I I wish I could tell you that I quit heroin because of a deep spiritual revelation or a sudden thunderbolt of wisdom. But the truth is that the first time I stopped, it was because at 28, I found myself in an unprecedented situation. It was the first time in my adult life that I had absolutely no way of getting my hands on illegal drugs.
It turns out it’s extremely difficult to smuggle heroin and crack into a high-security psychiatric unit like the one I landed in at Homerton Hospital in east London (and believe me, I tried). Since it was clear I wasn’t going anywhere for a while, I decided I might as well get out – when it could be – clean. Not just for illegal drugs, but for the host of other drugs – methadone, diazepam, zopiclone – these places tended to prescribe to people in my condition. And so, six weeks later, that’s what I did.
I had landed in the Bevan area of Homerton after a failed suicide attempt, which should tell you that, until then, although I desperately wanted the negative effects of addiction to end, I couldn’t imagine living drug free. I was tired of the endless poverty that accompanies addiction and the degrading measures necessary to deal with it; I had had enough of the constant terror of withdrawal; I had had enough of overdoses, ruptured veins, hepatitis C and the thousand other shocks that junkie flesh is heir to. I was tired of the annihilation of anything resembling self-respect. But what that meant, to me, was that I had had enough of life. I could only imagine two choices: addiction or death.
But after leaving the Bevan neighborhood, sober for the first time in my adult life, I began to understand what I had somehow failed to understand until then: that there were things that were worth living. Real relationships. Meaningful work. Integrity. So when I relapsed after a year and found myself in the living hell of chronic heroin and crack addiction, part of me remembered that there was a better and healthier way to live, if only I could go back to it. That’s why, when I was offered a place in a charity rehab that offered long-term psychotherapy, I took it. I could use a lot of help, but remembering that year I was clean gave me something I didn’t get the first time I quit: hopebased on hard evidence that life could be different.
And that was, I believed for a while, the end of that story – the story of how I quit – and the start of a new one. In the summer of 2019, I had four years clean. If you had met me then, you would have found me indistinguishable from an ordinary citizen. I worked for a psychotherapy charity. I was in good health. I was happy. I was in a relationship with a woman I loved and hoped to spend the rest of my life with. And, to my amazement, in the fall of 2019, I signed a deal with a major publisher to tell the story of my life – my childhood as the son of a strict evangelical preacher, my catastrophic loss of faith teenage and subsequent struggles with addiction – in the form of memory. I had succeeded, I thought. I had recovered.
Then, after making the right choice for 1,614 days, I made the wrong choice. No doubt a colossal instinct for self-sabotage was at play. But what might not otherwise have turned out to be a brief slip-up escalated into tragedy, trauma and chaos when, a month later, my well-behaved brother -loved Jonathan died suddenly at age 34. My inability to stay sober then destroyed my relationship, leaving me with double heartbreak. disaster. Sometimes I felt like I was done: that I had done my best, that I had thrown everything away and that I had failed anyway. It was time to quit smoking. It was time to stop, capital Q, period.
But there were two reasons why that didn’t turn out to be the end of my story: why last year I took another trip to rehab, started over, and became clean once again nearly 10 years after that first time at Homerton. hospital.
The first was because it turns out that several years of recovery will give you a greater ability to form meaningful relationships – in short, to give and receive love. It’s a double-edged sword: it means you’ll have a stronger support network to draw on if you find yourself in crisis again. But it also greatly increases your ability to harm others. Seeing the terror and pain on the faces of the people trying to continue caring for me as I continued to relapse following Jonathan’s death finally forced me to get serious help once again.
The second was due to a promise I had made to my brother the day before he died. Celebrating my recent book deal over pizza at a restaurant and mindful of my habit of always leaving projects unfinished, Jonathan made me swear that, No matter what happenedI would finish writing my memoirs.
It was the reminder of this promise which, on many occasions, prevented me from leaving everything.
So clean up again now, and with my first book – Original Sins – just being published, I have a big part of my brother to thank for quitting again. And, more importantly, for the fact that I didn’t give up, capital Q, period.
Matt Rowland Hill is a London-based writer and the author of Original Sins, his new memoir
In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or by chat for help. You can also text HOME to 741741 to get in touch with a crisis text line counsellor. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis helpline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org
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