Saturday, December 06, 2008


I'm a freelance IT person and so I haven't seen many heroin addicts in my life.

Not that IT freelancers are a particularly well-adjusted lot. I've worked with way more than my fair share of alcoholics and people who indulge in what I would call "risk-taking behaviours". This covers driving like idiots, gambling, fooling around with unsuitable partners and generally doing stuff that would make their mothers cry.

My favourite example is a guy I once worked with who was making good money but who slept in his car rather than getting a hotel room. He told me he was saving up until he had £100,000 in the bank and then he was going to drive his car/hotel to a casino in Monte Carlo and stake the lot on black. If he won, he'd party for a few years; if he lost, he'd return and try and get his old job back. One day he quit and left without a word - I never heard from him again.

The addictions of IT people tend to be sociable addictions - alcoholics and gamblers can and do maintain successful careers and often you wouldn't know they were addicts unless they actually told you.

Heroin addiction is a whole different story.

A couple of the cases in the court session I observed last week involved heroin addicts. Both of them looked old way beyond their years and their skin was an unearthly glowing white - like the make-up of a geisha - like a ghost. Their lives were a mess - the cliche used in court is that they had "chaotic lifestyles", which makes it sound as though all they needed was a course in Time Management.

In fact heroin had killed these people - they just hadn't stopped moving yet. Their higher brains were dead - they had become zombies, fit only to crave more drugs and make pitifully poor attempts at petty crime to fund their habit. Meanwhile their bodies were slowly falling apart as their minds unravelled.

On my way back to my car after court, I walked through an underpass. There was a young girl, face unnatural white, slumped against a wall. She lit up a cheap disposable lighter and watched the flame with unnatural concentration. Then she flicked it off and eventually back on again and repeated the flame watching. I walked on by, she didn't seem to notice me and I heard the "click ..... click" of the lighter continue behind me.

Breaks your heart - that used to be someone's little girl before someone brought heroin into her life.

1 comment:

Marilyn said...

My name is Marilyn Botta and I wrote a book called Crazy in Lust about my time with my lover, a heroin addict. What you say is sometimes true about alcoholics; that they can and often do maintain their jobs and lives. I was one who, from outside, appeared "normal" with no alcohol problems. However, that was just a facade. I also know that eventually it would have caught up with me. I know many alcoholics who bottomed out so badly that they became street people. I was on my way too, maybe. I just happpened to have a moment of sanity and clarity one fine day where I realized I had to stop drinking otherwise I would not be able to maintain my job, home, and life. My lover, who I lived with for 5 months, lost everything. He moved in with me after he got out of yet another rehab. Over and over he did the same thing and never managed to get any amount of clean time. He finally ended up living in the street after I threw him out; I realized I couldn't continue to enable him. It was heart breaking but I did what I had to do. Today, 7 years later I still don't know if he ever got clean and sober--I only hope he did.