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Bits of Rehabs (Part 1)
20 years in and out of rehabs
You’ll often hear addiction experts (by which I mean con-men, illusionists, hustlers, frauds, crooks, swindlers (and a whole load more of the genus ‘purveyors of deception’)) begin their dog-eared, tired, and outdated presentations, by saying things like “People don’t wake up and say I want to be a heroin addict.” He knows this because he read it in a book full of other assumptions, no doubt a book itself constructed from the entire myth, guesswork, and convenient thinking that is the entire discourse we call medicine.
It’s no surprise that the Top Hat became the head-wear of choice for our experts, which arrived during the same historical hour, the ‘fashion’, favored by the three schools of modern medicine: The surgeons, the physicians, and the apothecaries, for it’s where they stored their bullshit, lots of it too, hence the height, and conveniently close to their brains for easy absorption too. Because I did wake up wanting to be a heroin addict, for years. I went to sleep wanting to be one too. The mix and match diet of Weed, Speed, LSD, Cocaine, Crack, and even the demon drink was boring me, it wasn’t hitting the spot, it wasn’t doing what I wanted. I even inhaled Amyl Nitrate and lighter gas occasionally looking for something new and exciting to get me through the horrors of being alive, like getting dressed, eating, washing, working – phew! – you know what I mean, all that grind and effort of just being a presentable human? I wanted something to take it all away. So, it was just a question of finding some and bingo! And one day it came along, Full House! Well, empty house eventually, but you know…
A short, stocky black man gave me the nod on Tottenham court road and I bought a bag of heroin from him, which he spat on the floor after I’d paid him, which I’m sure is some kind of friendly ritual to create a bond. Elder and junior, teacher and student kind of thing. He became my dealer and in a matter of months I was using every day, several times. As many times as I could. As many times as I could blag, con, steal, hustle, get my grubby hands on someone else’s money – and just bloody get some, because it hit the spot; the spot that doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t exist because there’s no drug effect with heroin. It’s a pain killer, both physical and mental, and if you take it and you like it, you’re in trouble. Because now you have access to feeling normal, and for many – those deprived of the phantasy ‘normality’ - that’s just too hard to resist. Some people take heroin, puke a few times, and never want to go there again. Everyone pukes the first few times. It’s kind of painless though, you barely notice it. You just open your mouth and let the bitter, acrid, gush flow. Some people will wipe their mouth, others will just let it dry all around their chin, no reason to worry about it, they’ve forgotten about other people. The little gang with whom I was developing a habit had a bucket and a toilet roll we’d pass round when required, which was frequent, but insignificant. Emptying the 6 liters of fermenting vomit cocktail in the morning wasn’t so insignificant, though. Without the dulling distraction of heroin, you really got to see what kind of a night you lads were having now. It didn’t stop me though, rough with the smooth and all that pazazz.
But, the ones who never did it again, they had no reason to, it didn’t do anything for them. They weren’t broken, they weren’t damaged. They’re weren’t carrying around years of self-hate and no self-esteem. They didn’t live in mental pain, so there was no pain to kill. For them it was just a puking session. But for the fucked-up kids who live every day in a kind of prison of self; it frees them, and they know nothing will ever compete with feeling normal, feeling like everyone else. And that’s why so many junkies will sacrifice everything for it. Their jobs, their families, their health, their children, often their lives. Our experts will tell you, “in the end, heroin addicts will take heroin just to feel normal, the high has gone”. That is the high, swindler, did you ever consider that? Did they not explore that possibility on your six-week, two hours a day course on how to be an addiction key-worker? Plate of biscuits, kettle, “Did you get the milk Jean?”
So, my new dealer, horrible word, acquaintance, nay ‘friend’, who gave me the nod on Tottenham Court Road, was quick to flick a travelcard between his first two fingers towards me but on the floor, gesturing at it as he slowly waddled away. I scraped it off the carpet of chewing gum and associated grime, and noticed the words ‘food’, ‘Gary’, and a phone number, all scrawled in the style of four-year-old, or someone like Gary. I watched him as he disappeared into the foolish, heroinless hordes, our little exotic secret reflected in his shiny gold trousers and red knee length velvet jacket, making him look like a heroin dealer. You’ve got to give a man credit for playing such a clever double bluff. Weird really, the spitting of the heroin bag amongst the dribbled, dropped, stomach churning, discarded MacDonald’s, and pigeon shit combined with the travelcard/business card trick; and it certainly adds an element of surprise to find out he got a police sniper bullet in the face a few Christmases later after being the man at the center of England’s longest armed siege, costing the police 1 million. No shit. Not such a good double bluff after all. And on the twelfth day of Christmas there were no twelve drummers drumming, rather, like I said, a police sniper’s bullet through his face.
His real name was Eli Hall, and I spat my Weetabix across the room when I saw his big ugly mug and little dreadlocks fill the screen. “No way, that’s Gary!” I said to my mum who although sat next to me on the sofa, kind of stared at the screen, more like one would a lava lamp or one of those classy moving paintings from every local Chinese take-away in the world (except China, I’m sure, perhaps they have moving portraits of Eli Hall?). It was a hypnotic experience for her. And at 77 years of age, she can do what she wants. My favourite thing is when she has this little conversation with herself about having another glass of wine, even though the answer is always yes. She frowns, like she’s considering her busy afternoon of watching antiques programs, and how more alcohol might affect it. “Should I have another glass of wine?” she says, as she’s walking to the kitchen with her glass in her hand. Like I said, at 77 she can do what she likes. And I can hear the bottle clink the edge of the glass before what sounds like half a liter of wine pour out. She’s still mumbling about something, almost certainly concerning the pointless acceptability of the glass of wine that suddenly interrupts her mumbling as she pours a load into her face before topping up the glass, a little mumble in between, of course. But like I say, she’s 77, she could walk back into the front room with the bottle held in her mouth by some contraption she bought from Poundland made for alcoholics and septuagenarian widows, and I’d be like, you go, girl.
“The man who kept locals in Hackney terrified (by which they mean totally engrossed and hoping for an automatic weapon shoot-out) for twelve days was today identified as Eli Hall, who after a post-mortem was said to have died due to a shot to the temple from Eli himself” Rather than the police sniper who must have missed his face when shooting him through it. He was wanted for all manner of things, and had a list of previous offenses for firearm and drugs charges. His brother and father were both in prison during the siege, on drugs and firearms charges, family business sort of stuff. Hilariously the police managed to get a live phone call through to Gary (Eli) from the incarcerated father, in the hope he might be able to convince him to surrender. They cut the call off just as his father was shouting ‘Don’t let them take you alive, boy! Don’t let them take……….cut…beeeeep! I quickly disposed of my phone after a couple of friends I’d given Gary’s phone number to were visited by Military Intelligence, Section 5 (AKA MI5) since it was thought young Eli was supplying weapons to terrorists. And I didn’t want mum’s ‘Shall I have another bottle before midday’ routine interrupted by a visit from MI5. I’d already treated her to a handful of police busts, I don’t think she was ready for an upgrade, just yet. And I had about another twenty years of using heroin which would no doubt involve her, so no need to rush.
And yet, it still wasn’t over, there was no killing this man, for over a year later, whilst having a cup of tea by the fire and watching the telly, mum in the kitchen muttering away to herself, well, to her conscience, the sound of glass clinking; “I suppose Barbara could always phone if she needs me to look after the dog” which she’d never done. Glug, glug, glug. I’d entered some kind of transcendent and utterly surreal reality. Because London Tonight, the capital’s news program was reporting on a play hosted by the Tristan Bates Theatre in the West End called ‘Come Out Eli’, an hour or so’s entertainment based on the events of the siege. “See that mum, ‘Culture” I said. “Indeed” she said, instantly pretending to look for something in a pile on envelopes and other paper-based detritus she had beside her end of the sofa, allowing her to distract herself from any life that engaged her, bringing with it the potential of making some kind of, any kind of, demand on her. After nearly fifty years of witnessing this trick, I’m convinced this pile of envelopes, advertising flyers, etc, exists only for this purpose. “Indeed” I repeat back to her, to see exactly how far away she was. Nothing, not even a hint of a response. When her wasted son, but son nonetheless, said ”Culture”, she simply chose the first word that provided an answer but managed to avoid committing to any meaning, and therefore managed to avoid committing to that terrifying situation of having a conversation with her son. I considered actually going to see ‘Come out Eli’ before flicking through the file of papers and envelopes in my mind and forgetting all about it.
I called Gary once, when he was alive, obviously and put in my order for some ‘food’. “Yeah, but you have to meet my girlfriend today, I’m busy” (selling AK47’s to Abdullah Azzam and the like, I guess). Go to the same corner, three o’clock”. Noticing a slight frustration in his voice I had to tread carefully now. He’d hung up in the past if I hadn’t managed to decrypt his almost always cryptic, somewhat poetic plans, and refuse to answer the phone again for days. Having never met Gary’s girlfriend, I was concerned this was going to be a failure, and I had nothing sorted out, and I didn’t fancy a withdrawal all weekend. “How will she know it’s me, I’ll have my hat on”. “Fucking hat”, he laughed. And then these were the last words Gary, our deceased Eli Hall, ever said to me “You can’t miss her, she’s a street bitch”.
What a somewhat protracted departure and lengthy digression into Gary and London’s longest ever armed siege has got to do with a tale of 20 rehabs might at first seem confusing, perhaps indulgent, difficult to join the dots so to speak, yet it’s the perfect example of something you need to understand about heroin if you’re going to appreciate anything from here on in. You see, of all the narcotics, of all the pathetic and contrived cultures that surround each drug, nothing, absolutely naught, comes close to heroin for being bizarre, surreal, violent, stupid, and generally unnecessary. How is it you can buy or sell little bags of speed, weed, cocaine, sheets of LSD blotters, Ecstasy, whatever, with nothing but a few stupid rituals and petty exchanges of power and you’re home and dry. But Heroin? No. Heroin is drama, it’s dripping in it. Because those who buy and those who sell the stuff are so laden with all manner of social problems and deep-rooted personal psychological trauma, what should be a simple process is frequently like trying to get two spastics to play chess on a rollercoaster.
And so it goes, Rehab: Ten, Twenty, sometimes Thirty of such drama-laden and broken people all in a room together spending five hours a day doing group therapy. Half are there, because they were given the choice between rehab or prison, and all of those are regretting that choice and will not make it again when next inevitably standing in front of a judge. Most of these will be gone within a week or so. Have a good use up and hand themselves in to their probation officer Half of the remainders are there to stop their mum crying themselves to sleep every night – which isn’t the same as wanting to stop, it’s nowhere near, in fact it’s the opposite, it’s making them want to use. The more the heroin leaves their body the more they realize what they’ve become and how their mothers cry all the time they are not there to see it. There’s usually one or two women who look like Gollum, and each carries a worn and faded photo of themselves ‘before the gear’, when they were models, croupiers, escorts – something pretty. Now, their skeletal, forty-kilogram bodies, ten kilos of which being their eyes that protrude from their fleshless face like a movie prop, insectoid and forever on the lookout. They’ll never feel whole again, for they want something that doesn’t exist; a life that isn’t theirs, that’s theirs. It’s like they’re always looking for it, and have a phantasy one day it will approach them and they’ll be ready to pounce. So apart from those huge sniper’s eyes, the rest of their body shakes as they smoke another hand-rolled cigarette down to the lip burning butt, barely the strength to keep both arms up at the same time to roll another. The sadists who run these places have deliberately arranged these two to be there at the same time and already it’s working/failing. They ignore each other so as not to recognize themselves, so no doubt the camp guards will put them together in a room, a ‘truth project’, a ‘goals group’, something, anything to give them a taste of the trauma, the hiding of which has totally consumed their lives, and it’s going to take more than sitting around talking about guilt with a human mirror for thirty minutes a day to even begin to get a glimpse of the depths of the horror inside.
They’re only here – like most - due to a series of decisions from a series of other people who had no idea what else to do with them. Passed from one useless department to another, where nothing and no one was able or even interested in helping. Very few people who work with addicts actually care about them. They may have done once. But having seen thousands processed through the machine and then fail, and the stench of their clothes, that never change, never get washed, that hang off the bodies of people who make demands and get angry and leave a trail of self-pity behind them. They’re sick of them. After a few months it’s just a cushy job, where people are administrated and sent elsewhere. They barely even notice them anymore, as they try to get through the next form that gets the smelly, gaunt, wreck one step nearer to somewhere and someone else. And if they can keep it up at this rate, they might be able to get home in time for their favourite soap opera and a couple of bottles of wine.
From here to there, to him to her “I remember you” (she doesn’t, and neither cares), different directions, another form, some details, and bingo, that good old Form A345/dd and she’s off – passed on into the ether of drug treatment again. The junkies are used to it, it’s in their blood now, mixed with the heroin; and as much as heroin is their life, so is all this nonsense. It’s part of their addiction now, it’s part of all addiction now, that’s the results of over half a century of drug treatment, and they’ve made it worse. And they will continue to make it worse. That’s drug treatment: How to make the shameful insanity of your ‘disease’, worse. The top-hats have gone, but the bullshit is in the books now. They wrote it down and passed it on. Not waving, but not drowning either – you don’t get out of it that easy. Just standing waist deep in the cold, dirty water, fully dressed, asking yourself questions that make you cry.
The global army of opioid ghosts, wandering like the undead, only changing direction when necessary, otherwise they’d walk and walk until one day they’d fall, flop down and knowing it’s their last breath they’d take a chance and wonder – just briefly - if this was living.
It’s a system so lost, so void of motivation, knowledge, understanding and of course – money - without any other choices left has thrown them back into rehab, where they’ve spent most of their lives since they were nineteen. It’s not just The System’s fault though. It’s obligatory for addicts to go to rehab regularly, just to show someone, that one person left in their life, that they do want to stop. Even our twin-like wraiths, who get called out in group every day for trying to save others. “You two are rescuers, that’s what it’s called, you try to rescue other people to distract yourself from yourself” And as a crude an analysis it is, it’s a regular occurrence, and always females. They’ll care for others but not themselves. So, even these two, who in a blink you can see covered in blood with a knife in their shivering hands, straddling the body of the same person they went to rehab for, the true object of their entire mess of a life, naked, slashed, punctured some fifty times, and dead. For girls like these, rehab is a mental hospital for a crime they’re yet to do.
Junkies are at home at rehab. Another place they don’t want to be, doing things they don’t want to do with people they don’t like. These two girls who ask me questions, any questions, bizarre questions ‘Where did you get your jeans?” One will say, “I had a pair like that once” the other says. They don’t want to engage with each other. And they’ll do everything they’re told even down to admit they like it there, and they feel optimistic they can make changes in their lives until it’s time to leave and they’ll take the money they’ve saved up from letters from mum and go and score, finally friends, finally communicating, finally having a reason to know the other one. And in thirty minutes or so after leaving after what appeared a perfect three-month rehab, one’s got her trousers and knickers around her ankles, fiddling around for her femoral vein amongst the scars and bruises, the other with her dress hitched up and held in her teeth, fiddling for her femoral vein, or at least the tatty, infected, soon to require an amputation remains of her femoral vein. They’re sharing a bag between them in a bus shelter while an old woman who watched her husband go off to fight the war - and never come back - will maintain her forward stare, pretending nothing out of the ordinary is happening, but gripping her shopping slightly tighter between her calf muscles. The one who finished is now helping the other one who can’t seem to get a hit. There are trails of blood running right down to her knees. “I’ve got it” she says and pushes a needle in a vein two inches from the spiky pubic hair of the other one’s cunt, and between them they let out a groan that’s the nearest the war widow has been to something sexual in sixty years.
Another year, another rehab, somewhere near Bournemouth I think and there’s a couple of youngsters signing in for their first day. Two boys, teenagers, children really, and they don’t really have the look of Junk yet, the aura of utter failure, but it’s near, it’s lingering, it’s got them in its sights but nowhere near their bones. They don’t yet have a molecular level relationship with heroin. There’s a special sadness with these lads, since they still stand a chance. They’re maintaining a semblance of a normal life, “Just a bit here and there” Like we all started. These types have sneaked a few drugs in and are going to get clean, ‘The Using Way’. They’re funny really, not realizing how much a couple of blokes gouching on heroin looks like a couple of blokes gouching on heroin in a room of twenty people withdrawing from heroin and other drugs. The best bit is the first time they’re required to speak, when the councilors – and everyone else - is onto them. She asks the most basic question in the world: “How are you today, Keith?” And Keith, who just 30 minutes ago was injecting heroin, in his natural habitat of a toilet, and popping a couple of diazepam, (to help with getting clean), says the one line that seals the deal, and in five minutes he's signing his discharge papers having lasted approximately twelve minutes in his first rehab, before being discharged for using. He answered “It’s like a dream shared between Baudelaire and Bataille”, and his mate, just the one eye open asks Keith if he’s got a spare lighter.
All types, really, in various stages of the void, that just goes down and down. So, what can you do when you’re tumbling into the endless void? Take more. That will save you. All negotiating the contradiction of giving up the one thing that gives them any peace. At some point I’ve been most of these, and more. Because after that first one, aged twenty-four, when my mum packed 20 bars of chocolate that were immediately confiscated (and not returned) My Rehab career went on for over 20 years, and over 20 rehabs.
Yes, I got burnt. Because when I sneered at the expert because I did wake up thinking I wanted to be a heroin addict, I wasn’t lying. I definitely wanted to be a heroin addict. The little problem in my plan turned out to be quite significant, not so little at all. It’s all very well wanting to be something, but I didn’t know what one was. I’d read Burroughs, De Quincy, Baudelaire, Denis Johnson. And more. I’d lapped them up. I wanted to be a heroin addict you see. But to make such a decision on the back of a few books is like reading gardener’s weekly and deciding I wanted to be a cactus. And because of that little oversight I’ve spent two thirds of my adult life addicted to heroin, addicted to drama. And had I known what being a heroin addict actually comprised of, what it actually meant, and some of the details, maybe, just maybe, I might have woken up thinking about something else.
There are in fact two rehabs. There’s ‘rehab’ rehab, where you go for at least 3 months and I know of more than a couple of places where you stay for a year (Whooosh!) and there’s rehab which is actually a Detox Center, where you go for an absolutely pointless three of four weeks just to taper down to when you’re feeling your absolute worst, and that’s that, it’s off to ‘rehab’ rehab, if you’ve got the money, or they’ve managed to find you a place in some HNS Hell-hole, or just, “shut the door on the way out”, where you immediately run into a gaggle of junkies here to see their keyworkers before scoring, with you now, without a doubt. Just a treat though, just a little ‘well done’ bag for getting clean. Until you wake up the next day in a soaked with sweat bed in your mum’s house and suddenly it hits you, you’re not meant to be using today, or ever again. Makes you laugh, really, because that’s exactly what you’ll be doing, scoring, using, and before you’ve opened your eyes you’re working out where you’re going to get the money from.
So, when I say I’ve been to 20 rehabs it might be more, it might be less, and I don’t know my distribution of ‘rehab’ rehabs and detox centers, although certainly more ‘rehab’ rehabs, than detox centers, but it’s just a blur of disgusting places full of literature about God, and the permanent and somehow seemingly always increasing smell of cleaning products from another era. So, to keep things simple, unless it’s necessary or adds to the story, I’m just going to say rehab, it’s the aim of both anyway, to rehabilitate you; to bring you back to normal. But not ‘normal’ normal.
Laughter is essential, and always creeping up on you. The staff hate it, you’re supposed to be suffering. So, you’ve just got to be able to control it, hide it, save it for safe moments when the Stasi thought-police aren’t on the lookout for the likes of people making jokes. But if you don’t hide it, and if you pick the worst moment possible, you’re going to have to play it very cleverly “I didn’t know what to do, or what to say, it was all so beyond normality. Let me apologise to her, I wasn’t laughing at her. “Her” in this context was a girl called Anna, who’s dead now. She was a body builder, which is always attractive in women, you know, masculinity, but quite successful I think, it’s really hard to tell. But her and her boyfriend were Mr and Mrs Natural UK, or something like that, and she’d show us photos of the two of them long before we found out this story, and she did it with pride and a sense of achievement. So, the day came when it was Anna’s turn to read her life story. Everyone has to do it, and they’re hideous collection of sexual abuse, neglect, violence and such an endless series of human maltreatment I tried to tune out most of the time, so painful were the lives of these strange people who ended up here, for what become obvious reasons. It’s quite the piece of writing, a page a year – can you image, in rehab at forty plus, some in their seventies. I got so bored with writing the same thing at least twice a year I just photocopied mine from aged thirty and added the years on (largely fictional so as not to draw any unnecessary attention to me.) as and when required.
So, after what was basically a teenage love story and tales of pumping iron for increasingly sized medals, Mr Natural UK decided it would be a good idea to inject the drunk and passed out Mrs Natural UK with Nubain (nalbuphine hydrochloride) a synthetic opioid agonist antagonist (basically they tried (again) to make an opiate that was less likely to be abused. Heroin was invented because they thought it would be less addictive than morphine. Nice try. Anyway, he’d jack her up with Nubain and all his friends would fuck her. The problem, I should say solution, was the agonist antagonist feature of Nubain was doing its job and rapidly failing to adequately sedate Mrs Natural, and before long she told her friends and family what was happening. She didn’t have the strength to do anything about it at the time, but she knew what was happening and had full memories of the events. So, one afternoon Mr and Mrs Natural UK were round at Mrs Natural UK’s house with her mother and father, Mr Natural UK’s brother and Mrs Natural UK spilled the beans. Including playing five minutes of audio from her iPhone that she’d managed to arrange in her lessened sedated state. Mr Natural UK went into a mad denial, one which allowed him to get the fuck out of there as quick as possible. He made his way down to the train tracks, drunk a bottle of vodka and laid across the tracks. Nothing in the slightest funny about that. But when she said they only buried his head and feet, an alcoholic called Dave, who arrived the day before, and was sitting next to Anna, tried to say something, anything, just to cut the horrible silence, to disturb the solid reality of human viciousness, said “At least it was a small coffin, they don’t come cheap”. And I had to leave the room, laughter then would have been an expulsion for sure, so I did what I thought would be best, and at the same time managed to avoid the rest of what was certainly not a pleasant story.
Of course, they were going to be pissed with me, and come down hard, but I knew I could play it. I was confident I could blame it on the weirdness of Dave’s comment, and the jarring quality of it after the terrible experience of Anna. It worked. They’re dumb.
(Click HERE for Part Two)