The Spectre that Haunts Substance Abuse

You’re never alone when you’re abusing drugs and alcohol. Even when you’re holed up in your home, snorting away narcotics in a darkened corner of the house. It’s like this old joke I just made up:substance abuse, The Spectre that Haunts Substance Abuse,

A guy sits at a bar, nursing his whiskey. Suddenly, the thick, wooden door opens, and striding inside is a tall, dark-shrouded man. Or seems like a man. Hard to tell, under the deep, black cowl that shadows his face. Harder even to make out his body underneath the void-laden cloak. The guy sips his whiskey as this intimidating figure takes a seat next to him. It’s curious as to why this… person walks around town with an oversized scythe. Its honed edge glints in the bar’s dowdy interior light. But the guy shrugs off all these curiosities, and instead reaches into his jacket pocket.

He pulls out a bag containing a sizable amount of white powder – cocaine. He thumbs in the direction of the men’s toilets, shaking the bag enticingly, and says, “Care to join me?”

The figure replies: “Of course. I join everyone.”

I’m not a superstitious man. But while using drugs, even I heard – faintly – the beating of wings. Especially when I lost some control, as happens often with addicts, and used far more drugs than intended.

My heart would beat faster than a hyperventilating Trance track, and I’d feel a shockwave down my left arm. “Oh f@*k,” I’d say. “Mr. G. Reaper’s in the room, isn’t he?”

1.Reaper is a hard man to distract – and you certainly want to distract him from the matter at hand. His personal calls are very unexpected and uninvited. This guy, in fact, is an infamous party-crasher – and the wilder the party, the more likely he mysteriously appears on the guest list. If you’re a musician, it’s strongly recommended to not throw soirees during your entire 27th year.

I wouldn’t go as far to say G. Reaper and I are friends. But we’re definitely well-acquainted. It’s uncomfortable being around him, since he has a constant vibe – as if you owe him a lot of money.

Addicts only get to duck-and-dive repayments for so long.

I have a sizable list of addict friends who unexpectedly found G. Reaper waiting in their lounge. Almost as if he’d come over for tea. And Mr G Reaper loves sipping his tea and watching while you cut a line or prepare to smoke drugs…

Drugs and alcohol. The day-to-day abuse of them inures a sense of invulnerability. The result of a very dangerous activity becoming mundane. We take the poison for granted.

And so, many addicts end up as memorials on Facebook walls. There’s been an inordinate amount of times I’ve seen shocking status messages like:

“Sorry, Matt, I’m really sorry, mate.”

“I’m saddened by Craig’s passing, and I send my prayers to his family during this difficult period.”

“You were one of the best of us, Sindy. Farewell.”

In a sense, you do owe Mr G. Reaper money, and it gathers interest quickly. There’s only so much an addict can do to pay off what they can – and not through debit orders, but adrenalin-shots and crash-carts in hospitals. Doctors, not bankers, are the ones shaking their heads and sighing in judgement.

Drugs eventually lead to the dead centre of town.

Some of the fallen I’ve known:

Saul. Scottish descent. Heated rival. We blasted each other in Call of Duty and Counter-Strike, and occasionally in real-time strategy games such as Age of Empires. Together, some years ago, at a halfway house, he told me I was a free-spirit. It wasn’t said as a compliment, more like pity in a world demanding conformity. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him for ages when I got the SMS: “Saul Malboro is dead.” Apparently, he was found in a hotel room. Alone. But I know he wasn’t quite alone. A tall, dark figure was there, sipping tea politely. Saul was about 32 years old.

Janine. Started on drugs at about 12. She was believed to be incorrigible. Untreatable. Short, dark, curly hair, Janine would escape or refuse-hospital-treatment at rehab after rehab. Heroin was her poison, but she got free of it for 14 months thanks to Houghton House – it was considered a pure miracle. I was at her one-year share. So was half of Johannesburg’s addiction recovery fraternity. Later, though, she relapsed, and fled into the twisted bowels of Hillbrow’s dangerous streets, fell into the hands of very abusive men, and disappeared into darkness. She died from a drug overdose some believe was intentional. She was dead before she was 24 years old.

Mary-Ann. From Italy, also had a heroin habit. Married to a very kind man, also a recovering addict. I met her during a stint at a rehab. Got on with her very well. Saw her one night at an addiction recovery meeting: she was seated next to her husband, who was chairing. She seemed a queen, regal as always. I meant to go say hello after the meeting. Catch up. She had been fond of me. But I was also tired, just wanted to go home, so I left thinking: “I’ll see her soon, anyway.” The very next day, I heard the news that her husband woke up next to her cold, vacant body. She was holding a syringe. Overdosed in the night, after taking a hit of heroin when her husband fell asleep. He didn’t even know she had relapsed. I desperately wanted to turn back the clock, rewind to the night before. Go up to her. Speak to her. Enjoy her veracious company one last time. She was 42.

A man known as Wolf-Dogg, because he loved his hip-hop and gangsta rap. Short-ish guy, but with plenty of ‘tude. We went through treatment together. Spent a lot of time in a halfway house together. And a sober house together too. He tried to teach me the ways of wooing women. He likened it to kung fu, because that’s how I best process things. He tried to teach me styles. “Hai, Master!” I would jokingly say. Then we had a falling out. I wanted nothing more to do with him. A few years passed, and someone posted a Facebook status about his unexpected death. Cardiac arrest, probably from cocaine or cat. I felt immense guilt – I didn’t even remember what our friendship-finishing fight was about. He was 37.

So far, this year, I haven’t heard of too many deaths. But Mr G. Reaper is waiting. Waiting for an addict to give in to their desire, their hunger. Addicts who don’t get help in time because their families hesitate to intervene – hoping they’ll stop of their own accord. Or addicts who forget their lessons and don’t use the tools provided by rehabs such as Houghton House.

Thankfully, Houghton provides me with the continued support I need to deal with life’s difficulties and avoid addiction recovery pitfalls.

Pitfalls that drop you into the domain of our shrouded friend, the tall figure with the gleaming scythe. He’s waiting for you to join him for tea.

And with Mr G. Reaper, any time is tea time.


All names and some details in this post have been changed to protect anonymity.


Image: The Spectre that Haunts Us All. Copyright J.D.