As a recovering addict the news that cocaine-related deaths have almost quadrupled since 2011 is beyond heartbreaking.
It gives me the same pit of my stomach feeling I got when I went alone at 10am to watch the Amy Winehouse film and cried for the entire 128 minutes. It’s reckless, unnecessary loss of precious life and it is totally avoidable.
Cocaine stripped every good thing from me. I went from a bright and bubbly young woman surrounded by friends to an isolated, desperate addict locking herself away from sunlight and in order to dull all experiences with chemicals.
I didn’t die, but I was dying.
I never wanted to kill myself but there were times when I would have accepted death as relief from the cyclical abuse I was inflicting on myself night after night.
Stories like mine are important. It is important for people to see that it doesn’t matter how bad things get there is always a way back. It’s important for people to know that there is a life after addiction and it can more fun and fulfilling than anything you imagined.
It’s important for people to know that that friend, colleague, parent or cousin can still pull it back. All is never lost.
But for a sub-set of drug users my story is not helpful. That’s the guys who like a Friday night sharpener, the ones who dabble, the ones who don’t pick up themselves but have a cheeky line from a mate or the ones who use about once are week, but they’re on top of it. All they hear when they read my story is: “Thank God I’m not that bad.”
People think that because they never woke up with a black eye like I did or never had to leave a job or even the country to escape addiction, that they’re fine.
The first time I got shooting pains in my arm, I had done a line from a suspect gram I picked up in Ibiza. I called my boyfriend at the time and asked which arm it was for a heart attack. He didn’t identify as a drug addict, but he was known to drop a pill at parties. He dabbled. He replied: “That’s a question I ask myself every time I get shooting pains in my arm.”
It’s time we stop accepting dangerous side effects as a necessary symptom of having fun. If you woke up with the same crippling nausea that you do with a hangover, but you hadn’t drunk alcohol, you would go straight to hospital. You would think you were dying.
We need to stop being so casual about what even recreational drug users are doing to their bodies. Shooting pains in your arm are not normal. Here’s a list of other things that aren’t normal either:
- Nose bleeds
- Memory loss
- Increasingly cavernous nostrils
- Lying in bed listening to your thudding heart dreading the next few sleepless hours and promising yourself that you will never take coke again
- Consistently telling yourself you don’t want to take drugs one night and then splitting a gram with Greg from accounts because you’ve had a couple of Chardonnays
- Getting numbness in your fingers and toes
- Blacking out
- Having to call everyone to apologise for your behaviour the night before on a regular basis
To be clear – I am not saying that if you have experienced any of these things you are an addict. But if that list sounds familiar you may want to consider the idea that it’s a problem. And if you try to calm things down but can’t, you may want to read up on addiction and see if you identify further.
A friend of mine, Alan Wright, who works at addiction charity Forward and founded Drugline, put it perfectly when he said: “I want to raise people’s rock bottom.
“I want people to come into recovery after one nosebleed instead of years of them. Or after they lose one job, rather than a series of jobs and they’re penniless and on the street.”
It’s time for society to raise the bottom. Stop glorifying hedonism and recognise the damage that drugs really do. I carried on using for two years after I those shooting pains because I felt reassured that if my boyfriend had had them too it “wasn’t that bad”.
If we stop laughing at our friend’s black-out stories and start encouraging them to take better care of themselves, then maybe we’ll catch addiction before it’s too late.
Perhaps people who “dabble” will identify it earlier, so that they can get life-saving help. Every addict stops using eventually, but preferably in a recovery programme – and not in a morgue.
Lauren Windle is a journalist in recovery for cocaine and alcohol addiction since April 2014. She regularly speaks about her experiences and runs a 16-week programme for people battling addiction