Content Warning: Drug addiction and mental illness
I’m addicted to caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, olanzapine and mirtazapine, and happen to be in the lucky position of being too poor to afford anything else. I have a collection of addictions. I remember each point they started, what drove me to them and how they formed my life.
I got addicted to caffeine when I was thirteen and started having bad migraines and sleepless nights. I got addicted to alcohol when I moved out of home and had my first psychotic break. I got addicted to olanzapine and mirtazapine when I dropped out of uni and had my second psychotic break. I got addicted to cigarettes after a breakup and a poor decision to spend a night with a bottle of vodka, a packet of Winfield blues and an album of sad western music. I got addicted to marijuana after a breakup and a poor decision to spend a week with a ping pong table, a quarter of AK47 and Jimi Hendrix.
Addiction isn’t something that stops with a revelation or a decision. Quitting means standing on a knife-edge for a long time. I don’t know how long. I’ve never quit long enough to find out.
I woke up on the morning after my 25th birthday and quit weed. I wasn’t as hungover as I should’ve been and my mood was wretched. I barely spoke to the remnants of the previous night’s party. Instead I sat and frowned and thought.
I thought about how I was 25 and I’d heard that was supposed to be the point where your brain is at its peak. I thought about how I was 25 and I hadn’t had sex in 18 months, I hadn’t been employed in six years, and I hadn’t been in an unaltered state of mind in twelve.
‘Three days,’ I said to myself. Three days and it will be out of my system. Three days and my head will be clear. Three days and I can make a decision. I went to dad’s house for lunch, feeling ants crawling up my spine and baking soda in the bottom of my stomach. I started shaking and I gagged every time I tried to speak. After vomiting in the backyard I left abruptly, my eyes stinging and my head full of anxious static. I got home and stopped quitting.
I quit until 5pm the next day, and then until 7pm the day after. Both days I spent on the couch, frowning and thinking. Unable to act or communicate. Drinking too much coffee and smoking too many cigarettes and struggling with inner demons. I couldn’t seem to control which way I walked or thought. My hands were alternately shaking or clenched shut. I threw up and had bouts of hiccups periodically.
On Wednesday it was a wake and bake. Tried not to think about how I had quit three times in three days and gone backwards. Tried not to think about how much control over myself I had lost. Tried not to think about what would happen if I lost the disability pension and was thrown back in the deep end of a world I was so far removed from. I made a doctor’s appointment at 11pm.
I slept until the afternoon. Didn’t smoke when I woke up. I wanted to be sober for the appointment. Wanted to have a moment that was important to me, without intoxicants making me think it was. I was a nervous wreck. Lit a cigarette on the walk to the medical centre and bent over coughing and gagging half way through it.
The waiting room slowly emptied out until it got dark and cold, with me sitting in the seat furthest removed from the other patients and in the best position to see if the doctor was calling out my name so I didn’t keep him waiting too long.
I said two sentences and one word to the doctor. I said ‘hi’ when I walked in and he said ‘hi’ and ‘sit down’. I told him I needed a referral to a psychologist and he printed me a mental health plan. Told him I’d been having panic attacks and needed Valium. ‘Yes of course,’ he said. I rocked back and forth and didn’t look him in the eye the entire time.
I stopped shaking as I walked out of the pharmacy, hand in my jacket pocket, grasping the bottle of Valium like a stress ball. Stopped frowning, lit a cigarette and breathed it easy.
I spoke to myself in the strongest voice my mind could muster. Ian Mckellen. I said this is not a cry for help. This is no plea for time or ground. This is me going down swinging. Fighting tooth and nail. I do not take handouts and do not let people fight in my stead. I take only the help I need from the people who stand on my side.
Weakness is the human condition. It is not a passing thing or a temporary fall from grace. It is the fuel for progress and the building blocks of triumph. It is the thing that connects us, the gap where other’s strengths fit in.
In a way my addictions have kept me alive. They were replacements for problems I could not face alone. I understand where my true strengths lie. I understand that trying your best can still fall short. I understand that every person has their own addictions.
There will come a time where I must stand upon the knife-edge for as long as it takes. I never had good balance but that is what makes it worth it.
(Disclaimer: I wrote this some years ago in one of the darkest periods of my life. Since then I have walked the knife edge on a good many things. I quit smoking when I got married. I don’t smoke pot anymore and I don’t need to get drunk to pass the long hours of the night. I still chew the nicotine gum and enjoy a couple of drinks in good company, and I’m resigned to be a life on medication, but victory with compromise is victory nonetheless.)
Author: Samuel Maguire is a bipolar himbo and Brisbane author currently studying at QUT. His first novel, No Point in Stopping, was published in 2018 and he is the editor of a collection of Queensland inspired speculative fiction stories called Far-Flung to be released later this year. He currently works as a commissioning editor at Tiny Owl Workshop and you can find his work in ScratchThat and Scum Magazine.
Artist: Yongzheng Wang is a visual arts student from China, currently studying at QUT and living in Brisbane, specialising in traditional painting such as classical oil painting and academic sketching. While studying art in China, he won a first prize in landscape drawing in institute. He is fluent in Chinese, French, English and Italian and has a good knowledge of Western art theory.
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz