September 2nd, 2016
Hi, my name’s Sturla and I’m addicted to heroin.
Attentive Influence readers might remember me as that Norwegian guy who made a speech at the United Nations in New York earlier this year about the amazing potential of people who use drugs.
I am perhaps the most functional “addict” you can imagine. I work successfully as a journalist, I advocate for better drug laws.
The other part of my life might be harder for you to imagine.
In bad times, I might take the subway several a times a week down to the center of Oslo, where I live, and buy heroin. I’ll melt it on a sheet of aluminum foil using a lighter and suck it in.
I continue despite the fact that by doing so, I risk losing jobs, friends, my girlfriend and my family. I’ll put on a pair of sunglasses or a hoodie as I ride the subway and let it rip.
“I’m not a hypocrite,” I tell myself. “I did not deny that the urge to get high was still a daily struggle for me when I was asked about it on the radio. No reason to be ashamed!”
Yet I’m ashamed something rotten.
As I type these words, I tremble with shame.
What will people think? I participate in public debate, and then straight afterwards I’ll go into the city and score. It is junkie behavior. I know that I have been seen doing it. That people talk about it.
“He was supposed to be a role model, now he’s fucking up again.”
“I actually think he might just like it. He doesn’t even want to get clean! “
And it’s true. I, and thousands of others like me, either like the high or dislike its absence so much that we do not stop. We either don’t want or are unable to be completely abstinent. That’s how the world is; that’s how I am.
I’ve wanted to try, and I have. Part of me desires to be like everyone else. And every time I fail, I feel the social rejection, the shame.
I know that my fellow drug-users feel it too—this sense that we have betrayed you.
That is why we hide in toilets, getting high alone. If you notice us in public bathrooms, we get afraid and angry at ourselves. It is the worst feeling of all—like getting caught with your pants down.
We always hear that we are not trying hard enough. You need to have more willpower and motivation—those are the kind of addicts Norway embraces!
And if you can be, or at least appear to be, totally drug-free, you are warmly welcomed into public life! Just as long as you make clear how much you deplore your previous life.
But the 90 percent of us who fail to achieve or don’t want to achieve total abstinence? We’d better stay in the background.
But what if us drug users can propose something positive for once?
Is it possible to imagine a future where I sit in a multipurpose room where drugs can be used openly and more safely, smoking my heroin before I write my contributions to public debate?
Is it possible to imagine a world where my friend, who is addicted to amphetamines, can use this facility before he goes around town to sell you Red Cross membership or a new electricity supplier?
Is it reality absurd to imagine a world where people who are addicted, or who use drugs for any reason, can stand up straight and contribute to society, without having to sneak into toilets or parking lots to take their drugs?
Drugs are an inevitable part of our world—but does the shame many of us are made to feel have to be?
Let me tell you a little secret. In one way, the future I imagined is already here.
Read more from The Influence:
Many of the politicians, teachers and economists—yes, even judges, policewomen and lawyers—who govern and care in our community do so with a regular supply of illicit drugs in their blood.
Many of them have the strength, determination and ability to make vital contributions to the running of our society and the creation of a better one—even if they don’t have the “willpower” to cut getting high 100 percent out of their lives.
In another way though, the future is as far away as ever.
In contrast to the idea of an inclusive and honest society, these people who contribute so much cannot be open or live with the dignity they deserve. In one way or another, we all sit behind closed toilet doors with a voice of shame in our head.
The harsh reality, too, is that literally sitting behind closed toilet doors, or in other lonely places, to do drugs is a major reason our fellow citizens die.
The need for secrecy and the attendant shame kills lawyers and unemployed people, magazine sellers, rock stars and sex workers.
When we use alone, there is no one to rescue us if we take too strong a dose, or if we use drugs that (thanks to prohibition) are not what we thought they were.
In my country and others, we impose so much deadly shame on people who use drugs.
It comes as no surprise to me the most popular and relevant TV drama about the generation growing up in Norway today is simply called Shame. Yet if we look at the sheer number of people who use drugs, it seems absurd that it should be that way.
Whatever we contribute, there’s no reason we should have to feel ashamed because we are different, whether we merely choose to change our consciousness with illicit drugs or because we feel compelled.
Those drug consumption rooms I mentioned are an achievable goal—they exist already in many parts of the world. We even have one—but just one!—right here in Oslo.
But more than that, let’s build a society where everyone can be judged on their personal merits and their contribution, not on what we shoot into our blood or draw into our lungs.
This article is part of my contribution to trying to get there.
In 2016 there should be no reason for anybody to lock themselves into a toilet alone to do drugs, to experience that feeling of shame, or to risk deadly consequences.
Sturla Haugsgjerd is a Norwegian journalist and activist.