Two months before my 17th birthday my stepfather was released from prison and moved into the family home alongside my mother, brother and I. Along with an electric safety razor, his prison shoes and tattoo's, he brought with him a backpack full of opiates. Geoffrey Smith would be my 1st drug dealer, my second stepfather and the stepping stone that took me from recreational drugs to hardcore opiates. 7 years later, with the exception of my brother, the household will have descended into full-scale heroin and crack addiction... my mother, stepfather and I rolling about sick on the floor, lying cheating and stealing from each other. It would end with Geoff having both his legs amputated, my mother booking herself into rehab, and me fleeing London with 500ml of methadone, a bloodstained shirt and a french lover. This post details the bizarre descent of my family into drug addiction, how we managed through that and the past and present consequences of those years.
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In 1983, the year of my fathers murder, Geoff Smith held a barful of people hostage with a sawn-off shotgun after he discovered his wife was having an affair with the proprietors 18 year old son. After a 5 hours siege and coming down from a tab of LSD, Geoff exchanged four shots with the police and then surrendered himself and his freedom to the British Penal System. He was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in Wakefield High Security Prison. Of the 15 years he served 9, during which time he met my mother and married her inside. At the end of his jail term, released 6 years early on account of good behaviour, he boarded a train to London. As he had kept his release date a secret no-one knew he was on his way. One dull Friday afternoon I answered the door to a small, squat, grey haired man with pin prick pupils and an Adidas sports holdall. He shook my hand, introduced himself as my new stepfather and said he had come to stay. In disbelief I called my mum and watched in absolute amazement as she jumped into his arms and then dragged him off into the bedroom. It would be 12 years before he left.
The first thing I noticed about Geoff was that he slept a lot. During the first month I only saw him on a handful of occasions. Rather, he and my mother spent their days and nights couped up in their bedroom with a small television set... my mother occasionally staggering down the hallway and into the kitchen to knock up a peanut butter sandwich. I reasoned that Geoff's heavy and long sleeping was a prison habit he had yet to shake off, and to a certain extent I was correct. It was a prison habit alright... a prison drug habit. He had entered the system a drinker and dope smoker and had left an opiate addict, crushing down and snorting up tiny white pills boxed under the name of Temgesi... a strong painkiller doled out to the terminally ill. Geoff bought them by the box load from a friends mother who was dying of liver cancer. The active drug in Temegesic is buprenorphine, the same drug that Subutex, the heroin substitute, is comprised of. But at this time Subutex did not exist, buprenorphine was not yet being used as a heroin substitute.
From the moment I discovered what these little pills were I was intent on trying them. This wasn't the first time I had thought about opiates, I had had them on my mind a long time before Geoff rolled onto the scene... I had been half-heartedly trying to acquire heroin since I was 15, but didn’t know where or how to get it. It was not long before I approached Geoff and asked him for a couple of his Temgesic's. In order to befriend me he slipped me a few outside of my mums knowledge and warned me to not take more than one at a time.... and that’s what I did, and then I floated off to heaven. Within a month I was crushing down and snorting up the pills almost daily... using the same tube as my mother.
This went on for about a year, then our immunity increased and we were on 3 or 4 pills a time... from here on we had problems. Temgesic were very hard to get... They were almost impossible to buy on the street. When our supply was finished we put our lives on hold until the end of the month, until the next repeat prescription was ready. We would live in stretches of two weeks... and when the drugs were gone we’d all sit in miserable silence, staring at a blank TV that anyone was too bored to get up and turn on. Sometimes we’d buy a few grams of amphetamine and try to pass the time that way, but as the come down hit us we yearned for opiates more than ever. I learnt very quickly that you either use opiates all the time or not at all.... there is no comfortable middle ground.
This behaviour with buprenorphine continued for a little more than three years, until the day we received news that the mother of Geoff's friend had succumbed to the cancer that had gradually been monopolising her - our supply was cut dead (though not quite immediately). We convinced Geoff’s friend not to declare the death of his mother to her doctor and collect a final prescription. He done this and we payed him triple the price as agreed, but that was really the finish of it. With our last two weeks worth of Temgesic we schemed and planned our future supply. I convinced/paid my supervisor at work to go to a private doctor for a slipped disc he had suffered. I told him to say the hospital had once given them to him and they were the only things that eased the pain. Geoff’s method was a little more radical. He had a friend hit him in the chest with a huge mallet. Due to the blow he sustained three broken ribs and managed to convince his doctor to prescribe him Temgesic for that. Between the two of us we managed. We didn’t have as much as we needed, though at least we had some. But doctors are very wary about prescribing such strong opiates, especially for back and rib pain, and within two years both had lost their scripts and we were left in the lurch again. It was at this time that I started scouring the streets for Temgesic... approaching homeless people, new-age travellers, and alcoholics. But all avenues were fruitless, until I met Gerald, a new work colleague and someone who showed an active interest in hard drugs.
Gerald was the first person outside my household to even know what these drugs were. He told me he knew of someone that could reconnect the supply line. I met Gerald one evening after work and we travelled to a ground floor flat on The West Ken Estate. Of course, it turned into a Witch hunt, no-one showing up and no pills to be had. That’s when Gerald played his true hand and suggested that I buy heroin instead. “It’s exactly the same.. only stronger.” he said. “I can get that for you right now.” Without even having to think I gave Gerald the money and watched as he disappeared down an alley with a small hooded black boy. He returned a few minutes later, spat 3 small bags into his hand, wiped them clean and handed them to me. I gave one back to him and we parted.
I arrived home excited and proud. I felt like the breadwinner returning with the weeks pay... the food that would end everyone’s godless hunger and revitalize them back into the world of the living. I rolled the two bags on the table in the same way one throws gambling dice: “It’s heroin...” I said “A bag each.” Geoff was very happy, but my mother looked nervously at the bags. She didn’t say anything, but I could read her thoughts. She had lived with a junkie, my father, and she had never joined him in addiction, now, some 10 years later and at the age of 48 she was confronted with her son giving her heroin... heroin she knew she would take. And she did take it... we all did, and Gerald was right, it was exactly the same as buprenorphine only much stronger and much more readily available. After that first bag of heroin I knew I was/would become an addict. The fact is , I was a heroin addict long before I had ever even touched it. As for my mother and stepfather, well they enjoyed it just as much... and soon we were all regularly scoring and spending the evenings together.
Heroin addiction is not like it is portrayed in film or book. One does not take it once and turn into a hopeless and desperate addict. Addiction is a slow process and progresses from gradual to constant use. It always takes a few months and in our case it took almost a whole year before we even became aware that addiction was looming. What started out as a weekend thing soon covered Friday and Monday. Wednesdays also crept in to the mix and before long we were using every evening. The start of the evening became earlier and earlier, until finally we were using on waking... the real sign of proper physical and psychological addiction. It is no coincidence that on entering treatment centres one of the first questions is : “Do you use on waking? How long have you been using on waking?”
The progression from Temgesic to heroin happened over many years, during which time many things changed. I had grown up and left the family home, and Geoff and my mother had given up the flat on White City Estate and moved to a small maisonette in Shepherds Bush. As I was spending most my time there, scoring or using, I decided it would be cheaper and easier if I gave up my apartment and move back in with my mother. We were all using daily by this time and when funds allowed crack also. But the exertions and the expense of drug life was fast catching up on us, and in a bid to keep ahead of the game Geoff and I were constantly borrowing or advancing money . We were living on our next months pay rather than our last. It was a precarious game and one that would soon fail us. We were building pyramids of cards in the wind... We were heading for disaster.
Our first bout of junk sickness did arrive... just as we knew it would. I was out of cash and my friend who would lend me money was not in London that weekend. Geoff had been refused cash at work and instead had been given a cheque... he had a long 4 day wait for it to clear. During the first morning we all sat together in the living room twiddling our thumbs and asking the other: “You’re sure you’ve got nothing? Not even £5???” We emptied out our bags and pockets again and searched under the sofa and down the sides of the cushions... but we were all out, there was not a penny in the house.. It was the first time in our addiction that we had awoken with not even the heroin to give us a morning boot. We were not ill, but we were psychologically uncomfortable. By evening we were all on our backs, snivelling and retching and sweating. Our yawns were so wide and so deep that we almost dislocated our jaws trying to get them out... and when we opened our scrunched up eyes, burning hot tears would stream down our faces. By nighttime body smells and fluids filled the room.... we were so sick we barely had the strength or inclination to go to the toilet. It pained to move and it pained even more to keep still. Buckets of vomit sat unemptied in the room and crusty mucus clung to the blankets and pillows. The muscles in our bodies had had enough... they rejected the brains signals to move, and would spasm now and again completely of their own accord. We each lay in our own little hell groaning and crying and cursing a world that could not float £10 through the window... Not EVEN £10 measly pound. We were in one of the main financial cities of the world, in our street alone there was ten’s of millions of pounds worth of property and possessions, yet if you need money right HERE right NOW you cannot get it... what the fuck is that!?
After 48hrs, real debilitating junk illness had arrived. We were sick through to the marrow of our bones, bed ridden with all poisons of the world breaking out through the pores in our skin. And there is no respite or escape. Sleep is impossible when you are ill – you must suffer hell with wide open eyes. We lay there like this for three long and miserable days, the clock ticking by in hour length seconds. We groaned and swore at invisible pains, cursing the day we were born and the world we born into. We damned the rich and the fortunate and we bellyached about not having a pittance between us. We cursed Geoff's employer and bemoaned the banking system that makes one wait four days for a cheque to either clear or bounce. We cursed almost everything, but we never cursed heroin... we just prayed for that. Each of us sending out silent messages to a God that none of us believed in.
After three days I made an emergency call to my absent friend. She must have heard my discomfort for although she had just drove back to London that morning she said she’d cross the city and bring me some money. I told my mum and Geoff and we sat waiting the three hours for her to arrive. She did arrive, on time as ever, and there ended our first bout of family junk illness.
We lived together like this for the first year of addiction, during which time we sold anything and everything we had. My guitars and music equipment. The video... the DVD player. My brothers fishing rods, golf clubs and stereo. My mother decided that her little collection of jewellery was worthless and so one afternoon we sorted through it and took it along to the pawn shop. Her and Geoff adding their wedding rings to the kitty. We flogged the two antique lamps I had stolen from work and finally we sold the television. We ended up spending our evenings consuming heroin and crack and staring at the square dust patch on the wall where the TV used to be. To raise more money Geoff & I started doing private building work on the weekends... me knocking up cement and him constructing walls that we could crouch behind and smoke crack. Once an elderly client caught us on the pipe and asked what we were doing. We said it was a special substance that is blown into the wall and which hardens the cement quicker. At the end of the day we were paid and told not to ever come back.
But these times, by no means wonderful, did have their worth. Through the joint use of heroin and addiction I bonded with my mother. We had the same concerns and the same priorities and when we got high we spent the time talking and going over the past. She started taking some care of me, scoring for me and making sure I had heroin to get to work. In the daytime she’d pick me up clean needles and return my used ones. She done all she could to keep my injecting clean and free from disease. For my part I helped keep her in dope... leaving her money for a rock of choice each day. As we fell into sickness together love would be shown by the other managing to raise some money and then sharing their heroin with the other. I have memories of hanging around street corners, both of us scanning the street for a sight of our dealer.... rushing home with a pocketful of heroin and crack and smoking or shooting away our illness. Ok, it’s not the usual thing that brings a mother and son close together but it worked for us. Through the ordeal of heroin addiction we managed to understand the others suffering. Her past problems and behaviour suddenly made sense, and in that moment I forgave her all.
The first year and a half was rough trek, but then the good times came. I had been provoking trouble at work due to the conditions and the treatment of some of my colleagues. One Thursday morning I was called into the directors office, fired and handed a cheque written out to the tune of £10,000 on the agreement I took no action. I accepted the offer it in a flash. Two weeks later I landed a top job managing an accountancy company and for the moment our financial worries were over. But as one problem goes, so another fills it’s place, and with my recent payout and my newly acquired directors wage I started scoring crack every evening. And not just for me... for my mother and Geoff too. Soon the household waited desperately for my return from work... knowing that I would arrive with my hands full of crack and smack. It was the crack addiction that finally blew the biscuits out the tin.
Crack is a much more desperate addiction than heroin.... it’s effects don’t last as long and the come down leaves the user wired and willing to do the most daring things to raise money for the next rock. Because I was buying the crack and all were reliant upon my return from work, there was a certain amount of animosity which began to develop towards me. It wasn’t long before money disappeared from my wallet or rocks of crack and heroin started going AWOL. Geoff would go out to score and return with nothing saying he had been robbed or lost the money. Then the bedroom door would close and from inside I’d hear the unmistakable blabbering of crackheads.During the evening the door would open and smoke would pour out like opening a freezer on a hot day. “Oh, it’s just the cigarettes.” Geoff would say “They’ve changed the gauge of the papers!” I didn't care, I was in the living room piping by myself... it was the theft and lies that annoyed me. I suppose they just wanted some power and control over their own addiction... I understand that. It’s very difficult holding a habit and relying on someone else to fund it. My mother was in the middle, and like any half-decent junkie used her position to best advantage. She wandered between living room and bedroom, taking the benefits of both. When Geoff thought she was coming in to collect my dirty plates and cups, she was actually sneaking crack outside of his knowledge... collecting it in rolled up tissue and smoking it on her own later or when we were at work. All these lies and sneaking made for an angry and explosive house. It was not long before Geoff smashed an ashtray into my head and I knocked out two of his teeth with my elbow. We never recovered from that fight or from me pitifully flicking him rocks of crack on my return home.from work.
During the next two years crack and heroin took all our money. I was still living within my means, but Geoff had borrowed, stole and sold all he could to fund his addiction. His latest idea to raise funds was taking on private and undeclared building work... work he neither had the qualifications nor the tools required in order to carry it out. What he did have was an almighty drug problem that pushed him to insane lengths to get money. 50Ft up, fixing the tiles of someones roof for £100, he slipped and slid. He held onto the guttering for as long as he could and then strength robbed him of his grip. He let go and dropped feet first to the ground, breaking both ankles and shattering both shin bones. He was in hospital for 5 months and two weeks after his release he was hit by an infection and both feet bloated up and turned brown. This infection would eventually rob him off his legs and leave him wheelchair bound with a crackpipe hidden under the blanket that covered the stumps of his legs.
With Geoff out of action and all the fuss and expense of hospital visits, my mother decided it was time to quit drugs. She applied for a detox programme, and after waiting 4 weeks she started out on a Methadone Maintenance program. Since that day she has never taken heroin again... though her crack problem still lingers on. After giving up smack she still continued to allow me to live and use in the house, and she still continued to score for me in the daytime whilst I worked. In turn, I continued to keep her supplied her with a healthy amount of crack each evening.
Two months after the amputation of his legs Geoff returned to the house, but in his absence things had changed and so had he. With no legs he used my mum as a servant and shouted orders for crack cocaine at me from the bedroom... threatening to chuck me out the house and phone the police if I didn’t comply. Finally we all had had enough, Geoff too. My mother was in no position to look after a disabled and demanding crackhead, and after months of incessant arguing Geoff left. I carried him downstairs and wheeled him to the Social Security offices. I rolled him to the reception desk and left, putting two rocks of heroin and £100 in his top pocket With no handshake and no goodbye I was gone... though in truth I was expecting to see him later and hear some half-arsed story as to why he was back. But the strange thing is, I, nor my mother have ever seen him again... he disappeared without word or trace or legs. Maybe he was more fed up with drugs than I realised... maybe sitting at the reception, at yet another person’s mercy, he had looked down at himself, at the place where his legs used to be and realised that this was not a good place to be at his or any age in life. Maybe he regretted ever coming into contact with my mother or me. Maybe he chucked the heroin away and used the money to help get himself back on an even keel. On the other hand, and more probable, maybe he fiddled as much money as he could from the social services, wheeled himself back d own the Uxbridge Road and spent it all on crack and smack. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say he done just that.
I continued living with my mother, working, scoring and smoking white together. But I was becoming bored of that life and the crack was beginning to affect me badly. I was turning into work dishevelled without having slept and with a bag full of needles and heroin. I would spend the first hour with my office door closed whilst I searched in desperation for a vein. One employee found a needle in my office and another popped his head over the toilet cubicle one morning and saw me digging for veins and with needles scattered over the floor and a crackpîpe sitting on the cistern. He tried to blackmail me and then left in a rage after his complaint was received as lies and nonsense by my directors... No-one else believed him either. Though I never considered quitting heroin, I was constantly cursing and promising to stop smoking crack. I started going out in the evenings or staying late at work so as not to be around dealers. My mum would score my heroin and her crack in the daytime and by the time I arrived home all that would be left were my bags of brown and my clucking mother. It was in this period that I met a french girl, fell desperately in love and began a romance that would finish with me getting onto a MMT program and then exiting London for Lyon and a heroin addiction on alien soil.
On informing my mother of my plans to leave she had mixed feelings. She was happy for me but her mind showed off other fears. What would she do without me? Who would fund her crack addiction? I felt terrible for this... I felt guilty. I had kept her in crack for the past three years and now I was leaving her with nothing. But my life had taken an unexpected turn, and it was a turn that I had to take. It was a fresh break, away from London and away from crack and heroin. But more than that I had fallen in love.... there was someone other than myself to think of, and I couldn’t keep my partner living in the hell she had experienced in London. The decision had to be a selfish one... I had to leave London and those left behind would have to fends for themselves. If my mother would be without crack, well so would I... we’d have to live that together.
My mother was strangely quiet in the week leading up to my departure. We sneaked crack in the house past my girlfriend, and we took turns occupying her whilst the other hit the pipe. The quiet was only broken by half arguments... my mother throwing bitter and sarcastic comments towards me, yet not having the stomach to finish them. Well she did finally get it out.... on the morning of my departure she could hold her anger nor hurt in any longer. She broke down and started crying and asked what would happen to her? To me? What started off as quite healthy despair and fears ended in her accusing me of abandoning her to the dogs... of getting her hopelessly hooked on crack cocaine and then deserting her. She was also jealous that I had found and chosen another women to spend my life with over her. It all came out and as I descended the stairs with my suitcase of clothes ready to join my girlfriend in the waiting taxi, my mother came running down the stairs crying and threw a bag full of my old needles at me:
“They’re yours!!! Fucking take them to France.... don’t leave your shit here for me to tidy up!!!”
The needles hit me in the side of the head and scattered everywhere.... over 300 of them. Two lodged in the side of my neck.and dangled there until I pulled them out and threw them on the floor. Silent with anger I turned around and climbed in the taxi.
“Stanstead Airport, is it?” asked the driver.
“That’s it, mate.... Stanstead. Get me out of this fucking shit hole!” And with that he moved out and slowly pulled away. And as the blood rolled down my neck and soaked through the breast and collar of my shirt I turned my head and peered out the back window. There was my mother, on her knees in the street, sobbing hysterically amongst a pile of old needles as she gathered them together and put them back into the bag. She never looked up, never looked back, and I didn’t expect her to either. In a lifetime of alcohol, violence, sexual and physical abuse, she had never given me so much as a sorry or a pair of regretful eyes. And as the taxi moved and my mother became smaller, I once again surrendered, “I Love You, MUM!” I shouted “I LOVE YOU!” And as the last word slipped out my mouth and the first tears slipped out my eyes so my mother slipped into the distance... Smaller, smaller, and smaller until finally she was gone.
Thanks for sticking with me everyone... my very Best Wishes to All, Shane. x