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.
DIARY: Christmas 2009 - The Verbose Thank You List
DIARY: Christmas 2009 - The Verbose Thank You List