Towards the end of 2018, I hit rock bottom.
I lost my fancypants job at Mercedes, that I had so lovingly bragged about to friends and family back home.
This left me cast adrift in the city of Maastricht, tied to a house contract until the following summer with no way of paying for it. Virtually all of my friends in the city I knew from work, and with only a single exception they ruthlessly abandoned me. I don’t really blame them, but I thought at least a couple more people might ask if I was alright.
At first I retained some hope, that I could find a new job and continue my sordid little European adventure.
The truth of that wish was that I was just terrified of having to tell my mother I’d lost another job.
So for two months I sat around my flat, drinking and smoking. Rarely venturing outside for more than the five minute walk to the Albert Hein supermarket for supplies, usually junk food of some variety.
I awoke around 10am most days and stayed in bed until my phone battery died and forced me up. There was no other real reason to get out of bed. There was barely anything to live for.
Throughout all of this I smoked. Each evening after dinner I plonked myself down on my sofa, and fired up YouTube on my PS4. With junk food and cheap fizzy orange drink close to hand, I rolled, I smoked, I ate, and I watched.
Every few days I trudged the barely one hundred yards to the nearest coffeeshop, the subtly named Mary Jane, and bought a couple more baggies of sweet oblivion. I didn’t feel good when I smoked, but I didn’t feel as terrible as the rest of the time.
On it went, a cycle of misery and Netflix binges. Occasionally I went out, for drinks and smokes with a lovely Irish Mercedes pal, the only one who ever messaged to see if I was ok. Other times a sweet American girl would distract me for a blissful evening of revelry and stimulation, intellectually and otherwise. Once a week at most.
The rest of the time I was alone.
My housemates didn’t know, or didn’t care, or both. Sometimes I could hear them in the rooms below, talking about me. I didn’t speak any Dutch, but the walls were thin and I knew that ‘Engels’ meant English. Their laughter curled me into a ball. I sobbed and cursed them, then smiled politely or otherwise ignored them in the hallways.
As Christmas approached, and my pre-booked flight home to Devon loomed, I had achieved nothing. Through buying precious little other than food, booze and drugs, and ignoring my rent, I had survived financially. But it would soon run out.
I had to go home.
More than that, I had to change. You see, I’d been smoking more or less every night for the past four years.
I’d become a shell of myself.
When I started smoking regularly it was a crutch. I used it to sleep, as sleep has never come easily. Not alone anyway. And it did seem to help ease the panic attacks that wracked me through 2014-15,
But it so very quickly became a crutch. It slowly ratcheted up my anxiety.
Before all that long I was living a life with no long term goals. My anxiety was barely bearable, but I powered through each day knowing I could roll a joint or two at the end of it and have at least a couple of hours of relaxation.
I ignored the fact that soon I could hardly enjoy watching anything without it.
I ignored the fact that I could hardly seem to sleep without it, those rare nights I had to.
I ignored the fact that each day began in a sluggish haze, that my once sharp thoughts were dull and blunted.
I lost several jobs. Simple jobs, jobs that should have been beneath me. I was once the smart one of the family, the one who used to ace exams and get all A’s. To be twenty-six years old and be unable to hold down a simple office job… To have never held down any job for a full year…
I was pathetic.
I was a drug addict.
I knew it. And I hated myself for it.
So there I was, in an attic room in the Netherlands. No job and a rapidly dwindling bank balance.
Even so, I couldn’t stop smoking. It was the thing destroying me, yet it was still my primary source of comfort.
In that time, through frankly far too many tears, much self-flagellation and an almost overwhelming well of suicidal thoughts, I finally came to the only conclusion that mattered.
I had hit rock bottom.
The slightly galling thing is, that I know plenty of people who do smoke every single day, but who seem perfectly functional. There may even be people reading this who scoff or smirk, and say “is that really an addiction?”
Sure, it’s not like I was on crack or heroin. Thank fuck.
But it was enough to more or less annihilate my mental health and emotional stability. I came close once or twice to doing something profoundly, stupidly permanent about the situation.
Fortunately I had an adorable American girl with a wellspring of common sense and affection to keep me grounded. I was not utterly alone, and that counted for a great deal.
Anyway. I was at rock bottom. More than anything I desperately wanted to get better. To be better. To try and actually live up to the potential I had been told I had but had never followed through on.
I had to leave Maastricht.
That much should be obvious. Anyone with a problem with weed should not be living in a city with a dozen shops within walking distance. Not a sketchy stranger or friend-of-a-friend dealer. Shops with menus and selections. I was a kid in a candy shop, who quickly rotted his teeth to the gums.
Fortunately, Christmas was approaching. I still hadn’t told anyone back home what had happened, and quite frankly I was terrified of the prospect. However I knew I had to do it in person. If for no other reason that I knew I’d break down and cry, and that would be far easier to deal with if I could have a hug right after.
That final day I packed as much as I could into my bags. I prioritised, and once again bemoaned bringing two games consoles to the Netherlands with me. I had to leave a fair smattering of belongings, but nothing I couldn’t live without. The rest my wonderful American girl has sent after me.
That final night, with a grim sense of foreboding, I smoked every last scrap I had. Part of me knew the following day would be easier to deal with with less in my system, but the overriding part knew it was my last opportunity.
At 1am I finished my final joint and rolled into bed.
At 6am I crawled out, gathered my things, and like the proverbial thief in the night, fled the scene.
I didn’t tell my housemates I was leaving. They could go fuck themselves.
The train and plane ride was a nervy mess of reciting what I’d say to my mother, over and over again.
But when I finally did see her, she looked so damn happy at my arrival that I couldn’t break that. Through the drive home she nattered and grinned and I smiled sickly along. She commented on how much stuff I had brought (two bursting bags were a little obvious I thought), but we excused it as Christmas presents.
It wasn’t until and hour or two later, safely ensconced in our new flat, having been shown my new room, that she asked me with a smile, “are you happy?”
And I burst.
From there, everything got easier. Telling the family wasn’t easy, but with each telling and each outpouring of love and support, the stress of the secret fell away.
I told my best friend Liam everything. Within two days of my return I had an interview at his company. I came in and spoke to the boss before they shut up shop for Christmas.
By the weekend before Christmas I had a job lined up for January. I owe him a great deal.
As ever, Mum would provide a place to live and food, and whatever I needed to recover. To her I owe everything.
As of time of writing, it’s been a month and a half without smoking. Well, I’ve had a few ciggies on nights out, but that’s not what I mean. And to be perfectly honest I’ve probably been drinking a little too much. But these are minimal issues compared to what I left behind in Maastricht.
My head feels clear. I feel more emotionally stable than I ever have done before. I can fall asleep with minimal assistance, a minor miracle in it’s own right.
From barely listening to music I’ve been seeing bands every week, and playing my old open mic night. Reading as voraciously as the teenager who took an English Literature degree.
Talking with a confidence I didn’t know I had. The anxiety that was ratcheted up so far has dropped away to lows I hardly thought possible.
More than anything, I feel like me again. The me I left behind long ago. The me I always thought I could be, but never tried hard enough to be.
For the first time in far, far too long, I actually like myself.
It really is true, what they say about being at rock bottom. There’s nowhere to go but up.
P.S. For anyone (if there is anyone) who checks this site, or merely pays attention to timestamps, this should go some way to explaining the lack of posts over the last six months. Hopefully many more will follow, though probably few if any like this. Now my brain seems to be finding it’s way back to working properly, I want to write more poetry, experiment with short stories, blog regularly. That sort of thing. So here’s to the future.
Onwards and upwards.