Photo by: Tin­nakorn

“The needle tears a hole, that old familiar sting. Try to kill it all away but I remember everything” (Trent Reznor, Hurt, 1994)


Sub­stance abusers are lazy, hedon­ist­ic, selfish lay­abouts who squander money off the state to live in a per­petu­al state of pleas­ure, avoid­ing work to bask in the explo­sion of their mind’s endorphins while oth­ers pay their taxes, take out their rub­bish bins on the right day, and gen­er­ally are law abid­ing cit­izens.


It is New Years Eve and I am watch­ing the fire­works go off from my bed on the eighth floor of the Roy­al Free Hos­pit­al where I have spent the last four days. I have no memory of what brought me here or the days pre­ced­ing it but my neigh­bour, who had been aler­ted that no one could get hold of me had the hor­rif­ic task of find­ing me uncon­scious on the bath­room floor. Appar­ently I had taken a large over­dose involving heroin, crack, diazepam, clonazepam, meth­adone, and lith­i­um. Addic­tion is so power­fully over­whelm­ing that it bypasses even the fear of death.


Inject­ing drug users beg, steal, and sell them­selves in order to live in a state of obli­vi­on whereby the bioavail­ab­il­ity of the drug is 100% and a ‘nor­mal ‘ life with ‘nor­mal ‘ respons­ib­il­it­ies is bypassed and the dif­fi­culties that go with it. The term ‘junky ‘ came along with the life­style of inject­ing drug use, often asso­ci­ated with the Wil­li­am Bur­roughs book of the same name, a home­less, state­less place of being, ready to rob bor­row, beg, or steal. The inject­ing addict is ‘dirty’, a slave to the drug, and is riddled with blood Bourne vir­uses such as HIV or hep­at­it­is c, and is con­ta­gious even to look at, prompt­ing mem­bers of the pub­lic to cross the street, and no pos­ses­sion or money is safe with­in their reach.


Inject­ing drug use is one of the most dark, lonely and shame­ful places you can ever find your­self. Heroin is essen­tially dia­morphine. Dia­morphine is a potent paink­iller. Nobody uses it for fun. People use it for pain. Emo­tion­al and psy­cho­lo­gic­al pain. And the magic that it first deliv­ers is a moment unlike any oth­er. For the first time in my life I felt whole, I felt free. But it is a fal­lacy. A false prom­ise. Because noth­ing can stay the same. Even­tu­ally, with it comes more pain. And by then it is too late to get out. Around 8 years ago I was in this bleak cycle. Inject­ing gave me ter­rible infec­tions, cel­lu­lit­is, col­lapsed veins and absesses so ser­i­ous that I required 4 oper­a­tions because the very use of my arm was com­prom­ised. I was alone. I couldn’t tell any­one that I was in the hos­pit­al because of the shame of what I was doing. All I wanted was my mum, but I couldn’t bring myself to make that phonecall because I feared aban­don­ment so much, such was the stigma. This situ­ation invoked in me the Fam­ous line from a Neil Young song: “I’ve seen the needle and the dam­age done “. It has been 6 or 7 years since I last injec­ted but the intern­al scars remain.

This art­icle is one that is hard to write. Addic­tion has been pre­val­ent with­in me through­out my life, even since child­hood, in whatever form it was avail­able. I was troubled, unhappy, and even, I believe, clin­ic­ally depressed as a child. But I nev­er pos­sessed the lan­guage to express my unhap­pi­ness. I remem­ber my twin sis­ter telling me that when she saw me take my first drink, at the age of 13, she knew I had found my magic potion. One that unlocked me from the pris­on that was myself, the pris­on that was my body, the pris­on that was my mind. It imme­di­ately began as a means to self med­ic­ate. And right until the end, I still believed that it offered that prom­ise. But at some point it stops deliv­er­ing and starts per­petu­at­ing that pain.

It is that palp­able pain, the kind that throbs at 3am as though your body is about to tear apart: “At the bot­tom of every person’s depend­ency, there is always pain and heal­ing it is an essen­tial step in end­ing depend­ency” (Chris Pren­tiss). On think­ing of this agony, both phys­ic­al and emo­tion­al, the fol­low­ing thoughts entered my mind: Once you have lost con­trol, all that is left is a giant chasm, a big black hole. It steals your per­son­hood, it breaks your soul. Once you have been there, nev­er again will you be whole.

Dual dia­gnos­is is a term that is a crux for under­stand­ing addic­tion, yet, iron­ic­ally, is little under­stood at all. What it refers to is the comor­bid­ity of a men­tal health con­di­tion, with a con­cur­rent sub­stance abuse dis­order. One makes the oth­er a mine­field to treat, and accen­tu­ates the risk of death hugely. It is estim­ated that a huge amount of people with a dia­gnosed (or undia­gnosed) men­tal health con­di­tion also struggle with addict­ive tend­en­cies, in the many ways it may mani­fest each oth­er. This is often an attempt to self med­ic­ate when a per­son is in psy­cho­lo­gic­al pain, espe­cially when they are not receiv­ing the cor­rect treat­ment around one or both issues. It is a con­di­tion that is under recog­nised and greatly increases stigma sur­round­ing all aspects of men­tal health.

I myself have been dia­gnosed with bipolar affect­ive dis­order, along with oth­er labels hurled at me through the years. It has com­poun­ded everything, includ­ing my addic­tions. I was once abstin­ent for around 7 years. At one point my men­tal health began to be treated very badly, being giv­en the wrong dia­gnos­is. I was taken off my mood sta­bil­isers and very quickly, after such a long peri­od of time, had to self med­ic­ate with heroin, the num­ber one paink­iller.

Going back to last news years eve, my staple med­ic­a­tion, lith­i­um was taken out in order to clear my sys­tem. It was meant to be put back in at its usu­al dose but nobody took respons­ib­il­ity for this. For months I was walk­ing around with my mood fall­ing as fast as my blood levels. Appar­ently this was vis­ible to those around me, and some of my work­ers were des­per­ately try­ing to rem­edy the situ­ation. As ever, I self med­ic­ated, walk­ing around like a corpse on crack, heroin, and ben­zos. Even­tu­ally the depres­sion won and in March I gave up the fight, planned my sui­cide, and acted on those plans. I told no one, I locked myself away, and waited for death to arrive. All I can remem­ber, before being found, was the deep feel­ing of anguish that goes with the belief that I was about to die alone.

As a res­ult of these actions I was sec­tioned in St Anne’s hos­pit­al, where I spent the next six weeks. Finally, the med­ic­a­tion for my men­tal health con­di­tions was altered and sta­bil­ised. The staff were amaz­ing, and I was really looked after. As time went on I began to feel more and more like my old self. My real self, whatever that may be. Maybe I just mean that I star­ted to feel com­fort­able in my own skin. As for sub­stances I was sure that I nev­er wanted them in my life. Those thoughts and feel­ings were genu­ine. My inten­tions were not for show and I had no crav­ings.

Unfor­tu­nately the grip of addic­tion proved too strong. Just 2 weeks later I wake up and I am sur­roun­ded by white walls. I don’t know where I am, why I am there, and I think maybe I am dream­ing. There is a nurse there and she tells me that I am in King’s col­lege hos­pit­al and I have over­dosed. I remem­ber noth­ing. I am ter­ri­fied. It is a scary feel­ing, to have hours if not days wiped from your memory. It turns out that I was with a friend and I col­lapsed at a sta­tion. They had to admin­is­ter cpr at the scene, and then put me on a drip con­tain­ing nalox­one, a drug that reverses opi­ates but that makes you very sick.

I can­not believe that this has happened so close to my dis­charge from St Ann’s hos­pit­al. I truly believed that everything would be OK after that. I am shattered. I am shattered for my fam­ily. I am shattered for my friends. I am shattered for the work­ers who have done so much for me, my care coördin­at­or, my dual dia­gnos­is nurse. I am heart­broken. Can I get up again from this fall? Or is this my final cur­tain call? For now I live in limbo, I am stuck between life and death. I can make no sense of this at all. These shitty sub­stances, and their allur­ing pull.

Music, as ever, depicts the pain of addic­tion in a way no oth­er medi­um can do. I am writ­ing this art­icle and while I do so You­Tube is play­ing on shuffle. A song comes on that I have nev­er heard and quite lit­er­ally, it takes my breath away. It is by an hip hop artist called Col­licch­ie and the song is called Drug Addic­tion. In just a few minutes it encap­su­lates everything that I would wish to say in this entire art­icle. As the neur­o­lo­gist Oliv­er Sacks states, the brain has a great­er capa­city for music than just words alone. The coin­cid­ent­al play of this song at the very time of pon­der­ing sim­il­ar exper­i­ences is one of those things that defies explan­a­tion:

“I wanna do bet­ter but I don’t know a dif­fer­ent way,

I’m a ser­vant and this heroin’s my king

I’m feel­ing like a slave, as I dangle from these pup­pet strings

I’m just a mari­on­ette, im star­in’ at death

As I am car­ry­in’ regrets, that are just tear­in’ through my flesh”

The last line in par­tic­u­lar res­on­ates right through me. I walk around with such guilt about who I am, what I have become, what I done to oth­ers around me. It invokes the line in plan b’s song The Deep­est Shame, as the key to what blocks my recov­ery. “I’ve been drag­ging myself to the low­est of low, For such a while, I just don’t know, If the path I take is some­thing I can change, But what stands in my way is the deep­est shame “. I remem­ber some­thing my mum said to me once that pen­et­rated through a very thick skin at the time. I used to think that I was only hurt­ing myself so that was ok. But she turned and said to me “everytime you hurt your­self you hurt me too “. This hit home, and hit home hard. I’ve car­ried guilt and shame for a very long time.

I’ve asked many oth­er people I know who have been chal­lenged by addic­tion dis­orders of vary­ing kinds. Almost all have an expect­a­tion that they will be hit by a moment of ‘magic’. For some, they anti­cip­ate that, for a fleet­ing moment at least, they will not have a care in the world. That all their prob­lems will melt away. And, sadly, that they will exper­i­ence even a mil­li­second of hap­pi­ness with­in the ruins that are left in place of what was once their life. In real­ity they are left with “fin­an­cial ruin”, “guilt and remorse “. Anoth­er per­son told me that he is left in chron­ic phys­ic­al pain that is not being adequately treated. The drugs, he says, are the only res­pite he gets. Layne Sta­ley from the band Alice in Chains, who died at the age of 34 from a drug over­dose, stated in one of his songs that addic­tion is a “slow sui­cide”, and is no way to go.

“Addic­tion is a mas­ter : It lives inside, and feeds off you, takes from you, and des­troys you. It is a beast that tears you apart, rips out your soul, and laughs at your weak­nesses. It is a stone wall that stands to keep you in, and the rest out. It is a shad­ow that always lurks wait­ing to strike. Addic­tion lives in everyone’s mind, sit­ting, star­ing, wait­ing.” (anon)

Just look at the legends that addic­tion has torn from the world : Jimi Hendrix, Jim Mor­ris­on, River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, Lane. Sta­ley, Chris Cor­nell, Andrew Wood, Shan­non Hoon, Jean Michel Basquiet, Taylor Hawkins, and the list goes on and infin­ite.

There is a book called Neces­sary Losses, that describes the loves, illu­sions, depend­en­cies, and impossible expect­a­tions that all of us have to give up in order to grow. That is my place, my limbo, and my decision. Nobody can make it for me. My neces­sary loss is that sim­ul­tan­eously of my best friend and my fatal enemy. Where the two meet is a place I can­not define. Either way It is time to say good­bye if I want a ful­filling life. That is my neces­sary loss.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor is a Lon­don based writer whose Interests are based primar­ily on music and art and also the philo­sophies and polit­ics that accom­pany them. In addi­tion she has an Msc in psy­cho­logy, has worked as a ther­ap­ist, and paints abstract art pieces.

About Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor
Kate Taylor is a London based writer whose Interests are based primarily on music and art and also the philosophies and politics that accompany them. In addition she has an Msc in psychology, has worked as a therapist, and paints abstract art pieces.