Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Life is a losing game.

WHEN a celebrity junkie dies they are lionised, no matter how senseless or stupid their death.

That's why fans of Amy Winehouse have left bottles of vodka outside her home in the past few days, why Kurt Cobain's house was surrounded with candles after he blew his brains out, why Michael Jackson is believed by some to have faked his own death and to still be alive.

When every other addict dies, without the blessing of a talent to make them special, everyone sees them as 'just' a junkie. And aside from the wealth there is little to separate Jacko, Kurt and Amy from any other substance abuser.

I have lost count of the number of junkies I've dealt with. I don't need to tell you those stories, because you can imagine what they're like.

What you can't imagine until you've experienced it is what it's like to love someone with a problem. Which is why it took a while to realise that what my then-husband was doing to himself was also being done to me.

Only I didn't get the high: I got the waiting. The waiting, awake, for his heart to stop in his sleep. The waiting through the night for him to come home, wondering when calling round the hospitals didn't seem like a mad idea. The waiting for his anger which always flared exactly 72 hours after a bender and which made him flip out, scream and throw me into the walls if I did something wrong. The waiting for things to calm down, for me to have a quiet hour to search the flat and find his stash, the waiting for it to happen all over again.

It wasn't very nice, but it could have been worse and I had it only for a year or so. The affair which brought an end to our marriage was agony but pretty much the nicest thing he could have done because it meant I was happy to finally let go, and now his problems are no longer mine. Amy Winehouse's parents have had it for 10 years. I can't imagine how it feels to see your child - the most beautiful and fascinating thing a parent ever sees - kill themselves, and to do it so slowly, determinedly, and without caring how it feels to those who watch.

There are around 200,000 people in the UK with a recognised addiction. They've all got loved ones. And every single one of them is as selfish as hell.

They all know it's wrong, they've all got an excuse, and in the early stages they all think it affects only them.

There is of course a difference between a user and an abuser, but only in terms of quantity. Both have the selfish belief that it's their choice, their fun, or their pain.

But every addict has loved ones who are equally abused and damaged by the addiction as they. When I think back to that year all I can really remember is a constant sense of low-grade terror - that the next call would be from the hospital, or that I might end up in one myself - and I still feel its repercussions.

Every recreational user, even those who like my ex say it's just a bit of fun, is paying money to nasty people who murder, rape, beat and intimidate on a global scale in order to maintain their grasp on a criminal network that does zero good for anyone, anywhere.

It's impossible to make every pound you spend a clean one - for it not, in some part, to go to a country or company that does things which we don't like, even if you're buying only broccoli. But there are not many ways I can think of to make that pound as dirty as you do by giving it to drug lords.

And all to feel like slightly less of a prat for a few minutes. For the sense of imperfection, of ugliness or stupidity or pain or bad memories that we all have to recede for a while and to get the ability to pretend they were never there at all.

I don't want this to read like I hate addicts or users, not least because I know quite a few of both. All I really know is that those who stop it do so only when they put someone else first. When they decide that they do not want to hurt their parents or partners any more, when they realise that they can do without something which will kill everything in their life if they don't.

And, frankly, when they decide to toughen up.

Life is not fair. It is hard, and painful at times, and full of people who will not always be kind to you. We all wish we were prettier and wittier, that we farted only roses and had better teeth and no-one ever broke our hearts.

But I would rather have loved all the people I have than not, to have experienced each blow and boost that life has brought. Hurt is how we know we're alive: Amy used to sing about that, and it made a lot of other people feel better about themselves, but sadly she didn't hear the same thing.

Whatever the official verdict turns out to be the real cause of her death is that she didn't see any reason not to die. That's the tragedy - that with a loving family, wealth, millions of fans and people who loved her, she still felt that they weren't worth more than the worst she could do to herself.

There are millions of people without Amy's luck who've fought an addiction and won, because in the end it comes down to stopping the excuses and asking a very simple question: do you want to take life on the chin, or in the arm?

Amy Winehouse in 2002, aged 18

* You can ring UK Narcotics Anonymous on 0300 999 1212.

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