Don't Call Addicts Junkies, Just Be Grateful It Isn't You

I've known three Heroin addicts who have fallen into it for widely different reasons. But addiction is a sickness, and sick people need help...
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I've known three Heroin addicts who have fallen into it for widely different reasons. But addiction is a sickness, and sick people need help...

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The word ‘Junkie’ seems to have made it’s way back into the vernacular. Historically a moniker exercised by the uncompassionate and The Daily Mail, as the word ‘Leper’ was used centuries ago. It implied ‘Worthless Peasant Scum’. But quite alarmingly it’s become a term tossed around by people under the age of 30, with great vitriol attached, when describing sufferers of Heroin or Crack addiction. The drugs of choice at the moment (Ketamine, Meow-Meow, MDMA) are not considered ‘Junk’ as they are not as addictive and are ingested without the use of needles or shakily constructed pipes. It is awful when addiction consumes people. Such a waste. But only a fool would declare that they are beyond being taken over by drugs, you don’t know what’s around the corner. And only the ignorant and uneducated would put drug dependency down solely to a weak will….

I’m still friends with Janie. She was 11 when her Dad died. She and her Mother were distraught. A couple of years later her Mother met another man. He moved in then sexually abused Janie for years. One day she decided to put a stop to it, she’d been reluctant throughout as this man brought her Mother, and the home, some stability and happiness. One night they all sat around a table, he denied the allegations. The next day he killed himself.

Janie slid into a spiral of self abuse, the manifestation of compounded guilt and grief. A naïve kid, she took solace in amphetamine, getting wasted was a way to forget for a night or two, and a way to feel crappy for a couple more. Soon she was ‘digging’ (injecting) a mixture of Freebase and Alcohol directly into herself and had allowed a troublesome man to enter her life. It was masochism and self-harm that she craved, the drugs were simply a conduit to a way of punishing herself for the trauma she felt she’d caused her Mother by refusing to accept that her Step-Father was justified in molesting her.

Eventually, after years of counselling she returned to the healthy progressive lifestyle she knew before the death of her Father. Her mental health is still fragile and she sometimes has the urge to inject, a flashback to an engrained ritual, sometimes she succumbs, but now the syringe contains only pure water. This action causes her to remember her dark years, there is a resolve and her temptation is sated. One small detail of how she copes.

I know a lad called ‘Jonesy’. As a teenager he would partake in smoking spliff with a few of his mates. As many do. They would sometimes have nights out on pills. After a couple of years most of his weekend buddies had settled into relationships and jobs and their partying reduced. Then he and couple of mates started selling Ecstasy to fellow ravers. Although he had a susceptibility to addiction, his much reduced support network never intervened as Ecstasy scores low on the ‘addiction-o-meter’. Within a year he was locked up for dealing. Drugs were rife in jail, mainly Weed and Heroin. He came out a fully fledged Smackhead. He has done nine stretches in Jail over the last 15 years, for addiction related offences, in between he has been homeless. He is a wreck, he has Hepatitis, most of his veins in his limbs have collapsed so he suffers from frost bite, he has a huge scar down his inner forearm after gouging himself with a bottle in a near death suicide attempt and his memory and nervous system struggle to operate around psychosis formed from long term use of narcotics. He has lost all family and friends. He hates himself. He cannot get a handle on his addiction.

Around three years ago Peter was an aspiring Chef. After late stressy shifts in the kitchen he would sometimes join his friends at parties. He would want to unwind quickly and would accept drinks and spliffs upon arrival. He once arrived at a house party in full swing, took a few large drags on a strange tasting joint. Feeling a warm womb-like abyss that apparently only Heroin delivers he laid back on a sofa, within hours and without even knowing what he’d smoked he was entirely hooked.

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Within a year he was jobless, homeless and had held a knife at his mothers neck in order to extort money. This was when I first met him. Begging outside of The Carlisle in Soho. I refuse to give him money while he has Heroin Eyes. But I always talk to him, show him some respect. For him intervention came in the form of a beating from another tenant in a hostel. For a second, as the kicks landed on his head, he remembered himself as a masterful Chef. He wanted out of addiction.

He begged his sister for help, to allow him one last chance to redeem himself. He insisted that she handcuff him to a radiator in her flat for a fortnight, and refuse any request for anything other than food and water. It worked. I bumped into him a few weeks later. Scrubbed-up, shaven, clean mouth, full-faced, alive, sparky even. I was pleased to see him, and him me. He told me that withdrawal wasn’t too bad “…like having Flu, but you stink”. He had a dishwashing job in a gastro pub but was confident that his enthusiasm would soon see him back at the grill spinning chops and fillets. All good.

I saw Peter a few months ago. Outside The Carlisle again, filthy, bearded, hollow cheeked, holding out a paper cup with small change in the bottom. Behind the (again lifeless) eyes there was a semblance of shame as I asked him what had gone wrong. “The Brown speaks to you in the night” came the answer, as he stooped away.

I tried to imagine being Peter. Tried to think of a personal experience comparable to his first time on Heroin. When the pleasure of something I’d indulged in had spun me out of all control. Luckily for me, narcotic involvements have always been within my tractable boundaries, so they held no parallels. The nearest I could think of was my occasional penchant for swigging Brandy toward the end of a night out, and feeling a different type of drunkenness, tangential to an average drink-up, entirely pissed but wired and comfortable at the same time. I tried to imagine what might happen if I chased that feeling whenever awake, as a necessity.

What if you woke up the morning after a giddy experience and was never able to find the person you were the day before and never being able to see your life without a constant supply of whatever it was that got you off? It could be music, chocolate, sex, exercise, work, but the desire would be so acute that you are compelled to threaten your Mother with death in order to acquire your feed. That is how addiction gets you, so I am told. Hopefully that cerebral graphic will be the nearest you will come to being a sufferer.

Any one of us could be Janie, Jonesy or Peter, given the right(?) chain of events and ill-considered choices at the forks in the road of our lives, if we became down on our luck and buckled to escapism, suffered mental health problems, were manipulated, naïve, desperate, or just happened to put the wrong mixture of chemicals into ourselves at the wrong moment, maybe out of plain old recklessness. Addicts are vulnerable people. There’s no need to call them ‘Junkies.’ Call them by their names and be grateful that it wasn’t you that slipped through the net.