Archive for the ‘Journey’ Category

Cannabis hits the mainstream – and my nan

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Cannabis, which for so many years has had the public popularity of genital warts, seems to be getting an image revamp. Gone are the days where cannabis was perceived as ‘the devil’s harvest’, inspiring ‘weird orgies, wild parties, unleashed passions’ (I’m pretty sure whoever wrote that had never been to an oxymoronic ‘cannabis party’ – ‘no sex, just Play Station and Kitkats’ would seem more realistic). I haven’t heard cannabis referred to as a ‘gateway drug’ for months, and even the hysterical psychosis argument seems to have calmed itself down a bit these days.

Despite this, I was still taken aback when faced with the bare fact that Coronation Street are running a plot-line where a pensioner smokes cannabis to help her symptoms of arthritis. I feel a bit protective of my grandma – pensioners smoking drugs, it will blow her mind! Although to be fair, she’ll probably just say “I’m not watching that, it’s gone silly again” and boycott it for a week. She’s 96 – the woman knows what she likes and doesn’t tolerate what she doesn’t. And maybe I should give my nan some credit – having lived for almost a hundred years, there isn’t much that shocks her these days.

It did make me think though – this plot line is being delivered to about as mainstream an audience as I can imagine. I don’t watch soaps (what with having a life and all) and so am probably not in the best place to judge. But my perceptions of people who watch Corrie are generally the older person who harks back to a time when people could afford to socialise at the local pub.

My grandma, for example, whose staple weekly viewing is Corrie, Emmerdale (when it’s not being silly), Strictly Come Dancing, and Songs of Praise. I would consider those prime-time banalities to be aimed at a pretty conservative audience (with a tolerance for covert social control). And yet it appears that, on Corrie, the illicit drug cannabis is being portrayed in a positive light. Is this not a clash of cultures?

I question myself for being so shocked by this. The world is a different place now, people are more tolerant. In Hyde Park this weekend, a pro-cannabis protest, where large numbers of cannabis users met to smoke in public, resulted in just two arrests, and bystanders commented that the small number of Police in attendance turned a blind eye to the majority of the drug use. Possibly more profoundly, even The Mail Online seemed to take a balanced perspective on the story, sub-heading their article ‘Protesters argue alcohol and tobacco cause far more damage to society than cannabis’ instead of the more predictable ‘Marajuana turns woman into reptile’ or ‘Potheads eat baby after emptying vending machine in drugged-up munch rage’.

Even in certain states of America (not a country I strongly associate with tolerance or liberal thinking), cannabis has been either decriminalised or legalised. Which makes me question myself and wonder if it’s just me that’s out of touch with the world’s changes. Maybe I’m the throw-back to a time when I considered myself, with my drugland associations, to be on the fringes, and now, without realising it, I’m actually completely mainstream.

I’m going to try not to slip into an existentialist crisis just yet though. I’m saving that for when Nan tells me to roll her a fat one.

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Drugs are bad, kids

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

I’ve just read another engaging, scary article from America about their drug policy – Reefer Madness Redux: If You Smoke It, You Will Become Addicted! Much like the Storyville documentary I recommended last week (see Wonkblog for an interview with the director), it points out the freakish hysteria that surrounds drug policy in the States – which is frightening not only because of its extremity (reminiscent of Brass Eye’s ‘cake’), but also because it exposes the origins of our own society’s beliefs about drugs and those who use them.

I have to admit, the recent blogs I have written on decriminalisation, the comments that have followed, and then the paper released a week ago by, of all people, the supposedly stuffy old folk from The House of Lords, have had quite a profound effect on me. Possibly because the primary focus of my work for so long has been heroin users, I have discounted the idea of legalising drugs as a ludicrous notion. The cycle of hard dependency is awful, debilitating, inhumane even, and to enable that process, to support it, is just not right. If you prescribe a heroin user heroin, he will always be a heroin user. Where is the motivation to stop? And hence he will always be trapped in that miserable existence, always dependent and disempowered.

And to be fair, whilst working with heroin users, I couldn’t really muster up the energy to even entertain the discussion. I didn’t read newspapers, I didn’t watch the news, I didn’t even watch documentaries which I knew would be interesting but which required some emotional investment and deep thought. My coping mechanism to manage the daily adrenaline come-down and affective exhaustion was to shut down any chance of a conversation, social or internal, with something so conclusive and sharp that there was really nowhere for the enquirer to go. And so the topic of decriminalisation remained, as with anything else contentious, packed at the back of my mind, stacked underneath more important and unattended issues such as ‘stopping smoking’ and ‘life direction’.

But recently, for the first time, and from the perspective or decriminalisation instead of legalisation, I thought about it more fully. Heroin users make up a small proportion of illicit drug users (I think there are about 160,000 heroin users in treatment at present, which is tiny percentage of the population when you think about it – I mean, in the UK 10 years ago, 500,000 people were taking ecstacy every weekend night, by way of comparison) and I realised how fixated I had become on the misery of opiate addiction.

And so, thanks to this blog, my mind has been reopened to the debate. The questions I am asking myself, and the possible conclusions that could be drawn, are honestly head-mangling. Here are my confessions…

The first thing I have realised, which may sound obvious but clearly I’m not that bright, is – drugs have been conceptualised in our society as being ‘bad’ (as in “Drugs are bad kids, m’kay” – Mr Mackey, school counsellor, South Park). Of course I appreciate that there are obvious links between drug use and crime – if you have a physical dependence on heroin, you are more prone to stealing something to avoid painful and anxiety-provoking withdrawal symptoms. However, how many ecstasy, or cannabis, users do you know that have ever stolen anything? Anyone who went clubbing during the height of ecstacy use will know that you were more likely to leave a club with a selection of random presents (eg a dog made out of drinking straws, a crown made out of flowers – people were very creative in showing their boundless pleasure to meet you) than you were to get your wallet or phone snatched. And in terms of violence, you were a hundred times more likely to get an exuberant hug from some sweaty random on the dance floor than you were a slap.

And where the American Government got the idea that cannabis smokers were likely to be violent… You’re more likely to get a fight out of road kill.

Now I have always known that the Americans made most of this scare-mongering up to maintain control – my understanding was that, in the case of cannabis, it was to ensure the ongoing success of the cotton trade on which the American economy depended, to safeguard against the main market rival, hemp. The documentary I keep banging on about, The House I Live In, states it was used as a method of controlling and criminalising the Mexican population. The article I mentioned at the top of this page points out that as these theories have become unsustainable, the fear-badgers are claiming that 1 an every 6 adolescents who try cannabis will become addicted, develop mental health problems and need treatment.

The jump for me is to see the bare truth of this process – making drug use and drug users immoral – in our own country and with all the drugs that come somewhere on the sliding scale between cannabis and heroin. To disclose drug use outside of closed drug-using circles is social suicide – people will look you differently, watch next time you go to their house to make sure you don’t nick that fiver they’ve left on the side, and definitely not trust you with their children. Now these are moral judgements. They are not based on any evidence about you as a person, nor are they based in evidence about drug use. (Well they could be, you might be a right dodgy little scally for all I know, I’ve got no idea.)

But the shocking realisation for me is that I have, to some degree, internalised this moral code and perpetuated it. Despite my education, despite the years spent surrounded by drug users, and despite even my own substance use, it is only now that I realise that I accepted, at some subconscious level, that drug use was bad. People who took them were either to be pitied for needing them, or deserved what they got because they were choosing to break the law. And breaking the law must be immoral, because why else would these rules be made if not to protect us? God, it is scary acknowledging one’s own indoctrination. And yes, possibly my substance use served to prove what I had always known – that I was frankly a pathetic and despicable human being (Catholic-style guilt, must beat oneself with a stick).

Yet despite this, I still worked with people, to some degree, by categorising them in one of these two genii – to be pitied or getting what they deserved. To some extent, I understand that a) this was a survival technique, one can’t manage a horrendous caseload AND be philosophical, and b) there is some truth in these sub-groups – people do make choices, both as a result of their past experiences and their present, informed options. But what if I dumped the value-load? What if drug users were just people who chose to put substances in their bodies, not bad or sad?

Were this standpoint adopted, it would have an impact on the drug treatment system. For a start, a significant group currently receiving drug treatment would not want it. Without the label of illegality, those just trying to avoid prison would almost certainly lose their motivation to engage with services. This could be a positive and a negative thing – but it would free up resources for people who wanted to make changes to their lifestyles (instead of the pointless, endless investment in people who have no interest in reducing their drug use or making it safer, as per current service provision), and would certainly make drugs workers’ jobs less depressing.

However, it would open drug treatment to a much wider group – those who don’t want negative repercussions, such as having their drug use recorded on their medical records, which could cause problems with insurance or employment in the future, or those with children who fear judgement by the authorities and worry that by speaking about their problems with substances they may lose the right to parent. These people, surely, deserve access to advice and support as much as any other – and think about how the country would run if the next generation weren’t burdened with the hidden harm of substance misuse.

The epiphany for me is – it is not just our legislation that needs to change in this country, although of course this is a major part of social change (look at what the smoking ban has achieved). It is our conceptualisation of drug use, a paradigm shift from the domain of morality to that of health and economics. Again, look at the changes to social perceptions of smoking since the introduction the ban in public places, which has been, in some ways, the reverse process – smoking is bad now, and people who do it are wrong for polluting other people’s air. But that was for a substance at the other end of the scale, that was too sociably acceptable, to the point that it was difficult to enjoy a meal in a restaurant, going out in the evening came with a guarantee of waking up smelling like an ashtray, and those in the pub trade were becoming ill and even dying because of other people’s substance use. What I am starting to realise is that drugs that have been, for many years, unacceptable even in one’s own home with no negative impact on anyone but possibly oneself, need to be ‘less bad’, or even not bad at all, for there to be any honest discourse about the real problems they cause people. Imagine a smoker refusing to present for lung cancer treatment because they thought they would have their kids taken off them.

There is really no difference, morally, between the smoker with lung cancer and the amphetamine user with psychosis. Or between the businessman who drinks every day and has a heart attack, and the heroin user with a deep vein thrombosis. All make choices to use a substance that puts them in need of a health intervention. Without that health intervention taking place as early as possible, the cost of the intervention itself will increase as the problem becomes more complicated and effects other areas of the individual’s health. The person’s level of productivity and function will decrease. This all costs the taxpayer. So, like it or not, moral judgements can be expensive.

Sweet jesus, first I acknowledge my secret affiliations with the Iron Bitch, now I’m putting my hand up to judging drug users. I’m doing a pretty good job of discrediting myself and my life’s work. Well done me.

Aw you guys…

Monday, December 31st, 2012

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and you are all now dusting off your raving shoes for a big one tonight. I am staying in, as although some time off work has made me despise the human race slightly less, I’d still prefer not to squash myself against sweaty drunk people, and besides I am a complete nutter magnet. Plus I always find myself feeling grotty as I have to play ‘Spot the Substance’ (can’t help it, occupational hazard). So in summary I’d rather be sitting here with a Stella talking to you lot.

Below is a very professional-looking report sent to me by WordPress, who host my blog. (If anyone is thinking of starting writing a blog, use them, I can’t recommend them enough.) This report has forced me to reflect on a couple of things, and it seems timely to share them:

– I have only been writing this blog for 8 weeks! I seems bizarre because it now feels like a part of me, integral to my life, but it is really still very much in its infancy.

– in those 8 weeks, my blog has been viewed over 1200 times, by people from 14 different countries, and that doesn’t include the emails that go out to the 64 people who have signed up to receive updates. If I include the email views, the total number of views is closer to 2000.

Now this might not sound impressive to people who are pros at this game, but let me tell you this – it blows my mind. The idea of having an audience at all, never mind one so vast and so diverse – well, it makes me feel proud, and positive about what 2013 may hold.

And so, although it may seem somewhat lame and premature to be making something equivalent to an Oscars acceptance speech, I would just like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has read my blog, everyone who has contributed with comments and feedback, everyone who has told their friends and colleagues about it, everyone who has put links from their own sites and Facebook and Twitter accounts, and everyone who has got in touch with words of support. As some of you know, it has been a funny few months for me, and having this focus, this outlet, and this beacon of hope that maybe things can be different – well, it has been a joy and a privilege. So genuinely, thank you, may 2013 bring new beginnings for us all, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

And for those who need it, I am available for substance-related support tomorrow.. 😉

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

From drugs work to the grave

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

It’s a funny thing, contemplating a career change. We all spend years expressing internal groans at the sound of the morning alarm, hiding underneath the duvet, begging and praying that some natural disaster has occurred overnight that will suffice as an excuse not to go in today (death for a few people is surely a justifiable pay-off, no?), only to discover from a quick scan of available media that today is a day like any other. Shitbags. But the brief glimmer of hope that you might not have to deal with X,Y and Z today has meant, unavoidably, that you have now carved a brain-path directly to X, Y and Z – and so work starts straight away.

The simple joy of the morning shower is spent internally arguing with the nob-end that sits near you in the office, who you would never come into contact with socially and would subtly shuffle away from if you had the misfortune of a chance encounter in a public arena, but have to not only tolerate but attempt to be civil with, every miserable working day, leaving you resenting your pay-packet because it represents you whoring your soul to the devil. Then breakfast, surely intended as a pleasant and civil part of the day, is made somewhat less so as your bran flakes remind you of the dead, flakey skin around yesterday’s necrotic wound, and you find yourself wondering whether this would have the texture of a freshly-served crisp flake or a milk-soaked chewy one. And despite your attempts to gee yourself up with one of your favourite albums on the way to work, the sense of impending doom induced by the knowledge that today is going to entail battling the Safeguarding referral system (“Sorry, run that by me again – this is supposed to be a high-threshold, fast-response referral process, created to protect children from the most severe types of immediate harm, but you won’t take verbal information and no longer offer the facility for me to discuss the case with a social worker first – so I have to spend an hour completing paperwork, then face the traumatic, potentially damaging and counter-productive scenario of informing the family I have serious concerns about their parenting and so are breaching their confidentiality, in the knowledge that you will probably knock it back or do nothing about it anyway?”) means that you may as well be listening to someone shouting “You are mortal and one day, possibly soon, your time on earth will be over, more than likely following a period of extreme pain” in a broad South African accent, for all the relaxation the music provides. And that’s before you get to work to discover what shit has hit the fan overnight – who has been arrested, who has been admitted to hospital and, unfortunately, on occasions, who has died – and start getting paid.

But – for all its pains and strains and drains – not only does it pay the bills, it has seen you through some hard times. There is no better distraction from a failing relationship than a critical deep vein thrombosis with severe cellulitis; no quicker way to forget about personal tragedy than premature labour induced by persistent crack use.

However, without this job, would the relationship fail? And for everyone one case worthy of your emotional input at a time of personal heartache, how many needless metaphorical arse wipes must you perform? How many faces do you imagine smashing into desks with screams of “If you rip the copper out of your own boiler your landlord has every right to evict you, that doesn’t make you a victim – my own tragedies far surpass yours so I frankly couldn’t give a shit about the hole you have just dug yourself into!”? Imagine getting home each evening with something left to give other than anger and irritation at the world…

It’s a strange pay-off, and one which I am currently making attempts to unpick – is the emotional investment (or drain) offset by the distraction from one’s own problems? To what degree are these intense investments and distractions responsible for the lack of progress in one’s own life? And, fair enough, I might not want to be a drugs worker any more – but if not a drugs worker, then what? Do I have an identity at all? Or if I jack it all in, will I slip into a deep depression, brought on by a sudden lack of purpose, and find myself opening cans of baked beans with a screwdriver underneath a motorway bridge?

The only way I can resolve this internal dialogue is to remind myself that – if I stay in this job, I am likely to become ill(er) in the head, have very little or no chance of maintaining a healthy and drama-free relationship, and will probably, at some point, slip into a deep depression and find myself opening cans of baked beans with a screwdriver underneath a motorway bridge. I think I can make a fair, educated guess that, in this case, it is not better the devil I know. And so, career or no career, there is no healthy future for me as a drugs worker – and whatever the months and years ahead may hold, at least for now I have you lot to rant at, and have a sense of purpose in my attempts to inform and entertain. Thanks guys, you are keeping me (relatively / debatably) sane. And anyway, I like bar work.

Eclipsed by the Murk

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Our the budding writer continues on her journey, and though she hath faced adversity in her flee from Lord Bureaucracy, and had to ally herself with the lazy and meaningless Baron Twitter, the path ahead is becoming more clear and more easily trod. The band of merry travellers who accompany her on her journey have lightened her load, and their occasional shouts of ‘G’won my son!’ have propelled her when the track became treacherous. Even iPad, her trusty tool, is becoming easier to wield, which can be seen by all as it now doth sport sticky fingerprints, and these make her feel somewhat bilious and induce regular, unconscious finger-sniffing.

And yet, as she walks, she can feel a shadow encroaching, and though she turns quickly to face this dark force, she can see it not. She feels its presence at night when she sleeps, it awakens her and taunts her with its blackness, filling her head with death and destruction. She catches glimpses of it in her periphery as she walks, and it makes her quicken her step. She can feel it when she eats, squeezing her stomach as though it were a lemon, which, although not a pleasant feeling, does help her lose a few pounds around the waist, which is no bad thing.

Although she attempts to turn away from this tenebrous phenomenon, she knows its source, for she hath felt it before and she knows what brings it. For this gloomy suspension is Stress, sent by the abhorrent Lord Bureaucracy to impede her quest, and with it comes the breath of those that drink Special Brew and the stench of those that washeth not their putrid feet for they are without a home, which have been dragged from the land from which Stress came, where amphetamine is ingested like bread and at once the houses are cleaned. And though she tries to escape Stress’ odour and out-run its oppression, the smog surrounds her, and it ages her and gives her spots and bags under her eyes, and she increasingly struggles to resist the temptation of the many public inns that are scattered enticingly along her way and the luscious golden elixir contained within. And the macabre mist begins to engulf her and cripple her, and she struggles to find the strength to battle against her internal desires to stab and slice all those that present even the slightest challenge to her on her journey and say things like “Just chill ouuuuuuuut”. And all of her ration and her tolerance is gone.

And yet, even as she suffocates, and writhes on the path awaiting Stress’ final crushing blow, through the foul fog a group appear; within them a medic, who has long known of her plight and advised whence afore Stress enveloped her; and her father, loyal and true, who picks her up, dusts her down and sticks a much-needed beer in her hand. And then, through the ashen haze, she hears the sound of horses hooves, and on a three-legged steed arrives a union rep, who, though late and almost impossible to contact by phone, knows Stress well and is adept at challenging those who send it. And she gives our heroine the Mask of Advocacy, and wraps her in the Blanket of Legal Terminology, and pledges to protect the aspiring author from the evils that Lord Bureaucracy may send.

And wrapped in her blanket, and softened by the ale, the traveller may sleep, and dream of what lays ahead, and in sleeping she becomes refreshed and rejuvenated, and no longer does she look like a decrepit ascetic with herpes, but awakes fresh-faced and ready to face whatever tribulations may lie ahead.

The fear encroaches…

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

We rejoin our heroine on her quest from the land of No Hope and Stress to find peace of mind and satisfaction, and she is pleased, for she is enjoying the mission more than she could e’er have hoped, and though she still faces the adversities of social media and the potholes of complex software, she takes much joy in the sense of purpose this journey provides.

Now the woman turns around, and back along the path she sees a group of people walking behind her. Some of these people she recognises as friends; other she hath ne’ev before set eyes upon. And she feels at once supported by this lowly rabble, for though they lack basic hygiene and smell a bit, they are kind enough to listen to her words and encourage her to continue on her quest, and she takes great comfort and joy in their comments, and in regularly viewing her stats page, and all this feeds her desire to go on, for she cannot believe that sending out a few emails and Facebook messages could create such a wonderous response. And she looks back at the crowd that have gathered, many of whom are wise and carry vast experience of the world, and she is gladdened and gratified by their commendation.

But she also feels the weight of their gaze, for many of them hath knowledge that far outstrips her own, and carry with them linguistic elegance and letters after their names, and she is at once petrified that she will fall and expose her clumsiness and stupidity to those that walk behind her. For she is but a drugs worker, a public servant, and while her experience of depression, deprivation and wound botulism is great, ne’ev before hath she trod the literary path, and she knows not what is expected of her, and it has been many miles since she left her Comfort Zone, and she is scared.

And the traveller fears she will tread the wrong path and take the kindly clan down a road which may not fulfil their needs, their desires, their own quests for knowledge, and she is filled with angst that the track she chooses to follow may become unclear and dull, and that she may fritter away the support which these followers offer or, worse still, she may take them on a path on which they lose the will to live and die of boredom.

But then she has a word with herself and realises that she is being that a dimwitted narcissist, a despicable ignoramus, an unworthy cretin, for these people are not a burden but a joyous blessing, a gift sent to help her, to kick her if she slows, to redirect her if she wanders, and she asks the crowd always to be honest and provide genuine feedback, harsh though it may be, to keep her on the path which she needs to be on. For these are her clients now, since she hath traded the needle for the pen, the script for the script, and when she thinks of those she left behind and how they hung from her so she ne’er before was able to progress, and told her daily how she failed them despite her best efforts (for she hath not a magic wand, and could not turn water into methadone, nor loaves into pregablin), and she compares them with this vibrant cluster who now stand behind her, she is glad for the choices she has made, and she wants not only to take these people with her on her quest, but also to serve them and give them everything their hearts desire.

The quest begins…

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

The path from drugs worker to writer is ne’er direct, being a path largely untrodden, with only a vague and over-grown trail remaining from the aspirations of naive youth – and, to make matters worse, the path is peppered with potentially fatal trials and pitfalls.

These adversities, set to further demoralise the budding writer on her quest for freedom from the evil clenches of Lord Beaurocracy, do not take the form of trip wires and bear traps – no, because this is a metaphor. The trials of which I speak are in fact those created by man in the hope of smoothing out our paths and joining them together – iPads, software compatibility and social networking.

‘Write’ she thinks, and write she does, and the language doth flow, and with no time she hath eight chapters of her novel completed. But then along comes another traveller – she is not old but is wise, and she tells the public servant that these days, writers need a ‘platform’. ‘What is this platform of which you speak?’ asks the public servant, for her journey has just started and her knowledge is small. ‘Blogging, Twitter and Facebook’ replies the other traveller, she on a journey from teaching to writing (www.suearmenante.co.uk), and she kindly shows the public servant her path to help her along the way.

Now our heroine lacks confidence, but she is brave, and so she follows the advice of the other traveller and sets up a blog (here readeth thee that blog) to broadcast her skills to the world, should anyone care to listen. The road to the blog is hard, she hath ne’er before trod such a path, and to add to her adversities she has an acute case of conjunctivitis and so is blind to the way of the blog (don’t worry, still a metaphor). To aid her journey, she has been given a tool that goeth by the name of iPad, and hence she uses iPad to show her the way. But iPad is not compatible with blogging, and the servant is unable to tag her blogs using her new tool, and has to ringeth a man in Ireland from tech support to find out how to bypass this trap that blocks her way, fearlessly entering her personal details into iPad to enable a download of the WordPress App for iPad.

But before our traveller has time to compose herself, she is faced with Baron Twitter. For many years, she has shunned the advances of Baron Twitter, believing him to be a pointless being, popular with minor celebrities and those desperate to be so themselves, but now she needs the Baron’s help, and she wields iPad and tries to think of a username and password. This is hard task indeed, having had to set up an imposing number of accounts over the last week to find the platform of which her fellow traveller spoke, but this task is especially fraught with difficulty as the rest of the land are already familiar with Baron Twitter, and so available usernames are few and far between.

Now the public servant is tired, she does not know if she has the strength to go on. All the other travellers she has met along the way seem to have gathered so much more knowledge than she, and she is severely discouraged by her inability to master software used by Wayne Rooney and Kerry Katona. She looks back to where her journey began, and in the distance she sees people, grey and thin, reeking of necrosis and limping as a result of deep vein thromboses from femoral injecting – and she knows, without doubt, that she must go on, for ne’er again can she face child protection conferences, or sacrifice her talents to writing pre-sentence reports. And so she faces Baron Twitter, and she takes his hand, and she lets him call her whatever he wants (@servant_public), but in her mind she knows that to her, he will always be Baron McTwatter, and she smiles.

Public servant craves freedom

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

So, my first attempt at a blog, where to start..

We all come to crossroads in our lives as part of the privileged world of choices we exist in, and yes, I fully accept that choosing one’s career path is a luxury which the majority of the world’s population do not enjoy, and so I don’t want to get too whimsical or self-pitying here. However, it has to be said, my choice of career was one which left my school teachers and lecturers scratching their heads and asking ‘why?’ and telling me ‘there isn’t much money in it, you know’, both of which, at the time, as a fresh-faced, political, optimistic young woman, meant nothing to me. I thought I could change the world – not the whole world, but the individual worlds of people who were struggling, which is all one ever really wants as a psychologist. Maybe it was a desire to make a difference, maybe it was the result of teenage years spent unwittingly wrangling with low mood, maybe it was the values of a socialist, fierce but compassionate mother, maybe, as a boyfriend put it, my need to take on a caring role was a form of self-validation, or maybe it was just middle-class guilt. Whatever the reason, I launched myself into drugs work like a dwarfed Wonder Woman out of a cannon. And I loved it.

Back then, drug users were a genuinely socially excluded group. They didn’t access healthcare because doctor’s surgeries wouldn’t accept them as patients, and if they did make it through the door, they would cope with health complications rather than go back to be treated like sub-humans. Only people with an address could register with health centres, and people presenting with a bedraggled or unkempt appearance were considered unfit to be seated in waiting rooms with ‘normal’ patients. Women especially did not present asking for help or treatment because the party line was that drug users were not fit to be parents, the substance use instead of the parenting was assessed, the failings instead of the need recorded, and so people struggled on alone, quietly, rather than put themselves up to be judged, criticised, and risk losing their families.

It was a great job, back then, being a drugs worker. You had battles with GPs about the definition of the word ‘healthcare’, you compiled evidence-based arguments to challenge psychiatry’s refusal to treat drug-users, quoting research about the co-morbidity of substance use and mental health issues, you waved the flag of the vulnerable and battered down doors until people listened to the plight (or just got sick of hearing you banging on) and agreed to let you in. It was hard, but god was it rewarding, and the clients were just grateful that for once someone was listening to them and was on their side.

Flash forward eleven years… A Labour Government has been in place, social equality has been a priority, times have been affluent, public sector wages are brought into line with the private sector, and drug users have been given recognition as a vulnerable group – no longer perceived as waster layabouts, some have addressed their issues and gone on to successful careers, breaking down prejudices and presuppositions about substance users, while the others are acknowledged as probably having had experienced childhood abuse and have therefore developed poor coping strategies, needing intensive rehabilitation if they are to address their issues, and so are sympathetically cradled by the system.

But hang on, there’s a global recession, funds are being cut, and the luxurious ten years of the Drug Strategy seem long behind us. So now drugs services start pitching themselves against each other for funding, long-existing relationships become strained, GPs start to wonder if it’s really worth having this type of patient in their surgeries if the money is drying up..

But worst, by far the worst, change to the landscape of the role of a drugs worker comes from the client group themselves, the very people you went into this role to help. They too have had a few comfortable years – now not only able to access healthcare, training opportunities, support with parenting, housing and finances, but with an ever-growing, burning sense of entitlement. They’ve had their legal aid, they know their rights, they’ve learned to exploit every loophole in every system, and they are used to being fast-tracked to the front of every queue because they are IN NEED. And they see ME, their drugs worker, their advocate, their bodyguard against inequity, as their root to a happy life, their guarantee that never again will they be poor, homeless, badly-treated or in need.

Now the twenty year old me might have been willing to attempt to fulfil that impossible role – but by now I have faced my own fair share of adversity, been on my arse a few times as we all are as humans, and learned to pick myself up, dust myself down, and get on with what needs to be done. And so regular attempts at emotional black-mail to the cry of ‘if you don’t get me some benzos so I can sleep / sort out my rent arrears so I don’t get evicted / tell Social Services I’ve stopped using so I don’t lose my kids / have me a new prescription at the pharmacy by 12 with an increase to my methadone dose, it’s YOUR fault I’m going to use’ wore thin and, frankly, I started to find the lack of personal responsibility and dependence of the State tedious, irritating and, at times, downright infuriating.

And so here I am, stuck in a miserable, unrewarding, emotionally-exhausting job, wondering where the last eleven years have gone, unsure if I have the skills to transfer to another profession which, likely as not, will also be subject to cut-backs and job losses, and really much preferring the idea of disappearing up a mountain alone, never again to address humankind. You don’t see the best in life, working as a drugs worker, and I don’t want to keep seeing the world like the big pile of shit I have been for so many years. I used to be an optimist, for god’s sake! Now it seems I am unshockable, unscarable, and have the emotional range of Oscar the Grouch.

The English language was always my first love, sadly neglected over the years of personal austerity, and life events and puzzles started taking me back to it during periods of lone reflection. And I thought to myself – I’ve paid my dues, I’ve done my time, and I’ve got enough material to start writing now and never stop.. And so here begineth the attempted transformation from drugs worker to writer…

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