“Imagine trying to live without air. Now imagine something worse.”

My mind stirred before my body, but sleep had been beyond my reach anyway.

My thoughts were already restless, a constant reel looping and ringing in my ears with my one constant reality. It was the soundtrack to everything I did. I need to use. That icy cold realisation descended on me like it did every time, it weighed me down and kept me stuck before I had even moved. Years and countless years of captivity, enslaved by a variety of vices.

My body caught up quickly though and the first thing I could feel was the hot and cold sweat tearing its way out of me, the icy shivers pouring from my skin. My leg restlessly twitching and the nausea rising in me, with bile scratching at my throat.


The only ugly truth. The looped reel in my mind sped up, I need to use. I need to use. I need to use.

The thoughts tripped over themselves and I forced my mind to be quiet and my body to move as I dragged myself into action. A glimmer of a tactic was starting to present itself in my head. An escape manoeuvre designed with freedom in mind. Escape from what you may be wondering?

From myself mostly, that was always my end game. In that very moment it was escape from a stranger, an Innocent that was trying to help me, to heal me from the wreck of the reality I called life. She was just one of countless good Samaritans that had crossed my twisted path over all the years.

It was the 12 May 2008, a day etched into my soul, my son’s 7th birthday. ‘Mommy’ was a privilege I didn’t deserve and I knew more than anything that the one thing I would give him was the same disappointment I always did. The sickness held my body captive and the obsession controlled my mind, there was no space left for anyone or anything else. His little voice on the phone cut into me. Happy birthday wishes from my empty soul.

I need to use.

The lies fell from my lips, they came so easily, sugar-coated deception that meant nothing to me. The blameless stranger in front of me was the means to my end. Nothing more than the instrument I used to play out my ever-present drama. She didn’t stand a chance.

It worked like it always did and as she drove. I looked out her car window at a world I didn’t know, one that I had separated myself from and left years ago. I saw people living, walking around and going about their day. I was an intruder, an outsider, and I had nothing to offer in their world. I knew that I wasn’t like them.

The only time I ever felt anything was when I knew that the numbness was near. I experienced the anticipation and excitement burning inside me, swelling in my belly and cascading through me. I think I didn’t feel anything at all after a while. It was a welcomed intrusion on the nothingness that followed me every day.

My heart was pounding when we pulled up in that seedy main road in Cape Town and I blindly ran from the confines of the car. I ran from the truth that I knew wasn’t mine. I ran into that noisy, dirty pool hall towards the only certainty that I wanted and craved. When I saw his familiar face, I felt the joy well up because I knew in moments I would have my peace. I could see nothing except the expectation of having found a way back to this.

I was known there in that dark little corner of Mowbray. I was welcomed in and I would give whatever was needed of myself to claim a few small bags of greyish escape.

Her voice echoed loudly through the shallow walls of that sad place, “If you sell her drugs I’m going to fetch the cops.” The Innocent had a stronger will than I had imagined. I had expected her to slink off, defeated and accepting of the soul she couldn’t save. I felt my desperation rise as his (the dealer) eyes glazed over and he backed away from me, now an unwilling accomplice. Fear and dread overwhelmed me as the magnitude of the situation hit.

I need to use.

From deep inside me the monster clawed its way to the surface, fuelled by my impotence, the rage took over and I retreated further inside. The frantic, snarling creature became me and I started screaming and crying, running into the street, wailing and swearing. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear. The only thing driving me was my need to avoid myself. The need to have that poison coursing through my system, keeping me away from anything that counted. ‘The virtuous One’ ran with me and tried to reason and calm me down. Her words meant little and they couldn’t begin to pierce the armour of this thing I’d become.

On promises layered with kindness and calm, she coaxed me back into that car. She drove around and around into the depths of Goodwood until I was so lost, disorientated and so sick that all I could do was sit and cry. Everything inside of me wanted to run, wanted to scream and kick and ached for relief, but I was exhausted. I was too ailed to walk. I was a convulsing, raw and broken mess.

A second Innocent arrived. I don’t know what they said to each other. I can’t recall words but I felt around me the world I wasn’t a part of again. I felt my sparseness devoid of any ray of humanity. I was only an unfeeling blind mass of non-existence and I knew if I left that car, I wouldn’t make it back to anywhere worth going.


I knew that was the only route left, waiting on just the other side of my next choice. It was the existence I had flirted with for too many years, craving the escape but too frightened to take the proper leap toward it. My tears burned through me and in that swollen awful moment, I gave up. Imagine a long, slow exhale, a breath of release and pure surrender.

This drug, the others, these choices, this life, was everything that I thought I’d die without, not with. They were the only way I knew how to live. From deep inside me I felt the tiny weak, almost invisible light that softly echoed “help me”.

I believed that using a substance of any variety had given me so much for so long. I had relied on it to take away my guilt and shame, to connect me to other people, to quell my ever-present shyness, to run away from the smallest of the responsibilities that I could not face, to abdicate the reality of the consequences of my choices and decisions.

It was my lover, my friend, my comforter, my solace. It had failed me from the moment I had first picked it up, and I could not see that truth. I had hidden behind my self-delusion and control, believing that I knew that I was right, that I had found freedom. I had lied, it had lied. It was the everything to my nothing.

They call it a moment of clarity, I know though that it was the very moment that I woke up. The instant that I awoke softly to the illusion and delusion, to face the scars and the crippling fear. I had no idea then that the core of this sickness went far deeper than the substances I used. That journey was still waiting to unfold. But first I had just one second, minute, hour, day at a time to survive, in my own undefined skin.


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