Friday, 24 December 2010

DIARY: Christmas in Junkie Land

Well it’s nearly Christmas and the end of another year. This means different things to different people but have you ever wondered what it means for recovering junkies?

For some, it’s a small miracle that they got this far as this time last year their future was measured one day at a time. If you had asked them what they will be doing in 12 months time, you would have got a shrug and a response of “whatever”.  Others might have told you that this year was the year to get clean. That meant no more heroin and a reduction in their methadone/buprenorphine until they were finally free. But for most recovering junkies, I dare say that they would have had no opinion either way about where they would be in the next 12 months. This is how I felt anyway.

The problem with heroin/methadone/morphine addiction is that you tend not see too far into the future because you already struggle getting through one day at a time. Even planning a week ahead is sometimes too difficult but we attempt it as best we can. Living with opiate addiction is like driving in a storm - lost, confused, disorientated with only a second of clarity when those wipers swish past. You think you know where you want to go but not being able to see the best route only adds to the feeling of being lost.  

So here we are again, faced with Xmas.

This year, Xmas day at my house will be hard to distinguish from any other average home. We will wake up early, open presents and drink lots of strong coffee. Mrs Wright and I will take turns at picking presents for each other from under the Xmas tree. We go to great lengths to make sure we have lots of smaller gifts which are all wrapped individually. It’s a great way to stretch out the morning. Later my family will arrive and this year is going to be a Xmas lunch similar to what we had when I was a kid. Oven baked turkey, roast potatoes, roast onion, peas, gravy and ham. Desert is Christmas pudding with cream. The only addition is a seafood entree. Pulling on Christmas crackers is still compulsory including the rule that everyone must wear the enclosed paper hat. Even the decades old jokes from the crackers must be read out. This is all accompanied by plenty of red wine and beer. Incidentally, our shopping cost us over $400 this year … what was I thinking hosting Xmas at my house!

But underneath this perfect vision lurks something that only us opiate addicts will experience. While most of us will smile politely and attempt to join in with the festive activities, our minds are constantly drifting off elsewhere. Desperately trying to cope with the uneasiness that we suppress, we will utilise all the tricks we have learnt from years of hiding our addiction. Smiling and appearing relaxed is compulsory behaviour. There is no bigger giveaway than sitting alone while you fidget with whatever is at easy reach. The awareness of your situation by friends and family only increases the focus on your actions. You can hear their thoughts questioning every move you make; Is he high? Will he disappear any minute to look for a fix? Why is he wearing long sleeves? Is he nodding off? Why is he fidgeting?

One major downfall of being reliant on a permanent opiate fix is that alcohol tastes atrocious. I don’t know if this is the same for everyone but for me, wine tastes like balsamic vinegar. Beer and spirits might not taste that much differently at first but after a few, I am reaching for the water bottle. Even that glorious past time of drinking too much becomes a chore. Alcohol was my favourite drug once upon a time and I gladly indulged like any other young Aussie male. I know Xmas would be much more bearable with a few drinks. From out of all the booze on offer, it’s red wine that I miss most. It has cost me many, many thousands of dollars and a good 20 years to acquire a respectable palate, only to have it ripped away and replaced with the taste buds of a 13 year old. Remember how disgusting red wine was when you first tried it? The real crunch is that being a diabetic, I can’t drink soft drink either. Try going to a pub and drinking water! 

When you’re on substitution treatment like methadone/buprenorphine etc., you spend a lot of effort trying to keep mentally balanced. Once you have your dose, you must make the most of the initial effect and this is vital to how your day turns out. Then you have the delicate task of managing the numbing effect that lingers afterwards. Any disruption to your day can send the most stable of recovering addicts straight to their local dealer. Xmas is hectic enough for a normal person but when you have to manage every minute of the day or risk slipping into a state of depression that demands a hit of heroin, you have a real task on your hands. That is of course if you intend on not using that day. 

Like a true junkie, the Xmas tradition means I do get to treat myself to a special present. But it’s not a present that most people would want. Yes, of course I’m talking about heroin. But is it really a tradition or is that just my excuse to use? I like to think it’s a reward for surviving another year. Go on - frown if you’re not a user or addict. I can see the looks of disgust now - weak junkie making excuses for himself.

I would love to know what other addicts do for Xmas. Do you spend the whole day with family or do you visit for just a few hours? Do you reward yourself with heroin or is it just another day? What about those who don’t use? Does this anger you? Is it just a piss weak excuse to use drugs?

What it all boils down to is that addicts, whether they are in recovery or not, act differently. Each year that passes by can be an achievement or just another year closer to death. Many will have reduced their maintenance dose of methadone and be closer to that day where they are totally clean. Others will be in the same position as last year or the year before. There are no hard rules in place except in the fantasy world of policy makers and a critical media. They subscribe to the simple theory that one solution fits all and if you can’t act within the guidelines then you deserve what you get.

I hope to enjoy this Xmas. It’s the first time in many years that I will have most of my family at my house. They may not understand my situation but they mostly accept it and Xmas should play out like many other celebrations around the country. Whether I use or not or the fact I need a daily dose of morphine to feel normal will not make any difference to them - just as long as I smile a lot and don’t fidget.

Finally, I want to wish everyone a safe and merry Christmas. Also, a big thanks to those who have emailed me and to everyone who visits this website.

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zoot said...

Best wishes for Christmas and the coming year Terry.
To answer your question, I used to really enjoy soft drugs but as I got older the medication I'm on seems to have removed all the fun, so I guess I identify as a non-user. Your pieces detailing your day to day experiences are, for me, very enlightening. And yes, they have shattered a few stereotypes. Please keep up the good work.

Gledwood said...

Just before I clicked on your page I was hit by a pang of guilt because you'd asked me to post about a junkie Xmas 2 or 3 years ago and I never did it.

Now, in response to this post, I'll give it a bash on the Yucky Day itself.

You answered the question I was going to ask you: do you USE on Xmas day.

I used yesterday but what a waste of time. We've been in drought for a good 2-3 months and what I bought, from my old best dealer was such crud I may as well not have bothered.

I am constantly bemused by the international heroin market and how shit-arse criminals cannot even keep the single biggest market for heroin in Europe afloat just because some blight has ruined only a third of Afghanistan's last harvest. As a friend who would know told me, heroin takes a good 12-18 months to trundle from Afghanistan to Britain. It's actually no further in miles than Burma to Melbourne and I cannot see the big problem. My suspicion is that the twats at the top decided to up prices and human greed being what it is the entire market went tits up with over-adulterated gear.

It's my contention that things won't recover until the nest major harvest is in, late May 2011.

Even if things do recover between now and then I bet purity will be crap and I'm just not into crap-arse gear of 10% or less purity.

In Britain our average purity has been 40-50%. But it's all Afghan brown heroin base and so crap anyhow. If I had a choice of China White over that you can be assured I'd not have touched the brown crap ever.

Australia was in drought for several years as I hear, due to Burma's production going into eclipse in the early 2000s. Why on earth some enterprising soul didn't take advantage of Afghanistan's soaring production at that time and import from there truly beggars belief. They do, contrary to popular opinion, actually produce White Heroin Hydrochloride out there, to suit the superior Aussie palate. They could have brought that back.

Did you ever come across Afghan brown when it supposedly hit Australia's "streets" some years back? If so, what did you think of it?

I got China White a couple of times and while I far prefer it due to the lack of citric acid vein-stinging, the actual drug felt no different from top-notch brown to me. Low-grade brown is different. Far goofier. Less IV whoosh. Drowsy. Quite nice, especially if you make what Americans call an Oreo. That is dark and light heroin together. The white for a nice rush, the brown for the syrupy intoxication...

Anyway enough boring drugs talk. Apart from my little abberation I've been off the crap for 3 weeks. A record for me.

I'm home alone for Xmas, far as I know. Just me and whatever lovely pills I manage to get later on today! So I'll oblige you with that junkie Xmas post if I possbly can, between crap films on the BBC and my Industrial Satay chicken curry christmas dinner!

All the best for a Tolerable to Amazing Xmas (whichever) and may 2011 be far superior to this bag-o-shite year!!

Elvis made me do it said...

Its the season to contemplate suicide
tra-la-la-la-la......... a-la-la-la
" the War on Drugs PTY LTD " must love this time of year... so many "lost flock" to tend to under the guise of suicide prevention / depression awareness initiatives...Beyond Blue-shit and other useless token organizations
What a load of self serving bullshit.
Just as in the same vein that christian do-gooders man the sponges in paraplegic care ( why shoot the proverbial goose that lays the golden mortgage/kids Uni fees by offering euthanasia when you can spongebath your way to a better life ( yours not the paraplegics)..the same can be said of the parasitic organizations feeding the masses with expired food and compulsary god-bothering
You never see these do-gooders stalking for converts in the worlds' CBDs and affluent districts.. "strangely they always seem to prey/pray in the gutter" on the prowl for new recruits to spend eternity with them in togas to wash would saints feet with gourmet vinegar...makes me wanna puke at how self serving these vultures are...
Over the festive break lets all spare a thought for those rotting in jail whose only "crime" ( tho its obviously a vice not a crime) is they enjoy a different drug of choice to the mainstream...

Michelle said...

Hope you had a great Christmas, and have a fabulous New Year, Terry.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Zoot: Most people grow out of using drugs as they get older for many different reasons. The fact is only a tiny percentage actually become dependant or have any problems. We never hear in the media how much fun people have when taking drugs but instead hear the old myth that people always turn to drugs to dampen out personal pain. BTW, thanks for the compliments.

Gleds: I'll look forward to your story about Xmas - can you please email it to me when you have finished?
Yes, you are right about the drug market. I can not work out why local dealers are always late and risk losing clients. I suppose the Mr. Bigs will always have a massive clientele so they can do what they want. If one group offers quality, white heroin, they should blitz their opposition but this never happens for some reason.
I have never seen brown heroin and I think most Aussies would reject it. And you are correct in saying that white heroin is often the same strength as less processed, brown heroin. They are all cut several times.

Elvis made me do it: I agree. With so many organisations offering to help, there still seems to be a huge waiting list to receive proper treatment. If they really wanted to help, they would demand the government funds more places at existing programs.
And yes, the poor have always been a target for religious groups to promise some salvation. Ironically, the Catholic church object to Scientology using Narconon etc. as a way to find new members when they have been doing it for hundreds of years through missionaries.

Michele: Same to you ... I hope you had a great Xmas and have a good new year.

Mr Ghostface said...

merry christmas terry! The social development committee in queensland released their report about cannabis related harm. Here's the link if you haven't read it, it turned out a bit better than i thought it would.....

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Mr Ghostface.
Merry Xmas to you too!

I had a quick read through the report but sadly it didn't surprise me. I noticed that Dr. Stuart Reece kept being mentioned as well as Dr. Jan Copeland from NCPIC. This is enough to warn any rational person that the report will be biased.

The most important hardcore evidence was not given equal consideration as out-of-date research and questionable but popular strategies. The accepted conclusion to decades of research is that cannabis causes very little harm to most adults and only those who have a family history of mental health disorders and those under 21, are the exception.

The other fact that was brushed over was that prohibition has not deterred drug use one iota and actually caused far more problems than the drug itself.

Also, calling for more cannabis treatment just takes resources away from dangerous drugs. Again, the fact is, most cannabis users will never need treatment and those who do, often recover quickly.

In short, the report might excel at pushing education but misses an opportunity to try something else that has the support from experts around the world but doesn't have a history of failure ... like the recommendations of the report.

reb of Hobart said...

Have a good holiday season Terry.

Try not to be too hard on yourself.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Reb
Happy New Year to you!

I'm sorry but I didn't have a link to your fine website. That has now been fixed.

Take care.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see another Aussie user that actually has posted some honest insight into the life of a user. My Xmas experiences in the past, have been almost matched to what you have advised.

I am writing this anonymously as my google account is linked to my online business and I'm not ready to advise that I have been an addict for over 20 years. although, also capable of running a successful film & TV business. Not the dodgy sex type.

This is the 1st Xmas that I have not bought myself a little prezzie, which is amazing. Really amazing, seeing I did not have more than a weeks break at a time in 20 years. And I only had 2 or 3 of those in 20 years.

I am very proud to announce that I have only used twice in 2010. This is a miracle. This isnt because I didn't want to use, not because I cannot afford to, not because I was trying to get clean, but because after 20 years of using I am not prepared to spend $500 bucks for a shot and anything less is a waste of money. I am no longer prepared to give greedy dealers, no matter how good they personally think their gear is, any of my legally earned money.

I used all through the drought (apart for 3 days) and was paying huge amounts for grams and continued to use after it for years. but I decided that real heroin does not exist any longer in Australia. I don't like that dirty brown stuff, it just allows them to add a heap of pills to the mix. The junk that the kids use now has very little quality, or perhaps I have become allergic to it. I just get big welts all over me, no rush, no stone, and experience tells me that means its full of codeine and pills. I'm not paying $400 a gram for codeine.

But I am happy that its this way, I just cannot believe that for 18 months I have not thought about using. I am on the methadone program but I have always been on it and it never worked before. I just got to a stage in my life that I had more to do with my time and money than scoring. My kids are now older and thank goodness are not interested in drugs, although are aware of my husband and my use and have no interest in either drugs or alcohol. I have also managed to have a fantastic relationship and marriage through my addiction. I must have done something right as a parent as I ended up with 2 kids that are good at school and absolute angels and one is a teenager.

Im not advising this to brag, just to show others that their is hope and that one day the craving will go, when you least expect. That their is recovery. Many may not think I have recovery seeing i am on a program but for a hardcore this is a miracle. I am now ready to tackle the reduction but not at the risk of using, so if this becomes a risk I will stay on methadone for the rest of my life without any regret.

Ill set up a new google account and follow your blog .

Anonymous said...

Nice to see another Aussie user that actually can give some honest insight into the life of a user. I am 18 months clean, for the 1st time in 20 years and its been very empowering.

Mr. Orange said...

My thoughts on christmas this year... the first year that i can remember when i didnt have a little present for myself... though otherwise it was pretty much the same... i guess i gave up christmas when i decided the only present i really wanted was heroin... and everything else STILL pales in comparison sometimes...

sickgirl said...

I'm a little late responding but I've just now managed to drag myself back to my computer. One of our daughters moved back home a few months ago and has not yet brought her computer over here yet so she tends to monopolize mine - mostly cause I allow her where as her father will have none of it! It's been pretty convenient for me though as it has given me an excuse not to go near it - a vacation apart will benefit us both I should hope!

Anyway, allow me to give you a glimpse of my very own Junky Christmas a la Canada with a side of MMT thrown in for good measure. I am one of those tapering my dose down low enough now that the end is very much in sight. I am currently down to 22mg from a high of 105mg and my fifth anniversary of MMT less than a month away.

Even now with active addiction all but a faint memory, I find it near impossible to shake previous learned junky behaviour. While my husband and I go through the motions of spending Christmas day and dinner with our parents - rotated yearly - we basically find ourselves going through the motions and putting in time - a six hour visit seems reasonable, normal and acceptable so thats what we give. We buy everyone wonderful presents that appear as if we've spent ages agonizing over to make sure we found them the perfect gift when this couldn't be farther from the truth. I have an amazing ability to find these remarkable, personal gifts in record time and in one brief shopping outing - I will confess that I do tend to get them a few months before the holiday so that I won't have to go near the malls during holiday shopping time as I tend to get massive panic attacks, plus I have flashbacks of Xmas pasts where all the money was spent on anything but gifts and I never, ever want to endure what I felt like at those moments because it is just too, too awful, painful, shamefull et al.

I could go on and on but I shan't bore you much longer except to say that no matter how much I might dread and loathe and feel uncomfortable at this time of year, during the Christmas season I find that I am still much happier today in my present state than I had ever been while an active addict. This alone makes it OK in the end, as well as helping me through.

peace, love and happiness...


Anonymous said...

I use on xmas but it is by far the most hated day of the year I use. I fix up in the bathroom of whichever relative is on turn for hosting xmas lunch & the anxiety of doing this counteracts most of the goodness that I get from heroin. Yes, the heroin relieves some anxiety & stops me being sick, but I feel a lot of shame in my actions. It brings me great sadness (to say the least) but so would disappointing my family who have very limited knowledge on drugs & see heroin as the most demonised of them all. I'd prefer to get them a toaster oven instead!

I hope you had a great day Terry.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks everyone for your Xmas stories.

I notice that some of you didn't use on Xmas day. I think it depends on the person's situation like whether they are on MMT etc. Most of you are long term addicts so you would have all had the experience of Xmas with heroin. I didn't use either this year though it wasn't from resisting but because it was too late after everyone had left to go home. It's interesting to hear that going without is not that important for some especially when you're in recovery. I suppose it's a reminder to everyone that heroin isn't everything but a solution during certain parts of our lives.

Personally, heroin gives me several hours of feeling normal - being optimistic, joining in with conversations, not being upset with unimportant issues, thinking about my future etc. Sometimes I get high but usually I just feel like I once did when I was human.

Every story posted here was really interesting and it's helpful to see how others deal with addiction at Xmas - Having to sneak a hit in your relative's bathroom, going through the motions of Xmas, remembering how it used to be when actively using, having to hide your internet identity just to post your story, needing heroin more than Xmas itself, feeling ashamed of previous behaviour, trying to please your family etc.

So, thanks once again for sharing your experiences. If you haven't read all the comments, please check them out. It's good to see how others cope and it might even give your own situation some added context.

Everyone take care.

Terri said...

Dear Terry, I read
few postings you made 'Call to test 'drug slum' tenants I knew immediately you are very special..keep doing this have gift you can reach heart and my thoughts are with you and all the people out there struggling with addiction.I wish you all the best i truly am

Terri said...

Dear Terry,
I came across few of your posting on western Australian blog..I knew immediately that it is something very special about have a gift you can reach people..keep doing this blogs don't give up. My heart and my thoughts are with you ..I am tremendously moved by your does not happens to often with me. I will continue reading your postings and from the bottom of my heart i wish you all the best