Dependence on psychoactive substances is probably one of the most stigmatised topics in Belarusian society. Due to the strict drug policy in Belarus, people are afraid to speak openly about this problem.
The issue of addiction is also relevant for Belarusians and Belarusian women in emigration. We start a new series of articles about people who got into the vortex of substance abuse abroad and try to understand what pushed them to it.
In Belarus Lisa worked as an English tutor. A year and a half ago our interviewee came to Poland to study at the school of drug activism and stayed in this country. Lisa shared her experience with “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” and told us about her addiction and her struggle with it.
Lisa, 29 years old
“After a while I realised that weed has another side…”
When I was 18, I tried marijuana for the first time. I had a friend who bought weed through the DarkNet and we smoked with him once a month. Over time, I started smoking more often. When I was 25, I started to show signs of addiction.
Marijuana became both a drug and a substance for me to escape into. Weed helped me with bruxism and migraines. It generally works well for muscle hypertonicity and helps establish deep breathing.
I used to love the creative impulses after weed: you can draw, listen to music. Marijuana has also helped me with sex, removing blocks, helping me to relax. For me, for example, weed didn’t interfere with my life very much. However, it became difficult to read literature while stoned, and I am a linguist by education, a person specialising in this field.
Weed also changed my appetite: when I smoke, I eat less. How does it work in a normal person? He smokes a joint, an hour later he gets hungry and eats. I smoke a joint, and an hour later I feel hungry and smoke again. And so all day long, until I realise that if I don’t eat now, I’ll get sick. In Belarus I smoked through small puffs, but when I came to Poland, I started smoking joints and through a bong. I had weed every day.
After a while, I realised that weed has another side: it can make me paranoid.
“The humane rhetoric about drugs played a cruel trick on me…”
I never went looking for a stash of drugs myself, so if the substance isn’t there, you calmly move on with your life.
But when I moved to Poland, the availability of psychoactive substances played its role: here it is quite easy to buy drugs. You can smoke at home, on the street, in the car – nobody touches you.
In Minsk, when I saw guys sniffing mephedrone, I thought it was dirty, but when I came to Poland, I started doing it myself. I started sniffing powders and smoking daily, and somehow I got a little bit carried away.
When I participated in the School of Drug Activism from Legalise Belarus a year ago, I liked this humanistic approach where we used the concept of “psychoactive substances” instead of drugs. It’s a “let’s fight stigma” kind of thing. But after a few months of my life in Poland, I started to feel quite bad, I started to think about suicide and decided to see a psychotherapist. And he asked me: “Didn’t you want to go to the Narcotics Anonymous club?”. That was the first time I was called a drug addict and not a substance abuser. And that’s when I realised that on the one hand, all this good-natured rhetoric about psychoactive substances is great and nice. But on the other hand, it makes you think that substances aren’t that scary. But when you use the term drugs in relation to more than just opioids, you realise: it’s something that brings addiction and destructive effects to your life. So now I believe that drugs are dangerous, and playing with fire can have devastating consequences. It just so happens that the humane rhetoric about drugs has played a cruel trick on me.
“It’s a journey into despair and meaninglessness…”
All use is a desire to go back to the first time, to the first moment when you tasted the substance. But that’s impossible, you already have a different biochemistry. And every person who uses it realises that it’s a journey of despair and meaninglessness. You’re no longer experiencing that high like the first time, but somehow, you’re still in that cycle.
The substance comes to the forefront, you start spending money on it instead of something else that might be more useful. For example, you might invest in clothes, teeth, education – it’s about the future. Psychoactive substances are about pleasure in the here and now. Addiction manifests itself when you prioritise the substance over human contact or the well-being of your future.
About controlled use – I’m triggered by the concept. If it implies some kind of control, then does that mean if it were up to you, you’d already be addicted? It seems to me that there are simply some people with tolerance and some who are predisposed to addiction. “Controlled use” is a concept more for people who are afraid to admit they are addicted and are looking to compromise their addiction. If you eat ecstasy twice a year and you don’t get cravings anymore, why would you use the term “Culture of Use”? If it’s not part of your life. And if it is, that’s another story.
“If society despises you, how else can you feel about yourself?”
I think that often people who use substances think they are bad deep down. And they need to release their inner child, to pat it on the head, to give it freedom. So they resort to psychotropics.
But over time we build up a tolerance and we need to increase the dose, not getting the desired effect, we get angry at ourselves for the fact that the child can not be manifested outwardly, even by using. So that stage when you can awaken creativity in yourself, realise something important – it’s temporary. Now I believe that if you resort to different practices, self-love, acceptance, you can reveal your inner child without substances.
Being formed in a harsh, aggressive environment, we get used to destroying ourselves. After all, the system creates unbearable conditions for life. And to this is added stigmatisation, a person starts to consider himself bad and unworthy of a better life, cannot relax in a normal state, cannot love himself, cannot build normal connections with people. Because of self-stigmatisation and guilt, he uses it again to make himself feel better. I think we all lack love, and we fight for it as best we can. Sometimes it’s pathetic.
That’s why tightening the screws in totalitarian states only makes things worse. People will still use and will stifle themselves more, resigning themselves to the fact that they are bad. And it’s a vicious circle: if society despises you, how can you feel good about yourself?
The addict comes to this kind of pleasure – bodily pleasure, pleasure through substances. And when you try to get off substances, you are faced with the fact that you have to do more to get the same dopamine, conventionally. Addicts, they are more infantile, they want to get the dopamine release immediately, they don’t want to wait and work for it, they want everything at once.
Another reason for addiction can be the loss of meaning. It’s hard for me to see any meaning in life right now, when there’s a war going on, when we can’t go home. When we don’t know what to do about citizenship, how to say goodbye to our parents when they die. And there are no answers to all these questions. What do we do? And how do we numb the pain? And I sometimes wonder why not all people are alcoholics, because alcohol is available, and life is very painful and boring, and everyone needs painkillers. Does it lead to death? And is it a bad thing? I don’t know.
“When they say “execute or pardon”, I’m not happy with either one…”
I support decriminalisation of substances. When substance use is illegal, it just makes things worse. And as it’s been said a thousand times: “If there’s a demand, there’s no point in fighting the supply.” We can talk for a long time about humane treatment, about the benefits and harms of substances, but the state of affairs is such that it is simply profitable for those in power, and there is no humane approach to it. They launder money, they make illegal traffic and it suits everyone.
When they say execute or pardon, I’m not happy with either one. I don’t like calling drug use a crime because it’s not a crime, it’s a need for pleasure or peace. If you don’t know how to get positive emotions any other way, you’re using.
“I don’t like calling addiction a disease…”
I also don’t like calling addiction a disease. It turns out he’s a sick person and what can you take from him? That’s a strange attitude towards responsibility.
About rehabilitation, as they say, you can bring a horse to a watering hole, but you can’t make it drink. You can’t do anything without your own will. And it’s foolish to persecute a man for self-destruction. We have our own life in our hands and we decide what to do with it.
I wanted to get rid of this moralising attitude. I have been taken to church a lot since childhood and I know a lot about heaven, about how right one should live, how good it is to be a proper Christian. And none of that works in the real world. Because of antonyms, I’m a linguist and I’ll make a little linguistic remark: antonyms are extreme words in a synonymic series. Bad and good are all the same thing, different sides of the same coin. So the question of humanity is a moot point for me. Is it humane to give birth to a human being or to have an abortion? I’ve been through so much fu**** up shit that maybe it was more humane not to give birth to me.
Maybe someday pharma could step up to the point where drugs become harmless. Like cigarettes have replaced vapes, drugs will be harmless. But that’s in the realm of Aldous Huxley’s dystopia. After all, we all want to escape from pain, and life is woven from a thousand threads of pain.
Lastly, I want to say that today* I don’t smoke, I don’t snort, I’m working with a therapist, I’m trying to understand the nature of my addiction. For those who have faced the same problem, I would wish to communicate more on this topic, to share experiences, to ask how it happens for different people. I can’t advise you anything else: until you find yourself in such a situation and check it out for yourself, no one can give you the only correct advice on what to do. I can’t convince “don’t use”, because who am I to say that? The only thing I would like is to start a trend where people stop being afraid to talk about their use. When you can share your problems not anonymously: I can’t stop drinking, I can’t stop smoking, I can’t stop using. And when people see that a person does not fall out of society, but just lives with addiction and will not be stigmatised as a drug addict, the situation will become easier.
The article was created within the framework of the Free Belarus Centre programme.