“He was depressed. He was addicted to heroin. And I think there comes a time when all the beauty in the world just isn’t enough.”  Antony John

It has been over fourteen years since I last smoked heroin. My addiction to it only lasted five years but it still colours my existence in many ways. As I now have this distance, I hope I can write about it more dispassionately, but my memories of my life as a heroin addict are ones of desperation, loneliness, isolation, shame and terrible constipation. All of this was self-inflicted but I naively didn’t see it coming. I have touched on these experiences previously, so I apologise for any repetition.

When I began regularly using heroin, I was spending most days and nights in the studio with my band Juttajaw, writing and recording our music and remixing other artists. A haze of ecstasy, LSD, cocaine and cannabis, our schedule was extremely hectic. I have not, before or since, worked as intensely as a composer and musician. When you spend that much time in a studio with three other musicians, living in each other’s pockets, you need to escape.

Escape into addiction

In the middle of the night at the Fortress Studios building, the only other people awake, available and interesting were habitual heroin users. It was their friendship and conversation I enjoyed, but heroin was always present and it soon became the lure. I bathed in the divine seediness and sleaziness of it all. I revelled in my bad behaviour, the danger and the reproach of my colleagues. The presence of two beautiful women seeking my company, both also heroin users, only ensured my decline into addiction. Initially I assumed they wanted to spend time with me due to my sparkling personality. Obviously, I was wrong, but they added to the sordid glamour and my addict brain’s reasoning.

Obtaining my gear was the most humiliating process I have ever experienced – waiting for my man, when they knew I would wait all night, clucking, hurting and utterly powerless. As with all drug use, much is to do with the rituals. When the magic cure is in your hands, you need the foil, the right lighter to burn off the foil consistently and, when you can afford it, solitude. As with every addict’s story, it didn’t take long for my life to implode.

My creativity continued for a while but after a couple of years it died and my addict behaviour caused my relationship with the rest of the band to deteriorate to an irreparable degree. The band split; there were other reasons but my addiction was a primary cause. I became homeless, sofa surfing. It was only the intervention of a dear friend that got me housed again, but by then I was beyond help and I abused this act of kindness. My home became the haunt of other users; I was rarely visited by friends. I was deeply depressed and lonely. Heroin was both the cause and the cure.

A friend’s despair

Any addiction will destroy your life. Within five years, heroin addiction had dismantled my creativity, my friendships and any hope. I now believe that my recovery started when my best friend and my future best man Kelly visited me. Afterwards she told me she had been avoiding visiting my new home. She knew how lost I was. When she arrived, someone was semi-conscious on my bed and I was a sick man. A ruin. She only stayed ten minutes, then told me she had to leave. As I walked her to the tube, she told me in no uncertain terms what a mess I was and how much this was hurting her. On my walk home, I wept. I howled at the moon.  In absolute despair, I needed to smoke more heroin.

In a fairy tale I would have stopped using that day. Reality however, is more brutal than fiction. I spiralled further down, but Kelly’s visit was the catalyst for my recovery. In my addiction I lied, stole and betrayed everything I held dear. I am only alive today because of the compassion and forgiveness of my friends and family. I have written before about the beautiful epiphany of my release from heroin; however, I stopped using heroin but my addiction continued, surreptitiously. Alcohol slowly, surely and subtly filled the chasm left by heroin and began to consume me. Root causes had not been resolved.

Just for today

When you first start using heroin it makes you nauseous. This should be a clue. It is a poison. Writing this has made that nausea return. Today, nearly fourteen years later, I am clean. I confront sobriety and talk to fellow recovering addicts every single day. Most of the time this strengthens and feeds my recovery. On bad days it screams danger. In the Anonymous Fellowships they say, “Just for today” and “You have to work it”. These phrases have more truth than I have the capacity to emphasise. On my recovery journey, I am only one drink or drug away from hell. Like every other recovering addict, I walk a tightrope. Today I am free, wish me luck for tomorrow.

Ah, when that heroin is in my blood

Heh, and that blood is in my head

Then thank God that I’m as good as dead

And thank your God that I’m not aware

And thank God that I just don’t care

Lou Reed