Antonia Leslie: "Finally, heroin has lost all its mystique for me"
"It's no surprise that Peaches Geldof appeared to be functioning normally despite being back on the deadly drug "
Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30
The tragic death of Peaches Geldof must have sparked off all the usual "what if" questions in the traumatised minds of her family and friends. That's what happens every time some young person - it's always a young person - succumbs to a heroin overdose.
The truth is they should not torture themselves like this, they have enough grief to contend with. The truth about heroin addiction is that there was hardly anything any of them could have done. Occasionally, an intervention will help, but mostly heroin addicts are literally in a world of their own - and you cannot reach them.
Heroin is like no other drug once it takes a hold of you. Life becomes a secondary thing. You actually don't care if you live or die now or some other time, somewhere down the road. Future is just a funny word. Heroin is reality and heroin is now.
Other drugs are strong and feel good and are escapes and great at soothing your pain, changing your mood or giving you a lovely sensation. But heroin is a philosophy to those who take it, it's a god, a religion that gets you raptured up and your very reality changes in a way that is way beyond any escape, thrill or sensation.
In the movies, you see a person take a hit from the needle and they are instantly hooked. That doesn't happen. The addiction is slow. You can take heroin a good few times and never want to take it again. Most people get pretty sick the first time. I did. I remember feeling floaty and nauseous - in fact, so nauseous that I lay there for a day puking my guts up, thinking why the hell does anyone like this drug? It's horrible.
I had actually shot up a massive overdose in the toilet of a pub. I wanted to see what it would be like to be that gone or maybe to see what it would be like to die! I wasn't sad, depressed or suicidal. It was more, "Oh what the heck, let's break another taboo!'" Everything faded to black and I woke up on a plastic mattress on the floor of the junkie sweat tank of the local hospital, dopey but still alive. They gave me methadone but I felt nothing from it.
When the worst effects wore off, I thought, "To hell with that, I'm not doing that again." But I did. I did it again because everyone around me was doing it. They were doing it all the time and in my deluded eyes they were wise and cool.
I did it because everyone around me told me the second time would be great. Also, it was the must subversive thing they or I could do, and I wanted to be bad and break the rules.
And they were right, the second time was better; and the third time was better still. I still got sick but it didn't matter. The drug was strong and the drug was beautiful. I was beautiful. They were beautiful. The world was far away and the feeling of being present in my own skin in the eternal now that the drug gave me, was up to that point, the most joyful feeling I'd ever felt.
Other people would look at you and think you were "out of it," but actually you are never so much "in it," floating in sea of an endless now.
You can take a very strong hit and lie there for hours lost in sensations and not a thought in your head. But once you get used to it, you can take less and function pretty well. You move about, eat, run, play, work, laugh, cry and think complex thoughts and have meaningful conversations as well as become the wittiest person in the room.
So it's no surprise that Peaches Geldof was able to hide the fact that she was using again. And no surprise she was a loving, functioning mother and friend and wife and that she didn't arouse the suspicions of those around her.
You become very good at hiding it, and very good at convincing yourself you have all the answers and non- users know nothing. You tell them what they want to hear and inside you laugh at their naivety and the fact that they are missing out on what really matters.
Yes, sure you are aware you might die of an overdose, but so what? The world is cruel and mundane anyway, and you could slip on a banana skin or get hit by a bus too. No real point in worrying. The odds are good.
And even if you get off it, go to rehab, get counselling, you are convinced that you're only doing it for other people, the people who don't understand, but who get upset on your behalf and cry. Maybe you'll kick it for good, maybe for just a while. You feel a little like an undercover operative, a subversive. But you love those who love you. They can never understand, but you'll try for their sake.
So you stop, and then you make your next mistake. You start to believe that if you stopped once, you could do it again - anytime you want to really.
I went through that phase. I was 16 and my mother had done the tough-love thing, telling me that if I went back on heroin I would be on my own - forever. I agreed to try, but I still kept a secret stash which I promised myself I wouldn't take nor need. I felt secure knowing it was there. I didn't go to rehab, but I did go through counselling and I tried a complete change of scenery.
I ended up in a ski station, minding children and later working the chairlifts for the winter. I made new friends who didn't do heroin.
Skiing every day gave me adrenalin and a natural high. The seclusion of the mountain resort in the Alps was a sanctuary that, like heroin before, shielded me from reality for a few months, which was vital for the necessary mental adjustment. I began to think the eternal now was a place in my heart and I could reach it with or without heroin.
But when the snow melted I hitched to Cannes looking for work. I found new friends and fell in love with a bad boy who was a heroin addict. Trying to impress him, I shot up. It worked. He became my boyfriend. But now the heroin was different. Now it was becoming more physically hard to go without once the effect had worn off.
Throughout the summer, I slept with rich men for money and sold small amounts of heroin to others to support my habit. As I moved a million miles from the child-minder on the ski slopes of just a few weeks previously, I comforted myself about my activities by saying that at least I didn't steal. I was a good junkie.
But when the summer ended my true love did a runner owing a lot of money to some bad people. They came looking for him and found me, bundled me into a car and drove around demanding to know where he was. They punched me in the face, put a knife to my throat and cut my face, but I wouldn't tell them, even though I knew he was still around for a few more hours. They would have killed him. They might have killed me. It was terrifying. Eventually, they threw me from the car without slowing down.
A few days later I called my mother in Dublin and told her I was coming home. I was 17.
When I got home, I didn't take heroin. The need was gone. I went back to school and tried to be a normal teenager. I did normal 'bad' things with the other teens, like smoke cigarettes in the back of cars and get drunk on Friday nights at discos. It wasn't hard to be a kid again. I craved the life of a teenager - school, routine and being back with my friends with whom I had grown up.
Months later, while travelling back from a two week Christmas break in the Alps with my best friend, we detoured through Cannes and met up with the old crowd there. And I took heroin again. I got so sick, really sick. My body had been clean for months and reacted badly to the heroin. My friend had to lug me home, puking and green all the way.
I never took heroin again. In fact, even though over the years since, I have been in situations where others have been using, I wasn't even tempted. I guess the mystique or whatever it was, had gone. That was something I had learned over time. And it took a long time.
Most addicts don't have the luxury of the time to learn that the "religion" they follow with so much devotion, the "god" they worship without question is a false one, before it takes their life away, leaving behind only the sad, bewildered, bereft people who loved them, still wondering, pointlessly, "Why" and "What if?"