In the first part of an unfolding tale, Juno Roche takes a look back at ‘rock bottom’.
Content Note for suicidal ideation, drug use
To know you are at your lowest point is an achievement of sorts, so many people don’t recognise that point, not because they are less able or less capable but because you are often so numb by the time you get there that you cannot recognise it. To recognise is to use energy long since spent.
I knew I’d hit my rock bottom laying on the floor unable to move at a party, that had long ago finished. I stared from my almost foetal position into a very small kitchen with an old-style gas oven. I tried to work out in my mind how people kill themselves in ovens? How do they keep the gas in with their body wedging the door open, at least how do they keep enough gas in? How much gas kills you? How much gas would kill me in this state?
I could hear a background-drift of people saying ‘is she alright to be left on her own?’
The party was at my house and it was NYE 2000. The new millennium. A new dawn.
I had been caught up in my own single woman drugs marathon for two days and I could not move. I had been taking drugs solidly for the past ten years and sporadically for the years prior to that. I had been born into a family where drugs, substances and drink were common place and where there was an acceptance of their culture and the sense they could make. If not hard illicit drugs then prescription drugs and alcohol.
I could hear the last people leaving, the door shutting, their concern for me rightly put aside and their own celebration of the new dawn taking precedent. I honestly cannot remember who came, who was there, how many people, did I talk to them, did I open the door, did I act like it was my party. Was I a good host? Did I provide anything? Food? Drink? Drugs? No I’d never share my drugs.
I wondered if I could roll up into a tight ball and fit inside the oven, not necessarily turn the gas on but just hide in there.
I had started the century off in a very dark place.
All the curtains and blinds were drawn and down, I didn’t know what time it was, I remembered going into my bedroom and doing my drugs whilst everybody did theirs’, their party drugs. To cover my drug intake I took theirs with them. And that’s when I started slipping, seriously slipping. I knew I was in a drug-moment and I couldn’t stop. And I didn’t stop even when their ‘collective-party eyebrows’ raised at me, even when I fell onto the floor, even when I knew I couldn’t move I knew I needed to chase more drugs into the ever decreasing space left available for drugs.
When you’re an addict you don’t stop, you can’t stop. I’ve spent two hundred pounds on heroin to last two days and it’s gone in an hour.I’ve washed up cocaine into a thousand rocks that I thought would span a month and two days later with my nose bleeding and my heart fluttering I’d look through every fibre of the carpet to see if I’d dropped a single crumb. I ended up smoking anything I found in the carpet until I felt like my sanity was on an elastic band that kept pinging hard at my forehead and laughing at me.I’ve ended binges drinking Nightnurse to control the shaking and to try and bring my heart rate down enough to go out into the light and score heroin to help me sleep and I’ve woken at five in the morning with my bed on fire having fallen asleep utterly smashed smoking a joint to kid myself that I could relax. I threw the burning duvet out the window into the garden below and fell back asleep.
When you’re an addict you don’t stop, you can’t stop. I’ve spent two hundred pounds on heroin to last two days and it’s gone in an hour.
Addiction is never pretty or desirable when you hit the place that defines addiction, when the substance becomes more important than any other part of your life.
When the substance is more important than you and when people no longer see you as you but rather as a set of addiction-consequences.
Skinny, scruffy, unreliable, scary, sad, lost.
As I stared at the gas oven I knew that I was never going to kill myself outright. My method was the slow burn of drugs and my lifestyle that was the bedfellow to drugs. I was already HIV positive and very ill, I’d already taken far too many chances in far too many terrifying places with people I didn’t know. I looked at the gas oven and started to weep because I knew that it wasn’t my time, I knew that even though I had been avoiding life that I still had to live it. I wasn’t dead and by all probability I should have been.
My eyes looked down from the oven to the white lino floor. There were marks and scuffs all over it. Shoe prints and food stains. When I was younger I had come into the kitchen because there was shouting and then screaming. My brother was on his knees screaming and crying and my mum was grabbing towels. The kitchen and the white tiled floor was awash with blood, deep crimson blood. I couldn’t work out where it was coming from and then my brother let go of his hand and it flopped back, cut clean off apart from a flap of skin. Every time his heart beat a gush of blood pumped high into the air and down onto the floor, my mum like Florence Nightingale calmly wrapped towels around his hand and bought the limb together, she held him close and stroked his hair. She screamed at my dad who was stood over by the back door with broken glass all around him. There had been a fight.
Get the car ready she screamed.
As I stared at the gas oven door at the dawn of a new millennium I wondered if other families had seen that much blood. I wondered if other families swept that much blood under the carpet. I wanted to know. I wanted to know why my blood was now dangerous and that blood wasn’t. Why did people worry about sharing a toothbrush with me but my family never talked about the blood swamping the kitchen floor.
Why didn’t we talk about the endless aggression and violence that occurred, in the kitchen, out on the drive, by the front door, halfway down the stairs. The list punctuated my mind. Like a sponge I had soaked up every last detail that horrified me and gone on to replicate myself as a further victim in that tragedy. Taking drugs is an act of violence, injecting yourself an act of violence, not stopping even when the pain is so extreme you cannot breath is an act of violence. Feeding a drug habit by any means necessary is violent. As I stared at the oven and the white-ish lino floor I knew clearly that I had taken all of that and turned it onto myself. Somehow, because I always felt different, I had blamed myself for the events that happened. It was my fault my family was so dysfunctional it must be?
Every time his heart beat a gush of blood pumped into the air and down onto the floor, my mum like an absolute Florence Nightingale calmly wrapped towels around his hand and bought the limb together, she held him close, stroked his hair.
I stopped crying and knew that I had no further to fall. I still had drugs in the flat, I knew I would do all of them and if I was still alive after then I would stop this.
I rolled backwards away from the kitchen, the drugs would have been hidden in paranoia in my bedroom. I would need to move. I was a victim of my own stupidity, my party trick was not stopping drugs until everyone in the room was sufficiently freaked out by my behaviour to leave me alone.
I was alone and felt like I couldn’t move. I knew that the concoction of pills, drink and class A’s were all working against each other. They were as fucked up by me as I was.
I could hear a dog barking outside, the dog whose life it was to pace up and down a tiny balcony and live in its own excreta, no company, no grass, no love, no care. I would get a dog if I could ever move and I would love it and let it run and play with other dogs. The dog barking was incessant but I tried to use its beat to move my limbs. Like an odd messed up addict-dance across a dirty carpeted floor. I couldn’t stand I knew that, so for every bark I tried to expand a digit or a limb or move a crease in my clothes, or change the angle of my head slightly so that I was facing my stash.
Between my need to take drugs and that incessant barking I got to the bedroom, but a combination of tiredness, sadness (for me and the dog) and exhaustion with my life let me slip into a deep comatose sleep.
I never did finish my drugs. I started my journey to getting clean with wraps of heroin, crack cocaine, ecstasy, valium and a whole heap of methadone still hidden under my bed.