The dark flat smelled of dust and damp at the same time. I’d cleaned the bastard enough but the smell just wouldn’t leave. Other people may have called to question the source but I didn’t, I knew. This tiny flat – with no central heating or hot water and a dilapidated electric shower that dribbled out lukewarm water when it felt like it – had been the residence of other single men like me going back down through the years. It was the property full-stop for the failed.
I’d recently been suspended from work, due to mental health (lack of), and even though it was the best summer weather for years I kept the blinds down and myself to myself. Everyone would know the truth out there. Out there was where people would talk to me, then laugh when I went up the high street. I was finished, washed up. Out there was dangerous.
I’d moved in to the flat with a pretty decent opiate habit. I had acquired it again after all those years as a result of a big codeine prescription on the back of some surgery. Then an ex had managed to supply the odd bit of oxycontin and an occasional fentanyl patch – chewed lightly, pressed against the inside of my cheek and under my tongue. It had all been enough, along with some tramadol, to get a half decent habit going without my knowledge. And that’s how it always happens: turn your back for a second from opiates and there you sit, reaching up from life towards them like a baby in a dirty cot. But one night in the flat I realised I hadn’t taken any that day.
I knew withdrawal, the little rattles from years ago, all the first signs without anyone having to explain anything to me: aches, runny nose, fidgeting, anxiety, the usual. That night I noticed the anxiety first, ignored it, then my nose started to run. I knew it’d all be ok though, no need to let the thing progress further, because I always had codeine around the house; god knows, I’d been prescribed enough of it over the past year. There were always a couple of stray tablets in an otherwise empty packet in a drawer somewhere. No worry; never any worry when I had opiates in the house back then. I went to the main med drawer, opened it, dug through the empty packets I hadn’t been bothered to throw away, and………. found nothing.
Ten minutes later the floor of the flat was covered in empty packets, thrown furniture, clothes, and a sobbing body: my body. There was nothing in the place. No opiate, not even a shitty synthetic opiate. I couldn’t believe it.
There is nothing so depraved as an addict in the grips of a withdrawal. A throwaway sentence, half stolen, but it resonates with absolute truth. Clear as a bell. Being denied something, some substance, that your body and mind needs is like suspending yourself above a volcano by the feet – you know how you got there, but it’s inconsequential compared to the peril you are about to find yourself in if circumstances don’t change. It is a vicious and unforgiving place to be. Withdrawal is like punching yourself in the stomach and then hating yourself for the pain. Actually, I’ve done that too, but there is an element of control in self-harm, and there is none in opiate withdrawal.
I went to bed, taking the only thing I could find in the blind rationale that something is better than nothing in a tight spot. They were only quinine tablets, but I reasoned they must have some effect somewhere. Desperation makes logic skewed, so I’ve found. They did absolutely nothing. In bed, my legs kicked, my bones ached, my nose ran, I sweated then shivered, I raged, wanked, puked, hurt, and I rode that hellish opiate bike as the synapses in my brain called out for more, but were denied. Detox equals hell. The whole thing only took four days but it felt like years. At the end of it I’d aged inside.
A week later, with a friendly GP in tow, I forgot every second of those four days as I bounced to the chemist with a fresh dihydrocodeine prescription in my hand. All problems solved. There’s always a next time, no matter what lies you tell yourself when the chips are down.