Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 30 Sep 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Drugs

When I was growing up, the biggest threat to life and limb was being blown up by an IRA bomb. Pubs, shopping streets, hotels and just about any other facet of life in this country were seen as being potential targets, but life carried on regardless. It had to. One of the ways they were supposed to get money for arms was the drugs trade. And even if you chose not to believe this, the people involved with said drugs trade were clearly not doing it from a spirit of altruism. They didn’t care whether you had a good time, a bad time or an indifferent one. They wanted money to buy more stuff, because selling more stuff meant that, in turn, they had more money. This might be an over-used word, but they were, and are, absolute scum.

This is one of the reasons why, when I grew up, I was wary about drugs and then empathically against them. Where drugs are present, guns, violence, addiction and other forms of social harm are never far behind. I grew up in an area where the mining industry died in the early eighties and where, after a brief hiatus, a thriving drugs industry came in its wake, with all of the attendant problems of social chaos and crime. You couldn’t get a job, but you could get smack fairly easily and generally more cheaply than the eight pints needed to get out of your head for a few hours. In time, you’d end up nicking people’s VCRs and TVs to fund your habit, but that wasn’t the dealers’ problem. Provided you had a habit, they were indifferent to the consequences.

And I’ll freely admit, I’m also a coward. I’d be so worried that whatever it was I would be taking would kill me or mess up my brain chemistry, or be cut with a chemical whose properties were unknown that I’d create serious problems for myself. My luck is uniformly bad, and I’d be the person who got hurt.

But here’s a thing. Even allowing for the social harm the trade in illegal drugs causes, for the harm it can do individuals, if you need something that changes the nature of your reality, however briefly, then there is a problem with your reality. And it’s here that the definition of what a drug might be broadens because I’m talking about alcohol as well. So that means that people who go to the pub after work for a drink, or tend to tweet about ‘needing’ wine after tough stuff are also altering their reality as well. We can talk about how justified you are in changing that reality, and for some people, reality is very, very bleak, but in the end, the cost of changing that reality, even in the baldest financial terms, starts getting quite onerous, and we’ve not even started talking about the psychological effects that come with it.

And if you want to see what happens when reality is so bad that people seek a more permanent escape, I’m sure you can find people on the streets of your nearest city who want their next fix of whatever it is they’re addicted to and have reduced themselves to shambling ruins in the search for it. The people who need wine and the addicts might be comfortably far apart for the time being, but they’re willingly placing themselves on the same continuum. That isn’t a very comfortable idea, but it’s one that exists all the same. The bloke with his can of Buckfast or Special Brew and the office worker with his glass of wine or pint might consume their alcohol in starkly different places, but the end result that they seek is the same. A rounding out of reality until it becomes briefly bearable before the problems start up again.

When I’m offered a drink, I generally say no. Having a member of my family who is an alcoholic and seeing what it does when I work as a Street Pastor means that it’s not something I want in my life. But the more serious reason is that I don’t want my reality tweaked or changed in any way. I’ve had to battle hard through mental illness and experienced how close twisted perceptions have brought me to taking my own life. This is still a battle I occasionally fight on a daily basis, and nothing that passes my lips is going to make fighting that battle any harder or more confusing. I’m at the stage where even having a caffeinated cappuccino can throw me badly off track and leave me with a pounding heart, which is a response to stimulants that, to be honest, I quite like. If I’m this low down on the pecking order, I must be living pretty cleanly.

This isn’t a fashionable view, and it never has been. I’ve seen the eye-rolling and the sniggering that goes with demurrals, and I don’t care. When I went to university, I saw the people who sold drugs, not just cannabis, but harder stuff, and I felt a kind of contempt for them, mixed with something that I’m not afraid to call hate. They were generally well dressed, because they could afford to be, and smug, preening people who seemed to hold themselves in a certain regard. What they brought with them wasn’t going to hurt or disadvantage them. The risks were taken by others and their place was to enjoy what the money could buy.

If you say this people will always exchange glances, as though you’re being a hardliner or are going to fall to your knees and start praising Jesus. Which I’m not. But if the middle class people who told themselves that closing Fabric was some kind of crime saw the other end of the trade they support, the misery in the terraced streets I remember from home, the hollow-eyed people on the local TV news, caught knocking over a neighbour’s house for a video recorder they could fence down the pub for a fraction of its value, they might at least pause for a moment. Their dealer is almost certainly well-spoken and would never get his hands dirty, but their trade is not so different.  He probably drives a Range Rover rather than a ten year old Merc or BMW, but that money is going somewhere and it isn’t going to charity.

I feel the same way about alcohol, for all that it’s more acceptable. My attitude doesn’t harden into wanting pubs banned and I’d rather drugs were made legal because it’d reduce the harm that is, in part, caused by illegality. Should people want to intoxicate themselves or, in John Lennon’s words, ‘blow their minds out,’ then I’m more than happy for them to do that. There is a side issue here about the consequences of addiction for the health service and society as a whole, because treating someone is expensive and it isn’t quick. The alcoholics I know have been in rehab many times and contrived to injure themselves in a range of ways. Drug addicts presumably do the same.

But in the same way I don’t go naked bungee jumping or rock-climbing, it’s not for me. My reality is hard-won and I’m not apt to surrender it on the flimsy pretext of pleasure.

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