Mourning

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The election was over. It was morning. Sunshine. I sat on a bench under the new green leaves of an ash tree in a plaza called ‘Place d’Arras’. Ipswich.

The day promised some heat. Hangovers walked slowly up past the Butter Market and into the precinct. Indistinct faces, mostly. Pastel shades of pensioners, young hipsters in converse sneakers, families rushing to do shopping so they could get back home and enjoy the two days of rest before the hell of school and two shitty jobs; jobs that pay for family shopping trips into town. A circular kind of hellish reasoning. Ingenious, entrapping, invisible treadmills. Tedious, pained, soulless expressions. The employed.

An old man wearing too many layers of clothes, walking slowly, headed towards my bench even though all the others were empty. I moved to give him space. He didn’t say thanks, just sat down and sighed.

‘I’m tired,’ he said.

He took two deep breaths, adjusted the rucksack on his back, then left, pausing to ogle a  young women as she tottered past a cafe.

By the side of the church, a group of four guys weaved along the pavement coming up towards the precinct. They were eating what looked like food donations. Almost fresh baguettes and cakes. One pushed a bike. They stopped right by me. The guy with the bike said he couldn’t push it any further. He swayed, dropping the bike on the floor.

‘I know, I know, mate,’ said his friend. ‘When you’ve been up for two days it’s a fucker, ain’t it.’

He took the bike from his friend and put the boxed CCTV home security kit he was carrying under his other arm.

‘We’ll score in a bit.’

By the marina – expensive yachts, sunshine on rippled water reflecting condos and waterfront bars – three homeless guys were in their sleeping bags. One had a huge pile of books. Couple of cans of cider, too. Two Police Officers were harassing them about a report they’d had of someone down there hassling the general public – you know, the safe, co-operative people who haven’t fallen on hard times. Nobody knew anything. It’s hard to be threatening when you’re in a sleeping bag, emaciated, gouching.

England had had an election. The papers were full of it. Big ideas. Hope. On the streets no-one cared. None of it made an ounce of difference. Things were the same as they’d always be; chemical dependence, hopelessness, tedium, futility, lack of direction, the savage feeling of the stone fall of reality on cool summer mornings. Waking up with a frantic sense of loss.

Trainspotting 2

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Trainspotting 2. The lucrative sequel.

I watched it at the weekend in a small ‘indie’ cinema in the next village to where I live. The first movie – a seminal work by all involved – was excellent. It described perfectly for me how opiate addiction felt. OK, so it blurred the lines on the acquaintances involved in a heroin habit (heavy drug use brings few friends), but by and large the overarching chaos was well represented. I enjoyed the first movie. I hoped the second would mirror my own change over the past twenty years. I wanted it to hold my hand.

Seeing any film about drug use in a small cinema in a middle-class area is a big mistake. I’m guessing, like I shouted at my partner half way through the film, I was the only opiate abuser in the whole cinema. They were so disconnected from the film and the sheer horror of what they were laughing at that the whole thing was just reduced to an exercise in middle-aged chic. There were guffaws when ‘Spud’ tries to kill himself because he’s just so sick of his shitty life and his unbreakable addiction. Hilarious… Thigh slapping from some people as they howled. Had they come to the wrong movie? Had I?

I left at the end feeling sorry for the characters – all of them – and for the twenty years I’ve wasted since the first years I wasted; lots of waste in my life. The film was ok, not accurate, but it left me feeling the sort of empathy with the characters that I had twenty years ago. We were all older, alive, and still grappling with the consequences of actions we’d taken back when Britpop had, thankfully, died. I expected a theatre full of fellow travellers on the path, but all I got were sneering voyeurs. Being poor, addicted, hopeless, is not something to be crammed into a fishbowl and pointed at, yet an entire audience managed to do just that.

I got drunk afterwards. And I tried hard to believe this is where my tie to the movie franchise ended. There will be no Trainspotting 3 for me in any form – empathetic, or otherwise.

 

The Rattle

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.

Attic womb

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The skylight opened. I reached out with the glass and poured the piss out onto the sloping roof. Along the street, people were cutting the grass or washing their cars. The place was a Toytown full of people who didn’t know anything and had no desires other than to be the same as everyone else, only just that little bit better.

I’d been living in the attic room for three months. She had the two floors below. I’d get up, go to work, come home, take food up to my room and shut the door. I fantasised about running off into the world – becoming homeless, free, away from her and the bullshit. The relationship was fucked. I was in a job I hated, and she’d signed me up to some scheme where, right then, I owed something in the region of £45,000 to banks. I’d never seen a penny of it. These situations are easy to get into if you are vulnerable at the time but they don’t last. They always move on to their next phase: you lose.

I wigged out on codeine, fentanyl, booze, and thought for too long about how I wasn’t just trapped in the attic, but in life full stop. Man, I was so ill up there. I took at least one overdose; Tramadol for sure one time. Pupils as big a saucers for the whole of the next day, confused. But it was good to be alone in my room all the time, even waking up from an overdose. She was out fucking some other guy on a regular basis anyway. Said he had a huge cock. All I knew was he was about five feet tall, wore leather coats, and kept tarantulas. She told me when he fucked her in the ass she would cum and cum until she thought she would pass out. She was kind like that. She’d bellow up the stairs that she was going out. I knew what it meant. I was relieved. At least she wouldn’t try to get me in the sack.

I suppose I was meant to feel jealous. I felt nothing at all about much at all in the attic.

High up in the rooftops I could watch the sun rise, hear the birds scratching on the tiles. It was sadly beautiful up there. I only left it to work, shit, bathe, and get food. I just didn’t want an excuse to leave the room if I didn’t have to. Solitude and mental illness….oh, and the drugs and alcohol. Resetting to point zero. That’s what I called it. That’s how I justified it.

She left after a vicious argument – I can’t remember what about – and that was that. She would be the Spider Guy’s problem now. All I needed to do was to fend off the Banks who were trying to get the money back that she lost for me. Then get my mental health back to somewhere near functioning. Tough ask. Actually, I don’t think it ever really recovered. I had two serious overdoses in the following two months. Shit like that doesn’t leave you easily.

In the attic there was something foetal going on. A re-birth of sorts. Snug and warm and trapped and with a lockable door. My head sometimes looked out of that skylight and wondered what was over the hill. If I’d ever get to a better place than this.

When I finally moved from the house I got a tiny flat just up the road. No skylight, no attic, no central heating. Two windows with the blinds always drawn, blocking out the desperate sobbing of a guy newly sacked from his job. I dodged the bailiffs and the knocks on the door from anyone and everyone. It was always dark in there. Dust, diazepam, late night television, xbox games, lining up tablets on the dirty table and wondering if I had enough to do the job. Crazy nights of opiate withdrawing, crashing around the flat ripping drawers out of their holes, searching for forgotten codeine to take the ache away. Nightmares, screaming in the early hours covered in sweat while, twenty miles away, she was being fucked in the ass for the fiftieth time that week and telling him lies, like she used to tell me. That poor sucker. I felt for him.

At the end of the summer I was barely alive. The room turned from a womb to a cocoon. Indefinite period of gestation, or mutation, or metamorphosis, or simply  still birth. Which one it’d be was anyone’s guess.

Peace

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“In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I… And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there’s a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots.”

–  Hunter S Thompson

 

A mantra to live by if ever I read one. And, yeah, I read a lot. But I also run amok from time to time in BPD-fuelled periods of terror far from the overarching ethos of the above statement. Peace…. it’s all I dream about.

My Psychologist asked me about peace and happiness once – a prerequisite of the simple gauges for human well-being. I thought about it and got concerned about not offending her, so tried to say the right things in case the hammer dropped, then came to the conclusion that I’ve touched on happiness in spells but peace has always alluded me. I guess it’s hard to feel truly peaceful when you’ve tried to kill yourself…..and failed. It’s a bit like taking a wonky photo, then realising you’ve got the Delirium Tremens in perpetuity. Not that I’ve ever had the Tremens in its truest form, you understand, despite hitting the booze from time to time. You get the point, I hope, even if I don’t.

“My ideals have got me on the run, towards my connections with everyone,” sings Bill Callahan from the Bose speaker on my desk right now. It’s an August evening. The rain has stopped and the air is still. It’s just getting dark. It’s a peaceful time, or would be for anyone who wasn’t feeling full of the same oily bag of emotional rags in their head. People underestimate peace; the feeling of being truly alone and happy with that feeling, or of being with people and feeling an empathetic warmth which covers you better than heroin ever did. Of never being afraid of the next second. Peace is all I want.

I have no reason to be out of bed – I live alone, it’s getting late, I’m out of ideas, and sleep is a relief – but I suppose there must be something driving me out in the ether to type this, try to convey something, or even just take another breath. There will be no self harm tonight despite the urge, and the clock will not tick further toward an end nobody close to me wants to see.. No. It’s not tonight.

Tomorrow I’ll get up, tap at this keyboard, and regret being alive again, while I try to find my own personal high spot to distract me from the truth of it all. I will dodge Bigfoot, the paranoid thoughts, the self loathing, and the confusion. I will pray to something for help, and listen for any answer. I’m not religious, but I’ll hedge my bets with any deity I can put my finger on; never discount the happy smiles on the faces of people with true faith. They may appear dumb, or easily led, but they know a little about tranquility and happiness. For that, they have my respect.

Peace to all of you.

 

 

A Doncaster Alleyway

I got to work that morning and went straight to the homeless drop-in we ran for street drinkers, people with mental health problems, drug addicts, and others who just needed to avoid the cost of food in the mornings. A big breakfast of toast and cereal sits as a good base for a days soak in alcohol and the summer sunshine. For some, this was the only food they’d consume all day before starting out on the never-ending treadmill of finding money then scoring. Afternoons in opiate or alcohol bliss, sometimes both. Littering the sofas of a squat or the grass in the park. Take a couple of hours out of the mad rush and try to forget the impending crush of fear when the next rattle starts to kick in like an old bastard friend. Avoid thinking at ALL costs!

 

There was no pity in here, just the sound of sore throats, sore heads, and the slurping of sugary milk being drunk from cheap plastic bowls. Copies of The Sun were being leafed through, the stories poured over and weary heads mouthing words and shaking in disgust. I had, by then, given up trying to even pass platitudes with my work colleagues. I fucking hated every single one of them. Instead, I sat with the customers and swapped anecdotes and jam. Thirty Five grand a year to enjoy myself; and that’s what pissed my colleagues off more than anything I had ever said to them in any meeting or in any one of the dingy corridors: that I actually liked helping people. It went against their fakery. Their barely disguised revulsion was a shitty joke, if indeed it had been a joke at all: from the arrogant middle-aged receptionist who kept two cans of air freshener next to her to squirt into the waiting room at every opportunity, to the clock watching Police Workers who sat with bail paperwork already filled out and ready to be faxed off for an arrest warrant – issued to unsuspecting clients if they were so much as 15 minutes late to an appointment. Phrases firing off from the hips of gung ho middle class and clueless drug workers – “I’m going to enjoy sending him back to jail”, “Ten minutes until the pen of justice pots this one”. Modern day gunslinging Sheriffs in the shittiest Wild West parody conceivable. Sometimes I questioned my reasons for swimming against the tide of it all. But I kept on swimming, maybe for no other reason than to sleep at night. My colleagues wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. A takeaway, a bottle of wine, shout at the kids, recount the days stories of collapsing lives with a smug feeling of safety. Not me. I took it all back home in my heart, and it hurt. My clients were people, human beings. It was simple, surely?

 

I didn’t really give the day before much thought, despite the tears and the drama. Glen was, in my opinion, going to be ok after his tearful suicide admission to me at 4pm. I’d known him for a few years. He was predisposed to that kind of outburst anyway wasn’t he? I’d done the very best I could, like anyone would, and sat with him for an hour offering help, solutions, and trying everything I knew to take his pain away. I offered to leave work and spend the evening with him, maybe sit in a cafe and wait until he’d poured out enough pain to tip the balance. But he turned me down and left, still sobbing, with the words “I’m just going to find someone to split the cost of a bag with and then that’s it Ben.” We both knew what he meant. He had zero tolerance to injecting heroin at the time. IV use of that amount would kill him more surely than stepping out under a bus. I never thought he’d do anything about it. Glen was simply saying ‘please help!’ Most people just don’t act on the pain signals when the button has been pushed, people informed, a point made. Why would Glen be any different?

 

When I spoke to Glen’s keyworker – James – after Glen had staggered tearfully out of the building, his response was a typical one from the morons who I worked with: “So fucking what?” I felt my heart beat faster as rage grew, but over the years the cut-off point had only gotten further away and more solid. Getting wound up in that hell-hole was like taking off your clothes and trying to run to the to the moon. It bounced off the thickest skins known to nature. I was already known as a loose cannon and as someone to avoid. “Ben’s fucking crazy…”. Too many angry outbursts only re-enforced my diagnosis to the amateur psychiatrists and, fucking weeping Jesus, I didn’t need more of that kind of talk.

 

Rage wouldn’t have helped me, or Glen.

 

A sex worker came in to the Drop-in at 8.30am and walked straight up to me “You heard about Glen?”

“No”

“He’s dead”

Silence. All around the room, a sharp intake and awkward quiet. “How?” I asked.

“He went over last night in the alleyway off Thomas Road. The binmen found him just now. They said he was cold and blue.”

 

I stood up and walked out of the building. The early morning sunshine promised a decent day, a day I’d see out, and I walked back to the main office panicking that perhaps I could have done more for his pain. Was it my fault? God, Glen…you were worth more than this.

You doubt yourself if you have any empathy in your body when something like this happens. You find there is just a singular thought rampaging around your mind: you could have done more. James had been tipped off, ditto the boss, and the two of them were pouring over Glen’s casefile when I got into my office. “Just sort it out,” she told him, before glaring at me and swishing out of the room in her low-cut dress; all tits and ass. James hadn’t written a thing in the notes despite six months of work with Glen. “Hear about Glen then?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, scrabbling for casenote paper and a pen. “Fuck him,” he added. His sentiment was echoed almost entirely throughout the building as NHS keyworker after NHS keyworker offered their own foul take on the worth attached to the life of 43 year old Glen Howarth. It amounted to almost zero, just another junky off the books, out of jail, and away from the straight folks. Soon forgotten.

He was buried a few weeks later and the local heroin community turned out in hardly any numbers at all. It rained that day after weeks of sunshine. Back at the office nobody knew about his funeral, and nobody cared. I lasted about seven more months.