I gave up drinking nearly 20 years ago on the same day that I gave up abusing drugs of both the legal and the illegal kind. I stopped them one morning after being told that if I carried on the way I was then I would be dead within two years. Two years of dying slowly and horribly not party, party, party and a spectacular death at the end of it. It was a hard lesson but one I learned really quickly. I did take another year to pack in the fags, that was the worst addiction of them all.
I look back on the time that I drank way beyond excess partly in horror and partly in a sense of loss. Alcohol was my best friend and my lover. It was more faithful to me than my husband and it had more staying power than my lover. It was the reason I woke in the morning and the reason I fell unconscious each night. My first drink of the day was the reason for my being. I would inhale the fumes of whatever whisky it was deeply, holding small sips in my mouth, swirling them round my teeth & making the back of my mouth sting before letting those first precious drops of the day slide down my throat so that I could begin to feel normal again after a few hours of enforced separation.
I had a different drink for every occasion. When I was loading and unloading the washing machine I had Valpolicella because it didn’t mind the warmth of the kitchen. It was a pretty good wine for drinking whilst cooking. When I ironed I drank litres of Lambrusco because all that steam made me pretty hot and thirsty. When I was working it was vodka with lemonade or another soft drink because it was easily hidden. If I was hungry it was Guinness or port and brandy. Sometimes, if I was very hungry, I had Guinness with port added to it. If I was all alone I sat on the top floor of my pub in the unused bedrooms and kept company with a vintage Barolo. I can still remember the last bottle I drank. It was 10 years old and triggered orgasms on my tongue. I often dream about how that same bottle would taste today at 30 years old.
Mostly though I drank whisky. For 18 years my constant companions were my three blokey buddies – Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker. Whisky was a sweet torture because even though I adored the taste, the colour, the smell and the shape of the bottles, it gave me the hangover from hell. Long after I stopped drinking I could taste whisky in my mouth when I’d been dreaming of soothing away my problems the old fashioned way. Whisky was my first love and the other drinks were the times I strayed from the path, the guilty affairs that I could never quite give up.
After I’d been drinking for about 4 or 5 years the alcohol no longer did for me what I needed it to do. I drank, like all other alcoholics, to change the way I felt. I hated myself deeply and whilst it never gave me the courage to love myself it did give me the means to hate myself less. Then, as with all addictions, it takes more and more to get the feeling you need. Illegal drugs are very handy as is easy access to Valium and I took advantage of both. I would have vehemently denied being a dealer in those days but there isn’t really another name for someone who sells drugs for profit even if they were “soft” drugs and it was only to her friends.
The constant drinking and using combined with far too little food and far too much emotional baggage meant that I caused devastation to the people around me. I was unpredictable to a point that, even when quite young, I could behave in almost any way I wanted in the local pubs & clubs because it just wasn’t worth upsetting me. I look at that person now and feel sorry that she ever saw life. If anyone got close to me then they were getting close to a person I had manufactured and not the person I actually was. I didn’t build walls to see who cared enough to climb over them; I built them so I could have target practice when people dared to climb over the top. I led a life that was far too charmed and paid for my misdeeds only when my conscience kicked in when I eventually stopped living what I had considered a life that others were jealous of.
Towards the end of my drinking and using, despite running a pub and living there rent free and without bills to pay, my money was no longer stretching to pay for my habits. I had stopped dealing when I moved into the pub, finally realizing that it actually was dealing and not doing a friend or two a favour. I was married to an alcoholic and was planning to kill him because I couldn’t face trying to divorce him. I was desperate to keep drinking and terrified of running out of booze. That’s when I started to watch the old people going in and out of the post office next door. I knew where they lived and I knew if they lived alone. I was seriously considering stealing from old people just to feed my booze habit.
And that is why legalizing drugs that are now illegal and making them widely available won’t reduce drug related crime in any meaningful way.
An addict is an addict whatever the drug of choice and will stop at nothing to satiate their need. Except that need is never satisfied and more of whatever the drug might be is needed and it can never be found cheaply enough. I stopped at violent crime but many don’t.
Only 30% of people who enter into treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction actually become permanently clean and/or sober. The rest repeatedly return to drink and drugs until it eventually kills them.
The only way we can do anything meaningful about drug related crime is to look at why addictions happen, make treatments much more readily available, recognize that getting someone clean and then returning them to their old neighbourhoods will never work. If we treat the problem holistically then maybe, and only maybe, can we look at legalizing some of the drugs that are now illegal.