Reclaiming The Right To Dignity

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Journalist Dara Quigley

Dara Quigley, in the Dublin Inquirer, writes:

A few weeks after the equality referendum, I was sitting with a HSE counsellor in one of the drug outreach centres in the city.

“Well you have to admit,” she said in a nice, calm tone, “all that – addicts being treated with dignity and respect – I mean that was all a bit delusional. Wasn’t it?”

I tried to argue that even she had to admit that addiction is a complex issue and not one of moral absolutes, and sure hadn’t we just had a referendum to say we were all equal.

“That’s one of the things I like about you,” she replied. “No matter how bad things get you always manage to find humour in it.”

It wasn’t a debate I was going to win. And if it had been a few years earlier, and I had been a bit more impressionable, I might have believed and internalised her message.

However, thanks to a few special individuals, I had just about enough strength to hold onto my sense of self, and to think that maybe a better life wasn’t just something I deserved, but something that I and every other recovering addict and addict had a right to.

Today I can almost safely say that I believe that. And that is one of the unseen struggles of recovery from addiction. A constant battle between what you know is true, a desire to make it out the other side, pitted against a society which views addicts – particularly women addicts – as moral hazards to be contained and controlled.

Experts speak of clusters of addiction, almost as a contagion which needs to be neutralised. Or in some cases left on a too-high dose of methadone for decades: crime-prevention and a nice kick-back for the prescribing doctor and the HSE.

I can understand how easy it is to see the figures and reduce the people behind them to one label, one stereotype: junkie. It can be a struggle at the best of times. We live in a post-theocratic society, and, being a heroin addict, a junkie – even the most right-on liberals find it difficult to imagine anything other than the stereotype.

I know, I was surrounded by right-on liberals. To quote a Glaswegian MC and friend of mine, Darren “Loki” McGarvey, “I hang with middle-class professionals in spacious flats, who debate Irvine Welsh while I’m taking smack.”

Although once that started, friendships ended – sometimes in incredibly nasty ways.

Society has a way of preparing you for what’s to come, and socially I was being prepared to guard my own sense of identity – both from the drug and from the standard Irish tough-love model of shame and guilt. Respect and dignity were two things I was going to find myself piecing back together.

Smack is the drug which will cut right through any pretence and get ’em right in the middle-class sensibilities. One group of friends I had known for almost 10 years even found themselves a replacement token working-class woman: another mature student, studying the same subject as me, before making it clear that I had been replaced.

In retrospect it was all they knew how to do. The enormity of the problem was too much for anyone to take on, and it takes lot of effort to support someone who’s yo-yoing between addiction and bouts of clean living. Even the best of friends lose patience eventually.

And the guilt which comes from cutting a friend loose has to be justified. A law I’ve figured out is that the enormity of the moral outrage is inversely proportional to the time spent with you during addiction. Those who were most offended disappeared almost immediately.

Such is the stigma associated with chasing the dragon.

Again I found solace in hip-hop and Loki’s “2nd Wind” got me through a few tough days. “To re-enter a world where pariahs wait to greet me, maybe I’m confused have you not got a riot act to read to me? Apologies I’ll cover any damages, church mice bicker over crumbs from my sandwiches.”

The track, and the time he spent talking me down through the worst of it, it was the kind of support people in Ireland simply could not offer. Acceptance of your flaws and embracing them rather than the traditional 12-step “beg a higher power to remove your intrinsic defects”: it was the start of a life- and sanity-saving philosophy.

A few very special friends are still hanging in there. And fair play to you all, I was a selfish little shit. Past tense for the most part.

In the Kafkaesque world of recovery in Ireland, which at times seems designed to break you down until you are ready to be remade, sometimes there are still bad days. After reclaiming your autonomy from substance abuse, you have very little control over the path of your life, with never-ending waiting lists and seemingly random decisions being made on your behalf to balance a book somewhere.

And these days, instead of being remade in the image of whatever the name of the saint is on the roof you landed under, like true ideological soldiers of neoliberalism that we are, drug stabilisation programmes are CE schemes, where being technically employed doesn’t come with many rights for the participants, and if you don’t learn your place fast enough you could be bounced to any number of courses which aren’t particularly suitable.

After I had sworn and raised my voice a bit I was sent off for CBT. In the first class, one of the slides was in German. The facilitator laughed, “We do get them from Germany.” The next class, one of the slides encouraged us to think of ourselves as €100: you may not always feel like €100, and that’s okay, not everybody is €100 all the time. At that point I told them I was a journalist and happily enough it was decided that I didn’t need to be there.

Only a century of theocracy and a proud tradition of health care as charity while using the
weakest members as a disciplinary measure, the cautionary tale to keep the rest of the
population in check, can produce post-austerity hollowed-out drug programmes that have had their budget cut by 37 percent post-crash.

Still, the counselor who was busy – that day after the equality referendum – re-enforcing my position as “less than”, has been a lifeline. There was a lot I just may not have been able to deal with alone.

It had only been just over a two-month wait, which in public-service addiction-treatment terms is rapid response. “The first thing you learn is that you always gotta wait,” to quote Lou Reed’s “Waiting for My Man”. Through decades and space, addicts today listen to that and laugh.

Not that addiction is a barrel of laughs. The ones you have are gallows humour. Jokes and a vernacular riddled with references to death and decay, alliances dressed up as friendships, permanence a distant memory to be unwrapped at times when you need it most.

Now that sense of belonging is coming back, tai chi – not something I would have tried before – has turned out to be, along with writing, one of my most beneficial tools.

After the CE scheme decided that, even after taking a break, I “wasn’t a good fit”. At that stage, I was going to tai chi twice a week, slowly rebuilding the connection between my brain and my body as my muscles grew stronger. I’ve since proceeded to kung fu. They’re both incredible ways of rebuilding not just your body but your mind with long, standing-on-one-leg meditation sessions.

It was during one of those that I finally worked up the confidence to hit a few open-mic nights to, quoting Darren Loki, “push the envelope and cause a fuckin postal strike”. And I’ll be opening with the line, “You’re the revolution mate? I’m a full-sprectrum paradigm collapse on Russell Brand’s parade.”

It’s a long, slow road to building myself back up. I won’t lie and say I jump out of bed everyday with renewed hope.

Some days it takes every ounce of strength I have to get out of bed and eat, if I can eat at all. Others, the simple pleasure of sunshine on my face while I’m drinking coffee and doodling on a drawing pad, usually with a cigarette (but one thing at a time) is enough to make my heart swell and tears fall at the resilience of the human condition.

Some days I’m even proud of myself. Slowly, but surely, day by day, with every meal finished, every class of tai chi, every day I don’t pay some dickhead €20 to feel like a human being, I’m reclaiming my right to pride and dignity.

Dara: Every addict has the right to a better life (Dublin Inquirer)

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46 thoughts on “Reclaiming The Right To Dignity

  1. Ronan

    This is a very interesting piece, but I find the piece about friends who ‘moved on to another token working class person’ very irritating.

    I took a lot, and I mean, a lot of recreational drugs between 19 and 25 years of age – after which I left the party behind once and for all. I always dodged people going the darker side of it, going to places like heroin and freebasing. I avoided those people, left parties if I knew I was around it. One such person ended up stabbed over a bag, and left an amazing child behind.

    Heroin is scary. It’s scary to recreational drug users, as I was, because I was acutely aware of being one or two bad decisions from that place. Running out of pills or powder at 7am and it being the only thing in the room. It also brings the dodgiest of the dealers into your company.

    It’s a filthy dirty drug, and you can’t blame friends, be they tee-total or a chemical hound like I was, from running a mile.

    I’m glad for any recovering addict, and I support injection centres and a more compassionate approach to the problem, but don’t blame the likes of me for preserving ourselves. I have friends for whom the party is still alive, but I see them very very sparingly. They are not forgotten, they’re welcome over any time for a cup of coffee, and I’d help them out (and have done, paying rent etc) if they’re stuck, but I cannot socialize with them, and I’ve explained this to them on many an occasion. I have an addictive personality. I don’t drink very often nowadays, but when I do I have to actually focus sip by sip on pacing myself. If I was around a bag of pills in the pub tonight I would take one.

    People do not shun addicts, they are afraid of that life and of a filthy dirty drug, and don’t want to walk down metaphorical dark alleys.

    1. ZeligIsJaded

      That’s an analysis of your own reaction.

      How you got from that to ‘People don’t shun addicts..’ is beyond me.

      1. Ronan

        No it’s a retort to her assertions about friends deserting her from a sense of moral outrage. She wasn’t a forsaken fallen – she was someone associated with a very real danger that many don’t want to be around.

        Plenty of people didn’t want to be in my environment when I was regularly consuming chemicals. They weren’t morally outraged, I was doing something they didn’t want for themselves. I was still invited to, and would still show up to events but I would skulk off back to that other world during the evening. Eventually some of these people stopped being the people I hang around with regularly, but I maintain a core group of friends. When you stop socializing with people, they drift and become people you meet for a coffee every now and again. This is a natural part of moving on, and I don’t attribute it to judgement of another’s path.

        I agree with everything else in the article, I’m pro legalization and pro injecting centers. I don’t think we do enough for recovering addicts. I just feel the author has not even attempted to look at this particular topic – the lost friendships – from the perspective of the other person.

        1. ZeligIsJaded

          I take your point.

          But supporting an addict does not put one at risk of becoming an addict, or being infected with any disease yourself.

          I disagree that turning your back on someone has much to do with self-preservation except in that it allows one to prevent the embarrassment of explaining yourself to unsympathetic friends – especially in the case of heroin.

          There is a stigma associated with it that simply isn’t there with other chemicals.

          You touch on it yourself. Certain chemicals are tolerated (if begrudgingly so), but heroin – absolutely not.

          1. Starina

            When i have remained friends with someone after they began using heroin regularly, she confessed to me that she had begun picking people’s pockets in the gym locker room at college. That alone is enough to make me wary of ever letting a heroin addict into my house; the higher risk of being robbed.

            Fair play to you Dara, keep on keepin’ on, girl :)

          2. Painkiller

            Culturally heroin is always and everywhere perceived to be a dark, dark drug. Personally, I’d only try it if I knew I was going to die that day, and even then I would wonder if it would be a selfish way to spend the day. I guess it might be different if I suffered from depression.

            It’s socialising that Ronan is referring to. When I hang out with my friends who drink more, I tend to drink more..and while it’s fun, it’s a double-edged sword that has knock on effects. Would you not forgive a person for making a personal decision to distance themselves from something that they do not see as positive? ..especially if they lack will-power to say no, as Ronan has suggested.

        2. Dara

          Hey Ronan,

          I’m really sorry if that experience is close to one of yours, or maybe ya even one of my old mates in which case, oops, sorry trust me I’ve paid for it.

          It was just to illustrate a point, and show how your social circle hardens and that prepares you for whats to come, I don’t blame anyone for wanting to remove themselves from that situation.
          What was interesting was how that particular group of friends didn’t want to directly address the issue and acted out this process of finding a social replacement.
          And it’s that particular group who I’d have very little ill will towards, they simply weren’t equipped to deal with the situation.

          1. Same old same old

            I thought that was clear enough from your piece alright, I enjoyed your article and would love to read more of your stuff

          2. Dara

            Thanks Same Oul there are a few previous articles by me at dublininquirer.com/author/dara-quigley/

            There’s also a soon to be resurrected blog, at degreeofuncertainty.WordPress.com ‘They tried to bury us.’ my favourite. Once I forget about the serious people who’ve followed me over the past two days I’ll return to causing ruckus @daquigles

            Thank you for your supportive words and interest. It’s all appreciated, I just reply to the negative and forget about it.

            Hopefully ya’ll be hearing a lot more from me, we’ll reclaim the churches and turn them into centers of learning :)

    2. Same old same old

      Your analysis is even better than hers – fair play.
      Drug relationships are not real relationships anyway and you’re better to walk away from those people but I do sense an incredible compassion and humility in your tone

  2. Baz

    Not buying what your trying

    Those that are ill but not by choices or poor decisions rank higher when limited resources are at hand

    Addicts can have funding when the innocently sick have been cared for.

    1. ZeligIsJaded

      No high cholesterol, no smokers with lung disease – no ‘bad’ diabetes – no ‘bad’ STDs – Nobody who was injured during a risky activity, using the roads etc.

      Innocently sick.

      Brilliant.

      1. Anomanomanom

        I know you’re being a smart bottom but i completely agree. So over weight your dying, if it’s not from a medical issues bottom of the list for help, Smoking and get lung cancer bottom of the list, drinking heavily and kidney problem bottom of the list. People need to be made be personally responsible.

        1. ZeligIsJaded

          OK – So if you get respiratory issues after 50 years living in the city you go to bottom of the list?

          You could after all have moved to the forest and eaten berries.

          No, it’s an interesting proposition. Sorry, ridiculous proposition. I meant ridiculous.

          1. Same old same old

            I’m starting with the man in the mirror
            I’m asking him to change his ways …

    2. Dara

      What I’m selling is a lil human dignity and respect, understanding rather than shame. Luckily for you we live in a state which doles out healthcare with a sideorder if morality. Both in how front line staff treat you and the lack of options and treatments. There aren’t any, that’s what I had to realise and just do it myself.

      So far I reckon I’m doing OK.

      1. Baz

        You chose to use Heroin

        Don’t make a big deal out of when you choose to refrain – if you can – referring to the dragon reeks of latent romanticism retained…

        1. Nigel

          That’s very supportive and understanding there, Baz. You should be on the front line of support services for addicts with that attitude.

        2. Anne

          Are there drugs you could take to make you less of a cretin I wonder Baz? You miserable piece of poo.

  3. Kolmo

    People shun what they see as ugliness in it’s purest form on the streets – the common sight of truly broken people, shouting at each other in the street, in absolute bits, mentally unstable, often violent and little or no self awareness, it is horrible to see and if people don’t have an answer to what they see, self-preservation is the logical progression, I don’t think reaction that can be criticised when the problem is so out of control in Dublin.
    The roaming addict is the modern day leper, with all the horror that accompanies it, the absence of a mental health system fit for our society is one source of the problem as most addicts have a pre-existing mental issu and the prohibition on narcotics just ads another dimension of nonsense by criminalising people unnecessarily

  4. Tish Mahorey

    Imagine they legalise it all next year. Clean smack from chemists for €20 a dose.

    Where does that leave recovering addicts?

    It’s an interesting scenario.

    1. ZeligIsJaded

      €20 a dose – lolol

      “Hey Jim, I’ve found a way to curb the black market in drugs”

      “We sell it ourselves. Only at a higher price – no hang on……
      Wait, I think I made a mistake with the maths. I’ll get it – hang on……”

    2. Dara

      Like how alcohol is legal and former alcoholics live with that interesting scenario every day. Maybe ask one of them?

    3. Kieran NYC

      As if drugs aren’t already exceptionally easy to find if recovering addicts wanted them.

  5. newsjustin

    Thus is an interesting, if rambling, piece.

    But it seems that the writer is angry at friends who didn’t want to be around a drug addict. People are rightly terrified of heroin and heroin users, look around Dublin and one will figure out why pretty quickly.

  6. Dara

    Hey,

    Just going to leave this and not look at any more comment: re the friends. As I said in the piece I don’t blame anyone, supporting a friend through something like that is very difficult. It’s also difficult to watch somebody destroy themselves, as stated, I was a selfish poo.

    The point was to highlight how society and social circles being to change and people hardentowards you to protect themselves and this prepares you for whats to come.

    I’ve no ill feeling towards any old friends, I understand completely their desire to remove themselves from the situation. It was simply to highlight a point.

    There are many other points of anyone wishes to look at em.

    1. Anne

      Well done Dara.. congrats on getting clean.

      In terms of the commentary on your old friends, some of the knuckleheads in here can’t understand the complexities of what seem like contradictory ideas. I.e. that some friends made a sharp exit, but you might also have a feeling about that. You had explained you didn’t blame them in the original piece..
      They’re bloody slow around these parts.

      Anyways, I enjoyed reading that.. best of luck to you.

      1. Same old same old

        ” they’re bloody slow”

        Hey Anne what’s that you were saying about a charm deficit? Physician heal thyself

  7. Clampers Outside!

    A very mixed piece. Good luck to her and any addict.

    I disagree with this bit… “a society which views addicts – particularly women addicts – as moral hazards”.
    I believe that is an anecdotal experience rather than a fact, all addicts whether men or women are viewed pretty much the same, or so my own experience with addicts would tell me.

    Again, good luck to you Dara. It’s a long slow climb back to normality. Keep it up, it does get easier, and you will find strength in it the longer you stay clean. Just keep congratulating yourself for every day you are clean, and every day you do congratulate yourself, gives you strength for the next.

    Sounds patronising, I know, but it works :)

    My best to you!

  8. Dara

    Hey,

    Just going to leave this and not look at any more comment: re the friends. As I said in the piece I don’t blame anyone, supporting a friend through something like that is very difficult. It’s also difficult to watch somebody destroy themselves, as stated, I was a selfish sh1t.

    The point was to highlight how society and social circles being to change and people harden towards you to protect themselves and this prepares you for whats to come.

    I’ve no ill feeling towards any old friends, I understand completely their desire to remove themselves from the situation. It was simply to highlight a point.

    There are many other points if anyone wishes to look at em.

    1. Nigel

      No it was a great piece, but I think you stumbled a bit there, and that’s how it comes across. Well done and the very best of luck to you.

      1. Dara

        What I’m selling is a lil human dignity and respect, understanding rather than shame. Luckily for you we live in a state which doles out healthcare with a sideorder if morality. Both in how front line staff treat you and the lack of options and treatments. There aren’t any, that’s what I had to realise and just do it myself. The state caters for your brand of health care as something which you must be deserving of rather than need.
        All children equally an all.

        So far I reckon I’m doing OK.

          1. Dara

            Hey thanks, outsmart by a smartphone and trolling my own thread. Thanks a million. Was worried the message might have been lost in a cloud of indignation.

            Thanks for the link and the kind and words.

          2. Dara

            Outsmarted again by autocorrect.
            Thank you for your kind words.

            We spoke before, I was reporting from the protests at Coolock station before the media decided it was worth paying attention to.

  9. Nigel

    Yeah, it’s a good piece apart from the digs at friends. Mostly people are perfectly justified not wanting to sacrifice themselves on someone else’s altar of self-immolation.

    1. Kieran NYC

      I like your turn of phrase.

      You should write the list of replacement words for the swear filter here :)

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