I heard about Amy Winehouse’s death via a news alert service on my nephew’s phone at about 6pm on Saturday 23rd July. Incidentally I had heard of Michael Jackson’s death much in the same way 2 years before, via a Facebook alert by another nephew – the brother of this one…the power of modern socialising.
I didn’t have much time to ponder about this latest celebrity death from presumably a drugs and alcohol overdose on that day. But since then, though much else has been happening and more devastating events have occurred, my thoughts keep drifting back to the extreme sadness of what her death represents – a situation that probably started so innocuously and unnoticed ending in the human definition of tragedy – death. My thoughts have also been drifting back to this because I have had a glimpse into how this story can easily begin. Now before you read on, just know that you do not need to check on my mental state – I am one tough cookie – nor do you need to report me to the General Medical Council – I could never bring myself to do anything that could jeopardise my professional status – ok?!
A few months ago, I had severe back pain due to a slipped disc and then more recently tooth-ache that my dentist just told me will only go away with either an extraction or root canal work. On both occasions, the pain was only relieved by the pain killer codeine – a weak opioid. Opioid pain killers also include morphine used to treat pain after surgery and pain related to cancer, and diamorphine; diamorphine is called diamorphine when used as a pain killer in patients and heroin when abused by drug addicts. Morphine and diamorphine are strong opioids. Opioids are derived from the beautiful but deadly opium poppy largely harvested in the fields of Afghanistan.
Now codeine is an excellent painkiller but like its relatives morphine and diamorphine can cause some pleasant and not so pleasant side effects. I experienced the pleasant ones (in my mind anyway); as well as instant pain relief, I was left with a feeling of euphoria, ie, extreme and inappropriate happiness and drowsiness. Initially, I took my doses sparingly as being a full time working mother there really was no time to be falling asleep all over the place. But I soon became irritated by this pain that was starting to encroach on my active life-style; in addition, I was soon in the midst of one of my many challenging patches where deadlines and projects were prominent at work, extra-curricular activities needed attention, family needed nurturing as usual and soon I was juggling 5 bone china plates using one hand and none of them could fall! So actually, a feeling of inappropriate happiness and getting a good night’s sleep suddenly became an added bonus. I noticed that sometimes I was taking codeine when perhaps paracetamol was probably all that I needed. Then one day, after I felt myself falling asleep in an interview (I was one of the interviewers and my colleague later corrected me and told me that I had indeed fallen asleep), I snapped out of my euphoric state. It became clear to me that I had better find some other way to deal with this pain or else…
So these past few days I started to wonder what if I was someone who had deadly demons, or an unsuitable husband, or time on my hands, or low self esteem, or no outlet to release the pressures of modern living, or was quite happy to give up control over my life? What if I had suffered an inexplicable insult to my emotions or physical being that left me vulnerable? What if I felt I didn’t really have much to lose? What if I did not have an emotional maturity to know that ‘this too shall pass’ and that there is always a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’? What if I didn’t believe in the power of a Higher One? What if I didn’t have family and friends who I had faith in and who had faith in me? If I was able to answer yes to the wrong combination of any of these questions with a supply (prescription) of codeine at my disposal that could silence the shrieks of any demons or the crippling effect of inadequacy, could I too have ended up a tragic addict?
For a while after 23rd July, there will probably be lots of commentaries about the scourge of drugs and legalising drugs and how the war on drugs has failed and how tragic it all is. But I think perhaps the real tragedy of addiction may lie not really in how it so often ends – often the addict is so tired of their existence that death is welcome – but really in how it usually starts, blandly with minimal fanfare or little drama. So, wouldn’t it be great if the commentaries could instead be about perhaps shifting the focus to how we can collectively teach and demonstrate life skills like coping mechanisms, communication, building positive relationships, honesty, self-confidence and self respect and spirituality to the next generation? Without these essential skills, circumstances will always define the individual instead of being defined by the individual. In the process, at the very least, we may just tackle other social maladies.