SO HERE I AM WITH MY DEAR FAMILY a good four hours' journey from home (I know you Aussies and Canadians will laugh; but in Britain that's a long, long way!) In fact very few journeys in the average Brit's lifetime (so long as they are within the UK) will take much longer than four or five hours ...
Anyhow I arrive and the first withdrawals have already crept up on me on the train. So I'm shivering and hot and getting the shivers and yet sweating all the more. Which is a really horrible state to be in; trust me. It's not just that the body's going haywire but sweating when you're already cold can become an agonizing experience. As the withdrawal progresses it's like stripping layer after layer off your own skin, off your resistence to the world's minor irritations. Which is why, as I mention, the sweats became like an "agony" ~ the threshold of discomfort of any kind plummets. That fairytale "The Princess and the Pea" might well have been written about a detoxing royal junkie, because the author's point about luxury lowering tolerance to suffering and all suffering being relative is very much applicable to the heroin addict's self-inflicted lot.
Even the medical text I once consulted conceded that junkies in withdrawal tend to be majorly tormented by minor discomforts. This may well have been the same text that counselled nurses not to be overly concerned by the impossibly accelerating anxiety and agonizing withdrawal sickness of any opiate addict no matter what the length or degree of their addiction and to remind the patient that although these symptoms feel very distressing and unpleasant at times they always pass within a matter of days and have never killed anyone. In other words: be patronizing and dismissive and unaware of the fact that if heroin withdrawals could indeed kill a great many more addicts would be willing to suffer them. At least that way, a clearly positive outcome might be in sight.
Some drugs do present complications in withdrawal: benzodiazepines (Valium and most modern sleeping pills) can bring on seizures if withdrawn too rapidly. As can alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal in particular can elecit the most florid hallucinations atop mental confusion (delirium tremens; the so-called DTs). But it's because a detoxing heroin addict generally loses the will or capacity to drink ~ and frequently tends to cut out all drugs together at the same time if they are going to brave the full-on "cold turkey" ~ that all manner of phenomena tend to get blamed on withdrawal from heroin that actually have nothing (directly) to do with it.
OK AND BACK TO MY OWN STORY, it soon proved that the methadone I had brought with me would nowhere near be enough to last the week. So, having thought the matter through, and realizing that to take a pitifully small dose of methadone would put me in the worst of both worlds (as I saw it then) ~ ie still being addicted and yet not being held ~ that I poured the entire lot down the toilet. Watched as the water in the bowl went a mouthwash shade of green and promptly flushed all this away in case the urge to scoop it back in a cup should seize me (addiction is a powerful motivator). Now I had to option but to stick to my resolve to come off "cold turkey" ...
"Junk" sickness comes on agonizingly slowly and refuses to hurry. It is an expert torturer. Having said this: within 24 hours my pupils had gone enormous, I was sopping wet with sweat all over. "Cold turkey" was getting into full swing. What I hadn't counted on, however, was a restlessness of mind and body so extreme that at the peak of the experience I could barely stay still for longer than 20 seconds. My mind raced uncontrollably. Ideas of all varieties whirling about me in a tornado. My anxiety was extreme. I could focus on nothing for longer than a handful of seconds. My moods flew up down and sideways. At one point my mind was rushing so quickly I felt like I was flying.
My family, of course, hadn't a clue what was wrong. And I refused to admit the reason for my odd behaviour until three days into this admittedly farcical scene. What caught their attention, far more than those supposed "flu-like symptoms" I'd been conditioned to expect (anyway, the worst of these ~ the cramps and vomiting ~ I managed to control with hysocine (scopolamine) travel sickness pills. What grabbed their attention was my frenzied, pointless, restlessness. There seemed no earthly reason for this. When my Dad suggested it might be "drugs" I countered, "who on earth would take a drug that would make them feel like this?" and for the time being that particular subject had a lid on.
At this point in time I had been "dabbling" in heroin for over three years. Had been using daily for several months; and though it's hard to state precisely how long becuase inherent to the state of addiction, as I've already stated, is massive self-deception, I did manage to pinpoint at the time that I'd been using on a daily basis for at least six months when I made this concerted attempt to come off.
My point here is that the withdrawals I went through, though intensely nasty to me, were nothing compared to the syndrome that might well confront me ~ with literally years of heroin plus a tankerfull of methadone ~ were I to try and come off cold today ...
"Cold turkey" ~ incidentally ~ is more the media's expression than one that junkies might use. (London junkies, anyhow. I can't vouch for the rest of this cruel, wide world!) Junkies themselves might use the term "clucking" or "doing your cluck" ~ yes I know how laughable that sounds: I've laughed at it myself. But that's the language heroin addicts use.
Anyhow, now that heroin is available round the clock from a great many dealers and the days when you had your "man" and stayed loyal to him and might even have to go for days at a time without when droughts hit the city and "the man" couldn't "get" ... these days, when cold turkey was a fact of life, have long gone. In fact I seriously doubt whether many of the younger addicts today have even done a straightforward "cluck" as I did at least go through to the bitter end (I did eight or nine days clean) ... the modern-day addict in the west is coddled from the worst consequences of his addiction and so not only receives a mixed message from society that with one breath condemns his actions and threatens conviction, fines, imprisonment ... and yet with the next condones them, offering clean needle exchange, easy access to methadone (that you can go on and on using on top of) and so on. A thoroughly confusing point of view. Though I'm not saying the situation in South East Asia (or even in America) is in any way desirable.
Merely to do the proper "cold turkey" you need certain facilities in place. First of these is a place to stay well away from all your druggie connexions. If you don't have this and attempt coming off in your normal milieu unless God grants a miracle, you're pretty much doomed from the start. No way will you see the withdawals though.
Addiction erodes willpower in a way thta's near-impossible to explain to a nonaddict. For one thing one's desire to clean up actually increases once you've had a lovely great shot of the drug. This is because once high and distanced from the details of life cleaning up seems as straightforward as it is desirable. When in fact it is not straightforward at all. Because an entire life must be substituted new for old in almost every detail. The less high you are. The more straight. The more under the weather beneath straight that you get as the last of the last hit trickles from your system your brain only turns with single-minded fixation to obtaining more of the drug and using it and contriving always to have more to use when you need it. As the author of a junk memoir put it (my paraphrase) ... "I was never so minded to get clean as when I was dirty" ... that's pretty much it in a nutshell. But straight people would assume it's the other way round. How can it be. You cannot be hooked on a drug without first loving it. Any addict who pretends they hate their drug of choice is a liar! You can get tired of it the way you get tired of a longterm spouse. But you gotta love the stuff at some time. Otherwise how on earth are you gonna get hooked in the first place!?!
Over time, heroin seeps under your skin, eventually, to all intents and purposes, becoming your skin, as it sets up home in brain and body. And all wellbeing and all normality come eventually to depend on heroin's compelling presence in your body, you find yourself in due course utterly hijacked by the substance that once added life's spice. Now, it's somehow become a substance for life itself. All the emotional stability that I, at long last, seemed to have gained in my life, I suddenly realized ~ had been built on a foundation of heroin. Without heroin I was in such a bad way I felt I'd never cope with life on it's own demanding terms ever again. Indeed, life without heroin seemed like a black hole, a dreadful, intolerable void stretching forever and destroying all who entered in. When this hit me I basically flipped my lid and, panicking and full of suicidal ideas, detarmined my only option was to get back home and get myself killed by an express train. I ate a miserable last supper and kept as composed as possible all the way to the station. The physical withdrawals had by now faded (I was a good week clean if not longer) ~ but my mind was still in tatters.
Before I did the nasty deed I would use just once more, to straighten myself out.
The drug worked.
In fact it worked a seeming miracle. All deathwishes ceased.
All I'd done in attempting to quit, it transpired, was to seal with myself a new pact and resolution. I knew beyond any doubt now that I was an addict. And finally I understood the debt I owed heroin for the nominal security in life I enjoyed once I was dosed up. From now on: I cold not stop. I could only go on using. Because heroin had saved me. If it hadn't done it's favour and made me feel so good now, I would surely be dead. That was the deal I made with heroin. Or heroin made with me. Simple ~ uh?
And what the future held ~ God only knew ...
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