Small tower block against a grey February sky, just outside London, cigarette butts like confetti around the entrance, we climb the staircase, footsteps echo, smells of dust and cleaning products. It was my aunty and I, suitcase in my hand, on our way to the rehab offices on the second floor.
The double doors made a squishy sound as we pushed them open and we found oursleves on a corridoor of offices. The secretary directed us a few doors down. We knocked and Chris answered. He was like a car salesman drizzled in twelve-step humility; he gave me a nondescript handshake and offered me a seat.
‘How you doing?’ he asked
‘OK, fine” I replied,
He asked me the usual questions, what drugs I was addicted to, how much was I using, when was the last time I used and then he produced the contract all clients of the rehab had to sign. I was to agree to the following rules:
1) To abstain from using any form of mind or mood alerting substance including alcohol. This includes medication that has not been prescribed or sanctioned by our Doctors or authorised members of their medical team or a senior member of the rehab team.
2) Not to mix, associate or spend time in the company of anyone who uses any form of mind or mood altering substance.
3) To not collude with, or enable any peer to use any form of mind or mood altering substances.
4) To not spend time with any person who has been discharged or self discharged from any drug or alcohol treatment facility.
5) To not allow any peer to use your mobile phone.
6) To not enter into any form of illegal activity or enter any establishments where illegal activity may take place.
7) To refrain from gambling or entering any establishments where gaming or gambling take place.
8) To refrain from entering into any form of exclusive or sexual relationship whilst engaged in Primary or Secondary Care, such action may lead to discharge from treatment
9) To refrain from entering pubs, bars and clubs.
10) To attend all timetabled activities, one-one counseling sessions and complete all written and therapeutic assignments on time and when requested to do so.
11) To attend 12 Step fellowship meetings of A.A, C.A, N.A, (or other 12 Step fellowships) every evening with at least two members of your peer group. You are expected to attend a minimum of 5 meetings per week
12) To refrain from using any form of violence or threatening behaviour to peers, staff, visitors, property or members of the community. Anyone who commits a violent act will be reported to the police and charges pursued.
13) Mobile phones and personal stereos must be handed in to the office each morning and collected each evening. They are not to be used on our premises between the hours of 9.00am and 4.30pm. Mobile phones are not to be used during the first month of treatment and thereafter at the sole discretion of the counseling team.
14) To abide with the no smoking and out of limits areas. All of the premises are smoke free zones. Smoking is permitted outside where ashtrays are provided.
15) To be accompanied and supported by at least two peers at all times or as directed.
16) To respect the confidentiality of all peers, ex-peers and all people including staff involved with the rehab.
17) To not discriminate against any person. This includes discrimination in relation to age, gender, sexuality, colour, creed, size, religion or social standing. Discriminatory behaviour will not be tolerated!
18) To take part in random drug tests as and when requested to do so or as directed by the courts or probation services. A positive result and adulterated tests may result in instant discharge from treatment. Refusal to provide a sample may also lead to discharge from treatment.
I was to be without drugs for the first time in my adult life. Shit.
I had nowhere else to go. Over the previous year my addiction to Heroin had slowly twisted my personality until I was full of ugly lies and need. My landlord had thrown me out and threatened to call the police if I returned, my friends had deserted me and my girlfriend had dumped me. I had become a complete liability at work and keeping my job depended on completing treatment.
My parents had sold the family home and moved to China for my father to pursue a new career so my aunty and uncle had taken me in when I was evicted. It was in their house I convulsed and vomited my way through days of withdrawal. And then got high a week later.
The rehab cost ₤6000; non-refundable. If I didn’t complete the treatment there were no second chances. As the initial assessment with Chris finished, my aunty hugged and kissed me goodbye and left me alone. Sobriety approached like an apocalyptical asteroid.
I was shown to the first floor where the rehab was and left to meet my “peers” who stood in clumps and dregs around an open room with smaller therapy rooms behind closed doors. There were two large notice boards on a wall covered in crayon and coloured pictures on the subject of recovery and addiction. There was an area to make tea and coffee, a few faux-leather sofas and tables covered in worksheets and pencils. It was like some kind of hellish pre-school. Someone thrust a hardback book into my hand: the fourth edition of the “Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous”.
The “clients” lived in houses in a shit area of town near to the centre. I was introduced to my two housemates.
Bill was from Manchester, he had a wonky eye from when someone had punched him really hard in prison and a Nike “swoosh” badly tattooed on his right hand. Connor was an Irish skinhead with a working-class charisma. He had been nominated as my “buddy”. It was his responsibility to show me the ropes and he took this job seriously.
Without drugs, my mind felt like a premature baby: helpless, cold, ripped from the womb and out into the blinding light. The desire to eclipse reality subsumed all other thought. I soon became obsessed with trying to find a way of using without being thrown out of rehab.
Those initial days were a text of therapy groups, twelve-step meetings with breaks of boredom. Without drugs and gambling there was little for us to do in our free time then sit outside mall coffee shop flirting, gossiping and shoplifting.
After dinner I would take a small hit from a bottle of GBL that I had smuggled in. Stupid? Probably. But I had packed my bags when I was high and just grabbed the bottle and stuffed it in my bag on autopilot. I ultimately justified it because there were only seven or so hits left and GBL was semi-legal at the time. But it was no substitute for Heroin; I had a massive tolerance to the stuff so it barely registered in my consciousness.
After the evening’s twelve step meeting I would watch TV or a violent gangster film with the violent gangsters I lived with. As well as Bill and Connor there was a polish guy who had a liver that protruded from his guts and Jim who was older and in secondary treatment which meant he had a different schedule to the rest of us.
By the fourth day I had a plan. Cocodamol is an over-the-counter painkiller available from all good pharmacists in the UK. They contain 90% paracetemol and 10% codeine which is an opiod. It would have been suicide to eat enough pills to administer an active dose of codeine but if I could extract the drug…
I needed two boxes of the pills minimum. Three or four would have been preferable but no chemist will sell you more than two at a time and going to two or three chemists in one afternoon would have been suspicious. I needed to find a few minutes alone in a chemist. But the trouble was that you were forbidden to go anywhere on your own. You had to be accompanied at all times by two “peers” or one “senior peer”.
Senior peers were people who had been in the rehab over two months and had shown sufficient contrition and submission to be allowed to chaperone new peers to things like doctor’s appointments, shops and chemists. I had my eye on Dave who was a senior peer. He had a thin ponytail and a shy manner.
“I need to go to the chemist to get some cold cure” I said to Bill as we sat outside the mall coffee shop,
“Ok pal, just wait a sec and me and Connor will come with ya”
“No, no, you stay here, Dave will take me, is that OK Dave?” I motioned to Dave who was a sat at the next table.
“Yeh sure” he said.
Bill narrowed his eyes which, given his wonky eye, looked odd. Ignoring his suspicion I left with Dave in tow. The chemist was short walk down the mall corridor. I left Dave browsing and brushing his fingers along the more expensive aftershave bottles and made my way over the prescription counter. All the time the chemist was retrieving my order I spent praying Dave hadn’t come up behind me. I tried not to look desperate and appear as if I had a toothache. Finally I stuffed two Cocodamol boxes in my pocket. If Dave saw anything he didn’t let on.
Later that day, I swallowed my penultimate dose of GBL and began shelling pills from their blister packs. Once I had a pile of 60 pills I shoved the empty boxes, flattened blisters and read-before leaflets into the drawer under my bed along with my GBL bottle and the dropper I used to measure out the correct dose (GBL must be dosed carefully as it is easy to overdose).
The next step was to crush the pills. I wrapped them in a sheet of A4 paper and started to smash them with my lucky stone. Bang. Bang. It was too noisy – they could definitely hear me downstairs. Bang. Bang! Shit. I opened the paper and found the pills crushed into a fine powder. I had already procured a one empty glass and another half full of water. I poured the powder into the bottom of one glass one third full. I filled the glass with water stirring with a knife until the glass looked like it was full of skimmed milk. I filtered out the solid paracetemol by pouring the mixture into a spare glass through a clean t-shirt. I drank the clear solution, full of dissolved Codeine. It tasted head-splittingly bitter. I scraped the white gloop I had filtered out into a glass and chucked it in the kitchen bin before heading out, accompanied by Bill and Connor, to attend that evening’s AA meeting.
It was around 10pm that evening when John knocked loudly on my door, jolting me from my opiate reverie. He was tall, quite fit and had been clean for around six months. Unable to function on his own yet, the rehab supported him in exchange for him enforcing the rules. He went round the houses around 11pm to check on everyone.
“I know ya bin usin’” he said
I shuddered with panic
“I’m gunna ‘ave to search your room, pal, OK?”
He wasn’t asking.
It only took a few minutes to confiscate the empty packs of Cocodamol, GBL bottle and dropper. They were in carrier bag hanging from John’s fist.
“You’d better start packing your bags, pal” he said.
I was heartbroken, I told him I was sorry, crying. John looked pained but remained resolute.
“Look, we might be able to work summit out – just try an get some sleep, OK?”
And he was gone.
The next day as we arrived, I was something of a sensation. In the intolerable boredom of rehab a scandal like this was picked over with relish. Reactions of anger and accusations of “taking the piss” were mixed with admiration of my cunning and drug know-how. Bill was sat next to me with other peers clustered around.
“Ya know ow ee got caught?” Bill said, no-one knew, including me. Bill grinned,
“ee only left tha’ white shite hanging off the bin”
“the paracetemol?” I asked
“yeh – if you tasted it, ya fuckin lips went numb! Jim found it an’ called John”.
Jim, the older housemate, he didn’t have to attend the AA meeting with us had stayed at home and rumbled me. The rest of the group filed in for morning group therapy but I was told to go to the counselors’ office.
Crying and begging:
“I haven’t had a chance to engage in the treatment yet, don’t discharge me, please, give me one more shot, I promise I won’t let you down”. Last night’s Codeine was all gone from my system and my emotions were as raw and childish as ever. Pure horror filled my heart when I thought of leaving, in disgrace, the disappointed faces of my friends and family orbited like evil planets.
The counselor replaced the phone and said she would have to talk to the head counselor and he wasn’t in yet. Waiting outside with everyone else in group I realized that I was dealing with something bigger than me. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to stop using. This was my best chance to repair my life and I had fucked it. And what would be next? The needle. The vein. The arm tattooed in track marks.
I was faded from the morning’s high emotions and was ready to accept anything by the time the head counselor called me into his office.
“You can’t stay here now you’ve used. It wouldn’t be fair on the rest of the community” he said “but we think you regret what you did and want to give you another chance so we can offer you a place in our sister centre in Manchester”.
Thank fucking fuck for that.
I left almost immediately. Sped away before my antics could infect the minds of the clients. I was sat in a car being driven by an ex addict, ex advertising executive, ex husband. I took a tearful call from my aunty. The rainy smeared landscape passed me by the car heater warm on my legs the future fucked.