Sadie OGrady

Beyond the ‘junkie’ – seeing the real picture of drug addiction

Image: AAP

It’s everywhere you look.

In shopping centres, on insurance and paint advertisements, glossy magazine spreads perpetuating myths.

The nuclear family.

Mum is so shiny and smiley, Dad looking on lovingly, two perfectly formed beautiful children…little versions of their folks.

Did you know he shoots up under the house? That he carries a sharps kit in his bag to dispose of used needles, and when he organises a trip to the local show, she looks in his eyes while cradling the four-year-old on the Ferris wheel and realises that he’s under the influence of amphetamines again?

Or perhaps it’s her, expecting a third child and secretly sticking smack up her arm while resting it on a swollen front.

Shocking, yes.

But it is happening.

When most of society discusses hard drug addiction we picture seedy underbellies of bad share houses, sex workers, adolescents making poor choices, criminals and perhaps famous and misunderstood artists and musicians. It’s all so glamorous, isn’t it? What if the person standing next to us in the playground, pushing their child on the swing is currently dealing with an addiction that nobody can talk about? They go to work, they pay their mortgage and they raise their children, quietly nursing wounded hearts and minds. On the surface, they function just like the rest of us, contributing to the societal machine, while underneath…lie tumultuous waters.

When do you abandon ship? Is it the first time you find out? The second? The tenth? What is so painfully alarming is that there are no statistics on this kind of insipid addiction, and most users find it extremely difficult to admit they have a problem in the first place. Denial is rife for all parties involved, because to admit to living with this kind of behaviour is just too dichotomous against a backdrop of Better Homes & Gardens. Too removed from what society tells us is a successful partnership.

Eventually, the breakdown of communication, the lies and the addiction, become all-encompassing and the trips to the local park become fewer, the family outings more and more excruciating as the victims no longer have the energy to remain caught in someone else’s falsehood.

The emotional rollercoaster for people trapped in the web of intravenous drug use by a significant other is hard to define and understand. Most of us think “just leave”, “you’re endangering yourself and your children”, “why are you putting up with this?” All completely justified and appropriate reactions to an extreme situation.

Yet, like most things in life, the situation is not so black and white. The self-doubt of those who attempt to save their partners from an untimely demise comes creeping in.

“Have I done all that I can? It’s an addiction, they need my help…”

Wagons with broken wheels, one in the ditch and one on the track. Fall off the wagon, get back on.

Unfortunately, for partners in this situation a lot of the focus remains on the user, the one with “the problems”. However, the repercussions of such an addiction take a serious toll on those around them. Depression, anxiety, loneliness, isolation and a sense of being an accessory to an addiction causes such heartache. All of this, tied up with the thoughts of being an “enabler”, futile efforts to function with some kind of “normality” while experiencing crippled emotions, and being totally unequipped to deal with any of it.

For those who attempt to assist others to empower themselves and move on from destructive behaviours like drug addiction, the agony of an unspoken secret that hides behind closed doors can become too much to endure and those coloured pictures of happy families seeping in through the cracks of mainstream are so insulting.

When all is completely broken and people finally decide to dissolve their relationships, what do we tell the children?

“Sorry, Mummy/Daddy is a junkie.”

“They like drugs better than you.”

It’s not that simple, is it? These people who are left behind with the fallout still have to rely on their deceit-coated spinnerets to weave a more intricate web of lies. There are no winners in this game; the scrutiny and judgment placed on those who decide to stay and hope for some kind of miraculous recovery process is brutal.

That’s if they can even bear to share the dirty little secret.

Yes Neil Young, you were right, every junkie is like a setting sun…and we all know the story of Icarus.

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2 Comments

  1. Sam Wallwork said:

    I think we, as a society, really need to start some deeper discussions about the darker side of family. More and more families are breaking under the pressure of buying into the construct of doing it alone and trying to live without adequate connection to community and services. A powerful piece and an important voice in this all too quiet conversation on the real difficulties faced by families – difficulties which go far deeper than governments and the community are willing to admit.

  2. Alicia H said:

    Brilliant read. It is so true, now days drugs are prevailant amongst the seemingly perfect suburbanites. Massive wake up call

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