I was 22 when I got clean, by which time- if you count the addictions that came before the drugs- I had been in active addiction for almost half my life. That was nearly 19 years ago; to put it in context, about the same amount of time that Lorde has been on this planet. A big achievement, you might say, and it is- for Lorde. She's become a globally respected millionaire artist in roughly the same amount of time it's taken for me to learn to keep a pet alive.
Lorde's teens were the kind I wished for. She was a gifted and prolific songwriter from a young age. When I was fifteen, I too liked to think I was a myself as a prodigious writing talent, but the reality was that I had produced one bilge-like poem about a senior I fancied entitled Our Worlds are a World Apart and come third in the school short story writing competition. If that sounds impressive, it wasn't. It was a small school and only four people entered. Lorde was a woke teen, revelling in her individualism. I was whoever you wanted me to be; one week a hippie, the next a punk. It all came down to a question of pocket money, really.
Such is the classic dichotomy of the addict; the giant ego coupled with a self-esteem the size of a ball bearing. I'd like to say I left that sentiment behind with my addiction, but it carried on when I got clean. I figured the least the world could reward me with for my efforts was celebration and adoration. For a good chunk of my twenties, I felt that a grave injustice had been done each time I paid a bill or returned a phone call without a vast round of applause.
Personally, I blame support groups. They were too understanding! The one I joined reminded me of the Brownies because not only were we always going on campouts and eating biscuits, but also because in the Brownies you get awards for really basic things like putting your trousers on the right way or walking ten yards. We had that too- we had awards for staying clean for a day, for a year, for ten years, etc. Obviously we didn’t sew badges on our sleeves; a lot of people were trying to keep needles away from their arms. We had plastic keyrings instead.
When I joined the group, they said to me, “Liz, to be a member of our group, you don’t even have to not take drugs. You just have to have THE DESIRE to not take drugs.’ It was a reassuringly low benchmark and I embraced it fully until it started to permeate other areas of my life. I may have thought I was winning at my day because I hadn't smoked crack in a public toilet, but my boss didn't look as favourably at my inability to sell advertising space.
But the more I wanted to be noticed, the more I sabotaged everything that was good in my life. Relationships and jobs alike fell by the wayside because I felt that they were 'holding me back'. From what exactly, I couldn't say; eating too much chocolate and wishing I lived in California, perhaps. Because that's more or less how I passed my days each time I became newly 'unfettered'. It seemed like the greater I wanted to be, the more time I spent hiding under the bedcovers from a harsh voice that relentlessly told me how shit I was.
And then one day, the penny just dropped. Life didn't owe me a magazine spread just because I thought it should. No one was watching. I was just a normal woman with a normal life. Normal, as it turned out, was the new black. And a surprising by-product of this was that I actually stopped feeling so awful. In accepting that I was like everyone else, I accepted too that no one had been born with the instruction manual for life that I thought I was missing and that I wasn't quite as much of a freak as I believed. Everyone was making it up as they went along, just like I was. I left the good people at the support group as I feared this was exacerbating the problem. Besides, I haven't taken drugs since my 90s adolescence and if the advent of reality TV and the election of Trump hasn't made me relapse, I will probably be OK.
Thinking that I was special and different in a good way just let to me feeling special and different in a bad way. The truth is that I am neither, and that I am both. Just like we all are. The first time I had this epiphany, I wondered for a nanosecond if I should try and make a course out of it and bring it to the masses. I could give the program a name and create little Facebook ads for it that included lots of words like 'heal', 'awaken', 'release' and include images of boulders and sunsets. Maybe I could even give it a name, like the Snowflake Process. But then I remembered. Billions have already done it, and it already has a name. It's called growing up.