This Time.

I would have told you that everything you do is art – the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you tie your shoelaces, make your tea in the morning and the way you laugh, but most of all, the way you feel. That always felt like art to me. The way you saw through the layers of the universe at the glue holding everything together without any deep scientific or philosophical meaning but with the burned out black and white eyes of someone who never got a chance to be a child and I would have told you how aggressively innocent that made me feel sitting next you, like my soul wasn’t stained with the same mistrust and mistakes and how you made me feel like maybe, together, we could have stitched all our broken pieces into each others hearts and made them whole again.

I would have told you that I knew how you felt and that I too had knelt in the darkness of the early hours of the morning with blood and tears and vomit in the back of my throat and begged for the gods to take it all away, but you knew that, because we knelt together, red eyed and cold limbed, in the night, praying together for the boat to stop rocking, to stop throwing us against the walls of our world and hoping blindly that the icy water lapping around our ankles would stop rising. I would have told you that we were in the same boat and that I didn’t need you to tell me that it was sinking, but that I needed you to let me help you bilge the bloody deck and that way, maybe, just maybe, we might have reached the shore together, shattered and bruised, but breathing and by each others side and alive.

I would have told you that one day you would have been as happy as they made you pretend you were and that one day, close to the first one day, you would have found the courage to run away from everything that made you feel miserable and worthless and out of place and out of sync with everyone around you. I would have told you that you’d find your place, in amongst the freaks and the geeks and the burnt out weirdos, that there was the most wonderful little nook carved out for someone with words on his arms and scars on his heart. That somewhere, out there, there was a woman of breathtaking beauty who had been living her life just waiting to find someone who she couldn’t live without, and that that someone, well, it would have been you.

I would have told you that it’s never too late to be who you would have been and go where you would’ve gone and seen what you would’ve seen and loved who you would’ve loved. I would have told you that because I know how important love was to you, how you lived for it and ached for it. How you managed somehow, when love was low in my bones to siphon out the last of it and pull me back from the brink more times than I’d care to count and how the first time I met you, you were singing “All You Need is Love” to a piece of pineapple whilst you read your book and how your jeans were too big for you but still somehow too short and your Cookie Monster socks were showing. And how you hadn’t shaved or cut your hair and how completely unkempt but entirely lovable you actually were.

I would have told you that were you ever to leave me, that’s how I would have remembered you. Entirely untethered to the world and those around you, free whilst trapped inside a place that revokes your freedom and your smile, reading Dean Koontz because you knew it would make me talk to you and like you said, you were looking for a way to start a conversation with me. And I would remind you of how I came and sat opposite you and when I spilled my soup on my shoe and you smiled and asked me if I was stoned and then you laughed, fuck man, how loud you laughed and everyone looked at you but you were only looking at me. And then you told me to sit down and asked me what I was reading and when I showed you the cover of ‘Salem’s Lot you ripped up the conversation you had had planned in your head since the day you saw me and instead we argued for the entire hour in that canteen about who was the better author.

And I would have told you how I fell in love you as the leaves fell through the courtyard and your hair got longer and my scars started to fade. I would have told you that I fell in love with you in the most organic and plausible of ways because I never once had the urge to kiss you or to run my hands through your hair or to fuck you or to even hold your hand. I fell in love with your voice and the way you said certain words and the way you used to take the piss out of people without them noticing. I fell in love with the way you used to rub your earlobe with your thumb and your forefinger when you were nervous and how you used to put a kilo of butter on your crackers and insist that the cracker was just there as a vehicle to get the butter to your mouth. I would have told you that I loved how soft your clothes were even though we all washed our clothes in the same place but somehow yours always seemed softer. I would have told you that the night you held me in your arms when we were still strangers, whilst I shook and threw up everywhere and screamed that I wanted to die was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I was safe until that point. And I would have told you that you were, and always would be, my best friend.

And I would have told you to stay, Joe.

And I would have told you that one day you would wake up at ten thirty in the morning on a sun drenched Sunday next to someone who loved you in all the ways I did and in all the ways I never did and that you would get out of bed and go into the kitchen and flick the kettle on and that everything would be okay. That it would have stopped hurting if you’d stopped picking at the wound and allowing those around you to keep it open with their own warped fantasies of how you should have been, because, man – you were incredible. In everything you ever said to me and everything you didn’t. You never told me that I was a bad person or that I was toxic to those around me and you never made me feel like the twitchy little junkie I actually was because you never saw me like that.

You saw me when I didn’t even recognise myself in the mirror, but you were the mirror to myself that I could never look away from and I saw you break your own heart along side my own. And I would have told you that that day I walked into you flat and saw you on your kitchen floor, covered in blood, white as the sky outside I have never been so scared and so angry in my entire life. And that when I skidded on my knees through your blood, because, man, it was everywhere, and I took my hoody off and wrapped it round your arms all I could say was “no” over and over and over and over again because it was the only word that summed up just inherently adamant I was that this wasn’t happening. You hadn’t done this, not again. I wasn’t going to lose you, not again. I couldn’t be alone, not again.

But you did do it this time. And I did lose you this time.

Difference is – I’m not alone this time.

So I’m going to live, my friend. And I’ll miss you, hell, I’ll damn near go out of my mind wanting you back here with me where you belong but if there is one thing our friendship taught me and taught me well its that there is nothing I could have said to make you stay.

And there’s nothing left to say now but to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, whom we spent many hours arguing about, I hope that wherever you are now, that everything is beautiful and that nothing hurts.

Success Vs. Addiction (2013)

This instalment was supposed to be about alcohol abuse following the Panorama episode broadcast on Monday 1st August on BBC1. The programme detailed the growing cost of Britain’s drink obsessed society and told the stories of some of the people effected by alcohol abuse, both directly and indirectly. In short, it was informative and interesting, as well as slightly disturbing but I have decided that this article of intrigue will not be about alcohol abuse, but rather centred around one idea that I found whilst researching the programme on the BBC News website –

“Successful people have learnt the skills they need to identify and overcome the difficulties they meet in life to achieve success and happiness. These poor souls have not had the learning opportunities to develop these skills. Poor development of these skills results in symptoms such as alcohol or drug abuse, eating disorders, anti-social and criminal behaviour etc.”

From the moment I read this statement I could feel genuine contempt boiling in my throat. To have the audacity to refer to the people shown in this shockingly real programme as “poor souls” was not only patronising, but ignorant. Then to insinuate that the reason they have found themselves in such a position is because of poor development of social skills is a insult to more than just the individual, but to the people who raised them, sometimes in dire circumstances.

But it was the link that this person made to addiction and success that really enraged me. You would have to be an extremely narrow minded person to assume that simply because of an addiction, success is somehow rendered unascertainable to you. This is complete and utter nonsense. Some of the most successful and highly influential people in literature, music, film and politics have been addicts, with many of them attributing much of their greatest contributions to the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Disclaimer – this article is not meant to show addiction, to drugs or alcohol, or anything else for that matter, in a positive light, more so than to highlight that an addiction is not a reason for failure and that more often than not people who suffer from them, are not unable to succeed in life, with many of them actually using drugs and alcohol as a crutch for their success.

In the world of literature, many of the authors, poets and wordsmiths that our children learn about in school or dedicate their free time to indulging have suffered from alcohol or drug addiction. Stephen King has written over 60 books in 35 years, becoming one of the best selling authors in the world with an estimated wealth of £135 million. I would say he has succeeded in the world of literature. Amazingly so, considering that he struggled with an alcohol addiction for most of his life.

Other notable authors that have struggled with addiction and still to this day remain some of the most successful and studied are – Jack Kerouac who most famously wrote “On the Road” a book that has been read in class rooms throughout the world since it was published in 1957, was immensely addicted to Benzedrine. Hunter S. Thompson, a gonzo journalist who influenced the cult movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” had a famous addiction to hallucinogens and alcohol, the subject of which leads the 1998 film starring Johnny Depp.

Music is a universal language and as such, it speaks to both addict and preacher alike. Johnny Cash is noted as one of the most influential singer/songwriters of the 20thCentury and whose music not only granted him a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but also led to inductions in both the Rock and Roll, and Gospel Hall of Fame as well. Cash suffered from an enormous amphetamine and alcohol addiction, that surprisingly went hand in hand with his success. You could say that the more Cash took, the better he got, eventually crashing before making an astounding comeback. Much of Cash’s most noted work was created under the influence of alcohol and amphetamines, work that subsequently made him the legend he is today.

Other influential musicians that have also created some of the most incredible music to date are – Eric Clapton who was in the band Cream and also found success as a solo artist, was a heroin addict for most of his career and has actually been noted as saying that heroin taught him the blues. Kurt Cobain the singer/songwriter from the band Nirvana had a strangling addiction to heroin that influenced the bands unique “grunge” sound and put them at the heart of a movement that had struggled to gain its legs in a world mostly dominated by hip hop and popular music. Frank Sinatra of The Rat Pack and one of the most remembered and remarkable musicians in history was a raging alcoholic.

Film and television has had a part to play in almost everyone’s upbringing, especially of those born in the last fifty years. Kelsey Grammer is one of the most recognisable men in the world for his work spanning two decades on the sitcom Frasier which was subsequently a spin off of the much beloved Cheers. Succeeding in becoming a writer, producer, director and voice actor (Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons) Grammer suffered from an out of control addiction to cocaine for much of his career.

Hollywood is rampant with angry alcoholics and anti-social addicts such as – Anthony Hopkins, one of the best loved actors of the 20th Century, star of Silence of the Lambs and most notable as Hannibal Lector, who has been an alcoholic for most of his life. Samuel L Jackson who has become a cult icon for his roles in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown had an infamous addiction to crack cocaine. Veronica Lake who is still remembered as one of the most beautiful and talented, as well as one of the first real, actresses in history was also an alcoholic.

Now the arts can be arguably pointless, their talent often succumbing to their addictions but I am going to give you two names now – Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. During WWII these two men effectively controlled the world, with America pitching in every once in a while. Now I am going to tell you that the man that led Britain through one of the most horrendous wars in history, the man who became prime minister not once but twice, and is recognised now as a figure of nationality, patriotism and bravery, Winston Churchill, was an alcoholic.

On the other side of that coin you have Joseph Stalin who led the Soviet Union through the war, became an international figure of leadership and a revolutionary whom, even if you disagree with his ethos, was undoubtedly one of the most successful in history. Stalin had an incredibly addiction to amphetamines. The Second World War, that we are taught about again and again in schools, through television, that we are reminded of every year with paper poppies and told never to forget, was fought and won by an alcoholic and a drug addict.

All of the people mentioned so far have indeed succeeded in spite of their addictions and will be held in high regard in life and idolised in death. My problem with the statement at the beginning of this article is this – there are a thousand paths to success. If you choose the hardworking, nose to the grindstone, controlled and measured path to success you will, as the person who made the statement said, most likely succeed, but to what end? How is success measured and defined?

These people were successful at what they did and still do but more importantly they will not be remembered for their addictions but for their contributions. There is literally nothing standing in any one human beings way of being what they wanted to be and to use an addiction as an excuse or to victimise those who become addicts is intolerable. Addiction is not a disease that can be cured with conventional medicine because it is not a conventional disease.

The reason these people thrived regardless of their addictions was because in order to truly succeed, to be who you want to be and do what you want to do in life, you have to compromise certain parts of your body and your soul. As a result you are left with gaps where normal, functioning, non-addicted, “successful” people have no gaps. Therefore, the successful addict will fill these gaps with their chosen fuel. Some choose alcohol, some choose drugs, some choose sex, violence, fast cars or handbags – but whatever they choose the addiction becomes a part of them.

To say that people who become addicts have been failed somehow by society is a frankly disgusting statement. At some point addicts are going to have to take responsibility for their actions and stop having patronising dullards defending their right to die, content in the knowledge that their addiction is not their fault.

Stephen King’s father walked out when he was a child. Johnny Cash watched his brother die. Kelsey Grammer’s sister was abducted, raped and murdered. Winston Churchill barely knew his parents. Joseph Stalin contracted smallpox when he was seven and was left permanently scarred. I think it would be a fair assumption that none of the aforementioned people were granted “the learning opportunities” to become as successful as they did and many of the issues that each one of these highly successful people faced, in turn, are textbook excuses used by addicts to justify their failures in life.

Addictions debilitate, the wound, they destroy and they kill but what they also do is allow people escapism from situations and circumstances in their lives that they would rather not face alone. If the above people had not have had that outlet, that crutch on reality, the strength that their addictions gave them, then the true nature of their realities would have most likely numbed whatever spark it was that made them so great.

Again, being an addict is not a good thing, its not something anyone should aim to be, but it is most certainly not a valid excuse for not succeeding in life. The truth is that the majority of people with addictions that do fail in life, would most likely fail regardless because they do not have an inherent ability or lust to be anything other than what they are. It doesn’t come down to social opportunities, upbringing, religion, finances or generations – it comes down to people, real individuals, with individual needs and individual goals.

The statement that I opened this topic with is irrevocably ignorant and is clearly written by someone who has little or no understanding of the true nature of addiction, or indeed success. This was not written as a direct attack on said person, more so as an insight to a different point of view that they clearly have not considered.

And that is that addicts are not people to be victimised or referred to as “poor souls” and that we should not feel sorry for them in the slightest, because they are doing exactly what they want to do with their lives, regardless of their health, family strains or life long damages. They live how they want to live, and if they did not, they would stop, as millions of them do every day. The necessity to victimise addicts comes down to the basic fact that most people simply fear what they do not understand.

You will never understand addiction, unless you have been an addict anymore than you will understand laying an egg, unless you have been a chicken.

Socially Acceptable Suicide

Even in 2015, there are still a hole heap of social taboos that centre around how an individual causes themselves physical or emotional pain or even death. Suicide, self harm, sexual promiscuity, drug addiction, alcoholism – all of them will raise an eyebrow or two in any “socially acceptable” forum. However, and I am saying this as that little voice on the other side of the fence, there are ways that people mutilate their hearts and heads without ever picking up a razor blade or contemplating a one way waltz off of a tall building.

I’ll give you an example – when my marriage broke down, my first reaction was to get my nipple pierced. Now, for a couple of seconds can we just forget that the nipple is a “rude” place to get a piercing and just concentrate on the task at hand. It was a Tuesday evening and I called my mother to ask if she was around and if she wanted to pop by to the house that I had shared with my ex-husband, our daughter and two fabulous lodgers. She said yes, and I had a request – that she bring a cannula and a reasonably sized BCR. She obliged, without questioning this as she had been piercing me and my brother for years. Yep, we’re that kind of family.

So Ma pulls up and gets out of the car, comes in to the house and plops herself down on the settee. My friend and lodger was sitting on the other settee, my daughter asleep, the male lodger at work and my ex-husband was somewhere probably doing something that he shouldn’t have been doing. Or someone…I was in pain. And that pain wouldn’t go away. So, in the true spirit of fighting fire with fire, I, no noob to a cannula, asked my mother to pierce my nipple. My friend and my mother laughed, knowing that it was ludicrous and that I’d always maintained that I’d never be stupid enough to pierce anything below my neck for the simple reason – that shit hurts, man.

But I wanted it to hurt. That’s the point I’m trying to get across here. I wanted something to hurt more than my heart did, something to sharpen that dull, relentless ache in the pit of my stomach, something to spike some fresh, lucid tears from my swollen eyes. So, my mother, being the woman she is, pierced my nipple for me as I sat there on a cold Tuesday in November and my friend cringed right beside me. Needless to say, I don’t think she’ll ever be getting her nipple pierced…

And you want to know something totally fucking insane? It worked. For awhile. For at least the first week after I mutilated my left nipple, whilst the pain was still fresh and it ached like a rotten tooth somewhere near my heart, I felt like I could breathe again. So much so that a few weeks later, when the house was gone, the lodgers moved on and my marriage officially in the gutter, when I moved in with my mother for the first time since I’d left two years before, I asked my mother one day as she made her way out of the door, again on a Tuesday – if she had time to stick a couple of cannula’s through my lip. I didn’t bother asking her to “snake bite” me because my mother learned how to pierce people before people gave said piercings such ludicrous names. Again, she obliged, and I had two newborn piercings in my brutally swollen lip to get me through the next few weeks until they healed and the real pain came back again.

So then, after those piercings were on their way to healed, I went out and gave myself a rather nasty case of the “dead drunks” when I decided that a cocktail of tramadol, anti depressants and whiskey would numb me for a night in February. It worked, until I woke in a hospital bed feeling more shit than I thought was humanly possible. I trudged home looking like death warmed up, apologised profusely to my mother and sent a bunch of flowers and a thank you card to Joy, the nurse who had to deal with my issues that night in the emergency room because I hadn’t quite figured out how to tame my demons on my lonesome by this point. Rest assured, it was the last time I ever did that.

It all boiled down to distraction in the end. I started writing more and reading too much (as many as four books a day) and gardening, fuck me, the gardening. I started walking everywhere and playing my guitar and baking all the time. I was drawing, painting, sewing and even tried my hand at ceramics before I realised just what in the hell was going on – I was shutting down, slowly but surely each and every one of the little lights inside me were burning out whilst I was busy knitting or learning the chord progressions in Bruce Springsteen’s newest song. I was a husk of the teenager I had been, caught somewhere on the front line of being an adult, being a mother, being a woman and being alive.

Slowly, I was drowning in my own distraction. So I stuck a pin in it and tried, fuck me I tried, to be a good person and for the most part its worked ever since. The issue is, sometimes, things still hurt. It’s like I have a chamber in my heart solely reserved for a swarm of hornets that hold my all the tiny arrows the poor bastard has taken over the years and every now and then, one of those hornets stings against the bars I have carefully built up around it and its friends. Sometimes, the really determined ones even manage to break free of their cage and terrorise the softer patches of my heart.

And that’s when I’d give anything to feel a tangible pain again, instead of just the vague burning sensation that comes with immense emotional distress. Something I can get my hands on and sink my teeth into, a pain that I can control and manipulate at my pleasure or discomfort – something to make me feel anything other than what I’m feeling when one of those mutant wasps breaks free and pours its poison into my veins.

Pain is the key here, people. And yeah, you can pick up a razor or a piece of something broken and sharp, maybe even something poetic like a mirror, so that you can watch yourself hurting yourself and take comfort in the solace that knowing the attacker brings. And yeah, when it all gets too much you can get punch out a single and ride the train to the end of the line. You can drown in the bottom of the bottle or soar on the tip of a needle, or you can throw your beautiful, broken body at anything willing to call it so for a time or two just to feel like you’re not entirely worthless. And all of these things, were you to tell them to a psychiatrist or a even a friend or family member, may wind you up with an intervention at the best and a funeral at the worst, depending on the quality of the people around you.

But there are a million and one socially acceptable ways to commit suicide. You can, for example, become addicted to the most foul and fiendish drug of them all – nicotine. You can smoke your life away one cigarette at a time and never once find yourself alone in a room full of judgemental faces and inquisitive eyes. Hey, you smoke, yeah you shouldn’t but my grandaddy smoked for like a hundred and two years and lived to be seventy nine thousand years old, or something like that.

You can go out every weekend and get blackout drunk, so drunk that you don’t remember how you got home or where your shoes are or what in gods name that is down the front of you t-shirt and you’re fine, because you only do it at the weekend. You hold down a nine to five, you pay your bills and you don’t beat your old lady when you’re wasted. You don’t drink and drive and nine times out of ten you walk away from the fights that find your face in those fabulous shit holes you frequent Friday to Sunday. But you’re just Dave, the local pisshead, everyone’s favourite pet yardstick that they measure their own failures against. Oh well, you weren’t as fucked as Dave was…is anyone ever as fucked as Dave is? Lol.

Spend your days walking around so stoned that you couldn’t tell your daddy from the postman. Go on, do it. You’re allowed to numb yourself so relentlessly against the bullets flying at you because you’re funny when you’re stoned, you’re easy when you’re stoned and easy is endlessly endearing. Pump yourself full of Valium and Prozac, hell skin up one hell of a joint and blaze your life away, because weed is natural and it doesn’t hurt anyone and it should be legal, man. It doesn’t hurt anyone, it helps people. Look, I’ve got this killer Wiki list that details all the good things about weed. You know, it doesn’t say anything about the fact that any chemical or natural substance, that takes you away from the way you feel is inherently dangerous to your basic understanding of identity and position, but you know… could you pass the oreos?

And here’s the best and the worst, saved for last as all things of its ilk should be. I’m going to tell you now to call him. To pick up your phone and call him. It doesn’t matter that it’s one o’clock in the morning and he’s probably passed on someone else’s bed, y’all just go ahead and call him. Tell him that you can’t live without him. Tell him that he will never, EVER find someone who will love him like you do. Tell him that you fell like you can’t breathe without him. Tell him that he’s the only thing that stops the voices in your head because he is the only fucking voice in your head. Tell him that you’re sorry and that you’ll do anything to be with him. Tell him that you’ll die without him. And believe it. Believe it all. Every. Single. Word. Of. This. Bullshit. Boil it down and breathe it in, because nothing, and I mean nothing, quite compares to the powerfully destructive pain of desperately timeless unrequited love.

And that’s how we do it. That’s how we live, creatures of immeasurable misery integrated fully into a functioning society that wouldn’t know us from the next. It’s how we survive by ritualistically torturing our minds and hearts and bodies with a whole heap of socially acceptable forms of self mutilation. We stick needles through our genitals and tattoo our rib cages. We drink, smoke and fuck like the worlds going to end, because in our heads, it already has. We throw ourselves into experiencing our lives in means and ways that we’ve told are enjoyable but in actual fact are dead end attempts to be happy on a road to absolute fucking misery.

And there’s hundreds of thousands of us out there. Some of you might have even read this and nodded along or sighed or shaken your heads because you know Dave the piss head, hell y’all might even be Dave the piss head. And you might be high now or smoking a fag or looking at your phone wondering if they got your text, telling yourself that it’s late and they’re probably asleep, crossing your fingers that they’ll text back in the morning with the obligatory apology and inadequate excuse, all the while knowing that the reason that they’re not texting back is because they’re busy living without you.

And you question whether that would be living at all because you haven’t realised that they have realised this already.

So, yeah, we’re all in pain and we’re all trying to find a way to make that pain go away or at least shut the hell up. Sometimes we win and it does shut up. And sometimes we lose and it whispers in the backs of our minds and we feel that wave wash over us, feel the water trickle down the back of our throats and find ourselves crawling through the hours on all fours gasping for the air that everyone around us is breathing seemingly with so much ease. And we wonder if that pain will ever go away. We wonder if we’ll ever be able to breathe again.

And sometimes, we hope we won’t. We call it a day and we settle into a sleep that we wish, somewhere deep and dark inside ourselves, that we don’t open our eyes again. That we just silently tap out of all it is that weighs us down and tears us apart, but then, more often than not, we wake up and realise that the world woke up again too. And that it would whether or not we were here or gone. We realise how small and insignificant we actually are and it scares the shit out of us. The notion occurs to us that were we to shuffle off this mortal coil and into the blessed abyss, no one would care. Yeah your mum and you dad would probably be devastated and your friends would probably go get your name tattooed on them and raise a bomb to you every other weekend, but given time, they’d live, because like all things, pain fades.

So you have a choice. You can either accept the fact that the world will go on without you just fine, that even those that would want to die if you did, would find a way to deal with that pain and would remember you always but that there would come a day in even their lives when they would be pouring milk into their cereal in the morning and your face wouldn’t be in their mind or your voice in their ears – you can take this information and drown in it, or you can take this information as a free pass to live exactly how you want to live without fear of what the world will think – because it doesn’t care, remember?

You’re free. Free to do whatever you want whenever you want with whomever you want for whatever reasons you want. The world doesn’t care. And neither should you. Be yourself, your own magnificently mutated self. And remember, that that place in your chest that aches all the time also beats all of the time, and in those moments of universal despair, lend a hand to that spot on your chest for a moment or two and take comfort in the fact that it never stopped beating, through it all – however much you may have wanted it to.

And be beautiful.

Because you are.

And know that we’re in it together.

Because we are.