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I sat in the car as the bus pulled up across the road. I watched and waited,
secretly hoping he had changed his mind and let me down again as I was
accustomed to him doing. I felt sick and resentful as I asked myself for the
hundredth time, “Why do I still allow him to pull me into his nightmares?”
Some sense of loyalty which I knew was ill placed, a belief that friend’s look
after each other through thick or thin, or just the commitment to long ago
promises that I couldn’t bear to renege on. I don’t know. Maybe I just have
some deep psychological need to help the helpless or an inability to let
myself feel like the bad guy. The last time I had seen him, I had screamed
at him, “Never Again” and I meant it then as much as I had meant it all the
other times.

I hadn’t seen him for two or three years, although every few months I would
get a late night call and a new, but all so familiar drama or crisis of some
kind, would be relayed in a slurred or desperate voice. He would cry and
plead with me to take him back or to at least help him. The promises would
play out and repeat like a scratched record. I had heard it all so many times
- he could have just shut up as I could have done all of the talking for him.

Four nights earlier he had called again. I knew it was the end of the line for
him. He had just come out of hospital, and for the third time he had been
dead on arrival. His day had come and he knew it. Either he straightened
out now or he died. Everything was finally closing in on him. He had debts
and some potential jail time hot on his heels.

I don’t know why I agreed to help him out, it certainly wasn’t done with an
open and loving heart. At best, I would say I was indifferent or else I just
was not prepared to know he died with my name being the last word he
called. I was hard though, and I made it clear that I would only provide a
bed and food and nothing more. I did not want to hear about his problems, I
did not want him to think that he was in any way a part of my life.

I hardly recognised the person walking towards me. I’m sure the look on my
face let him know how repulsed I was to see him. He was a skeleton in loose
orange skin, his eyes were yellow, his hair had been bleached, but done
badly so it was also yellow and his teeth were rotten. The bus trip from the
east coast took three days. I knew he had borrowed the money for the fare,
but probably nothing extra for food. Talk about cold turkey! I couldn’t begin
to imagine how someone could withdraw from a
heroin addiction while
sitting on a bus. I could have admired him for that, but all I could think about
was how embarrassing it was going to be when my new life met my old life.

I knew the minute I first met Stephen that my life was about to change. We
moved in together within weeks of meeting and were inseparable for the
next four years. Those four years were filled with love and laughter. He was
my best friend, my lover, teacher, brother, parent and child. I have never
before or since known someone as well as I knew him.

We were young and healthy and filled with possibility and we brought out
the best in each other. He was charming and worldly, so charismatic that
people from all walks of life wanted to befriend him. Women of all ages
became easily infatuated with him, yet he was also a man’s man. He had it
all: looks, intelligence, sensitivity, warmth and humour. He was dynamic,
capable, adventurous and talented. Everyone expected him to be some
kind of Superstar.

They were such magical times. We travelled the country and lived life like it
was an ongoing adventure. We were invincible. Our house was always
open. Our circle of friends was wide and varied. We played like grown-up
children; life was an ongoing party, Stephen at centre stage, and I basking
in his light.

When things change, they tend to change in a rather insidious way, so it’s
hard to pin-point an event or a time which could or should have sounded an
alarm. Of course, there were times in which I challenged his drinking and
often it ended up in a fight or me storming out. He was a dreadful drunk and
seemed to get extremely drunk on very little. I was also aware that as soon
as he had a taste of alcohol there was no stopping, he drank faster with
each glass, and drank until he dropped. He was an ugly drunk as well –
glassy eyed, slurred speech and unsteady on his feet. He would drone on
and on about nothing, or repeat himself to the point that I would walk away
and close the door.Socializing was a normal daily event at our place. We
considered ourselves to be popular and lucky to have so many friends and
so much fun.

The drinking was becoming more than just irritating or embarrassing and I
noticed that he no longer bounced back the way he used to. He began to
lose his spark. Without the drink, he was becoming depressed and listless.

He decided to give the booze a rest, thinking that a little pot smoking would
be a bit healthier and just as much fun. For a little while it brought him back
to life and he seemed to handle it much better than the booze. I didn’t really
mind him getting stoned, but I did begin to mind the amount of money he
was spending, I was also outgrowing the party all week-long thing. I needed
some space and wanted a quiet, relaxed homelike. I was fed up with having
no food in the fridge and people sleeping on our chairs and floor.

Smoking dope was considered rather harmless and had a certain social
prestige at the time. It was also highly profitable; easy to grow and sell.
Stephen decided to become a salesman. He sold it by the matchbox full at
first and later by the ounce. He reasoned it would subsidise his usage and
also add a few dollars to the kitty. With an infinite supply, it was easy to
smoke it morning, noon and night.

We began arguing more and he had longer and more frequent bouts of
depression and listlessness. He was unmotivated about most things and
had given up his job as the dope was more fun and made him more money.
L.S.D. and speed were just beginning to make their way into our circle, and
it was easy for him to expand the business and give himself that extra zing
that had been missing.

It wasn’t all bad, and really for the most part, our relationship was good and
life was good, but bit by bit we fought more. I began a series of leaving him,
returning and leaving him again. For him, drugs had become a way of life
and a part of who he was. For me, drugs were his mistress. I was hurt and
betrayed as I watched her stealing him away from me.

There was no point in trying to speak with him when he was out of it. When
he was straight, he seemed paranoid, restless and morose. His personality
had changed dramatically and he became sneaky and secretive. Some
days he would stay in bed, often he would not leave the house for weeks.
He started telling me stories about how lonely and unloved he had felt for
most of his life and kept obsessing about painful events from his past. His
self-confidence and self-esteem had plummeted to a frightening level. Then
the suicide talk started.

When he was up, he was extremely up, and he took everyone up with him.
He began a number of successful businesses and was something of an
entrepreneur in his own right. Even when he worked for others, he always
outshone his colleagues and impressed his employer right from the onset.
There were many times he was able to employ friends and many times he
made small fortunes. It seemed to me, that no matter how far down he got,
he was always able to pick himself up and shine again. What confused me
the most about this though, was that it was when he was doing well that he
seemed to have the most trouble. I often accused him of being more afraid
of success than failure.

He would make heaps of money and dazzle everyone. However, it always
ended with him sabotaging himself and giving the money away in some sort
of reckless way. He would then retreat, hit the booze or the dope and go
into weeks of despair. I once pointed out that most people have an
emotional swing about six inches either side of centre, but he seemed to
swing up and around the bar until he flung himself off and landed in a heap.

I finally left after a very ugly and an all too regular rage of jealously. His
depression and despair had become some kind of paranoia of which I had
somehow become the centre. He became so overwhelmingly possessive
that he began to abuse anyone whom he felt might steal me away from him.

I moved across the country, became a different person and led a
completely different life. Over the years, he would show up from time to
time. Although I kept the distance between us, he always managed to
create some kind of chaos and then he would be gone again. He had
become a heroin addict and his life was out of his control most of the time.
He had become an exceptional liar and a habitual con-man. I had heard
that he had done a few short stints in jail and probably as many stints in
hospitals. Every now and again, he would clean up and get it together for a
while, but he always managed to come undone.

He had broken my heart, disappointed me, embarrassed and frightened
me. I will say in his defence though, that he did not steal from me and only
rarely did he attempt to lie to me. I mention this because heroin addicts can
usually only exist by lying and stealing. I’m not sure if it is pure desperation
or just the strong belief that what they are saying is true at the time they are
saying it, but they are phenomenal liars. Stealing is usually an essential
way of life for a junkie, whether it’s burglary, shop lifting, fraud or robbery.

I had seen Stephen in physical pain as well as almost insane with panic in
his desperation for heroin, and yet, I always knew that he would not rip me
off financially nor would he hurt me physically. A couple of times he did try
to lie to me, but he could never do it while looking at me. In fact he was so
ashamed that he would drop his head and speak so quietly that I would ask
him to speak up and look at me, but he never did – he just walked away.

I mention this not just because it is so unusual, but because I was aware
that somewhere within him, no matter how desperate he was, he somehow
believed that I was always his last chance. Somewhere deep, deep within
his mind, he had managed to keep me separate. I think in a way he needed
to believe that I would always be there for him. Somehow, at some point, I
must have also bought into the same belief, because here I was, one more
time, giving him one last chance.

So here I was all these years later, looking at a yellow skeleton with bad
teeth. He was smiling and looking a little timid and, I suppose, secretly
hoping that I would hug him and welcome him. He looked like a creature
from some unknown source, but with an ever so slight resemblance to
someone I once knew. I experienced a range of reactions and emotions as I
stared blankly at him. The one thing I remember most about that moment,
was the voice inside my head that stated, ‘Stephen is dead and this is his

He stayed a few months and those months were difficult and uncomfortable
for me and I am sure they were hell for him. He did straighten out and he
did it all on his own. It turned out that he had hepatitis and had also become
epileptic since I had last seen him. Physically he was a mess; although not
yet forty, he had a heart condition and had suffered a couple of minor
strokes. We didn’t talk much as I could barely stand to look at him. He spent
most of his time reading self help books, eating well, sleeping long hours
and walking.

One thing that I did find quite peculiar was that when we did speak, he
seemed to be relating and acting in the same way as he had when he was
in his twenties. It was like fifteen years had not passed. His style of dress,
music, jargon, interests and self image were all caught up in a time warp. I
mentioned this to a friend of mine who was a psychologist. He said that it
could be that events which occurred under the influence of the drugs or
alcohol may not have been stored in his memory. It appeared that his most
recent recollections were those things which had occurred prior to the drug
taking. That made things pretty bizarre for me, as he was remembering me
as his girlfriend from yesterday, and I was seeing him as a dead man
walking, who occasionally reminded me of my old friend Stephen.

Even though he had straightened out and found himself a job, new friends
and a place to live, I didn’t really believe that it would last. After years and
years of pleading with him to get straight the hardest thing for me to accept
was that a drug free life for an ex junkie is a sad and lonely anti climax. He
was living in an old mans body. Without drugs he was in constant pain,
discomfort and anxiety. He had a criminal record and no real skills, so his
job options were limited, boring and low paying.
Intellectually and emotionally he was immature and therefore most
comfortable with people many years younger. They generally found him
difficult to relate to. In the back of my mind, I began to wonder if perhaps he
may have done better to live hard and die young after all.

When he decided to pack up and go back East I was relieved. He promised
he would stay clean, but we both knew he wouldn’t. I still had that voice in
my head telling me that Stephen was already gone and whoever this replica
was would soon be gone as well. I could no longer convince myself that if
and when that happened, it might not just be a better option or at least a
kinder solution. I had been so sure that kicking the addiction was the most
important part of it all that it never occurred to me that life there after would
be painful, joyless and hopeless for him.

I had to accept that I was not his life-line. In my mind I had also come to
terms with the fact that the Stephen I once knew had gone forever. The
phone call confirming this would only be a matter of time and a formality. I
told him this one night when he called. He wanted me to say that I would be
sad and that I would miss him. I said that I would not and added I would not
even bother to go to his funeral.

The last time he called was very late at night and his voice was filled with
that all so familiar desperation. “I’m dying.” he said, as he had said so many
times before. “I’m just ringing to say good bye and to tell you that I love you
and that I’m sorry, and I wanted to say thanks for everything.”

This was becoming a regular 3 a.m. nuisance, and I was really irritated. I
usually let him drone on and I would try and talk him through it, but I had
had enough. It had been almost twenty years now and still he was using his
death as a tool to manipulate or control me. “Stephen, if you want to die,
then go and die. You don’t need to tell me or involve me; I’m sick and tired
of you using this game every time you want attention. Understand this, I don’
t care, do whatever you want to do, but don’t call here again.”

Stephen’s father had always thought of me as his daughter-in-law,
therefore it was very difficult to explain that I would not attend the funeral. I
heard later that the church was overflowing with people, and that it was a
sad, beautiful service with many people unknown to the family standing up
and expressing their love and fondness for Stephen.

I also heard that when he overdosed, the people who were with him
managed to get him to the hospital, but due to fear of the legal
consequences, they simply dropped him off outside and sped off. We are
not sure how long he had been there, but he was found unconscious in the
car park and a day or so later they pronounced him “brain dead”. His father’
s final decision for his son was to give his permission to turn off the life
support equipment.

Over the years, I have crossed paths with drug addicts and alcoholics, but I
certainly haven’t involved myself with them in any real way. I had well and
truly decided that no one wins this game. I promised myself that I would not
trust a junkie nor would I try to help one. I was convinced that if my son ever
ventured down that path, I would chain him to a bed, at an isolated house,
deep in the outback of Australia. Luckily I never had to take that option, but
regardless of promises made, I did find myself being called up again.

Barry’s mother is a close family friend who was the most unlikely person to
be caught up with the world of drugs and all that the lifestyle represents. A
clean living, church going woman, who thought that coffee was a drug and
swearing was about as close to a sin as she had experienced. Well, that’s a
bit of an exaggeration, but the point is that she considered her family to be
a stable, clean living and moral unit and would never have thought that
someone like her or her son would be the ‘kind of people’ who would ever
be involved with drugs.

She was aware that Barry had had some problems, but she just expected
he would sort himself out when he saw the light and returned to his church.
She was beside herself the night she called and couldn’t comprehend that
he had admitted he had a drug problem. He didn’t actually need to admit
anything, the proof was in the fact that she had just picked him up and
raced him to hospital; frothing at the mouth and blue in the face.

To her, a drug overdose was only a term used in television shows or on the
news. Drug addicts were people who came from bad or dysfunctional
homes. In a way, although she had probably never consciously thought it, I
guess, she, like so many others, just assumed that drug addicts are bad
people or stupid people or, at the very least, just ‘other people’.

She kept repeating, “What’s happening? What can I do? What does it
mean? Who can I call? How do I fix it?”

My first instinct was to retreat to my long ago promise to myself not to get
involved. I tried to detach myself, but I cared a lot about Barry and her and I
also knew that she was a total innocent and that no one within her circle of
friends would have much experience with these issues.

We spoke a number of times. The questions were still the same each time
as were my answers:
“You can't do anything, You can’t fix this, You need to
stop seeing him as your son and start seeing him as an addict. You are
dealing with the addiction - not the person

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Signs of drug use, bipolar and therapy
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Bipolar And Addiction
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An interview with someone who has been there.

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