I have to start this post with a disclaimer: I have never done heroin, nor do I intend to. I also do not personally know anyone who has ever done heroin (to my knowledge). This post is comprised only of second-hand knowledge gathered from such unreliable sources as Wikipedia. Also, this post contains foul language and disturbing subject matter. You should probably just not read it.
A couple of weeks ago, I read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. In case you’ve never read or heard of this book, I will give you a brief summary of it here: The story follows a group of young heroin users in Edinburgh, Scotland, and their adventures and misadventures in drug use and petty crime. Some of them get AIDS, some of them witness the death of a baby (probably due to neglect), and some of them just use a lot of heroin. It talks about their withdrawal symptoms, the lengths they go to to salvage some opium suppositories from the grossest toilet in the history of the world, and the feeling of a heroin high. Overall, it’s a pretty depressing book (though it does have a couple of humorous moments), but if you want some insight into the mind of a user, I recommend it. It was also turned into a movie in 1996, which I have never seen (aside from the creepy “baby on the ceiling” hallucination scene), but I found the book on my bookshelf and decided to read it. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to get drawn into the books I’m reading (which is why I don’t read very much fiction) and books that center around a disturbing topic (like heroin use) really get to me. I walked around at work all week depressed & suppressing the urge to speak in a near-incomprehensible Scottish accent, complete with ridiculous Scottish slang. I also kept thinking about heroin use (not as it applies to me, obviously, but just in general). I knew very little about it, since, like I said, I’ve never done it and I don’t know anyone that’s done it. All I knew was that it is injected, you can get the HIV from sharing needles, it’s killed a lot of good musicians, and it’s bad (mmkay?). So, I went to the world’s most reliable source for information on everything: Wikipedia. As I was perusing Wiki for answers to my heroin-related questions, my iTunes (in its creepily-sentient manner ) decided to play “Junkhead” by Alice in Chains, which I have posted for you here (unfortunately no one on YouTube has a version of this song that doesn’t skip):
Alice in Chains is one of my all-time favorite bands (despite my ill-fated concert adventure ), and I remember hearing about Layne Staley’s death back in 2002 when I was 15 or 16. All accounts of the incident stated that he ODed on a speedball (heroin-cocaine combo), which was really not all that shocking, given his history of drug use & addiction. What was somewhat shocking (to me, anyway) was that he had apparently holed himself up in his condo for 3 days straight and did nothing but shoot up almost continuously. According to the other members of the band & and Layne’s family members, he would go days or weeks at a time and not talk to or see anyone, so perhaps this wasn’t a surprise for those who knew him. Everyone who listens to Alice in Chains knows that they used heroin – hell, they named an album after it. Layne particularly struggled with this addiction, and as his life progressed, he seemed to rely more and more on the skag to get him through the day. His fiance died of drug-related problems, and I’m sure that this, ironically enough, fueled his own addiction to the drug that took her away from him. This reminds me very much of the scene in Trainspotting where they discover baby Dawn dead in her crib. Dawn’s tearful mother, Lesley, deals with the situation by asking Mark Renton (the main character) to cook her a shot of heroin. The very drug that caused her to neglect her child to the point of death is the very thing she turns to for comfort after finding the baby’s body. I actually noticed one major parallel between Trainspotting & “Junkhead” – the attitude held by the junkie that “outsiders” or non-users don’t understand the lifestyle or the reasoning behind using drugs, and the resentment felt by users when society tries to “fix” them. In Trainspotting, Renton talks about how society can’t stand to have people who don’t want the typical milestones of life (a job, a car, a home, a family, etc), so they work to try and fit them back into the mold with rehab and government services aimed at getting them jobs & getting them off the smack. Compare that sentiment with Layne Staley’s lyrics in “Junkhead:” First he says, “Seems so sick to the hypocrite norm, Running their boring drills, But we are an elite race of our own, The stoners, junkies, and freaks,” and then “You can’t understand a user’s mind, But try, with your books and degrees. If you let yourself go and opened your mind, I’ll bet you’d be doing like me, And it ain’t so bad.” Clearly, “Junkhead” was written in that very short period of time where heroin was having a “positive” effect on Layne. He tried to get clean a few times, but always to no avail. In a 1996 interview with Rolling Stone, he said “Drugs worked for me for years, and now they’re turning against me, now I’m walking through hell.” By 2002, it was clear to him that he was nearing the end of his life. In an interview that year, he said, “I’m not using drugs to get high like many people think. I know I made a big mistake when I started using this shit. It’s a very difficult thing to explain. My liver is not functioning, and I’m throwing up all the time and shitting my pants. The pain is more than you can handle. It’s the worst pain in the world. Dope sick hurts the entire body.” In Trainspotting, several of the characters try to kick the habit on and off, but they almost always relapse because the withdrawal is so intense. Renton often describes the feeling by saying that his skin was crawling and his bones felt like they were grinding together. While none of the characters in Trainspotting die from an overdose, they do suffer some pretty terrible consequences from using. Johnny Swan loses a leg, several characters end up with HIV or AIDS, and all the male characters, with the exception of Sick Boy, have sexual problems related to heroin use at some point in the novel. They are all pale, covered in scabs & abscesses, and generally unhealthy. None of them get to the point where Layne Staley was when he died, but it seems that they are in the minority there. From what I can tell, most people don’t make it out of a heroin addiction alive. Despite the fact that the book ends a little happier for Renton than real life does for Layne, I think that “Junkhead” could be the theme song for Trainspotting.
Summation & final point? Heroin is probably a bad idea.