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Health / Sex Work / Sobriety

The Drugs Don’t Work

" They ask: “Have you ever had sex for drugs or money?” I pause for a second, look at the donor carer, smile warmly and shake my head decisively. “No,” I lie, “I’ve never had sex for drugs or money.” "

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Written by Anonymous.

Art by Stephany Lorena.

Before you give blood you’re asked countless questions. I answer most of them without thinking. “No, I’ve never had malaria, I’ve never tested positive for HIV, I’ve never injected steroids.”They ask: “Have you ever had sex for drugs or money?” I pause for a second, look at the donor carer, smile warmly and shake my head decisively. “No,” I say, “I’ve never had sex for drugs or money.”

But the truth is: I have had sex for drugs or money, many times… I am a 32 year-old cocaine addict, and there’s not a lot I wouldn’t do for an eight-ball (that’s an eighth of an ounce, or 3.5 grams).

I wasn’t always an addict. I spent years consuming cocaine socially, recreationally. A few surreptitious bumps huddled in the toilet cubicle at a gig, or a baggy split between friends at an afterparty. It wasn’t a problem. If I had any left over I could save it for the following weekend. I could take it or leave it.

But then I started doing a quick line in the morning to bring me round from a midweek hangover. Following that, I told myself, there was no harm in doing some at lunchtime. Or in the evening with a glass of wine. Or when I was bored, or anxious, or lacking confidence. Every time I needed a pick-me-up, when most people might have a coffee or take a power nap, I would do cocaine. It became a daily habit; my secret crutch.

I started to lose weight (cocaine suppresses your appetite). “You look fantastic,” friends would congratulate me on how well I seemed to be holding it together. “It’s like you never sleep,” colleagues would comment admiringly when I responded to emails from LA in the middle of the night. My productivity flourished. I got a promotion at work. I started writing. I won awards. The crippling self-loathing that plagued my twenties started to abate. Even my therapist commented that I seemed to be doing better.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

“Are you buying cocaine for your friends too?” My dealer was confused. We’d got to know each other pretty well. He let me pay weekly, sending me a polite reminder every Friday to transfer what I owed, with a little breakdown of what I’d purchased and when.

“Ah, yeah, I guess I’m quite generous with it,” I said, trying to avoid the embarrassing realization that my dealer thought I was buying too much cocaine for one person. I was still far too stubborn to admit I had a problem, and my cravings were getting worse. It got to the point where I couldn’t respond to a text message from a friend without taking coke first. The words would just be jumbled and incoherent. I literally couldn’t read without getting high.

By this point I was spending about £700 a week on cocaine. Something had to give, but I wasn’t ready to address the actual problem, so I started encouraging men on dating apps to share their drugs with me. I learned how to ask for what I wanted without making the transactional nature of the encounter explicit. I wouldn’t waste anyone’s time: I’d find out if they had cocaine, and if they didn’t, I’d tell them where they could get it. If they weren’t interested in providing me with a fix, no worries, I’d unmatch and move on.

Over the course of three months last year, I had sex with a hundred people. I’m not exaggerating, I actually counted them – and conservatively too (I counted each group-sexual encounter as one, and oral sex didn’t count at all).

I am fully aware that this works out at more than one a day. I am fully aware that even the most sex-positive among us might struggle to justify that level of promiscuity. And I am fully aware that the self-destructive path I ploughed for myself was never going to lead anywhere good.

But I told myself it was empowering, even feminist. I practised safe sex like it was a religion. Condoms, always. I got checked for STIs with such frequency that I’m pretty sure they had a whole laboratory dedicated to processing just my samples. Anyone who disrespected me was berated and blocked. I always made my dates book me an Uber home. Once a guy tried to fob me off with an Uber Pool and I refused to see him again.

I was saving money, and the constant stream of boozy meet-ups distracted me from the chaotic reality of my existence. I got to a hundred and thought why stop there? Before long, I was straight-up accepting cash in exchange for sexual favours; men would invite me over and I’d feign tiredness or indifference until they offered to sweeten the deal. “Make it worth my while,” I’d text back, followed by a link to my Paypal.

Sometimes we didn’t even have sex. They would often consume so much cocaine that they couldn’t maintain an erection, so we’d just drink wine and talk about their kind-of depressing lives and their boring jobs and their unoriginal fantasies and I’d let them snort lines off my body.

There comes a point on every addict’s journey when they realise they’re an addict. This isn’t necessarily the point when they resolve to recover, it’s just the moment when they look at themselves and the state of their lives and think fuck, I might have a bit of a problem here. It took me a long time to reach this point. And it wasn’t a £500 threesome with strangers that did me in, it was something far more mundane.

It was just after ten on a dreary lockdown morning. My dealer came round with a couple of grams and an oat milk latte in a takeout cup from a nearby cafe. “I know how you like it,” he said confidently. My dealer knows how I like my coffee. I played with this thought in my head for a while and realised it made me sad. I felt my nostrils start to drip, as they’re wont to do when you shove loads of chemicals up them everyday, so I reached for a tissue to blow my nose. Red. So red. Blood everywhere. It wouldn’t stop streaming. I ended up running out of tissues and having to use a towel to soak up all the blood.

“Fucking hell,” my dealer looked at me in horror. I assured him that I was ok, made up a vague story about having had nosebleeds as a child, tried to laugh it off. He shook his head, told me he was worried about me, that he thought it might be a good idea for me to come off the drugs for a while. “I really think you need help,” he said. My dealer thinks I need help. This thought didn’t sit well with me either.

Later that day I made a telephone appointment with my doctor, who immediately booked me in for an electrocardiogram to check for heart problems, and made an urgent referral to a local drug treatment program.“You’ll be pleased to know I’ve lost two stone,” I told her, only half jokingly (I had previously been told by a different doctor at the practice that I was overweight). “For God’s sake, I don’t care,” she replied, sounding exasperated, “your weight is the least of your problems.”

I bet you’ve been reading this expecting a happy ending, and I’d so love to give you one. I quit the drugs and turned my life around, I want to be able to say. Everyone loves those stories. But addiction isn’t that simple. And, if anything, COVID has brought my myriad problems into sharper focus. Lying in a bed full of breadcrumbs for days on end, listening to sad music and doing bumps off a snot-covered coke spoon, getting up only to go to the bathroom, or meet the takeaway delivery person at the door, doing the odd Zoom call to prove to the outside world that I’m still here. Is this a life? Is it worth living? It’s been several months and I haven’t heard from the drug treatment team. I didn’t have enough money to pay my rent this month. My nose won’t stop running. I am in £40,000 of debt.

I’m not sure where I go from here. But one thing’s for sure: the drugs really, really don’t work.


About the Author

The author of this piece chooses to remain anonymous.

If you are experiencing an addiction crisis, check out https://www.aa.org.

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