I recently watched the ‘Avicii: True Stories‘ documentary and there was one bit that really struck me – Avicii (or Tim, as was his real name) is talking about addiction, or, rather, his “problem” with drink and other substances and explains how he failed to connect his lifestyle with his problems. He outlines how the perception of what constitutes a problem or addiction couldn’t be reconciled with how he was living. I bloody heard myself in his words: “I didn’t drink in the morning“.
This is also highlighted in the book I’m currently reading, ‘American Drug Addict‘ by Brett Douglas. Douglas implores the reader to picture a drug addict, to conjure up the sort of person we believe this to be. He then asks us if some examples he goes on to list are in accordance with the image we’ve just thought of. Of course they are not – he lists success, a loving family, a stable background and financial security. Douglas has in this list described himself and he is, as the title of the book suggests, a drug addict. It may seem obvious but I honestly think we often need reminding that drug addiction doesn’t necessarily look the way we think it does.
Sure, the desperate soul on the park bench who’s pee’d their pants and sit there shaking with their can of strong cider is indeed a picture of addiction and drug abuse, absolutely so, but it’s ONE picture of many, many, many. And so is the wreck of a person getting nicked for stealing or prostituting to support their habit, skin ravaged from them picking at it the way meth apparently does when it makes you believe bugs live underneath it. Or something like that. Drug addiction is all these things and more. But those severe examples are just that: severe examples. Those are the pictures of the end of the journey and the ride before we get to that stage is a very long one. Those extreme examples we see, those “obvious” addicts and drunks, constitute a very tiny minority. The rest of us exist on the same train but a few coaches back perhaps. It’s just we don’t talk openly about it, those honest conversations around drugs just don’t seem to exist, so we’re left with this extremely narrow view of what a drug addict or drunk is – no wonder we’re left fumbling in the dark!
Bambino is coming up to 15 years old. Only this morning I had a conversation with him about drink and drugs. As wonderful and well meaning as my parents were, I was never able to have an open and honest conversation with them and that was mostly because we were ALL desperately ill informed about drink, drugs and their effects. My parents simply didn’t have the knowledge. Well, they had knowledge but it was wrong. They’d simply been taught wrong like the rest of us.
I was never big on drugs. In my lifetime I’d estimate I’ve smoked weed probably about 20 times. I’ve tried amphetamine, ecstacy and cocaine – each of those a handful of times and all now many years ago in my early 20s. I was never a fan of those things and they never gave any effect I liked, unlike alcohol, which, in contrast, I fell head over heels in love with obviously. Point is though, it didn’t take many puffs on a joint to realise that what I’d been told was nonsense.
Perhaps drugs propaganda is/was different in countryside Sweden around the early 90s than it is elsewhere, but what I was fed growing up was that no matter which drug – cannabis or heroin – you could get stuck from the first time. Smoking that one joint would likely lead you down the terrible path to overdosing and dying with a needle still in your arm. Of course what I, and probably lots of other young people, quickly discovered was how I didn’t get hooked at all. And it didn’t take a lot to realise that stoners are the most docile and friendly people around. Unlike, amusingly, drunk people who are a lot more prone to aggression. The scary stories about cannabis induced psychosis and a fast track to ending up a junkie simply weren’t true. So to my young mind the obvious question that formed was “well, that wasn’t true so what else isn’t????“.
The truth is, not all of us become addicts. Some of us do and it’s from the word go. Sure, many drugs ARE addictive physically no matter your predispositions be it biologically or mentally/emotionally, but there are other reasons why some of us get hooked in a way that others don’t. How I turned out to be an addict and my husband didn’t is nothing to do with whether we tried weed as teenagers. In fact, in his late teens, Hubby was a full-on stoner and regularly got high on weed – much more so than the relatively few times I smoked the stuff in my time. So why me and not him? Why can he drink a couple of glasses of wine and then be content and stop whereas with me it’s like I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer the moment I put that wineglass to my lips? Something sets us apart and it’s not about the drugs themselves – it’s about something in US.
Some people refer to this difference as an inherent inability to be content with what is. An inner turmoil perhaps. A sense of discontent, irritability and unease. Emotional pain. I do stand firm for the time being, however, until such time that I’m shown evidence to the contrary or am enlightened to see a differing perspective: I don’t believe it’s the drugs that create addicts. Yes, you can get physically hooked on heroin from that one hit, but fact remains that if you’re not hurting inside somehow it’s unlikely you’d ever seek its relief. People can enjoy some drugs (including alcohol and cannabis, say, but even cocaine or ecstacy or LSD) without getting hooked, but some people find relief. Perhaps that’s the difference? Some find fun and/or relaxation they can take or leave, some of us find a sort of relief we then cannot bear to live without.
And so, the conversation I have with Bambino is very different from the conversation I had with my own parents when I was his age. I told him honestly that if he goes through life and occasionally smokes a bit of weed, I wouldn’t worry. Emphasis on ‘occasionally’. What I worry about is the crap that happens because the drugs that are all less harmful than alcohol are, unlike alcohol, all illegal and therefore two frightening dangers occur: 1) you don’t know what’s in it, you can never be sure of what the stuff might be laced with, and 2) the merchants and the crowd running the supply chain. I can imagine people may gasp in horror to what I just said. How could a parent have the audacity to tell a 15-yearold that they’re not that concerned about a bit of weed? Lock that evil, stupid, DANGEROUS, damaging, fucked-up woman up and throw away the key after stripping her of all rights to be a mother. Fine, I accept you may not agree with me. That’s absolutely fine.
The conversation I have with Bambino can be summed up as follows:
- Bambino – I realise the world you live in is different from the one I lived in at your age. I think I get what it’s like to be young but I probably don’t so I need you to explain this to me. What are the pressures? What goes on? What are the situations you have to navigate that I don’t get? Educate me, please.
- Bambino – if you occasionally smoke a spliff through your life to unwind or whatever and that’s the worst that’ll happen, I will rest easy. Just like I’ll rest easy if you throughout life have a couple of beers occasionally. If it turns into something else, something frequent and a loss of control, it’s a different conversation we need to have.
- Bambino – you’re barely 15. You are not to touch any of these things because you’re still growing and your brain is still developing. It’s not good for you. And you’re not allowed. There will be consequences if you go and get drunk or high whilst you’re still underage. You’re still a child and that’s why you’re to refrain from doing these things.
- Bambino – you don’t know what’s in the illegal drugs. With alcohol you can at least read the label and rely on it. Even weed could be laced with synthetic crap and you have no way of knowing. Nor can you know the strength or how you’ll react to it for that same reason.
- Bambino – because drugs are illegal they’re controlled by dark powers. This is a crowd you are not to mix with. One step sideways and you’re in their pocket. You’re a prime target as a young drugs mule and it would only take “pass this on” and your life as you know it could be over. With drugs, there is no such thing as a free lunch. You are to always distance yourself from these crowds. And remove yourself from situations too, even when some mates are just “innocently” smoking a joint or whatever else.
- Bambino – I love you. I don’t understand your world like you do, so help me there, OK?
- Bambino – that horrible sinking feeling when you have to be dishonest, sneak around and hide stuff, I don’t want you to have that. Yes, there’ll be consequences like you being grounded and without your allowance etc if you mess up, but we will only have a conversation like this one: calm and reasonable where I listen to you too. I always have your back and I’m always in your corner and whatever it is I want us to be open with each other. I didn’t have that with my parents but I want that for us. Let’s trust each other.
Bambino looked at me, his huge blue eyes all serious and somber.
“I want to have that relationship too.”
I hugged my little monkey, who is now quite a bit taller than I am so that in order to rest my chin on his shoulder I actually ended up facing the ceiling.
Then some magical words fell out of his mouth:
“I’m lucky to have a mum like you.”
I suppressed a happy little sob.
No, I’m not a great mum and God knows I’ve failed Bambino in so, so many ways. But if this did some good, happy days. I don’t know how else I could approach it. Had I not been stuck in my own addiction, perhaps I could have got on a high horse and preached morality and virtuous living but given my own journey that seems really hypocritical. Perhaps it’s a huge risk to admit to your kid that you’ve fucked up beyond what they are ever likely to, but I don’t want to hide any of that from him. Hell, he’s seen me comatose drunk countless times so I find it absolutely pointless to try to present myself as some sort of role model in that regard. I think he’d lose respect for me if I did. Instead, I’m showing him I take ownership and want to have an honest conversation with him where drink and drugs are concerned.
Not so long ago, I got him a copy of ‘Drugs: Without the Hot Air‘ by professor David Nutt. It’s a factual book about all drugs, including alcohol. It goes through what they are, what they do, what the risks are and everything else you need to know. No fear mongering or horror stories, just facts. It’s the book I wish had been in existence back when I was Bambino’s age and that I wish I’d read. I hugely recommend it and I honestly believe it should be compulsory reading for every young adult.
Nutt’s book along with more information around what addiction actually is would be a very good place to start to help our young persons build better foundations. Yes, that person there on the park bench is an alcoholic, but so is that nice lady who works at the bank who is still doing a great job and whose appearance is still intact. Isn’t it funny how the main obstacle is always knowledge? And why do we withhold it? Do we worry that if we are honest, our young’uns will rush out and try lots of drugs? We already know this wouldn’t be the case as it never has been in any of the places where drugs have been decriminalised. Not once, not ever.
Am I starting to sound like I’m all for decriminalising drugs? Well… Look at Portugal… It works. Maybe they’re doing something right… After all, if we were only to look at America – 58,220 Americans died during the Vietnam war between 1955 and 1973. Compare this with 70,237 who died from a drugs overdose in 2017. Yes, you read that correctly. I need to dig out some stats for Europe at some point. However, this isn’t a problem that’s going to go away UNLESS WE CHANGE HOW WE TALK ABOUT ADDICTION. We need to get fucking honest about this. And we need to get a fucking grip and make a change so we stop thinking of addicts as only those who have visibly and obviously lost everything. The road there is fucking LONG and also, it’s not paved with good intentions. We’ve been let down and lied to. Let’s get honest. For real.
Today I’m not going to drink.