid and left. While I was walking I felt a strange shape in my pocket. I'd bought cigarettes, somehow. The rest of the retreat participants looked at me with suspicious eyes. They could smell the fried eggs on my breath the traces of civilisation on my clothes, the skip in my step.

Day 7: Mescaline for breakfast. I feel buoyed by the food in my belly. The rest of the group look frazzled, weak, grey around the face, but their pupils are huge and their eyes are sparkly and that's because we're all high again. In between ceremonies Fabian and his wife Nicole talk to us. There are some grumbles. One girl, Jana, says that none of the plants have worked on her so far. Jana complains that the taste is so bad she can't keep the medicine down long enough for it to work. She's in tears. On the first day we spoke she told me she was addicted to weed. Oh, I said. Yes, she said, I really need this trip to transform me. Fabian explain that it's possibly her ego that won't let her swallow the medicine. She looks defeated. After the ceremony I sneak into the kitchen and steal a banana. I find Jana on her own and offer her a piece. She takes it in her hand, rolls it between two fingers then hands it back. I eat it myself. Some people look at me and I feel some hostility or just the paranoia I've been nurturing all week. That night we don't take anymore ayahuasca. We're building up for the grand finale, a plant called Iboga. Iboga can put you into a deep, trance for as long as 48 hours. It's known to be a relatively effective cure for heroin addiction. They call it the grandfather because the visions take the form of a wise, old spirit. Before I go to bed I take a whizz. My pee's the colour of rusty nails. The splash back is tangerine, gold and hot, hot fire.

Day 8: There's a  hum of expectation around the breakfast table. Not only because we're allowed to eat again but because tonight we're taking the greatest hallucinogenic on the planet. They don't devour the food, like I expected, instead they pick at it appreciatively like small birds. Having filled my belly the other day, I'm now conversely even hungrier than everyone else. I feel like an imposter. Even the smokers have stopped giving me the nod when they're going for one. I look around the table at people ranging in age from their early twenties to late fifties. Everyone of them is desperate for this psychedelic treatment to work. They want to be transformed. I'm open to transformation, but the real reason I'm here is the real reason I became a journalist and that's because I've not found something that hasn't piqued my curiosity enough to try it at least once. We file into the ceremony hall. The beds are messy and there's a smell of vomit in the air. I tell Fabian that I don't want to go in again but I still want to try the Iboga. That's fine, he says, you can stay out by the pool and I'll bring you some. So I swim laps and wait and then Fabian comes out with a spoonful of powder and I take it. Iboga in small doses is like cocaine. More and you begin to see visions. More again and you vomit and lose physical autonomy like with ketamine. I sit in the pool and watch the trees becoming brighter and the noise of the birds, which I've just noticed I can turn up or down like a stereo. I go eat a banana. I smoke a cigarette. I go to my room and try and masturbate. I can't. I take a shower. The water sings my name. The drops feel like long cat tails swishing over my shoulders. I want to be straight again. I want so much to be straight again.

Day 9: I went to Wimpy for breakfast this morning. Porridge, toast, coffee and another tutti frutti milkshake. When I get back the group are still in the ceremony hall, but some of them have spilled out onto the lawn. The grandfather was asking for you, Jana says. He said you shouldn't be afraid of him. I'm not, I say. Is that you or your ego talking, Jana asks. It's a strange day. A lot of great expectations were riding on Iboga and a lot of the people are feeling cheated. Some say they felt nothing but belly cramps. Fabian explains that the plant keeps working in your system, keeps healing, long after everyone's gone home but that's a cold comfort for those about to take long haul flights north with little more to show for all their work than five kilos less weight, tawny cheeks and grass stains on their white ceremonial clothes.

Day 10: We pack. Two people have hooked up. They're petting each other on bean bags. Puke, hunger, bad breath, shattered nerves, neglected hygienic practice – the human race doesn't know how to stop itself from getting off. I talk to Fabian. He's hard to dislike. I'd wanted, because the best stories contain good and bad, to paint him evil. But he's not. He really believes in what he does. He really wants to transform people and he appears to have the utmost hallmark of human and spiritual integrity: he's broke. Out on the grass by the pool, we're evaluating. One kid from New York is sat in a daze. How's it going? I ask. It's never gone better, he says. I've never felt so good. A German girl is dissappointed in the drugs, that she didn't experience rebirthing, but enjoyed the whole time anyway. Another man came here with a social anxiety so crippling it made it impossible for him to leave his home in daylight. He's now at the centre of a circle and making them laugh. Something has ticked and my take is that these retreats do work. Enduring anything uncomfortable has a transformative effect. Think of needing to pee while stuck in traffic and the release that eventually brings. Even if that release is just committing to going in your pants. But on other broader levels, hallucinogenics do make you feel like you are somehow connected to a greater force. Less atomized. Less alone. We all hug. You could cut the Zwischenmenschlichkeit with a knife. And then I reach into my pocket and pull out cigarettes and pass them around. Ok, I say, I'm going clean.  

I’m sitting here wondering why this is so difficult- writing a few words.   Come on for God’s sake!  I side-step my inner critic and the word guts lands like a feather in my brain.  Your words are your guts. They’re your insides out.  How you express and repress and eviscerate and communicate. Communication it seems, has never come quite so easy.

I stroll through a second-hand shop looking for a distraction.  Anything but writing.  A magazine cover catches my eye.  It’s way too big for today’s handbag size rags.  A Sunday Times magazine; 6th September 1964, Paris fashion, a monochrome abstract dream on the front cover.  I  flick through the grainy pages looking for some fabulous vintage fashionistas and instead I stumble on an arm, a vein, a works, “drug life”. Talk of grains of heroin and cocaine and young people and this scourge of drugs. “The cause of addiction it seems, is an inability to communicate with other human beings” reads one line.  And I get it.  Fifty year old problems and yet they resonate.

I’ve been doing drugs for 15 years now.  The hard stuff.  I went straight into opiates.   I got a phone call one day. “How about Monday? Come into me Monday morning.  We’ll get you started.”  From day one it was full on - chaos and clattering.  Booze and benzos.  Antipsychotics.  Antidepressants. Sleepers. Works.   Placebos. Detoxes.  Retoxes.  Revolving doors. Warrants.  Probation. Social work. Shoplifting in a sexshop. Punting down the liffey in a dinghy.  Amo.  That’s where I got my name. Ballyfermot is where drugs dragged me up.

But the thing about the drugs I do is that I don't take them I give them.  I’m not  the one in the Joy.  I’m the one phoning the Joy.  I’m not the one in hospital with an almighty abscess.  I’m the one asking if you’ll go to the nurse to get it dressed.  I’m not the one sleeping on the streets on couches in me ma’s gaff. I’m the one asking you where you stayed last night.  I’m not the protagonist in the escapades I’m the vicarious listener.  The authority figure.   The legal dealer.   The dealer who won’t be arrested.  For now anyway.  Because the line between legal and criminal can be the difference of a generation.  The difference of perception and understanding. I’m an HSE nurse and give out legal methadone.

A generation ago we had Magdalene laundries and priests we kow-towed to.  We had Haughey telling us to tighten our belts.  It’s nothing new.  And the more I know about drugs the more I understand that a drug is a drug not because it’s scheduled or classified.  Because your drug is your drug not because of what it is but because of what it does .  It’s called a fix for a reason. It fixes the fear.  The piercing vulnerabilities.  The frayed nerves.  The difficult conversations.  The daily trauma of living.  They fix us to make us funnier, more popular, more of who we want to be, less of who we are. And that's why your drug can be a bag of gear, a bar of chocolate, a computer game, work, sex, busyness.

One day I looked through the bulletproof  hatch  and thought “I’m on the wrong side here.”  The arrow of awareness shooting through my existence was dulled by my fixes.   I was rolling-over, over-drinking,  over-eating.  But I held down a job.  I ran a business.  From where I was standing I wasn't that much different from everyone else.   I certainly wasn't addicted.  I was having fun.  I was having the craic. See I had to make it ok.  I wanted it desperately to be ok.  I wanted to be ok.  It had to be ok.  Because if it wasn't ok, what the fuck then?

Legal or illegal drugs have the capacity to heighten and dull emotions and send you on a death defyingly mundane rollercoaster. Its mundane because it gets repetitive. I imagined my end.  It would be terribly tragic – terribly preventable and terribly accidental.  Not altogether exciting .  I’d fall down and knock my head .  Or I’d stumble in front of a car.  I’d drink too much or take too much.  Everyone you’d talk to at the funeral would have seen it coming, but sure what could you do.  I knew it myself every time I slammed the shots and woke up in a strange bed in a strange house.  Or legged it out of a nightclub away from my friends going God knows where – a ghosting pro.  Or couldn't remember how I got home.

I knew I was killing a part of myself but I couldn't stop it. Reflecting on it now, it’s all a bit detached.  And although I can write it now, at the time, none of it was communicated.  The death drive,  Thanatos, Freud called it.  He said we cannot compete with the death drive, but we have an obligation to try.  ‘Never give up’ is how I interpret it. It sums up a mountain of what addiction brings to your doorstep whether you’re in it yourself or working in it.  Never give up.  But there’s another side - eros. Eros, the instinct for life for love for creativity and sexuality and self satisfaction.  Connection.  Love.  Creativity.  That's where the leverage is from the drug.  That’s where you start to pry away the person from their substance.  

It’s two years to the day I gave up alcohol.  It’s the best joke ever.  Did you hear the one about yer wan who gave up the drink and had the craic?  Nah, me neither.  See this wan gave up not because she wanted to -  I was never doing that me, oh no.   Following several unsuccessful attempts to give up I had very happily acknowledged I was a lifelong drinker.  A committed craic-haver.  A lady who “managed moderation”, who tripped and fell on the odd unforeseen bender-great- night-can’t-remember-a-thing.  All the while the constant white noise of criticism humming quietly in the background.

I gave up because all the other bits started to fit a bit better. I stopped giving myself such a hard time.  I started opening up and connecting.  I started reaching out to friends instead of reaching out for a bottle.   And it’s still all a work in progress.

I’m cycling around Trinity and into Dame Street.  There are road works and buses.  The average chaos.  Coming towards me midair are small fluffy clouds.  They break around my chest.  Three kids are messing around the floozy; shes been doused with washing-up liquid and I love it. Two years on, no alcohol.  But I still have bubbles to celebrate.

Picture this. 4 am, barefoot, cold kitchen tiles under my feet. Buttering toast. Four slices of toast. Hmmm. Five. A loaf of bread. It’s what Jesus would have wanted. 

Vodka. Cigarettes. Chips. I am an addict. 

4am, taxi into town, tell the taxi man to wait, go into Charlies, back into the taxi, home. Work. More cigarettes. Dark rum. 

I am an addict. 

The back of the 121 bus. On the way to school. Drink a full bottle of Lucozade to tackle the hangover. Vomit. Vomit rolls up and down the bus. Keep the uniform clean. Rest your head on the seat. No one can see me here. My 17th Birthday. 

Pizza, 3-in-1, cold egg fried rice. Kentucky Fried Chicken. Texas Fried Chicken on the Crumlin Road. Lucozade. Coffee. Coca-Cola. I am an addict. 

When I was 12 I moved into Thomas Street. I used to live in Rialto with my Mam and now I was moving in with my Dad. It was traumatic. Soon after that people started to talk to me about Puppy Fat. I wanted to join Weight Watchers but I wasn’t allowed to because they didn’t want me to get an eating disorder. I had my uniform bought for secondary school. I tried it on a week before I was due to start. It didn’t fit. 

I first had a curry when I was about 9. It was a treat. Every Friday or Saturday evening my mother would call a take-away. This was a reward for a hard week in school. Prawn Crackers. Chips. Curry.  A two-litre bottle of Coca- Cola. 

I didn’t plan to move in with my Dad. It was a shock. It didn’t fit in with his lifestyle. He worked late. I didn’t know how to cook. We ate a Chinese take-away every single night for years. 

If my life was turned into a Wordle, that word cloud that gives prominence to words that appear most often, then the word ‘addiction’ would be ten feet tall. The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous replaced the Bible in our house. It was our religion growing up. I thought and talked about addiction all the time. 

For THEATREclub’s HEROIN I spent two years in Rialto Community Drug Team. I sat with people and they told me their stories. I heard about the sexual abuse they suffered from fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, teachers, uncles, cousins. I heard about injecting into an artery in your groin. I heard about the pain of methadone leaving the body, about knowingly using a syringe you know contains the aids virus because you are so desperate to get heroin into you. I listened to accounts of prostitution, rape, burglary, overdose, coma, tablets and starting again. 

For the last five years, I have spent a lot of time with people with an addiction - in Fatima, in Dolphin’s Barn, in Ballymun & Moyross.  I feel more human when I am working with addicts than any other time. It’s the power of representation, of having a shared experience with another human being, of sharing something shameful, crippling, soul destroying. It’s the power of inspiring each other to keep battling through in search of dignity, meaning and place, despite the stigma, the social housing, and the isolation. Despite the abuse. The belief remains that there is a connection to the universe, there is meaning to it all. Being around addicts reinforces my commitment to the worthiness of creating. The most important thing I learned was that addiction is about feelings.

A year ago, my boyfriend googled ‘food addiction’. He found these questions on the Overeaters Anonymous website and he asked me them one by one.  

Do you eat when you're not hungry? Yes. 

Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason? Yes. I eat till I feel sick. 

Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating? Yes. 

Do you give too much time and thought to food? I think about food a lot. If I get hungry I become irrational and emotional and angry. 

Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone? I don’t think about it, but I am delighted when the opportunity presents itself.

Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time? I have done. I have left a party early to get a McDonalds on my own. I only drink so I can eat. Sometimes when my boyfriend says he is going out for the night my first thought is “That means I could order a curry.” 

Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone? Yes. 

Is your weight affecting the way you live your life? I am morbidly obese.

Have you tried to diet for a week (or longer), only to fall short of your goal? I have been dieting for ten years. I couldn’t understand why the diets wouldn’t work.

Do you resent others telling you to "use a little willpower" to stop overeating? More than words could articulate.

 

Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet "on your own" whenever you wish? Sometimes. Only when people are trying to help me.

Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime? Late at night I get so hungry it makes me cry.

Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble? That’s the only reason I eat. I will go all day without eating until something happens that upsets me. I hate eating. I love eating shite. I am full-on addicted to eating horrible food.

I had answered yes to all the questions. If you answer three; they say you have a problem. Fuck. 

My friend Lauren had confronted me about my relationship with food when I was eating a McDonalds in her car a few months before that. I mean, she kind of ruined the McDonalds for me, but I am infinitely grateful. She called me out on something that everyone was afraid to talk to me about. No one wants to point out that someone is fat. She asked me “Why can’t you stop?” I told her that nothing was motivating me to lose weight. I didn’t care. She told me that if I wanted to have kids I would need to get thinner. That at my current weight I wouldn’t be able to deliver a baby to term. That changed something. 

I was 5” 5’ and I weighed nearly 17 stone. I am still 5” 5’ and I weigh 15 stone. 

I have spent my whole life embroiled in a drama with food. I have had screaming matches over food, I have stolen money to buy food, I have dreamt about it, had nightmares about it. As I became a manically ambitious theatre director my food problems got worse. I was now too busy to eat properly or think about what was happening to me as I threw out my size 12 jeans and bought 14s, then 16s. And then I found myself crying in the queue in Penneys with a pair of size 20s in my hand. Work was another addiction, another compulsion. What did we say addiction was? Feelings. 

As I answered my boyfriend’s questions that night I started to realise that I was an addict. There is no more earth-shattering feeling than for the daughter of two addicts to realise that she is an addict too. It basically feels like “Oh for fuck’s sake, are you for real?” But then I think I knew that already on some level. I wasn’t going to get away with it. Everyone else I know is one. 

I began my recovery in that moment. After years of failed dieting I am finally losing weight. Slowly. And there have been ups and downs. Last summer on Inis Oirr, I gave up the lethal combination of coffee, Lucozade and Coca Cola that I had lived on for so long. I spent an hour in the sand on the beach unable to move as the caffeine left my body. 

I go to Slimming World every week. I have been in therapy since I was twelve years-old and now I go to a cognitive behavioural therapist and a shamanic healer. I am considering going to Overeaters Anonymous. Not sure about that though. Think about how you feel about going to Mass. The upshot is that it’s all okay now. It’s getting better now. But it will never go away. 

It’s a strange thing to be addicted to food. But I think it can be useful to make a point about all addiction. I can’t ever ‘give up’ eating food. I can’t just ‘stop eating’. It’s not as simple as only eating healthy food either. I can play out my addiction with fruit as well as I can with crisps and chocolate.  I have to look at why I am eating what I am eating. It’s my intent. My relationship to it. That’s why some people can have a few pints no problem, and other people piss themselves! That’s why sometimes you piss yourself.

The thing about addiction is that addiction is actually not the problem. Addiction is the solution to the problem. And food worked really well for me for me for a long time and I am grateful.

And that’s the thing isn’t it? About the war on drugs. It’s missing the point. The drugs are not the thing. The thing is how we feel. The problem is your feelings. The problem is our feelings. The problem was and is (less and less these days) my feelings. We’ve basically fucked that up.  We haven’t cottoned onto that yet and we have fucked up a lot of stuff in the meantime. The collateral damage is people. Lost. Stuck. Greying on methadone. Drowning in their own vomit. Suffocating under the weight of themselves. 

I used to think that life had limits. Now I know they plan to send people to live on Mars and some things can never be measured.

I thought I could tell what Seany was thinking when I first met him. “Snoopy bitch with a pen in her pocket and a camera hidden somewhere.”I was wrong about that. “What’s a nice girl like you doing hanging around a place like this?” he said, and all of a sudden we were face to face in the courtyard of a drug rehabilitation centre. He sparked a cigarette and offered me one. I grasped at it a little too hastily and it fell out of his heavy hand, which was black, embroidered in ink on every inch right up to the knuckles. He was missing half of the baby finger.

“Hey, take it easy!” He laughed. I took a deep breath, introduced myself, and told him about the creative writing class I wanted to start up at the centre. He laughed again. “You’re in the wrong place love.” And he was right.

The class never took place although I refused to give up and Seany continued to show up every Monday. We got to talking, disagreeing over tobacco, politics and violence, and agreeing on other things, like the fact that we were not tigers, but indeed animals.

When the other people in the courtyard didn’t trust me and made shitty remarks about me, references to Veronica Guerin, and Seany told them to fuck off. “She’s sound!” And that was that.

I started teaching a class at another facility and met Seany for cups of tea around Dublin every few weeks. We would listen to whatever the other had to say. There was a similar bite where our loyalties lay. I could trust him with anything.

He was 45, separated, from Ballymun, and a dedicated father to his one son. He’d lost a lot of family for the wrong reasons, reasons that didn’t merit death, and reasons that could only be rectified through death. Seany didn’t want his son wearing the same chain of names around his neck. He didn’t like to talk about it either. He did tell me once, however, that he had to send his son out for a straightener. I didn’t know what a straightener was - a clean fight - and Seany thought this this was the funniest thing he’d heard all afternoon.

He asked, “What did you be at out there in Lusk?” Climbing hay-bails, building huts, chasing and getting chased by geese in the night, and spying on the only neighbours we had for mile (who, I believed, were in fact aliens). “I’m from the country,” I’d say. “There was no one around.” I read most days, wrote poems in my diary, and cycled back and forth to the shop.

When I was a little older, my friends got high and I smoked cigarettes in darkened sheds at weekends. When I got drunk I cursed their stoner ways. I was young. I spoke too soon.

Seany had his own collection of tales: gunpoint, bags, stashes, eye balls reeling, time in prison, he could keep going. It was death that stopped him.

I have had very little experience with death. I fear it. Seany was ready for it, whenever it was to come, in whatever grizzly form it might take. He wore his heart on his sleeve; pulsing, gushing, barbed, and hardened by thieves, it still brought him to his knees. He knew he’d find peace.

Peace swept over us for an instant that summer. The sun was shining and we met on bicycles across the road from Glasnevin cemetery. We were dressed identically in jeans and black t-shirts, and thought it was hilarious. Then, a moment later, Seany cracked a joke about my rusted bike, I didn’t think it was funny and I overtook him. “Slow down!” he yelled. I laughed back at him.

We were on our way to Finglas to see Seany’s best friend Smurf. Smurf was two years older than Seany and had grown up beside him in the flats. Brave and bold, they charged at every day, and at every door that turned them away. Together they snorted their first lines of cocaine (all the rage back then), and scaled walls to drop ecstasy while standing on top of the city.Sweating and panting, they roared out in hunger in the belief that there was more to the world than that concrete jungle. Crashing and burning, they died together the next day, only to reminisce and be resurrected the day after.

I had met him a few times at the centre, and he was always complaining about the pain he was in. His skin was thin and cracking over his joints. His blonde hair was thinning. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and gave him a prescription of pills, that never seemed to be enough.

Smurf was always particularly kind to me. He told me about his wife and son, the holidays they took, and how they had turned everything around for him. Every time he was with Seany he would light up and smile. Sometimes Seany would have to tell him to do it, but Seany didn’t mind. They’d been through the war together. They’d had the worst luck. I often found it funny and they always let me laugh.

Outside Smurf’s house, Seany and I were getting impatient- no one was answering. Ten long minutes later, Smurf’s wife, Caroline, pulled into the driveway with their son, Damien, and her groceries. She invited us in, cursing Smurf for leaving us out there. I helped her put the shopping away before following Seany down the hall, through the neat sitting room, and the glass sliding door, to the wooden patio and the small wooden shed where Smurf was sitting.

Seany and I sat down on the spare stools while the radio on the corner table played Rory Gallagher. Seany told Smurf off for not answering the door. Smurf started rolling a spliff, saying he was sorry, it killed him to move. One of the lads dropped the hash in to him. It helped with the ache. It helped Seany chill out too. He’d been fidgeting since we’d got there, but to be fair, Smurf looked worse than I’d ever seen him. Arms moving slow and steadily, he hadn’t been able to eat for days. I complimented his house and said nothing about his appearance and neither did Seany. Smurf brought it up himself and asked Seany how he thought he looked.

“Rough,” Seany said.

Smurf laughed.

“You’re some bastard.”

He had an appointment with a specialist next week, the third one in six months, he said. His wife was unbelievable, she was doing everything he couldn’t for himShe came outside as if she’d heard him, smoked a cigarette, talked about her hyacinths and lilacs, and then she went out of focus. I started to realise that the second spliff Smurf was smoking was draining the blood from my head to my toes. I was extremely aware of how relaxed the others were and I didn’t want to cause a stir. So I waited another dizzy minute before standing up without a word, knocking an empty cup to the floor and hopping outside.

I was mortified. I sat down. They burst out laughing. I laughed too after a minute or two, when I stopped feeling like a melting marshmallow, but I was tired. I looked at the time and told Seany we had to make a move. I was eager to get home before it was too late and the sun had gone down. Seany agreed, red-eyed and smiling widely. He and Smurf hugged and spoke in code. I said goodbye.

At a busy junction on the cycle home, Seany noticed that he’d forgotten his phone and was shouting at me to wait. The noise of the traffic drowned him out. I finally heard him, but the thought of going back to shed made me miserable again.

“I’m gonna head,” I shouted.

He didn’t hear me.

“I’m going!” I screamed, a bit too loudly, and I would’ve darted away had Seany not looked so stunned and silly. “I have to work,” I called out wearily.

“You’re grand, go on!” Seany waved back. I took off through the orange lights and up the hill back into town and home. My mind’s eye was unable to peel its gaze away from the day’s events- the blue skied peace and pleasure, puff, the half-hearted hoorays and my own pale horror in the middle of it all.

I lost sight of our stripes.

It was almost midnight and my eyes were heavy. I was watching a documentary about the preservation of Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East and drifting in and out of sleep. I woke with a start, to the roar of a female tiger caught in a wire loop trap that was strapped to a tree. Unharmed and dangerously angry, she was prowling, trashing, clawing at the air and the noose around her hind leg. Three conservationists stepped towards her. One loaded a dart filled with ketamine, aimed and shot her in her right shoulder, but she did not go down and seemed more furious than drowsy.

Brilliantly, an image of Seany and Smurf in their youths showed them waying and sniffing, swallowing yokes to find truth and escape the boundaries of their bodies in search of some sweet spirit. Maybe those moments are holy.

The second dart. The tiger passed out. The conservationists took her data and untied all 40 stone of her, leaving her asleep and free.

Guess I’ve always wanted to be a real boy.

They all tried.  And the more they tried, the more I tried.  Well, there was the time the man came to fix the radiators in the gaff.  Heavily involved in the dollies in the sisters bedroom was I. So I scampered under the sister’s bed.  And hid there.  The dust from the carpet filling me up, strangely comforting.  And he bashed his tools about while I waited in fear.  And then he was gone.

There was the Uncle Martin.  An Irish Homer Simpson I suppose.  Every week I was left there in my grandmother’s,  while my mother with expensive taste shopped downtown. And every week the same old boring question, with a jeer and a sneer as he downed a bottle of milk, “So Neil do you play football?”  And he’d laugh like Jabba the Hut. And the pain that I began to know. And it just grew with the years as I did.

My first migraine happened in the all-boys-school St Joseph’s. I was trying to impress somebody - my father’s friend had gone there.  Louis had modelled himself on John Wayne and was a man’s man.  In his honour I went to that kip of a school. I wore a pissy blue jumper of wool and polyester nightmares.  The great Irish prime minister Charlie Haughey had gone here. I learned how to be a brat.

“Do it , it will make a man of you.”  So I got into the habit of training on the local football team and playing matches, only to be distracted by the trees which I’d hide in and climb. And then there was scouts, where I was thrown in with the other soft-natured boys, and somehow was never beaten up in all my days of sticking out like a sore thumb.  Ah, that will be the height.

Name-calling happened always. And I always wanted to be accepted by the pack of wolves who snarled at me on my way to and from school.  I learned how to be funny.

From one pack of wolves to another I jutted. Dublin Youth Theatre became my tribe and the place where I fell for one or two beautiful boys.  Love that would never be known.  A secret that I lived with while trying desperately to be a leading man in Greek tragedies and Irish farces.

And the cool directors who floated in to see us never put me on the pedestal of masculinity.  So I yearned for it.  And sought out third-level education in the form of a concentration camp called Drama Centre London. A BBC documentary called Theatre School told me that this was the school for me.  Anthony Hopkins had based his Hannibal Lecter on its principal, Christopher Fettes.

On the day of enrollment Michael Fassbender and I chatted in line.  A Swiss girl called Claudia (pronounced Cloud E Ya, but she would always say it didn’t matter) joined our conversation.  She said, “One day one of us three is going to be famous.” Cut to 10 years later and I’m sitting in the multiplex on Parnell Street watching a nightmare unfold.  My life was the river Styx and I was drowning in Michael Fassbender’s success. Jealousy is not something everyone admits to.  This was a dark place. But it was to be another few years before I would learn to let go of resentment and be happy for others.

I struggled there for a while.  All sorts of shit.  I had a very negative and paranoid view of the world. And my poor body was the manifestation of years of the irrational belief that owing to the nature of my sexual attraction to men, I was doomed to go to hell. The men I acquainted myself with were ones I gave my power away to.  Everyone in my life was there to tell me that I could be much better.  People who spoke with the harsh facts of reality were my teachers.  And life was supposed to be hard. This was square peg, round hole culture. 

I never took drugs until the pain of living was too much. Then I had to. At the age of 28 I popped an E. It wasn't my thing. Then I discovered weed. And it’s great. Until its stops being great. And I hate everything for no good reason.

At the age of 28, HIV positive now, and enduring a headache that wouldn’t leave, I succumbed to drugs. Darkness devoured me and I lost myself.  It was delicious.

Forgive me but I wish not to pick at the scab of war stories.  What's done is done.  And I’m fine with it.  I understand why I did what I did.  And to my disbelief I have forgiven my parents for their fear of me. They’re innocents.  They did their absolute best and gave their children everything. I love them.

A minion of Irish law and Catholicism, mam had pleaded with me that if I was to be an actor, I was not to do a gay scene.  She had commented on one leading Irish performer when he was on TV, saying that he was a puff.  That was enough for me to know that I could never tell. But eventually I did.  And the bitter tears of mourning were shed.  The son they had hoped for was dead.  And my father was inconsolable, for the family name wouldn’t be continued.  That honour now fell on my brother. My mother was concerned about what relatives and neighbours would think.

Intimacy has been hard for me.  It’s so much easier to have sex than to make love.  Drink and drugs are a social lubricant not exclusive to me in this country. But as this gay marriage referendum looms, its timing is good.  I’m seeking connections with the men I meet.  I’m seeking connection with the food I eat, with the pastimes I part-take in, and in the people I socialise with.

I never thought we were allowed to love, us monsters.  I thought we had to do it in the shadows.  Gay men met in parks or toilets.  They didn’t have a wholesome existence.

Clawing my way back,  I wonder how I survived sometimes.  I know that I’m a lucky ladeen. It still takes me aback when people say that they like me, so strong has been the self-loathing inculcated in me. Here in my life in Dublin 8 I feel blessed beyond my wildest dreams.  My reality is not of MTV cribs.  But my heart is full. 

It is the new tribe of sound heads that keeps me going. It is this tribe that has helped me drop my mask.  And the boxes that I haven’t ticked in society have little to no hold over me. The difference between waking up everyday and wanting to kill yourself versus being happy to greet the day is vast.

With a new found self-esteem I dare to do the things that I denied myself for so long.  I enjoy singing so much, but I was reluctant to share just how happy it made me, because I’ve always sensed that an audience (specifically an Irish audience) has more affection for a war story. Our band is called Buffalo Woman.

I do not have the need to live in the oblivion of drug addiction anymore.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not an absolutist. I still smoke joints.  But it’s not the same transgression that it was.  Lies aren’t penetrating my soul in the same way. I’ve done too much work on myself. You may very well still see me in an absolute jock or hungover like an anti-christ. Mm… But I think a nice neat little happy ending is brewing.  Sure why not.

Live in your passion.  Live in your passion.  That’s what I’ve learned.  In the words of Lenny Kravitz, “Let love rule.” Sounds gay right?  See, they’ve put love and gay into the realm of ‘don’t go there.’

Yesterday I strolled through town. A young scut in his pack of hounds taunted me.  “You’re gay,” he said.  I gave him the finger and said “Yeah, what of it?” I love cock.  What can they do?  Because it’s not illegal now.  Because society says it’s okay. “I’ll batter you,” he said. I fill with rage for a moment.  But I have the sense to drop it.  I sit myself down in La Dolce Vita for some sassy banter with tricksy waitresses and some mothering pasta. And I think about how some day some poor cunt is going to call me a faggot and I’m going to let rip on him.  I’m going to kill him with my bare hands and die or be imprisoned for my sins. 

I do understand - Forgive them for they know not what they do - but I’m tired of being polite.  I’d happily go full psycho on the ignorant.  How many gays have been punished? Uh. I know that killing is not the answer.  But I’m going to give the finger again.  Someone’s going to throw the first punch and I’ll be letting the bitch, the demon, the Lector out to play.  Real boys don’t use their nails.  I’ve got something extra.  Beware of the rabid faggot that lurks behind a gay face.We now know that we have a right to be angry.