Cocaine, Coronavirus & Me

Photo by Khalil/Eyeem
Since the lockdown began, one positive and unforeseen consequence of self-isolating – away from the city and my flat and my friends – is that I’ve stopped using cocaine cold turkey. 
It’s not just that I’ve quit (which, when I tell you what I’m about to tell you, is somewhat miraculous); it’s that I’ve had the time and space to think about how and why I was using drugs, and it’s been downright revelatory.  
I always liked drugs but when I started taking coke, about seven years ago, I found a drug I loved. As I’m sure you’ve heard, cocaine is very moreish. What started as a once-in-a-blue-moon habit slowly became a once-maybe-twice-a-week thing. I went from being the girl who does a line at a party to the girl who is close friends with at least one of the half-dozen dealers in her phone at any given time. 
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I took coke at weddings, funerals, anniversaries – any time, any place, with anyone. I've had more people's keys up my nose than you've had hot dinners.

Eventually, no night was complete without it. I'd sit in beer gardens at 8pm buzzing, taking trips to the loo every 20 minutes for a little boost. I’d turn up at galleries, charged; go to dinners where I had no interest in the food. I’d be the one in the bedroom at parties, racking up lines and snorting them off someone’s copy of the latest Zadie Smith. I took coke at weddings, funerals, anniversaries – any time, any place, with anyone. I've had more people's keys up my nose than you've had hot dinners.
Things escalated, or should I say spiralled. There were still patches when I would stay clean for a month (Dry January) or maybe a fortnight (on family holidays) or the odd week (when no one would reply to my thirsty messages). Eventually, I was taking coke every week without fail.
Despite that, words like 'user', 'addict' and 'junkie' – alongside their counterpart concepts, 'clean' and 'sober' – seemed foreign to me, far removed from my life with a decent job, credit cards and scatter cushions from Anthropologie. But I was doing more, and more often. Was I an addict? It’s something I have asked myself and internet search engines many times. I guess if you have to google this question, the answer is probably yes.  
Two years ago I would have said no. Party girl – yes. Up for a laugh – certainly! Doesn’t know when to call it a night – that’s me! But of course that's not me at all. That's me in fancy dress, playing a part because sometimes we hate being ourselves. 
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Coke made me feel confident and sexy, two things I rarely feel without it, but here’s the catch: none of that is real. The confidence is all talk, no action and there is nothing sexy about vomiting bile into a toilet bowl you are holding like it's your lover’s neck on a Sunday night when you have to be at work in a few hours. 
There was no one moment when I realised that things had taken a turn but I do recall a guy I was sleeping with asking if I might have a problem when I disturbed our post-coital cuddle to take a bump. Never called him again. 
I also remember offering a friend a line once and she said: "Maybe later." I thought, What? Who waits until later? Because I certainly couldn’t, oh and fat chance there'd be any left later. Then there was the horrible, frantic night I turned my house upside down at 5am, throwing clothes out of wardrobes, rifling through bags and searching every pocket to see if I could find a little bit more. 

Big nights out were always followed by a physical and mental nosedive. I'd order pizza, watch shit TV and silence my phone when it rang. I didn't want anyone to see me, because I was a mess. 

Did I get fired? No. I did a very good job at work. Didn't my friends tell me to cut it out? Nope. Didn't my family suspect? Not one bit and if they did, no one said a word. 
Enough of all that, let's talk about the good times! Because there were good times. I loved staying up late, dancing all night…and you make so many friends!
There are the friends who take all your gear and then sneak off to the bar to buy themselves a single pint, the nice chaps who try to slide into bed with your girlfriend who has passed out cold, and the dealers who will slap your face at a party before pulling down their pants to show you their cock (he did give me a few free balloons, mind). 
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I'm not saying this to shock. I'm saying this to remind myself of what actually happened, because I think I’ve done enough sugar coating. I did have good times sitting up all night with a few equally 'dedicated' mates but we can do that without the gak, and it's much less likely that we'll end up in a raging fight at 4am over a Trivial Pursuit question. 
For so long – I'm talking years – the highs did seem to outweigh the monumental lows, so much so that I was willing to put up with them. But over time, even cocaine is subject to the law of diminishing returns. It became a self-inflicted cycle: get high, crash, swear I'll never do it again and then, five days later after a spat with my mother, an unkind word at work or a morsel of bad news, I'd get the phone out, order a bag, problem solved!
Big nights out were always followed by a physical and mental nosedive. I’d order pizza, watch shit TV and silence my phone when it rang. I didn’t want anyone to see me, because I was a mess. 
I piled on weight (not true that all addicts are skinny) and my eyes got duller. I lost my zest and then there was the baggage (anxiety and bouts of depression) that came with it. There were the tears of terror and desperation, no sleep for 48 hours, exhaustion. I'm not saying this to shock you either. It frightens me when I think how irresponsible I've been with my health, my body, my life. 
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It's not like I didn't try to do something. I went to an NA meeting once and shook like a leaf all the way home (it scared me sufficiently to refrain for four days). I rang one counsellor who told me that because I wasn't suicidal, they couldn’t help; another called back and I told her what I was taking. She commented: "That's quite a lot." "You should meet my friends," I said. 

I took drugs not because I'm a bad person or a bit of a party animal but because I was in pain, and people in pain will drink, fuck or snort it away if they don't know what else to do. 

The silence is still ringing in my ears. I was referred to a drugs-only service which I emailed, detailing the extent of my problem. I’ve never heard back from them to this day. I almost set up a meeting with a private therapist who decided I couldn’t afford it (ha!). But listen, it's no one else's fault, because I could have just stopped. 
I blamed my friends, one in particular who was fond of a line – but then she moved abroad and two months later I was still at it every week so, hmmm, maybe it wasn't her after all. And then again, I did do coke alone (very bad sign) so was it really other people? 
People who take coke the way I did will blame literally anything but coke for their problems: I’m stressed, depressed, I'm an alcoholic, my parents are crap, I'm crap, I’m just wired this way, YOLO, I’m supporting local businesses. They will do anything but admit that a little bag of powder is calling the shots.  
I went to therapy for depression and anxiety (nothing at all to do with the coke, I swear!) and was semi-honest with the kind woman there about the frequency and volume of my use. After sessions where we had dealt with hard stuff, I’d come outside feeling sick, dizzy and disoriented. Once, I got on a bus going in the wrong direction. But then, later, I'd feel relieved, lighter and very sleepy.
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Once, after missing a few sessions (nothing to do with the coke, I tell you!) the therapist told me she wouldn't carry on until I stopped using so she could find my 'base level'. I took the rap on the knuckles, promised to see her next week, arranged to meet a mate in the pub, reached for my phone and oh, yes I did – I called my dealer. 
I look back on that now, feeling disappointed and guilty but also with a bit of empathy. I took drugs not because I'm a bad person or a bit of a party animal but because I was in pain, and people in pain will drink, fuck or snort it away if they don't know what else to do. 
Now, because of coronavirus I am at home with my family. My day-to-day has changed dramatically. I exercise, cook averagely and eat well. I tidy up and make small talk with my parents. I read, drink hot chocolate and lots of tea. I talk to friends on the phone every day and go to bed early (I wake five or six times a night but then listen to a lady with a nice voice talk about the stars and eventually I fall back to sleep). 
And here’s the thing: I've not had a single craving. I do have an app that asks me to make a pledge to stick to my sobriety in the morning (I've had this app before and reset the counter to zero probably 30 times). I tick a box at the end of the day to say I’m still clean and am rewarded with a motivational message: "You are what you do. Tomorrow you will be whatever you did today." They are cheesy but sometimes I read them two or three times to let them sink in. 
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I’m doing this. 
There is a community of other cokeheads just like me on the app, sharing stories just like mine. The app allows you to track your changes: better mood, happier relationships, improved energy, mental clarity. It also tells me I’ve saved £500 so far and 50 hours of my time. 

Because of coronavirus I am at home with my family. My day-to-day has changed dramatically. I exercise, cook averagely and eat well. I read, drink hot chocolate and lots of tea. I talk to friends on the phone every day and go to bed early. I'm doing this.  

I'm hyperaware that when this all ends I could easily slide back into my old ways. I am in no way trivialising addiction but I feel different. It’s like a switch has flicked inside me. I see myself and blame no one but me. I still think there were genuine good times when I was high, I just recognise that the party ended a long time ago. Now it's well and truly over for me, too. 
It’s only been six weeks but that’s longer than I’ve been off any type of drug for a decade. In just this short lockdown timeframe, the thought of spending £60 on a gram and snorting it has come to feel foreign, unwanted, unpleasant. 
I’m not naive enough (or maybe not yet brave enough) to say I’ll never do coke again, but I’m grateful to know that I can live without it. 
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please visit FRANK or call 0300 123 6600 for friendly, confidential advice. Lines are open 24 hours a day.
If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, please contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1110.

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