It’s an unrelenting, obsessive, all-consuming, enslaving demon. It controls me and I am so weak, vulnerable, fragile. I cannot possibly fight it. I don’t want to.
It’s an impossible mission anyway, an insurmountable task – to overthrow this demon and reclaim my mind, body and soul. To eradicate it from my mind and send it screaming all the way back to hell.
I know if you are reading this and you have had an opiate addiction, you understand what I mean. You have a demon inside you too.
My name is Sarah and I have an addiction to codeine. A dirty, shameful addiction.
It makes little sense when you’re not the one in the clutches of that fucking demon. I’m excessively tired and groggy all the time. I spend hours every single day going through cycles of self-loathing and lying to myself, convincing myself that today will be different. I spend hours obsessively calculating the logistics of how to get more codeine. If I suspect that I can’t get any, I suffer immense anxiety and panic. And I have spent thousands of dollars on my little habit.
I plan and plot my entire day around codeine. It’s vital to my very existence. It’s the first thing on my mind in the morning as I wake up and struggle to push through the fog. It’s the last thing on my mind at night as I drift off to sleep, reveling in the lulling high. If I’m too tired, the codeine will make me pass out rather than give me that sweet, elusive high. So I chug down coffee and swallow caffeine tablets throughout the afternoons to perk up. I nap in the evenings. I plan my meals around codeine – too close to meal time and I might not feel an effect, too far from meal time and I might vomit. I am a slave to codeine, it is the center of my universe and it rules my days.
I repeat this every day.
I repeat this for six years.
Of course, there are some variations. At one point, six tablets were enough, then ten, fifteen, twenty, back to ten, back to fifteen… Sometimes on a bad day I might take them in the daytime then again at night, riding out the extreme nausea and occasional vomiting with self-loathing, despair, desperation. Sometimes I might try different brands or combinations of brands and doses, or combinations of drug types, codeine with muscle relaxants or Valium, alcohol, anything, anything to increase the chances of getting a fleeting, sacred high.
Last year, some woman killed herself by accident by taking too much codeine. It wasn’t actually the codeine that killed her but the paracetamol that was mixed with it. So the government started regulating the sale of codeine.
Sheer panic at how I was going to navigate this tricky new system. Initially, I thought that I might be forced into quitting. But the demon was smarter than that. The demon sent me to the doctor for a script. I meted this out and intermittently bought over-the-counter codeine to supplement the prescription. I went back to the doctor, lied, got a new script. I begged my sister to buy some. I threw caution to the wind and even told a few people about the demon so that I could openly ask them to buy it for me. I lied to work colleagues and conned them into buying it for me. I made jokes with people about how I was a junkie so that they laughed along with me as they bought me codeine and thought to themselves that I couldn’t possibly be an addict if I joked about it so nonchalantly. But the demon is a good actress. The demon will not go unfed.
I think I accepted the label of addict when I realised that codeine was more necessary to me than my dignity, my relationships and my work ethic. I lie, I manipulate, I beg, I bargain. I front up to the chemist counter knowing that they know that I’m an addict and I do it anyway. I have been scoffed at by pharmacists, questioned, interrogated, humiliated, denied and I do it anyway. I have no choice in the matter. It is life and death. It is as necessary to me as breathing.
This is not my first addiction either. I was addicted to alcohol for some years in my early twenties. I started binge drinking at 15. At every opportunity I would binge drink until I blacked out. At 18, I started drinking everyday. This was a much easier addiction to deal with because of our wonderful culture in which we glorify drinking. It’s acceptable. Alcohol sales aren’t regulated and there are countless bottle shops. So it’s easy. I’d buy 5 liters of cheap wine at a time and drink until I couldn’t see and pass out. It was cheap. I’d wake up, feel sick and do it again. I spent food money on alcohol. I stole money for alcohol. Sometimes I drank alcohol at work. Twice, I was sent home from work for being drunk. Twice a week, every week, I would go out nightclubbing and binge drink until I blacked out. But as I approached 22, I sent the demon away and stopped drinking everyday. Over the years, I stopped binge drinking too.
But the demon was still inside me and six years ago she resurfaced with a merciless, incessant and unquenchable thirst.
It’s a strange thing to wholeheartedly love something which causes you so much distress and pain. It’s nonsensical to suffer so acutely and yet desire the thing that torments you. I loathe it, and yet love it, with so much passion.
I’m writing this today because I am being coerced into quitting. The government is now banning all over-the-counter sales of codeine and I have 8 precious days left before I am forced, unwillingly, into abstinence. I am not ready, I am indignant, I am fucking seething, terrified, frantic, hysterical, inconsolable. I cannot actually describe to anyone this immense feeling within me that threatens to burst me wide open. I feel as if I have only days to live before all the air will be sucked out of my world. I feel like I’m going to die.
Actually, I feel like I’d rather die.
Read Part Two here.