Addiction: My path to recovery
Heroin is part of a group of drugs called opiates. These all act in a similar way and are all very, very addictive. Liam Farrell is a writer and retired doctor with first-hand knowledge of the overwhelming power of addiction, and he described his experience to Connie Orbach.
Liam - Within seconds I feel a rush coming on. Firstly a tingle coming up my right arm, then a wonderful warm tidal wave stroking my whole skin - my whole body. It seems to find a centre deep within my chest. I try to savour each moment, each instant but, just as quickly as it comes, it is gone. That's it - done - all over. It lasted a few breaths at most.
I'm disappointed it's over and wish I could turn back time a few seconds. I also feel dissatisfied, a bit cheated. The rush wasn't quite as good as I hoped it would be. I wish I'd held it off for a few hours, then I'd still have the drug and the rush would been better. The drug makes me feel pleasantly languid like I'm wrapped in cotton wool. But, even at this stage, even so soon after injecting, not much more than a few minutes, reality starts to pull me back in. The modest euphoria which lingers after the rush begins to leak away.
I start to worry about getting rid of the evidence. Often I miss something - the syringe wrapping, a blood stained tissue, the occasional needle. I'm also becoming more aware that was my last ampule of seclamorph. I already knew this, of course, but I had put off the evil day of facing up to it. Now there is nothing between me and drug withdrawal. I dread the next 48 hours.
My name is Liam Farrell. I'm a retired family doctor and a writer. I'm from Rostrevor in County Down in Ireland. I am a morphine addict in recovery and I've been clean for eight years and I have a very good life now because I was helped by some very good people when I really needed it.
Connie - Thank you so much for reading that Liam. That's an extract from a piece that you wrote about your own experience.
Liam - It's very hard to say how you first became addicted or how you first started using; I've asked myself that many times. But, at some stage along the line, I decided to try morphine just to see what it would be like. It's very hard to analyse why I actually made that step of doing that but, that's what happened.
Initially I would have used very infrequently; once every three to four months but then, at a certain stage, I began to use more. I remember very vividly one Sunday afternoon when I was feeling really tired and exhausted and not really knowing why, and I took a small amount of diamorphine and suddenly I felt normal. It was like a hammer blow to realise I was physically addicted to morphine at that stage.
Connie - Can you explain to me, as best you can, what withdrawal is really like? I imagine it's kind of impossible to explain to the intensity to which you feel, which why it's so hard for anyone to understand but yes, it would be interesting to hear your take on it.
Liam - In a very essentially physiological way. it's like your body is suddenly flooded with noradrenaline - the fight or flight hormone, but yet there's no reason for it. It's like all the other pleasant symptoms of taking morphine as you go into reverse, instead of feeling languid and comfortable you feel agitated and fearful. You're cold and freezing and sweating. You get diarrhea and abdominal cramps. None of those on their own are any more severe than bad influenza, but what is really debilitating is the fear and anxiety which is associated with it. That's a memory that will stick with me forever although, theoretically, I knew in a couple of days I'd be better. When you're in that state rationale doesn't help.
The catch 22 of course is that, even though withdrawal was so distressing, it didn't stop me relapsing yet again.
Connie - Mmm. It's so interesting, and I think so hard to understand what you're saying, is that this withdrawal can be so completely horrendous and yet it's not enough - the drug is still in control.
Liam - Yes. I mean it's the power of the drug that's just amazing. One of the golden rules of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous is that the drug will always win. I'd hate to put my willpower to the test. I remember the particular colour of the cyclimorph drug that I used to use is blue and red, and that's just a key for me. If there's a pack of cyclimorph lying in the road half a mile away I would probably pick it out. It's umm..... sorry.
Connie - That's alright. You've been clean now for eight years and it seems clean is never completely free but what's it feel like now? Do you feel like this is part of your past?
Liam - Well it's always going to be a pivotal part of my life that I am an addict. I wake up every morning and say whatever happens I'm going to stay clean today and then, when I go to bed at night, I say well whatever happened I didn't use today. They're small elements of self-discipline which I'd forgotten when I had a relapse in 2008. At the same time it doesn't define me. I've many other parts of my personality and life which are equally important: I'm a husband, a father. I have good friends, I'm involved in music, I'm involved in writing. I'm very active in social media. And these are all different parts of my life which aren't affected but, having said that, addiction was a very pivotal experience.
And one thing it does make is I'm full of gratitude that I did get a second chance. That people that cared for me did stick by me when I needed them. That when I needed help I met good people that were willing to help me and it does make me appreciate the good times of life even more. It also made me a better doctor. My own frailty had been so starkly revealed that made me more understanding of frailty in others.
Connie - Mmm. So for you, your main message from this is yes, this is something that you won't ever completely get away from but there is life after addiction - there is a way out there is something else?
Liam - Yes. There is such a thing as redemption, you can get better, there is help, there are good people out there who will help you.
If you, or someone you know has a problem and you want to talk, Liam can be reached through twitter on @DrLFarrell