Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Drugs Don't Work

Sat around a circular table with three other couples, waiting for our main course at a wedding - we were interrupted. "I'm sorry to butt in guys, but I've just heard that Amy Winehouse is dead".

At least we'll all remember where we were when we found out. There was no shock, no conversation, I just made a joke (as I always tend to do at the most inappropriate times) and suggested they tell the Master of Ceremonies. The MC had driven us all mad asking us to be "upstanding for a toast" every five minutes, I thought it may be time for one final toast to a wasted life.

Fleeting thoughts about other drug-addled 'legends' were juxtaposed with thoughts about people more familiar to me. People who had gone a step further than smoking joints, snorting the odd line, taking a pill. People who had crossed the line, gone the extra mile, pushed the boat out. Jacked-up.
I have NEVER taken Heroin. It was around me for a while during my early to mid teens, I was never offered any -  the smackheads I knew kept their habit private.
I saw the odd bottle of Methadone or Diazepam medicine nestled on the mantlepiece where a clock, candlestick or figurine may be. That was all.

The world of the smackhead was everywhere, yet nowhere to be seen. The early morning queue at the chemist, the needle exchange clinic always busy, the skeletal, haunted figures shuffling down the streets in small gangs.To this day though, I have never seen anyone 'jack-up'.
 I knew what I would become if I took Heroin, I knew what lifestyle I'd have. I knew how terrible I'd look, how skint I'd be. I knew that to try Heroin, was to become an addict overnight. The life of crime, violence,  debauchery that lay ahead never appealed. I didn't need a 'buzz' that badly.

I saw a boy, homeless, and messed up on heroin, he was drifting in and out of consciousness and preparing for death "nothing can be more painful than life".

Every now and then I'd hear of another familiar person who'd gone over to the dark side - something about piercing your vein to inject a hot brown liquid chemical had appealed to them.
She was indiscriminate, Lady Heroin. Like a trip to the library or a music/book shop -  she collected people from all walks of life. The pampered only child, the grade 7 piano-playing middle-class girl who was so bloody clever, the abandoned teens living in bedsits following family breakdowns, the transient 'oddballs' who slotted in with the jobless time-rich wasters, artists and acutely mentally ill.

I could imagine the feeling of being comfortably numb, the pink cloud eclipsing the black. A brief escape from yourself, life, family, pain. Heroin was never about enhancing existing senses, it seemed.  I always thought "it MUST be good" because too many sensible people had sold their soul to smack.

When my best friend chose smack. I'd already lost her in some ways, I had said goodbye, sat back and waited for her to become a person I could handle. Three horrible boyfriends, one after another, made it difficult to keep in touch. These boyfriends (maybe with the exception of the final one) were high achievers. Number one was the son of a headmaster (apparently a lovely guy) and teacher. He was beautiful until you looked into his cold eyes, charming and intelligent until his controlling superiority reared it's head. His heroin addiction was fought by his family with the most supreme effort imaginable, it was pointless. He's now  paraplegic and relies on 24 hour care, the car crash should have killed him, a passing doctor saved his life with seconds to go, his parents never recovered (though they are alive and did not crash).

I never met boyfriend 2, but felt his overpowering presence when I visited their flat. His artwork was disturbed, twisted and yet somehow perfect. He was discharged from the army, but behaved like a soldier in the relationship. I browsed his CD collection, nothing pretty there either, and coming from me, that's saying something.
Escaping his hold seemed to lead to a brighter time for my friend, her silly letters and drawings started to grace the doormat again. I met her at her parents house 40 miles away, she was happy that day but so thin. I was disappointed to hear she was a big Fugees fan, that didn't fit in with my life, I wanted her to be like me again. She cut the visit short, I was upset. She was happy  because she'd met a 'lovely guy'. He was a lovely Heroin addict.

We were both pregnant at the same time, it was great to have someone to share pregnancy with, but we didn't see each other. We met up once when our babies were a few months old, I have a photograph of our little bundles of joy lying side by side. When my son was one, she sent a card - I was touched. I kept meaning to thank her, my birthday was coming up; her daughter's birthday soon after, I would ring then.
 I rang her to say thank you, to suggest we meet up, to put some effort in to maintaining some sort of friendship. The answer I got when I asked to speak to her was blunt, it came from her partner - the father of her beautiful daughter: "haven't you heard? She died the other day".

I still went out for my birthday, just minutes after the call. We went to the pub where I worked for a free meal. En route, I passed a boy she knew well from school, told him the news. He looked really shocked, he had a drug problem, he is now dead too (heart attack).
When I walked into the pub "The Drugs Don't Work" was playing on the jukebox.

The funeral was a humanist ceremony; poems were read, people spoke about the girl who wasn't 'an addict'. I should have spoken, I should have spoken about my lovely, creative, child-like friend, but I didn't.

Today is the first time I have spoken about it really, eleven years on - I still don't know what to say.


  1. I don't know what to say :-( It's an awful thing when a friend takes the 'experimenting' many of us do as teenagers and runs across continents with it. It's all the more sad because they lose themselves as well as we losing them, I can't imagine what it must be like on the inside of it but on the outside trying to find a way to help it felt very bleak.

    I'm so sorry your friend was lost to it xXx

  2. It's tragic. I think your home town is very similiar to mine, a wasteland made desolate by the Thatcher years, no jobs, no prospects, no decent housing, no bloody hope.
    During the Eighties I lost many acquaintances to drugs and someone heartbreakingly close to me chose to drink herself to death only last year, it's so sad and no matter how bad we feel when someone's so hell bent on self-destruction there's bugger all that we can do to convince them otherwise.
    I adored Amy, I saw her live on numerous occasions and she was the reason I dyed my blonde hair black. The last time I saw her, during a particularly shambolic set, I was reduced to tears with a funny feeling that this would be the last time I'd ever see her sing live. x

  3. Heartbreaking. I was a 60’s teenager - and yes I remember it - I was there - and at college in the early 70’s, when we all knew someone who was into drugs. Like you, it never appealed to me, but that’s not to say that I was holier-than-thou about it. Drink is just as bad and a mixture of the two positively lethal - poor old Amy. Your friend’s life was tragic too, a waste of a creative individual. You write that you don’t know what to say but your words have offered a memorial to her and possibly laid her ghost for you at the same time. A powerful and thought-provoking piece.

  4. wow Luce, very affecting, writing and subject. Living in the back of beyond Amy Winehouse means very little to me but the rest, all too familiar. My best friend from school died of alcoholism 15 years ago. I visited her grave when I went home to England in December. Chilling, in the horror story meaning of the word. Before I left for New Zealand I worked ran detox beds in a hospital (I can only remember one lasting success in 4 years re heroin) and literally the day before I left I saw a reference in a young womans admission note, about her pimp...who was my half-brother. The last time I saw him he was a nine year old, eating sweets, fishing. I still blame it all on Thatcher.

  5. I can't begin to imagine how this affected you over the years. It's such an awful thing to happen. My best friends partner was a drug addict and it made him lose his life too so her Son (now 18) grew up never knowing his Dad.

    A really powerful post x

  6. You hit the nail on the head with that post. I too have a childhood friend who has lived with heroin addiction until recently. In some ways I am fortunate that she is still here but in other ways the longing continues, longing for us to recapture what was but as time passes I am left with the feeling that too much water has passed under the bridge. Its so hard when you remember how things were so clearly, I am glad you spoke about your friend, thanks x

  7. I'm so sorry about your friend. Amy Winehouse too. Such a massive waste. Even if you don't touch hard drugs they can still affect your life - Amy and your friend both left a hole that will pull other people in to the misery. Another very heartfelt and thought-provoking post xx

  8. Im so so sorry to hear about what happened to your friend, i cant even imagaine the effect on all her family and friends like yourself to lose someone in their prime to drugs. Ive been quite lucky growing up in that I never saw an drug taking and no friends even smoked! When i went to uni I saw the drugs culture then in the clubs but never heroin. Such a waste of life :o( Scarlett x

  9. So sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. Someone fairly close to me lost their life due to alcoholism as did a young man in my social group a few years ago. We felt so helpless observing their deterioration and their deaths shook us to the core. Now as I look at my lovely children, I worry about how they will cope with the drinks and drugs culture. x

  10. You may not have spoken at her funeral, but you've given her a lovely tribute here xx


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