Everywhere I look today people are judging. Peaches Geldof’s death and subsequent inquest into it have been in the news again in the last couple of days. I’ve tried not to read too much about it, beside a news report from a somewhat more reputable news outlet. I’m not weighing into the rights and wrongs. What I will say is there’s two little boys who will have a life of wondering what their mum was like. Because, no matter how much someone tells you about a person, if you never knew them, or were too young to remember them, you always wonder. I speak with a little experience there, as both my Grandfather’s died long before I was born.
What I will write about is addiction. I’m not an addict. I don’t seem to have whatever it is in my psyche that makes me go mad for substances, be they legal or otherwise. I’ve never had any interest in trying illicit substances. I have the occasional drink, but it’s so infrequent that when I asked my doctor what I should write on a form if the least often option was monthly or not at all, she said to tick not at all! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a glass of wine or cider from time to time, but more than a glass or two and I seem to feel like I’ve had way more than I have, and I pay for it badly the next day. Having said all that, I have seen a number of addicts fairly close up. Alcohol is the main offender, but smoking is a close second. And, sadly, I have seen a recovering drug addict dealing with the fallout from that too. I saw a former friend change after using Ice just once. Then she continued to use and and become more and more erratic.
Both sides of my family have addicts. Again, either alcohol or smoking. Both have caused major issues where I’m concerned. A close family member is a serious alcoholic. It’s difficult to have a normal conversation with him at any time now, but after about mid afternoon, I try not to answer his calls, as it really is too much for me to deal with. I know there are reasons why people turn to drugs and alcohol. Often, there’s a history of abuse of trauma, and they find that the drink makes them feel better, or maybe the drugs numb the pain. That’s speculation on my part. But I know in the case of this family member, there was abuse as a child, and the heavy drinking is a result of that. He has only admitted this once. At the same time he said he sometimes has dreams and nightmares of the abuse. He is often also very violent, usually when he’s been drinking, but not always. Rage and impulse control are a big issue. But that’s a chicken or the egg question. I think he was like that prior to starting drinking, but the drink worsens it.
I’ve watched other close family members try, and fail to stop smoking. Try and fail over and over. What it came down to was being in a good headspace, and really wanting too. But even then, some traces of the desire to smoke linger.
There is some element of choice in quitting any addiction. Robert Downey Jnr talked about it when he finally got clean. But how many times did he try (often albeit court ordered) and wind up with yet another mug shot?
Drug and alcohol addictions take their toll on the addicts bodies. Every part of the body is affected. In alcoholics, it’s often the liver that packs up, and often with few symptoms until there’s a significant amount of damage. Alcohol dementia is another scary long term affect of heavy drinking.
I knew a recovering drug addict. Not what you’d expect. Or maybe it’s not that surprising. Their former life had been as a busy professional. A registered nurse. Working in a small hospital, not huge pressure, things went well. When a transfer to a large hospital happened, something went wrong. Whether it dragged up already existing issues, or whether there was a trauma there, I don’t know. But their life spiraled out of control. Crystal Meth was the bastard. Injected. This person was eighteen months clean when they fell ill with what they thought was flu. I knew it sounded like more than flu. Their body, although clean, had been damaged and weakened by the drugs, and four days later, was dead. The paramedics did everything they possibly could. They were visibly distressed by what they were dealing with. I note here, paramedics see it all, and their professionalism, care, and the attempts four of them made to save this person will stay with me until my last breath.
The coroner in the Peaches Geldof case, Roger Hatch, noted that she had tried to get clean. “Someone who stops or ceases to use heroin then resumes is less able to tolerate the levels they previously had.”
The fastest growing group of drug users in Australia in recent years has been slightly older, professional people, perhaps with a slightly larger disposable income. Sometimes they’re parents of young kids. But whether they have children or not, there will be people in their lives who are hurting due to their addiction, even if it’s just seeing the damage the user or addict is doing to themselves.
People with addictions rarely kick them on their first try. Often it’s years and years and multiple attempts.
Addictions don’t only hurt the addict, they hurt everyone close to them. In the case of children old enough to have experienced a parents addiction to drugs or alcohol, they will often be emotionally scarred by what they’ve experienced.
What I’m trying to say is, addictions are complex. And there’s lots of reasons why people try drugs or drink to excess regularly. It’s too easy to say “just don’t try the drugs in the first place” or “you can’t get addicted after just one hit or one drink”. That’s not true. It’s been believed for a lot of years that it only takes one taste for some people to be hooked.
I’m grateful that with so many other things I have to deal with, I don’t have an addiction adding to it.
Addictions can be overcome. But it’s a long and painful road. It’s not something that can be done alone. Judging people doesn’t help anyone. If anything, it will only alienate the judger from the judgee. I feel the need to quote, or at least paraphrase the Big Yin himself, and former addict, Billy Connolly “walk a mile in their shoes. If you don’t like it, you’re a mile away and you have the guys shoes!”
No one likes being judged. And no one knows what’s going on in anyone else’s heads. Try to be understanding. We’re all fighting some sort of battle. Some are just having a much bigger fight than others.
Alcoholics Anonymous Australia aa.org.au Phone our national helpline number 1300 22 22 22* and your call will be routed to your nearest local AA office or contact
Narcotics Anonymous Australia na.org.au
Quitline Australia http://www.quitnow.gov.au/ 13 78 48
Lifeline Australia https://www.lifeline.org.au/