I’d been doing so great. Oh, not by Mr Average’s standards – to him I’m still a deadbeat junkie. But I know how much better I’d been. It took leaving the country to get there though.
I began using drugs when I was fourteen. That will shock some, I know, but the truth is that’s pretty normal. Someone brought amphetamines to a school disco and they made me feel better, energised and confident. A few weeks later I wanted to do it again and that began a cycle for uppers and downers.
None of the adults around me noticed. The thing is, a lot of the signs of drug use can easily be explained by being a teenager. Mood swings, isolation, secretive behaviour.
At eighteen I started taking heroin and began a six year habit. I got prescriptions from doctors for methadone which I would usually sell on. I even had a way of fraudulently taking money from the business I worked for , my employer never found out. That’s what makes me laugh about the way Mrs Marks & Spencer pictures a drug user. It’s usually some image of a heavily pierced and poorly presented homeless figure. Whenever I hear those conversations, either righteously indignant or simperingly sympathetic, I want to interject ‘Beware, they walk among you, hiding in plain sight”.
I was what the social workers would refer to as a ‘functioning heroin user’ and there are a lot of us about. The truth is that in Cotswolds villages of golden stone and teashoppes, heroin can be summoned more easily than a takeaway meal.
All that said, I knew that drugs were messing me up. Drugs are great fun, that’s why people use them in the main, but they’re expensive on many levels. In Holland they provide safe spaces for drug users, taking them off the streets. Alongside the drug-taking rooms there is access to cheap food, showers and second-hand clothes. In other words, instead of treating people like criminals they treat people with unpatronising humanity. However, I didn’t go to use, I went to volunteer. I was accepted quite easily and worked in the café with two other ex users. The sense of belonging was new to me.
There were many ‘regulars’ at the centre and one group was particularly interesting to me. Helga told me that they were largely academics. One Thursday morning I went to clear their table and I noticed a manila folder under the table. I picked it up and looked to find a name so that I could return it but the only words on the cover were ‘The elevator’. Suddenly the door flew open and a man rushed towards me.
“Thank God” he gasped “Can I have my folder please?”.
I handed it to him.
“What’s the elevator? A short story? A maintenance manual?”
The man smiled.
“Imagine the euphoria of the purest crack cocaine, mixed with the smooth glide of a heroin hit, simultaneously taking you towards the best and longest climax you’ve ever experienced. The elevator is the high without limits, the high without the down. And it’s coming to a town near you. It’s in the ‘trials’ phase as the legal drugs people put it. Are you interested?”