My more recent medical training touched on the genetic inheritance of alcoholism. True to paternal family form, and at 16, I found solace in harmful drugs. Any substance which promised escape was my first choice. The free, organic, local and natural forms of LSD allowed hilarious grandeur. Cigarettes and alcohol, mixed with a variety of my prescription medicaments temporarily satisfied that immediate compulsion to do damage to my hateful, useless self. Food was largely refused; I’d already eaten. For pain relief, I used a knife blade to release blood from my wrists and thighs. I incidentally began several fashion trends among younger school years; such as silk scarves wrapped around the wrists and concealer make-up on lips giving a washed-out, anaemic-boho look. Later to be rephrased, ‘heroin chic’. Heroine and cocaine did not find me at that point – Northern Ireland was a blink away from self-destruction and potential drug runners chose the best business which was to deal in semtex, rocket launchers and AK47s.
Today’s doctors and counsellors have a useful variety of methods to impart to young self-harmers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s doctors had Valium and anti-depressants to offer, although they came with an unhelpful range of side-effects. Disclosing the scars would have been enough for a section order and a month in the mental home, picking flowers off the wallpaper in a drug induced coma’ state. By comparison, today’s angst ridden teens are listened to; talked through the stages of anxiety and taught harmless methods of releasing that emotional pain. Squeezing ice-cubes, primal screams, painting, writing, talking it through. That is, those who find help and allow themselves to be helped.
I was numb. Incapable of emotion. I was so entirely bound by my own defensive shields that nothing touched me. Not even hurting those old close friends I had grown up with. Anyone was fair game and I was the unstoppable leader of my little female gang of underage morons. In my immature, numb condition I found my ropes of tolerance and capability becoming ever shorter. My A’ level English Literature had to be dropped as I could not complete the title, let alone the essay. I could write my name at the top of the page but everything else seemed, somehow, immaterial. My train of thought was unsustainable, words formed and disintegrated, ghost-like, in my mind. Most upsetting, I lost my ability to draw: my most certain A-star subject. I dropped out. My headmistress cried.
There’s nothing like a series of near-death experiences to provoke evaluation of current circumstances. A bad combination of illegal drugs and a couple of traffic accidents preceded the end of my work contract as an illustrator. Having interviewed and agreed my replacement, I had too much free time to avoid reflection and introspection. So I reflected and was introspective for about two hours. Then I packed a single bag, grabbed my portfolio of work and left. Oh – I sold my rifle, ammunition and gun license, made sure my dogs were looked after but neglected to tell anyone where I was going, or that I was going at all. Cutting a very long story short, I landed in Sydney later that year with my partner (the illustrator I had interviewed) and a much cleaner liver together with the quiet knowledge that we were going to be parents. That was the end of the chapter, for me.