Don’t pick at old bones …


In the clinic, the Home for the Bewildered, they asked me if I had smuggled anything in. 

How do you find your way to a place like this in Africa? Picking at the old bones of a life can hurt.  Perhaps there was a history of compulsion and addiction, topped up in me by having been a war reporter. Only one out of ten are evacuated with injuries covering a war, the other nine are injured in the head, said the nice war zones medical insurance rep. Don’t be ashamed of going into rehab. Shit happens. And he paid in full, as did I, in my head.

There’s an awful lot, a very awful lot to be learnt from fellow substance abusers. On the outside, what do you when you’ve run out of coke and can’t wait for the local Nigerian dial-a-delivery: you thrash up all your nasal, throat and sinus detritus and put it into a microwave dish – nuke that and eat it like a dinner dessert to capture all those last remaining specs of white. Overnuked, it comes out like a burnt meringue.

One cokehead who’d worn out the cartilage in his nose had been sticking the stuff into his butt for the same effect.

A tough time was had by all in the ‘fishbowl’ where the nurses watch through the glass as the DTs and hallucinations devour the body. The bed has no legs in case you bale out and break your neck.

Most of the inmates have already lost their wives, kids, big cars and big paying jobs. Alec (not his real name, anonymity, of course, and what goes on in rehab stays in rehab) said that his wife took off the doors of the toilets at home so he couldn’t cut coke on the cisterns unseen. She also gave him random breath, urine and saliva tests at all hours, just as our nurses as gave us.

I had enjoyed a good 40 years on drink, drugs and rock and roll with little exterior damage. A once-pretty 19-year-old girl had no veins left after shooting up so much. A doctor in depression who wrote her own prescriptions had slashed her wrists, and she knew exactly where the incisions would be most effective. Literally a blood bath in the bath where she did it.

If you don’t get clean, the next five years will almost be OK and then pain and suffering take over, amid torrents of excrement, they said. Go ahead and die, maybe not this week, not next month, maybe not next year but die you will … it’s up to you.

Friends will mourn for a short time and then life goes on and no one will give a f**k, you have alienated friends and family, they said.

They should know because they have an 80 percent failure rate amongst people like us. They took us to the funeral of one former inmate and, true enough, hardly anyone showed up. Drunks and addicts don’t get mourned, they said.

That’s alright, it won’t be so bad to be among the 80 percent. Safety in numbers? 

One of us was a bar owner who polished off a bottle of whisky at the gate on his way in. I was motherless when I arrived. Plenty of legal and illegal substances the night before, plenty before my flight, plenty to drink on the plane and when their driver picked me up at the airport I spied a pub upstairs in arrivals. I had a few more drinks, like a condemned man having a last cigarette. Be my guest, said the driver, my time is your time, you’re paying me.

I was way, way above the driving limit when they checked me in with a breathalyser test. Yet I could still stand, I flirted with the nurses and would still have driven a car. 

Sobering thoughts.

Thinking then of a soothing balm of drink or drugs – the enticing ‘nose’ of a glass of good red wine, that flavour of hops, that condensation on the beer glass on a hot day, the tickle of the bubbles, tickles in the nose –  all  known as “euphoria recall” which is as dangerous as having brandy butter at Christmas or a restaurant dish cooked in any alcohol, spirit or grape because they, in psychobabble, will press all the buttons and pull all the tiggers for a  return of the demons, of the monkeys on the back.

“ONE LITTLE PROBLEM THAT CONFRONTS YOU/ GOT A MONKEY ON YOUR BACK” –  from 1977  classic rock song ‘That Smell’ on addiction and death by Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Pull it up on YouTube if you’d like.)  

Group therapy came across an account of the best sex ever – high and putting more lines on a CD cover on the pillow,  snort together and you go to  f*****g heaven.

Euphoria recall. Very bad. This one said he was clean for a couple of years, then slipped a disk and in the hospital they gave him pethdine. It pressed all those buttons and pulled all those triggers and as soon as he’s out of the hospital door he calls dial-a-delivery. The Nigerians have runners with motorbikes so as not to keep you waiting for long.

Now we will have to check if there’s any booze in the chef’s marinade and tell the dentist we are recovering addicts and don’t want any monkey business. 

They gave us anti-abuse aversion tablets invented in Cuba to save all the poor sugar cane workers from dependence on their rotgut rum.

We had a travelling rep. selling and delivering pharmaceuticals with us who ate 40 Stopayne tablets and a range of other ‘smarties,’ as he called them, each day. Then there was the policeman who put on his blue light and siren to get out of traffic and quickly reach the liquor store.

 Another spoke of chronic temptation each time she drove past a bar.

The chief psychiatrist said bars didn’t make drunks, we did it to ourselves. Just as the gun lobby in America says guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Afterwards, ‘residual toxicity’ enters the fray. For weeks trouser leaks, wandering thoughts, memory loss, erratic and clumsy movement as though you are high or heading into senility. It means the body is now trying to cleanse itself … if it’s not already too late.

Courage is needed to succeed, but as novelist John Le Carre put it: Courage is not infinite. It is not like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.

Good luck. My courage ran out but not as badly as before. Beware of picking at the old bones that made it all happen in the first place. For me now, skeletons are best left undisturbed.  



2 Responses

  1. Allen Pizzey says:

    Jesus Goose. That’s tough stuff, even though I recognised some of it from “Mtoko Madness”.
    Stay strong or whatever is appropriate mate.

  2. Angus Shaw says:

    Thanks, Piz, The Herald has a curtain raiser today for Independence Day on April 18th and says VIP guest and performer Bob Marley went to Mutoko afterwards and smoked some of its madness

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