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.