Saturday, 27 March 2021

Observing addiction.

Addicts And Those Who Love Them.  Behind every addict is someone traumatised by loving them. 


It's their own damn fault.

Addicts have only themselves to blame.  It is their own fault, they knew what they were getting into.  Addicts need a good long jail sentence, keep them off the streets and teach them a lesson.  If we are tough enough with them, they will learn. 

I changed my mind about this a few years ago when waiting in a methadone clinic for the person I was accompanying to receive their script. I sat in a shabby waiting area watching people come in for one of their twice daily dose, some sitting in the seats available, some standing, some talking loudly to each other.  All trying to be normal. As time went by, those who had not yet been seen became agitated, began to shake, get angry, and walk about with increasing anxiety.  One or two began to shout and then apologise, and shout again.  It was very unsettling to be sitting there, people not seen quickly enough were unraveling.  It felt dangerous despite the very prominent and bored security staff standing around.

Some time before, watching them drift into the clinic, it seemed many were trying to act normal as if it gets you seen quickly and out of there.  They were so obviously not normal.  Methadone is a legal heroin substitute given to addicts to keep them from buying illegal drugs.  The amount given is scrupulously administered by doctors and chemists by appointment only after having been assessed, documented and accepted onto the programme.  If you miss your appointment, you are back to square one.  Start again.  What I have seen of addicts is that keeping appointments, being in any way regular, playing the game and ticking boxes, is as easy for them as going to the moon.  They are chaotic, utterly driven by their addictions, unbalanced, and completely unreliable.  But when they need their next dose of whatever it is they need, acting normal is very hard, and they are not very nice.  This is how some turn up for their next methadone appointments.  And many use methadone and heroin and whatever else is going, so the withdrawals they are experiencing when they come for their next script may be from much more than the methadone they are wanting now. 

As with many of these clinics, on the day I was accompanying someone, there was much waiting around, appointments delayed without notice, and frustrations with communications.  I watched one man lose his cool and shout that he needed his stuff now.  He swore and shook and looked as if he would punch anyone who came too close.  He needs his methadone, I thought, then he will be OK.  Others began to argue with the receptionist, with each other, and claimed medical emergencies, needing attention now.  Those that got their script took it with staff watching in a side room set up with protective plastic paneling to protect the person measuring out the bright green methadone into little medicine pots, to be taken there and then.  There were, it seemed at least twice the amount of people turning up for their doses than were appointments.  It was probably true, people suffering withdrawals knew that methadone was being given out here, and addicts will do and try anything to get some stuff. 

I thought, no one cares.  This is not good.  No one cares.

What I think now. 

What can anyone do?


Just another overdose.

The staff at that clinic were doing their best and had to deal with deeply unbalanced, violent, mentally unstable and physically dependent people all day every day.  The tidal wave of addiction is left to a few professionals who struggle without resources and often give up.  Programmes set up to help addicts wither away through lack of funding and interest and disappear.  No one wants to deal with it, it is an insane problem, and drugs and alcohol are too easy to get hold of.  The culture around using and drinking is too seductive and the sad truth is that so many take drugs to self medicate due to intolerable mental health conditions, and appalling lives.  Drugs and alcohol work.  They make the pain go away, they make you invincible and feel great, until they don't any more.  Even then, when they don't make the pain go away like they used to, they still do enough and the physical and mental dependence is so staggeringly powerful that it is next to impossible to stop.  And if an addict does manage to stop, what in their lives will fill the void that drink and drugs has left?  Life and reality is just too hard.  Getting clean and sober is only a small part of the journey.  Once done, the rest of an addicts life and existence is overshadowed by the craving to go back to the certainty of what they knew worked.  Even if an addict wants and needs to recover from active addiction, it may take many tries, many failures and much despair.  It also takes a huge amount of support, patience and understanding from other people who understand what it is like.  Mostly, you and I could not support alone if someone we knew wanted to get clean and sober.  We need the help of other addicts in recovery and professionals who can help with the pain of the journey, especially in the early stages of recovery, and afterwards too. 

An addict told me once that a big part of his using experience was planning to get his fix.  Making the call, going to get it, holding it, anticipating the preparation and finally the consumption.  His life was narrowed down to using, tracking down the next fix, anticipating it and using again.  And so on.  There is a video of Russell Brand watching a video of himself shooting up many years before he managed to go into recovery and become clean.  He was shown the video as a reminder of how far he has come, but his reaction was of envy for that feeling, that experience, and how the video of himself shooting up made him long to do it again.  He wanted to be that old version of himself at that moment, despite knowing all that he had to go through to become clean.  Needless to say, Russell Brand understood this reaction, it did not harm him at all.

 What I think now is that addiction is as much a scourge as ever.  An addict is manipulative, cunning, and vicious, taking no responsibility at all for anything.  They are liars, thieves, cheats and without conscience. 

And, they are lost, still themselves, regretful, ashamed, vulnerable, overwhelmed and traumatised.  Whatever made them become addicts in the first place is very possibly pain, abuse, poor mental health, isolation and more pain.  The addict that I accompanied on that afternoon to the clinic to get his methadone is all of the crazy things, the bad things, but is also clever, compassionate, funny and longs to be free of all this.  But at the moment, he does not long for it enough.  He can be wonderful with other suffering addicts, and can listen with great kindness to people who are in deep distress with mental health problems.  I once observed him listening to and comforting a frightened young man who was hearing terrible voices, keeping him from running off to do himself harm.  

Addicts And Those Who Love Them

Ian. Has a degree, runs relapse prevention programmes to help others after thirty years of addiction.

I am someone who loves an addict.  I do not like the addict nor the addiction, but I love the addict.  It has been a long hard journey which has not ended and we, I, have no idea how far along the road we are.  I have had to find a way to accept that it may end badly, and though the addict is not too bothered about it, I am.  However, one thing I know about being alongside addiction is that it is not my journey.  Two things that spring to mind from the Alcoholics Anonymous model which I think are vital for survival are, that I am powerless over anyone else's addiction, and that I must detach with love. The detaching with love part comes with the following advice - that we should not cause a crisis but we should also not get in the way of one if it is naturally occurring. How difficult is that.  We have to remember that we cannot rescue, and if we do, we enable.  Hard stuff. We also have to remember that if our addict wants to recover, that we support and do what we can, remembering our boundaries and never giving up hope.  After all, despite all the trauma, crime, destruction and abuse with and from our addicts, who they once were is still in there somewhere.  I carry an image in my head that an addict is only small in size compared to their addiction which towers over them, more than four times their size, and is very much in control.  It often does not end well, though there are enough for whom there is recovery of sorts, and a new chance for us to keep hoping.

I am currently creating Addicts And Those Who Love Them, an exhibition of portraits and words. (Ian pictured above is part of it). Behind every addict is someone traumatised by loving them.  Parents, siblings, friends, lovers, spouses and children, all caught up in the cycle of destruction and despair and learning how to survive. I wanted to find people affected by a loved one's addiction and ask them, how do you feel?  What do you want to say about this?  I have painted portraits of people in active addiction, people in recovery and people behind the addict who despite all the madness, the destruction and the lies, still love them.  This does not necessarily mean they allow them in their homes, does not mean they can help them, it may mean instead that they have nothing to do with them in order to survive.  I have met other people in my situation, heard stories of sadness, of loss of hope and loss of life;  stories of redemption, of recovery and stories of ups and downs and the constant not knowing how things will end from both addict and the people that love them.  I have written their words on the portraits. I wanted to do something about the things I have seen and experienced with addiction, and what I do is create art.  I want to show the faces of people living through addiction, and write what that they say about it.

The Addicts And Those Who Love Them exhibition will open on Monday 7 June as part of the Brighton Fringe.  It will be held at the Fishing Quarter Gallery along the seafront, and run until the Sunday 13 June.  Entrance is free.  You are all so welcome.  If you have a story to tell of addiction - yours or someone you love, feel free to contact me.  If it is appropriate for me to use it in the exhibition, with your permission, I will do so.

Angel Addict.  
Addicts have only themselves to blame.  It is their own fault, they knew what they were getting into.  Addicts need a good long jail sentence, keep them off the streets and teach them a lesson.  If we are tough enough with them, they will learn.  Not quite.  Most of us have never seen the suffering of withdrawal  The physical and mental torment of an addict who needs a fix and cannot get one.  We judge from the comfort of our lives where we have no conception of how it feels.  If an addict asks me in the street for money, I give it.  I do not care that it will be spent on a fix.  I have seen the madness of helpless withdrawal and it is not, in my opinion, for me to pass by saying no.   

I once knew a young nurse of great compassion, who put a small bottle of alcohol in the hands of a tramp who was fitting through withdrawal, because she knew he would probably die.  She had seen how people like him fare in A&E, and so made this decision.  I would paint her, if I could find her. 

I will be creating a crowd funding page to help with the costs of this exhibition.  I do not charge for this work, costs are covered through donations. I will launch a Go Fund Me page in early April, watch out for it. 










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