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Monday, 2 March 2020

Addiction isn't a fucking disease, it's an illness. (Ian.)

Ian - from the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition
Ian

Ian told me this, when I was asking what words to use on his portrait for the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition.  He should know.  He was drinking and taking anything by the age of fifteen.  He said, I did my geographicals then.  He left Scotland to escape the madness but was sent back as fifteen was too young.  He waited until he was sixteen, and then left Scotland again.  He called it his geographicals; he did not settle anywhere, and went from place to place.  I packed all my troubles with me in my suitcase, he said, and took them everywhere I went.  Borstal couldn't hold him, no one could touch him, and for a while, boxing helped with his anger.  Nothing worked, no examples while growing up, and no connections with anyone.

Now, over thirty years later Ian mentors other drinkers and users who want to stay sober and clean, from his peer led relapse prevention CIC called Arun Exact, in Littlehampton.  He gives back day after day after day.  He has a degree, and has come out of the addictions he lived with for those thirty years.  Learning to give is the most important part of recovery, said Ian.  There are three stages -
  1. Victim - blaming the past, blaming others 
  2. Survival - in the lifeboat.  Looking to see who is in the other lifeboats 
  3. Warrior - I got back, I got out, how to help others, and look at who is in your survival boat with you.  
My story

I am not addicted to substances, to alcohol, to anything.  There is a reason for this exhibition that I am creating.  It is all in the title, Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  The idea is that behind most addicts is at least one person who is traumatised by loving them. My son has suffered addictions and over the years we have reached such depths of despair and darkness that I do not know how we survived.  And then we have overcome so much, and been in places of relative peace and hope, with gratitude and connection.  We go up and down, up and down, up and down following the path between these two extremes, sometimes thinking that this is it, we are safe.  Other times I feel foolish for believing that this thing can ever be overcome. I think, I should know better, after every high there is a low, and nothing is permanent.  I cannot be complacent.

But what of the addict?  I have seen the smallest, tiniest bit of addiction and I have seen how mad it all is.  What of these addicts, these awful people that steal, lie, cheat and sell their souls and yours for a hit?  These dirty, violent, dis-inhibited, leeches on our society? We need protection from them, we need them taken away, we need them to understand how disgraceful and anti social they are, and most of all, we are not going to help them because it is all their own fault.  

I followed my son as he staggered in the streets between hits.  I saw how people looked at him, and how they avoided him.  I watched him try to get help from doctors and clinics and chemists, from hospitals and from other addicts and I saw how just the sight of him made people shut down, make excuses, send him away and tell him that unless he behaved they would not deal with him.  They tried to make deals with him - if you are free of your substance, we will make you an appointment.  They tried to punish him - if you don't make your appointment, we will keep your medication from you.  I understand how addicts must look to them, the people who are not addicted, but I began to question whether the absurd protocols followed by those around addiction had been created by people who had no idea of and no interest in how it actually felt.  It did not matter if it worked or not, they just wanted the addicts to go away. They did not give a damn. 

following my son on the streets from the
Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition

 I watched, helpless, observing, because I did not know what to do or what were the rules.  It felt as if all of it was wrong. The addicts, the people who were there to help them, the rules, the expectations, the madness and the horrible pain of addiction itself.  The thing is, I knew this person who was demanding help, medication, attention.  I knew who this person was, and I had held him as a baby, looked after him as a little boy, and had even named him.  This was not a stranger, some addict that needed a lesson in what was acceptable behaviour, and what was not.  I knew this was not the way to treat him, that they were all missing the point, that he was out of control and normal interactions could not, would not work.  He was chemically dependant, and that was that.  It angered me to see the disgust on the faces of those around my son when he was at his worst though I understood why.  They did not see a person, he was not worth any respect and was someone to avoid.  I understood that, I saw how he appeared to them but I also knew that he was suffering, and suffering so badly that he would do anything to stop it.  How could anyone know how much he was suffering?  It was that appalling, brain curdling, soul destroying mind body spirit agony of needing a fix of the thing that was killing him and in that state, you cannot reason with him, give him choices, options, appointments, you cannot punish him. You have to understand that this is way beyond our control.  We can walk away in disgust, but the struggle to stay alive with an addiction, is worse than anything we can know.

In the painting Mother, the Mother says of her son "He's handsome, funny, clever, a bit off."  Later,
Mother from the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition
she says, "I wish it would be over.  It's torture for everyone.  Best to say goodbye for ever." That is born of  real despair.  Another mother said of her son that she needed to save him, to follow him everywhere, he was helpless and vulnerable.  He had been addicted for years and it had taken a catastrophic toll on him.  He was in prison again and she was a wreck, nothing could touch her panic and fear for him - and nothing she did or said made any difference to him or anyone else over all the years of his drug use.  She will die along with him, one day, of a broken mind, body and soul and he will die of the same, with added drugs.  This happens.  We who love addicts can lose our minds if we are not careful.

What is to be done

I do not know.  

I am creating this exhibition to express something of this difficulty.  I am painting portraits of both addicts and those who love addicts and writing something of their situation onto the paintings.  Each is painted as a divine being, with a halo, or angel wings, or light around them.  I am looking for the holy in each of them.  I am conflicted, I love an addict, and I cannot cope with him either.  I long for healing, recovery but I am irrelevant in my addict's life.  Of course I am.  We are all irrelevant in an addict's life, that is the way it is.  But this exhibition is about not giving up, about asking us to look, and asking us to see beyond the madness. 

Our political and societal lack of will to deal with addiction will not make it go away.  People do recover.  But people do not recover too, they die and die badly.  Many addicts have mental health issues and self medicate.  How is this to be dealt with?  I do not know.  But it will not go away just because we are disgusted by them.  

Help is out there.  For those with money, there is expensive private rehab.  The road to recovery is long and hard with many relapses and false starts.  Only those with plenty of money can afford to keep going back into private rehab which can be around £20,000 for a single three month programme. There are charities and organisations that help. Alcoholics Anonymous with the twelve step programme is the best known.  Created in the late 1930s to help with alcohol dependency, it works with all types of addiction.  The first of the twelve steps tells us that we are powerless over our addictions and over our addicts.  Those involved with addicts worry that they have caused this addiction somehow, and to hear that they are powerless over it, is a relief.  We did not cause the addiction, but if we are not careful we become stuck in a toxic, abusive co dependent relationship - an excessive emotional, physical and psychological reliance on a dysfunctional relationship.  But we are also encouraged to detach with love, which is the opposite to co dependency.  We stop entering into the crazy with our addict. To detach with love is to remember that we are not the addiction, we are not responsible, we do not have to collude with the addict and we can still love.  

Finally 

This is what I do now.  If I am asked in the street for money, I give it.  I do not care what it is used for, I have seen how bad not taking a drink or a drug is when withdrawing.  Keeping someone alive for just a bit longer is OK by me, even if it is the pattern of many years.  There is always hope.  And if there is no hope, then whatever happens to me, will not be as bad as that person's life right now.  So I give.

I ask the person's name and look at them.  No one looked at my son, so I look at everyone who asks for money.  On a London underground train, a dishevelled and dirty young man got on, and as they do when the train started, announced to the carriage that he needed money for a hostel.  He was young, his filthy long hair was blond, and he was shaking.  I called him over and asked his name.  Steven, he said.  I gave him money, and blessed him, and he left.  He did not need a hostel, he needed drugs.  Steven was the first person I gave money to in this way, and it did not matter whether he saw me with his sad crazy eyes or not, it did not matter if he noticed the blessing or not, it did not matter if he was grateful or not, it mattered that someone saw him, and treated him as a person.  It is because of Steven that I always respond to requests for money.  Steven could have been my son in those bad days when people looked the other way. 

Addicts and Those Who Love Them

Lou - from the Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition
The exhibition opens in Brighton on Saturday 2 May at the Macmillan Horizon Centre in Brighton as part of the Brighton Fringe. Open from 11 am to 4pm.  

It is showing on the Sunday 3 May and the following weekend Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 May, 11am to 4pm.  Entrance free. You are all most welcome.

The work will continue and I will show with new paintings and words as much as I can over the year.  This is ongoing. 

In order to produce this exhibition, I am asking for donations.  All my work is free, and I do not charge for any part of the exhibition.  Please consider helping with the costs, every bit helps.  Donate as much as you can, every fiver, every donation, goes towards making this exhibition, creating the work, meeting and working with addicts and those who love them.  Many thanks indeed, I am grateful.  Please go to my Go Fund Me page here -
https://www.gofundme.com/f/addicts-and-those-who-love-them



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