The Key to the Doors of Perception / with Be

The conversation Zack Zdrale

BE and I met, lived and worked in a multiple recording studio complex which doubled as a party venue in the late nineties. We both played in bands and recorded and produced music. We used heroin and crack together. He is now clean and a qualified professional. This is our first proper conversation since those days.

 Addict2016: Are you currently using?

BE: I smoke cigarettes and drink about five nights a week.

Addict2016: We used heroin, crack and other things together at the turn of the century. How would you describe the way you ‘fell’ into heroin use?

BE: Accidental. I got given a tiny bit to help me sit for twelve hours soldering a loom for a studio. Worked a treat! Then I lived in LA with someone I didn’t know was a regular user, and ended up sitting in car parks waiting for the man every morning. The front cover of Beck’s first album? We were there every day. Then, I lived in a place where drug use was rife and I think I ended up, due to general dissatisfaction with my music work, in a triumvirate of the heaviest users…you were one of them. Peter Perret from the Only Ones told me that nobody sets out to be a junkie – he was right, of course.

Addict2016: Indeed. There would be few addicts if it was a lifestyle choice. I too was dissatisfied with the music I was creating and had found no answer to the emptiness of the universe. However, there was a sordid glamour to it all and I was a bit in awe of you and G. We were taking cocktails of many different drugs but heroin made everything stop for a while for me.

BE: For me it made it continue. Crack, coke etc. notwithstanding, heroin kept me (generally!) awake but anaesthetised to the pain of dissatisfaction. I did glory to some extent in the extremity of it all – surrounded by what your average Daily Mail reader would have seen as capital offences – all day, every day.

Addict2016: The place we lived and worked in was full of beautiful, creative people, most of whom were using drugs. It was the music business so all was accepted and expected. It was only when I began using heroin and crack that my friends disapproved – friends with whom I used cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and alcohol. I could not see the difference. It became a philosophical debate about good and bad drugs. I believed that if you do something every day you are an addict or on your way to being one; the substance was irrelevant. I now believe they are very different and that the approach to the treatment of alcoholics and illegal drug users must be different. I felt that heroin and crack set the three of us apart. I enjoyed this.

BE: I remember coming to see you after I quit. At your flat, wherever it was, there was vomit round toilet bowl, black carbon smears everywhere, but no, you didn’t have any! It was really obvious Andy. You really didn’t want me there. I was clearly an intruder – stopping you getting on with your love affair.

Addict2016: Complete denial. Addicts all live in denial. That Hoxton flat was a very dark place. Most of my friends had turned away because I had stopped caring about anything. I was alone, except for G, with heroin. I hated myself and everything else.

BE: Me too. I remember one particular week when a sound engineer friend, HUGE coke user, invited me for lunch or dinner almost every day. He was concerned because he’d smelled heroin around where I lived. I suspect my band mates and other friends, all massive coke; cannabis and alcohol users, had elected him to play Dad. It just made me laugh, take the free food – I even made myself able to eat a lot, so if he thought I’d be cheap smack date I could shit on that idea and his/their good intentions! I never heard from him directly again after that week, though we met often and he was always coked. Aggressive. Antagonistic. In denial. I guess all the things I must once have been.

Addict2016: There was extreme anger at us from friends using lots of cocaine and alcohol.

BE: I revelled in the hypocrisy.

Addict2016: I always felt that their anger came from the denial of their own usage and possibly addictions. We knew we were scum but it was the same beast. Good drugs – bad drugs. I was sat down and given a good talking to by my fellow band-mates. It made me very angry – even though I knew it came from love. No free lunch for me!

BE: I’m not sure anyone who “only” did the other drugs even considered the concept of addiction. In fact, I’m not convinced that some people who spent a house on coke, me included, were ever addicted. When I stopped doing what? Three grams a day after ten years? I just stopped. Then again, it took the rest of our gang a year to realise I wasn’t buying or sharing anymore and to stop sticking it in my face! And before you go down the path I think you might, bear in mind that for example, I’d get home off tour, go to bed – and have someone break into my home, come up to my bed and wake me up with a CD case with two half gram lines chopped out, saying “Do these and be in the bar in 10. ‘X’ (legendary punk singer) and ‘Y’ (legendary ‘modfather’ musician) are here. We’re playing pool”. This was at 3a.m. and I’d probably just been to the U.S. and Australia for a couple of months. Same people later ‘sitting me down’.

Addict2016: I admit I loved the exclusivity our heroin and crack use gave us. We were different. We were intellectuals.

BE: That photo of us with the hats still makes me smile. Funny. The third party to our relationship saw me sell him some gear then nick a bit while he watched through my kitchen window in Stoke Newington. I don’t remember doing it but I must have because he pulled me up on it. A couple of years later I met his brother on the millennium bridge. He told me G had released a limited edition recording of one of the tunes we did together and I recorded. He’d always promised that studio time and royalties would be paid if that ever happened. Interesting take on life methinks. And yes, we were/are “intellectuals”. Our egos probably outshone everyone else’s simply because we knew we were clever – and doing completely stupid stuff. I loved our soirees in G’s locked door studio. Educated men in the high castle incarnate. Nobody mentions that drugs can be excellent fun.

Addict2016: That was an amazing place though. A building full of famous, infamous and hungry people creating music. From the outside and inside it was glamorous. It was a giddy throng of creativity and drug abuse. That ‘locked door’ was sanctuary. The crack and heroin the ultimate abuse and sanctuary.

BE: I lived in there too, don’t forget. To get to the toilet at weekends, I had to step over your dance partners, all four hundred of them. At the previous incarnation of that organisation in Kings Cross, to get to the toilet at weekends I often had to walk through full blown (coughs) S &M orgies.

Addict2016: You said at the beginning that you drink five nights a week. Is this a conscious decision? How important are the two nights off?

BE: Sometimes four, sometimes three. It depends on life/work etc. Not drinking seven days a week is definitely a conscious thing. Some nights it’s two glasses of wine. Some, usually a Friday, it’s two bottles. Not sure I’m keen to continue the “binge” element, which is definitely there, but I do have denial rooted in the “given where I’ve been I’m doing OK” statement. I do know it holds no ground (intellectual, right?) but it’s something I’m still working on. Same as cigarettes. Was twenty-thirty a day, now five-fifteen. Stats don’t lie, right?

Addict2016: I think that sort of intake is fairly standard for alcohol. We would look on it differently if it was heroin we were talking about. The health advice would be against the binge element but that is when it works and is most fun. I have promised my daughter that I am giving up tobacco on my birthday; this is now only a few days away. Tobacco is so difficult to give up. I have tried a few times and failed but feel that I have learned much about quitting in the last few months so think and hope it will be different this time but I don’t want to put any pressure on my abstinence. When I stopped using heroin, I just bought a big bag of temazepam and locked myself in that awful flat. G & A (angels) brought me provisions: tins of soup and ice-lollies. After two or three weeks I had an epiphany on a bright sunny Sunday morning listening to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album. I was free. I had never used alcohol much before in my life. It always made me sick. On quitting heroin I found I could drink and developed a huge thirst. I had merely swapped addictions.

BE: I stopped drinking around my eighteenth birthday. I was driving a band van around during college and the two don’t mix. Speed and hash was the thing. Lots of it. I used to buy speed still warm from a flat in Wigan. They made it in the bath. First pint after that was when I was about twenty-five when I lived in Hampton Court. The Albion. Tennants Extra! I remember it vividly. Apart from the messy physical withdrawal of heroin, everything else I’ve just stopped. I was a crap junkie. Could look at it and throw up. Really. Cigarettes are different. A client told me that if you started smoking young, I was about twelve, then to give up is to let go of one’s youth. There’s probably something in that. I’m pretty straight down the line these days, but cigarettes allow me to believe I’m still a nihilist. Still a rebel. Still different. Clearly utter cockwallop but somewhere in the back of my brain I retain that notion. Also, at this point too many of my rituals involve smoking: close a deal = smoke; difficult phone call = smoke; get off a motorcycle = smoke; between takes in studio = you get the idea…

Addict2016: Absolutely. Smoking will always be cool in the movies. The rituals of addiction can be the most difficult things to break.

BE: I never drank before a gig on tour. I could feel one sip of Heineken. Immediately after essentially running on the spot for ninety minutes, however, I’d neck a pint of Jack &Coke in about five minutes, then “start drinking”… and everything else… until I passed out on my bunk on the bus sometime the next morning. I did that for about five years.

Addict2016: Would you or have you ever contemplated an intervention on an addicted friend?

BE: I’m pretty sure I know what that means but I don’t know the etiquette. It always sounded like entrapment to me. That said, I have told people things they didn’t want to hear and their other friends weren’t telling them. Two occasions spring to mind immediately. Both alcohol related. One friend turned into a twisted bitch wanker around half way down her third glass of wine. I told her that was why her friends ignored her and moved away around that sip. She listened. Amazing. I was very, very straight talking. She’s never been like that again, as far as I know; though still goes past that sip regularly. She’s a lovely woman. The other time I was asked by a friend’s work colleagues to call our friend for a “chat” – my ‘turn’ apparently – chicken shit the lot of them! I told our friend the truth as perceived by the rest of the relatively sober bunch. Absolute denial was his response. Still is and would be today, however many years later. Everyone’s got it wrong. He’s good at his job. Drink doesn’t affect it. Who is anyone else to preach and there he has a point – see good drugs/bad drugs above. The thing is, if you work in rock n roll as a freelancer, it’s easy to convince yourself you didn’t get that next gig/tour/job with that band for any number of reasons (they went with a mate instead; they can’t afford me; they could only take x number of people on the visa; etc.) and get a gig with another bunch.

Addict2016: Would you call your friend a functioning addict or not addicted then? “Functioning” addiction is a conversation in itself! I functioned creating music while heavily using heroin. I ran a small school whilst heavily using alcohol. Both substances eventually overtook the functioning but it took nearly a decade both times… or I got away with it for nearly a decade both times.

BE: He’s got away with it, the odd “sack” with excuses aside, for about thirty years. I respect his belligerence. I also respect his control of functional malfunction. Me? I have never known when to stop. At anything. He very rarely gets truly messy but is definitely addicted. Any activity must end at a pub. A walk by the seaside cannot end with lunch in a port-side seafood restaurant if it doesn’t have an alcohol license, for example. If it looks like it might, that’s when the functional behaviour malfunctions (irritation, sulking, passive aggressive, aggressive) – whatever it takes to get to the draft tap of choice. Before it all got a bit serious, admitting addiction, do you have any regrets from back then? Things you wish you could change/have done differently? Things you wonder whether might have changed the course of your life for better or worse?

Addict2016: I have always said, pretentiously maybe, that I would not change a thing. I am a product of my experience and I wouldn’t have missed a moment of those days. I am in a good place now but have very deep regrets for the pain I have put people through with my drinking (see Forgiveness) but I am still the product of my experience and am moving forwards. Regret is such a big word. I think I’m with Edith but everyone praises the recovery of an addict and their partner is left with the same anger, hurt, resentment and guilt.

BE: I wonder if I still have the “admission” to get to. I may well still be in denial. I really don’t know. It’s great that you are at least THINKING about it – and the people you love. I agree about regret. Ms Piaf did make a great point. I’m with her, but I tried to soften the question with “wish”; try reading the mitigative part of my question. Any retrospective thoughts?

Addict2016: Drug use was an integral part of JJ/DC and its mission statement. I would not change that. The message was really about freedom, experience, truth and encouraging the confidence for self expression. It worked and there were surprisingly few casualties…except me. Most of us involved in DC would say it was a golden time which has enhanced and inspired our following lives. The key to the doors of perception? Once the door is unlocked you shouldn’t need the key anymore.

BE: Sounds like you’re the one who unlocked a revolving door! And for what it’s worth I always loved the JJ/DC spirit and energy. As a voyeur it was genuinely energizing and you had KL with you – without doubt the hottest individual on the scene! Force of nature that one.

Addict2016: She was definitely the inspiring spirit for me. What stories she can tell. A true inspiration. Regarding a revolving door – watch this space. I intend not to acquire a new substance. But will need something to fill the hole. I’m trying this blog and the rest of my life, which is pretty good at the moment, to fill it. Busy-ness.

BE:Busy is good. There’s a lot out there if you choose to look. Pick something.

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FORGIVENESS

forgiveness

In recovery you are told to forgive yourself. To be kind to yourself.  To praise yourself for every day of your recovery.  I found this hard at the beginning and I still find it hard. Nearly every addict in recovery I have met started their journey filled with the same shame and self-loathing. Through their submission to the craving for a mind-altering substance they have taken their families and the people they love to the darkest of places. Trust, loyalty, dignity, health, compassion, honour, hope and truth have been destroyed and abandoned. It is beyond my understanding how forgiveness can be possible.

People in love stay with addicted partners, and families continue to support addicted family members until pushed beyond endurance. Many relationships end in divorce, families disown. Lie after lie after lie causes people to lose their sense of reason and doubt their own sanity. Every time one more chance is given and thrown away another part of the soul dies. Love is corrupted. Betrayal, pain, loneliness and tears.  How can a person put a substance before anything or anyone? And through all of this their families are told they do not understand addiction. They more than understand the fall-out and impact but the difficult truth is that they can’t understand what it is to be an addict.

It sounds incredibly glib to say that only an addict can truly understand addiction. It takes a matter of weeks to clear your system of a drug if you stop using it. A few short weeks. A very close friend, a fellow heroin user at the time, once told me that cold turkey was no worse than a bad case of flu. The trouble is that psychological dependence can take a lifetime to conquer. The psychological damage inflicted on all concerned can sometimes be irreparable.  An addict contemplating recovery is filled with shame, paranoia, anger, fear and feelings of low or no self worth. Depression. All of these are also experienced by the people around them. I believe there are selfish addicts out there who do not care about anyone but themselves but I have yet to meet one. The substance is in control. Nothing else matters but to feed the craving. Addicts can love their partners and families but are left powerless and hopeless in the wreckage they have created. The pain they cause the people they love pushes the knife of despair deeper every day.

Despite verifiable links with the many health-related consequences and its fundamental part in Alcoholics Anonymous, the scientific study of forgiveness in addiction and recovery has only recently begun.  It is certainly time to expand research into the positive outcomes of the link between forgiveness and recovery. Understanding the subtle effect of forgiveness among people with alcohol and other drug problems, though not a magic bullet, will inform the development of more efficient treatment for individuals struggling with addiction.

One day every addict reaches the lowest they can go. For many this is death. For many it is the beginning of recovery. At this point it is very difficult to be told to forgive yourself. You hate yourself. You are worthless. The idea of liking yourself is a foreign country. This, it would seem, is a very good place to start. I am working towards rebuilding the trust and earning the forgiveness of my family. Through that I may find respect and forgiveness for myself.

Insight with Gloria Aspirin

Two of comments on the ‘Bravery’ blog were both powerful and insightful. I am posting them now as I believe you can only read comments if you go looking for them. I want this to be a conversation about addiction so I will be posting these and all future comments which have similar relevance and importance. I will edit out the more personal aspects and will be leaving the “well dones” in the comment section where they belong.

audreymoonbeam: Wow, this catapulted me back to a place I didn’t want to revisit. Having lived with an alcoholic and drug addict for many years I finally had enough and divorced him. It’s a totally selfish way of life. He didn’t give a monkeys about me or his children. He used up money we didn’t have,he did reckless things that terrified us all. I went to an AA group for the family of the alcoholic and I listened to the stories of lives torn apart, the begging and pleading the enabling!! Yes enabling,that’s what I was doing. I ran the house, provided income etc etc. I was in total control of everything…I felt I had to be. But that made me a co-dependant. A subtle dance of the addict and the enabler that helped no one.
You are brave because you have admitted you have a problem. But now the work begins. Your wife will probably need to work hard too as she will have created ways to cope that may not be applicable any more.
Good luck on your journey. Xx

This second section started as a Facebook messenger conversation with gloriaaspirin the early hours of this morning.

gloriaaspirin:  I have self medicated for decades. I don’t use alcohol well. I come from a long line of “drinkers”. I think it’s likely, but I jumped ship before I got labelled. I drank within middle class acceptable standards.
addict0216: What did you self medicate with?
gloriaaspirin: Dope and booze. Had to give up dope after a particularly nasty whitey in Goa. Alcohol, has been an on off affair. I’m seeing a therapist now who looks at addiction as self medication. Doesn’t label me anything.
addict0216: I was on a bottle of whisky a day (at least) by the end.
gloriaaspirin: I’m glad for you and your family that you’ve stopped. Two and a half years ago, my brother died, because he fell down the stairs and wouldn’t go to hospital because he wouldn’t be able to drink.
addict2016: Sorry I didn’t know Alcohol is the worst drug. The legal one + fags.
gloriaaspirin: You wouldn’t know love. I hadn’t spoken to him for years, he’d never met my children, he was chaotic and scared me. Yeah, booze and fags are EVERYWHERE! My nephew George calls booze the “family demon”. His brother had a drug induced psychotic breakdown at 19. My niece is a recovering crystal meth addict. My love of cava and tequila looks very vanilla! You pointed out your friends comment about divorce. You saying you’ve been giving a last chance? Grab it. I was married to an angry man. I gave him way too many last chances. He begged, he did the anger management courses, he had epiphanies about how he’d fucked up his “perfect life”, he always reverted to bad behaviour, and it got steadily worse. In the end, it was a small incident that made me know it was over. Ending our marriage was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I had to, for my children and for me. I gave up alcohol, because I was going through a really bad depression and I knew I had to stop for a while. I told myself 6 months. Then it was a year. Then I drank a bottle of wine, and it didn’t work. It didn’t do what I wanted. I’ve apologised to my children many times. Drunk Mum is fun but gets very tired and loses her temper. And to them, that was normal.
addict2016: Normality is what happens every day. Even the most extreme of behaviours become normal. No partner should suffer abuse, whether it be physical or verbal/mental. When you live with an addict you are mentally abused. Their addiction controls everything. Everyone lives in hell. If the addict does not truly want to recover, nothing will ever change. It will just get worse every day because every day the pain, betrayal and guilt builds.
gloriaaspirin: I’ve done group therapy with both my sons and their Dad wouldn’t go. They both accept that their Dad will never change, that’s him and they can choose to not be around him. Accepting that someone won’t change is really really hard. When you put it out there that you were starting this blog, it totally surprised me. And I liked it. I liked it, because, well – there are two reasons we lost touch: I got married and allowed my self to be absorbed into that relationship, an unhealthy relationship and secondly: the drugs. We met through music. I used to love singing with you and M. And I smoked a lot of dope. A lot. I found myself in a group of people that I loved, really funny, creative, intelligent people and the drugs were too much. I feared what I would do. I don’t want to be around heavy drug use. Or drinking.
My Dad called himself an alcoholic. My Grandfather died of cirrhosis of the liver when my Dad was ten. I once asked him what he remembered of his own Father and he said he only remembered one thing, and that was the police being called because his dad was drunk and trying to break down the door to the room his Mother had locked them into. I adored my Dad. He didn’t get angry, he shut down. He drank watered down wine all day and then switched to beer after 6pm when he was unlikely to be asked to drive anyone anywhere. I loved him and I knew he loved me very much but he was unavailable. My Mother had depression and eating disorders. Text book.
I went to a reunion / 50th birthday bash recently. I heard myself telling someone that I’d been nervous to walk in and I’d done some breathing exercises to help me get through the door to the venue.
“But you always seem so confident”.
“I used to use alcohol, but now I don’t drink, I’ve got to deal with the anxiety.”
I didn’t know that until I said it. I am anxious and I’ve been trying to avoid/cover it up, all my life. Like I’ve said before, I’m not on any side of this, it’s my village, my tribe, co dependant, user, enabler, all knitted together. All my relationships are affected by my family and my own issues.
One conclusion I’ve come to is that children of parents with drug, alcohol and/or depression, feel an over responsibility for the emotional well being of others. Being the one good thing in someone’s life is too much responsibility. You are not your addiction, but when you’re drinking, that’s what everyone is dealing with.
Good luck on your journey friend X

BRAVERY?

This post was supposed to be the start of my story but life has overtaken this plan today. Instead I want to write briefly about bravery. I started this blog yesterday and have comments here and on Facebook regarding it. Two comments, one on Facebook from my dear friend Billy and on here from someone I don’t know, have told me that this is a brave thing to do. I would hate to call this blog brave. I would hate to call my recovery brave. When talking about my recovery I recoil from the word. I admit that this a public and open forum but for me it is not about bravery. For me, and I have heard it repeatedly in group sessions, addiction is completely tied up in secrecy and things hidden: hiding your addiction, hiding your substance and also trying to mask your behaviour which is inevitably a futile game. If you live with or share your life with someone, they know you are an addict, or they will find out soon. It is virtually impossible to hide. In recovery I have left behind (currently) the shackles of lies and secrecy and my life has become so simple as a result. It is not that I want to have a Julie Andrews moment and shout it from the mountain top but I do not care who knows. I want people to know. I am enjoying having nothing to hide. To seek recovery, an addict is usually so desperate to stop that they will try anything to achieve it. Many have lost relationships and family due to their addiction, many their jobs and many put their lives at risk and are told to stop in hospital by a doctor. My recovery is not brave. If had not stopped drinking I would have lost everything I care about.

Recovery is definitely possible for everyone but you have to truly want it. There is support out there but step one is to talk: to your family and your GP. Eleven days after consulting my doctor I was talking to a Recovery Worker at Cambridge’s Drug and Alcohol Service: Inclusion. The people at Inclusion are wonderful, not just the Recovery Workers but also the Recovery Champions and the other service users you meet in group. When I was first referred I was not enthusiastic about attending group sessions. I had tried Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous previously and whether it was due to where I was with my addiction/recovery or not, I did not like them. When I was eventually pushed into the group sessions at Inclusion, I found that I loved it. It is a place where you can talk openly with people with the same issues without a trace of the religious overtones or the step program used by AA and NA. I am not criticising AA, NA or the step program. It works. It has a proven track record. It was just not right for me. This is true of other addicts I have spoken to in group. It’s about fifty-fifty. Some love it, some hate it but in recovery you use what works for you.

So back to bravery. I do not believe this blog or my recovery is brave of me. My beautiful wife and daughter are the brave ones for suffering my addiction for so long. To them I owe everything. It is four months today since I last had a drink. It is nearly thirteen years since I last smoked heroin. However, every day is day one for me.

I AM A RECOVERING ADDICT

I am a recovering addict. I have had addiction problems with various substances for over twenty-five years. Many of my best friends and the most interesting people in my life have had addiction problems in one form or another. Some are in or are seeking recovery, some are happy to remain dependent. A great deal has been written on the subject of addiction, much research carried out, many theories expounded, but everyone’s experience is individual. In this blog I want to share mine and other people’s experience of substance and behavioural dependency and its impact on them and the people around them. I would also be interested in conversations with people sharing their lives with an addict. I will be interviewing friends from the music industry, journalism, education and from as many diverse fields of occupation as possible. I would welcome suggestions and posts from anyone with something to share on the subject.