Everything I know about living well, feeling content and having a chance of happiness is based around peace, calm and stillness. Not full time, obviously. None of us are fucking Buddha, are we? Bills need paying, the kitchen needs cleaning and the cat wants feeding. I can’t be just sat up a mountain contemplating spiritual enlightenment all the time - it would make no economic sense whatsoever. That said, an ability to embrace peace, react to things calmly and practise stillness every once in a while is the best shot any of us have of avoiding complete meltdown. I am totally convinced of this. French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Bloody right. If we could all just tap the brakes a bit more we’d be better off for it.
The antithesis of this design-for-life is called cocaine.
Cocaine is a powder you snort (or smoke or - if you’re a seventies rocks star - have blown up your bumhole through a McDonalds straw by a flunky) that immediately, magically, makes you the opposite of peaceful, calm and still. When you take coke you become instantly anxious, noisy and intense. It is a poison: it corrupts everything inside your body, your mind and your soul. It makes you aggressively boring - babbling to anyone who will listen about your idea for the world’s first electric cricket bat or how much you love Oasis’ third album.
But you know all this, right? Because you, like me and everyone else, have done loads of cocaine. Seriously, every fucker in Britain over the age of twelve has been bang on the gear for years now. Boris Johnson is planning a government ad campaign to discourage something called ‘middle-class cocaine use.’ Like he thinks it’s just the wankers at dinner parties who keep their gear in an ornate antique box on the mantlepiece who are the problem. The days of cocaine being a designer drug for Yuppies ended forty years ago. What about the builders, the Uber drivers, the football hooligans, the call centre workers and the unemployed teenagers who are all bang at it? Let alone the royals, the politicians, the tired out mums, the stressed out dads, the teachers, the doctors, the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers and - of course - the chefs (chefs love coke). Britain is collectively hooked on beak.
Mate, even your grandparents have done cocaine.
At least two of my children’s grandparents have anyway (I was with them when they did it).
But no-one really likes doing coke, do they? We all know it makes you edgy and paranoid and twattish. It’s not even as if the grim consequences are deferred to the next morning like booze and other drugs. Within hours of doing cocaine, you find yourself lying awake, sweaty and terrified in your bed, feeling more alone and worthless than you ever imagined possible. You know that’s what it does to you and yet you still hand over sixty quid you can’t afford for the pleasure. Cocaine defies every marketing orthodoxy known to humankind.
So why does everyone keep taking it?
Maybe it’s because we’re all so knackered all the time. Maybe you’re exhausted from work or from raising kids or both. Or maybe you’re woozy from all the beer you’ve drunk in the pub. I got to the stage where I couldn’t contemplate having any more than two pints without making sure I had at least a gram either in my pocket or on its way in an Uber I was paying for.
It’s no coincidence that coke made its big breakthrough in Thatcher’s decade when we were all brainwashed into thinking that personal productivity was the only measure of human value and that rampant ambition was a desirable lifestyle choice.
Cocaine can be a useful accompaniment to those sort of warped life goals. If you’re the sort of person who wants to ‘work hard and play hard’ then cocaine helps sustain your unnatural and wholly unsustainable lifestyle choices. Cocaine is not even meant to be fun to take - like ecstasy or weed or even (I’m told) heroin. It’s simply a means to an end. It will get you through a working day or a drunken evening without the need for a lie down.
The simplest way to describe how I went from an absolutely fucking tragic coke-head in my late thirties to six years sober is this: I just started allowing myself to have that lie down.
I realised pressing pause and lying down for a bit was not a cop out. It was, in fact, a magical and life affirming cure-all. If you want to get ahead, have a kip mate. That’s my advice.
No-one likes hearing other people’s drug stories so I will keep mine as brief as I can. I saw a lot of cocaine snorting when I was a kid but I can’t say it ever became normalised. I found it terrifying no matter how many times I saw it done. I didn’t see much of a difference between the grim spectacle of Zammo chasing the dragon in Grange Hill and someone hoovering a line of bugle off my mum’s coffee table.
Then when I was in my mid-teens my best mate and I somehow embroiled ourselves in the stag-do of a fella ten years our senior. He and all of his mates were MEN who did MANLY things on this stag - like having sex with women and taking cocaine. I was just a bewildered spectator. We ended up back at someone’s flat partying and I fell asleep, pissed out of my head. When I woke up my best mate was striding rapidly around the living room clutching his nose and saying “OOOoooooowwwwww, fuck!!!” He told me he had tried cocaine and was in immense pain. Which wasn’t much of an advertisement for it, really. But you know how it is when you’re a teenager: my mate had tried it so now I had try it.
When I got to university a couple of years later it was something I started doing most weekends when the loan stretched to it. In my twenties, I joined the glittering world of the London media where living at a fast pace and acting like a bit of cunt seemed pretty de-rigueur - and cocaine helped you do both.
I would sometimes go a year or two without touching the stuff.
That’s how it tricks you into thinking you have agency. It was in my mid to late thirties that things got out of hand. I stopped using it for ‘fun’ and started using it as a crutch to get me through the increasingly taxing and stressful life of a busy dad, trying to operate at 110% in a variety of roles, from husband to parent to professional to mate, dickhead-about-town and all round fun guy to be with. That’s not an excuse - by the way. Not everyone with those roles to perform resorts to narcotic support. Some people are able to balance their lives, attain perspective and just, you know, not do loads of coke all the times. But I didn’t because I was stupid and had a distorted idea of what life was all about.
Throughout those final years of my cocaine use, I can honestly say I never once actually enjoyed the sensation it gave me. I was quite simply hooked: I had forgotten how to function without it. When I got clean a lot of mates (most of whom were the people I used to do coke with and probably felt a bit uncomfortable with my abstinence) scoffed at the idea that I was an addict. They told me I just had a ‘bad habit.’ As if having a bad habit was perfectly okay. Habit, addiction, call it what you want - but shovelling gear up your hooter in the disabled bogs at 9am to prepare for a meeting is not the behaviour of someone who is delighted by his own life choices or confident about the way the future is going to unfold.
You might still be doing gear and thinking to yourself ‘that all sounds fucking seedy and depressing whereas my drug use is fun and social and glamorous.’ But cocaine is a powerful, deceptive and sadistic substance that will fool you into thinking you have control until - BAM! You don’t. Just like booze, it is a noose tightening slowly around your neck. By the time you can’t breath anymore, it’s too late to wrestle free. Fun times soon give way to paranoid solo-binges, frantic late night desperation calls to dealers who secretly pity you and that terrible, constant worry that the person you are talking to can see traces of white powder caked around your nostrils.
Urgh. Cocaine sucks.
But the weird thing is that, of my two addictions, coke is the one I fear most. I can recall the warm glow that booze would sometimes give me and yet I never really miss it. I never crave an alcoholic drink - the thought actually sickens me. Whereas I know that cocaine could work its way back into my life at any moment if I don’t stay vigilant. Cocaine is something I have nothing but negative memories of. From that first line I ever did to the last, it brought me nothing but discomfort, fear and regret. And yet I know it’s still there, lurking in the shadows of my mind, waiting to lure me back into its toxic embrace at the first chance it gets. I am Dot Cotton and cocaine is my Nick.
As Rick James so memorably put it, cocaine’s a hell of a drug. Next time its foul voice beckons you, do yourself a favour: go home for a kip instead.
Take Part In My Q&A
For a future edition of The Reset, I am thinking of doing a Q&A with readers. I am not a therapist, shrink or any type of expert, of course. But the spirit of The Reset is about sharing stuff. By telling the truth about some of the darker stuff I’ve thought, felt or done I hope that you might be able to relate and realise you’re not alone.
So anyway, I’d love to publish some exchanges for those of you who want to get in touch. Anything you send me will of course be kept anonymous. Maybe it’s about drink, drugs, recovery or something less dramatic - just ordinary day to day stuff that might be getting you down. Reply to this email and put Q&A in the subject heading. Like I say, I’m not an expert but if you think my take on something might help then I’d love to hear from you. Again, it will all be kept anonymous and your name won’t be published anywhere.
The Reset Podcast Ep 7 - Jason Flemyng
This week’s podcast guest was Lock Stock star and acting ledge Jason Flemyng. I recently guested on his pod More Than My Past which is part of the work Jason does to help prisoners rebuild their lives. Jason grew up around alcoholism and offers some really interesting insights to that experience. He’s a top bloke and a great storyteller. I hope you can find the time to give it a listen.
Some services, links and phone numbers to help you through the tough times
https://www.samaritans.org/ Tel 116 123
@calm 0800 58 58 58
@YoungMindsUK 0800 018 2138
@ChairtySane 0300 304 7000
Thanks Sam for more of your honest, heartfelt writing. Thankfully I never became a huge fan of coke. During my time working in the music industry in London in the 90s, I knew many users and their dealers, and it was always on offer if I wanted it. The drug always came with this tag of glamour in those circles, it was almost de rigeur to have a bang if it was offered. For me it always ended up in a situation where you would need a snort every 5 minutes just to maintain the high, and it became the be-all and end-all of the night to get back there. It dawned on me that it was a truly shit experience, because you were always chasing that first hit, which was never all it was cracked up to be in the first place. The idea of cocaine was always better than the reality...something about the feelings conjured by the word, the idea of it as an expensive 'treat' and its association with decadent 70s rock star living. Maybe it was just me and possibly others didn't experience that feeling of constantly coming down, but ultimately I'm just very glad it didn't get its hooks in me.
Cheers for the article Sam, great read as always. I am in recovery and whilst I still go to meetings regularly, it’s always good to get identification with another addict. It helps to remember the bad times, while appreciating that there is a way out.
To anyone who connects with what Sam has said, just reach out for help. I did that 3 1/2 years ago and don’t regret it for a second.
I’m also IFS and have my ticket to Brown John booked up, so thanks for your content and looking forward to the live show.