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Zhenya cannot return to Belarus because of repressions. Zhenia lives, studies and works in Lithuania. In emigration, our interviewee realised that she was addicted. “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” talked to Zhenya about her experience of using psychoactive substances, as well as how addiction has changed her life.

Zhenya, 24*

*name changed

“On opiates I was becoming normal and focused…”

I think I have always been addicted, even before I migrated. I don’t know what exactly in Belarus prevented me from going all out, but it certainly wasn’t repressive anti-drug laws. Perhaps internal principles, ambitions, and dreams still held me back. I don’t remember, and what does it matter.

It started “like everyone else”: alcohol and marijuana. The only difference was that even at school parties, I usually “flew” (and vomited) farther than everyone else. I remember that during my studies at the first university, psychedelics or speed occasionally appeared. I tried tramadol, but it was very rare. It seemed like everything was under control: a prestigious university, creativity, prospects, friends.

But a nasty worm – now I call it Glutton – was undermining me even then. There were predispositions to addiction, I think it’s called premorbidity (a condition preceding and contributing to the development of the disease – ed).  By the way, I have suffered from a severe eating disorder since I was 13. Later it was explained to me that addiction to psychoactive substances is often attached to an eating disorder. 

In short, non-chemical addiction was separated from chemical addiction by a distance of only one trigger. For me, it was migration, where I finally surrendered to substances.

“Addiction doesn’t come to an empty soil…”

They say that Belarusians quickly start abusing drugs outside the blue-eyed country: they say that everything is available, you can’t get away for 8 years for a gram of weed. Nevertheless, I personally know many Belarusians who either do not use drugs at all, or practise what is called “controlled use” and limit themselves to one beer in a bar once a week (and then go home, not on a binge) – in a word, they have no addiction. Again, this is about the fact that such a problem doesn’t come on empty biological/psychological ground.

By the way, talking about 8 years per gram. In Lithuania, there is a tendency to worsen the drug policy situation. Sometimes undercover guys raid a rave and catch people with a single mushroom – almost like at home, right? The sentences, by the way, are almost like at home too.

To make a long story short, I switched from fast drugs to opioids (I always liked pharmacy drugs better) and opiates. It was love at first sight: they made me normal – or so it seemed to me. In life, I am an extremely anxious, restless, introverted person – opioids turned out to be the missing piece in this puzzle. Of course, I kept mixing everything, as addicts do: alcohol, speed, anticonvulsants, benzodiazepines – but all this cocktail was eventually shut down by opioids. Any other substance, even weed and alcohol, eventually started driving me equally crazy: hallucinations, searching for invisible things, paranoia, disorientation. And only opioids calmed me, even “sobered” me up, I became focused, got things done, socialised easily.

Photo from Zhenya’s personal archive

“My loved ones considered alcohol the lesser evil…”

But what was it Shulgin said about heroin? “I was not afraid of addiction, not afraid of withdrawal. The only thing I was afraid of is that things lose their meaning.” That’s right. Everything loses meaning, disappears. Or rather, the world exists, and in this state, you can still love someone, be interested in things, do things (for a while) – but it no longer matters, it’s not valuable.

That’s how my polydrug peak continued. And even when stealing, pawnshop, sex for the line and other things that were unlike my behaviour appeared, everything seemed to be under control: studies, work in my specialty.

I was lucky to get off at the initial stage of the system. Literally a man fell from the sky (he needs a lifetime monument) who believed in me and took me out of the system by the scruff of the neck. But I got drunk – naturally, my close ones considered it a lesser evil – and got hooked on psychedelics. I didn’t expand consciousness with the latter; I just got high. Like everything else.

“When you hang out and drink, it’s like three additional shifts of work…”

Due to abuse, I lost my job a couple of times. An addict is dependent on everything: he is just as much a workaholic as he is an alcoholic; priorities just shift. In my medical history, there are periods of workaholism: I worked six days and asked for a seventh… One day I had another bender. At that time, trust loans were already exhausted – although if I were the editor, I would have fired myself immediately, but I was always given the “very last” chance.

Then they told me that I could write brilliantly, but the problem was that I… didn’t write. When you hang out and drink, it’s like three additional shifts of work. It turns out I worked on “five shifts” at that time – burned out, so to speak. At the same time, I quit my studies. I only had energy for cleaning and relationships.

After getting fired, I got a job as a waitress in a well-known area of Vilnius. I joined the local community, they treated me well, even loved me. But I managed to mess up there too: alcohol. I was almost fired, but they gave me a chance. And I justified their trust.

I only had enough brains for physical work. At that time, I often thought: here I am, intelligent, creative, a journalist… What the hell am I doing here? And at the same time: what is more correct? Maybe it should be this way. One characteristic of an addict – hypersensitive and tender (sounds paradoxical, but still), always thinks and reflects. And then turns to substances to shut down this flow of feelings – a vicious circle.

Photo from Zhenya’s personal archive

“Addiction is a disease of society…”

At first I thought addiction was a disease, a disease of society. I thought those who called the problem “ordinary promiscuity” were stupid philistines. That’s how I absolved myself of responsibility.

In reality, drug addiction and alcoholism are biopsychosocial problems. A person predisposed to addiction is initially vulnerable and weak. Challenges that “ordinary” people face every day are more difficult for someone addicted. Of course, it cannot be generalised; everyone is different. However, this is what I have encountered in my personal experience.

My addiction is when my dreams fall apart. I could have built an alternative world, seriously pursued music, film, built a career as a journalist, but I’m stoned, drunk – what can we talk about? And then there’s that classic drug-alco-nihilism, “everything is nothing and you can’t change anything, everyone’s a fool”. As a result, I’m afraid I’m forever relegated to the category of hopeful talents and “hanging around”.

There were many hobbies, talents, a curious mind, phenomenal memory, but I lost all that. There is a term in film – “Russian ending.” That’s about addiction..

“I became a shell of the person who was once loved…”

Addicts and alcoholics have one unpleasant trait: they lie. Partly because they have to hide their consumption, especially when it comes to drugs. Alcoholism is somewhat legalised for us, eating disorders too, but not drug addiction.

And the more you’re loved, the more you learn to pretend. There’s an evil, intolerant joke: “when does a junkie lie? – when he opens his mouth”. In fact, sometimes you just don’t want to upset people you love, and they can’t accept the truth. Although I admit that this is such a paradoxical way to protect and feed their addiction, so that no one – oh horror – God forbid, do not take them to treatment. You can start to recover that way!

I don’t think the reason is a lack of love and acceptance. I love and am loved, there are many good people around, a wonderful accepting family. I had a wonderful childhood. And even this does not affect the desire to escape from everything, leaving no traces. The problem is that the traces do remain: on those who believed, who wanted to be close. And I’m not a heartless jerk; I feel too – love, hurt, shame (especially shame). But it doesn’t affect my behaviour, unlike the so-called “excellent neuro-students.” And then everything turns into toxic shame, “so ashamed that it’s not even shameful anymore.” And addiction whispers, “Give up everyone, give up everything, let’s go get treatment!”

It seems I became a shell of the person who was once loved. But I accepted defeat and continued to live as is, with who I remain.

“My own voice praised Lukashenko…”

Now there is only alcohol—and it is the scariest drug of all I know. I haven’t liked the state of intoxication for a long time. If I drink, I drink alone, in hiding. A sip is enough for me to get lost and intoxicated; beyond that—fog, loss, and anxiety. That means I need another drink, I need to drown it out – that’s how I drink until it gets better (“a shot is too much, a hundred is too little”). Spoiler: it doesn’t get better. Anxiety is replaced by inadequacy and aggression—and delirium is not far away. Why do I drink then? Every alcoholic will tell you that he hates to drink, but this will not prevent him from asking you for a euro for a beer in 15 minutes. That’s how it is for me: it seems to relieve anxiety, help me sleep and delay delirium (it doesn’t). 

Photo from Zhenya’s personal archive

I have, you could say, a class of withdrawal: from slow, fast, glitchy, but the alcoholic one is the worst. One night it seemed like a cassette recorder was hidden under the bed, it was stuck, playing the same incoherent sentence.

My own voice praised Lukashenko. Total p***y f**k: this is how the matrix of journalists writing on anti-government topics melts. And it happens almost regularly: religious dreams (but not opioid), imps, music, sleep paralysis, tactile hallucinations, voices. In the last case, it’s just a set of letters, but clearly with some message?

Perhaps a mix with anticonvulsants is to blame. And let’s not forget that before, my day, as a rule, was not limited to one substance: everything mixed, spiced with anticonvulsants and alcohol.

I had overdoses, including opioids, there were dreams, some visions. Once something broke in my brain. Many people I don’t know settled there. They come in dreams, hallucinations; it seems I’ve known them all my life. And now they always accompany me. No, this is not a religious experience; I just had a big meltdown.

“I try to stay away from people…”

Some people need rehabilitation, while others, like me, are unlikely to benefit from it. I think it has to do with the desire to be with people. Whoever wants to, comes back. Through religion, sports, a healthy lifestyle, sex, but they come back. There are those who don’t really want to return to society. So I tell everyone I want to go back, but in reality, I’m not ready yet.

I have seen positive examples of return. People gather strength, do things. You can also fall in love. But how long will it last? For me, addiction is alienation, “not being here” on a basic level. But it’s different for everyone. I tend to stay away from people. But when I use (not alcohol!), it seems like boundaries disappear, I communicate, become kind. In reality, consumption only reinforces the boundaries.

“Let drug policy be handled by hipsters who can use once on the weekend…”

It’s important to remember that addiction is forever. The dream of any addict or alcoholic is to drink a bottle of beer, snort a line, and call it a day. A no, in reality a shot turns into a binge or a marathon.

And then it doesn’t matter what the substance is, whether it’s mine or someone else’s… I snap, lie, steal. Often alcohol contributes to the desire to use: how many bruises my mates had when they tried to restrain my “mental impulse.”

Let hipsters, who can use once on the weekend and go about their business, deal with drug policy. Let the addicts deal with recovery. 

I sometimes naively think as if everyone has it all figured out about addiction. Or not everyone, but “at least in this environment” the educational mission is accomplished, well-read and understanding people support each other in the media space, everyone is gradually getting hooked together not only on using, but also on postmodern gonzo, growing into tragic-ironic romantics with all their might, until I learned (against my will) about the existence of new-school drug blogs. How many people are running them? If it used to be an enlightening topic, now it’s f****d up. 

Photo from Zhenya’s personal archive

Zoomer moment: instead of thoughtful diaries, there is thrash content, pictures of smut, shop adverts (salt replacing opiates). And the longer the experience, the duller the blog. After all, what can be more boring than the life of a drug addict, even if he is thrice an intellectual? The same routine as home-work-home. Apparently, this kind of content is created for passive addicts, for those who want to use but are afraid to, a kind of drug porn.

This is why we need drug policy and drug education: a conditionally “neurotypical” person who has never faced a problem (and here, by the way, there is a controversial point: psychiatrists and psychologists working with addictions claim that in every family there is a person with a mental disorder or disability, if not an addict – such controversial topics affect everyone in one way or another), knows about the existence of such people, does not stigmatise them, does not label them. There is a feminist agenda, an LGBTQ+ agenda, political activism, right?  People who are different have always been and will always be around, and no one is immune to this otherwise. New media opportunities, new formats of interaction with the audience, of course, do not cure addiction, but they help such people to become visible.

Beyond this obvious mission, I’d like every teenager who watches a tik tok about another of Mum’s popping salt addicts to see the flip side. I want him or her to know that withdrawal syndrome, blood in the urine, mouth ulcers, phlegmon, and three weeks of diarrhoea are not f*****g romantic!

“A year went by when suddenly I started to have the wildest cravings…”

Now I don’t use any drugs other than alcohol, I don’t smoke, I’m just not interested. The only thing that Gluttony can let you down with is opiates.  By the way, it’s a pretty insidious thing to think you won’t want any more.

A year went by, I had forgotten what the needle was, and then suddenly Gluttony woke up. It was a complete set-up: the craving was so strong that I was tormented only in the first week of quitting. I had enough sense to call everyone close to me. A friend came to stay with me (and physically prevent me from running, if I ever did). I curled up on my bed and roared into my pillow for two days until I let go. It saddens me to think that It could come back at any time, even after 15 years of remission (heard of it).

I am currently at war with alcohol. The desire to get sober exists alongside the desire to lay drunk in a snowdrift, but only in the former case will I be able to do something cool. It sounds like the classic faraway and unlikely to be realised as an “addict’s dream”, but I would like to study the topic of addiction professionally (this time as a specialist, not an addict) and find a cure. Unfortunately, the vast majority of doctors only know about addiction from books and practice. I wish they could invent a painkiller for it, because we all get sick with this shit – but for some reason someone goes into remission and someone else keeps using it. I want to do something for the latter. After all, there are talented, educated people – and they are not helped neither by really competent doctors, nor by expensive rehabs, nor by programs, nothing. And to get closer to this goal, it is necessary, of course, to sober up. 

P.S. At the time of publication of the material Zhenya is clean, does not use any drugs (including alcohol), which she wishes to everyone.

The article was created within the framework of the Free Belarus Centre programme.