Wednesday, January 23, 2008

RIP Heath Ledger

I enjoyed his work in the movies. Thought he was a very talented and flexible actor.

But once he had money, he tried drugs. Heroin, apparently, was the big one. Couldn't stop. Didn't want help.

Had a young baby but his woman left him because he wouldn't stop using drugs. Guess she thought maybe that would make him want to stop. Tough love.

But in the end he didn't want to stop, or believed he couldn't stop. No difference, really, between the two. Both will kill you.

Putting an end to use of opiates, once one has established a physical norm of using them and going through each day, is nearly impossible. Very quickly one builds up a certainty, a psychological no-go zone, a feeling that if one tries to stop, one will simply fall apart, become worthless or insane, or just suffer so much that death will seem easier.

Withdrawal is that bad.

Opiates block pain receptors in the nervous system, and thus one feels less pain or no pain when using them. The problem is 'endorphins', the Greco-Roman medical term that means painkillers which are produced inside the body, are there to do that job on an 'as needed' basis. And they work well. Morning after morning I get up and can hardly move from arthritic pain, but after a few moments of moving around, it is reduced. Ten swings of the golf club and pain leaves me (only to return later that evening! :-)

When endorphins are not needed, when the brain receives few or no pain signals for an extended period of time, the endorphin production process slows and stops. It takes weeks or months to restart it.

So when the drug taking ceases, the body is left to feel every single bit of pain and misery that is usually masked by its natural painkillers.

It is literally torture.

Only about ten percent of the general public has the genetic makeup to become truly addicted to opiates (it is higher in orientals, but they have a lower addiction rate to alcohol; as I say, genetics). Most people become habituated and have difficulty stopping, but after the discomfort is done they're as well as they were, these fortunate 90%.

But for the addict it is a wall too high to climb. People believe the addict is selfishly in search of a 'high', but here's the reality--

The addict wants to feel normal and well; having that drug in his system is what brings that feeling. To NOT have the drugs is a sickness to which death is preferable.

HAVING the drugs merely removes the sickness, the physical barrier to normal function. If he has his opiates he can get out of bed and go out the door and be a normal person. (for every addict who isolates himself and passes out, there are dozens who get up and go to work and nobody knows about it-- at least for a time.)

Maybe the first days or weeks it's about feeling GOOD. Most of us have been in the hospital after surgery and pressed the little morphine button, and we all know the glorious burst of goodness that comes down that pipe.

But after the first days or weeks, feeling normal becomes the goal. After becoming addicted, one rapidly discovers that going without drugs for too long is equal to the onset of a terrible disease. Joint pain, sweating, nausea, cramping, misery and sleeplessness and exhaustion and psychotic visions, spiders crawling up the wall, are all part of the symptoms. Like the worst flu you ever had, times a thousand. Nobody who understands how this feels is going to risk it.

Nothing, then, is more important than taking the drug.


Heath Ledger was a very very good actor. He was also one of the ten percent.

It's much like alcoholism, of course. Beginning to realize what's happening, one still believes it can be dealt with in the long term, that it's not too late; one continues gradually down the slope until it becomes a wall behind him that he cannot turn and climb again.

It involves decisions and judgment. That's true. It's about choices, in the beginning.

But most people don't truly know the power of that beast and the all but impossibility of seeing light at the end of the tunnel once you've gone in.

For ten percent of us, it's the risk we take when we ingest such substances.

Almost all of those who are hooked have no idea of the risk they are taking when they begin to play with such things.

Think about this when you formulate your views on national drug policies. Think about the personal destruction awaiting, perhaps, someone close to you.

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