Calpol and Codine
This was a hard blog for me to write.
I am often asked about drugs. People presume that because of my background I was a drug user. And I always say no. And I mean it when I say it. But it’s a lie.
More a lie to myself and something that I only considered the past 5 years.
I had a group of boys that become addicted to Lean. Lean…if you don’t know… is a drink. It’s usually made from a cocktail of substances including codeine, promethazine, paracetamol, and dextromethorphan. You can buy these from a chemist. Sometimes all the ingredients are separate, and you mix then up yourself. Sometimes some of the ingredients come premixed. And then you mix this with a fizzy drink, and you get high. That’s the simple way to explain it. The chemists that sell the concoctions to these kids’ day after day should be ashamed of themselves and should face the same police prosecution as a drug dealer. My opinion.
One of these boys become addicted and this led to him becoming addicted to codeine and had to go through an intervention with the GP. It also rotted his teeth.
I didn’t do drugs. Let me explain that answer.
So, I have smoked weed twice in my life. Both times by accident when I was drunk. I have never taken cocaine, crack, or Heroine. I never took LSDs.
What I should say is I never took any of these things with intent. But I have sat in small dingy rooms for hours on end whilst others took them and so, for sure, I have felt the effects of all these drugs.
But I never took any of these drugs myself (I guess apart from the two tokes on the spliffs, but I was very drunk and very young)
I am anti-drugs.
When I was young, Calpol was still that very thick, cherry tasting loveliness. If you remember, it was like swallowing happiness. I loved the taste of Calpol growing up. And …did anyone ever have them antibiotics that tased like banana sweets ?…. I loved that! You won’t remember this if you are not a certain age because all children’s medication become sugar free long after I took them. The best thing about Calpol was it made me sleepy. As an undiagnosed ADHD child, anything that made me feel relaxed was rare. And I loved how it made me feel. I was a sickly kid. Always at the doctors with something. I also had Phenergan quite a lot as a kid. It a medicine that makes you sleep. It didn’t really work on me other than making mee feel quite calm.
I have never been able to sleep well. Even now. I cannot remember the last time I slept through the night. Nightmares mostly. Lots of jumping awake out of my sleep. And then the next day I often feel exhausted. With that I can feel hot and sick. My anxiety will play up and I will feel panic attacks creeping up all day.
A vicious circle that I have lived since I was about 9. Sometimes it’s awful. Other days its fine.
My mum was on a cocktail of medication from before I was born. My mums tablet taking was how I knew what time it was growing up, depending on what tablet she took when. She was very open about her medication with me and explained why I must never touch it.
When I was around 9, I had been getting panic attacks for about a year. Bad ones. Looking back now, I must have been so scared. One time during a bad one, about 4 in the morning, my mum said that taking some Calpol would help. She explained the reason why It made me sleepy when I took it and why it would relax me now. And so, I agreed to two big spoons. Dessert spoons. I am not sure why my mum let me take so much, but I would image she was exhausted as I had been in a state for hours.
I had the best nights sleep ever. I will never know if it was the Calpol or my mind convincing me it would work…but it did.
When I woke up the next day, I felt clam. Calmer than I had in a long while. The next night I felt the panic come. It used to feel like I was about to throw up and stop breathing at the same time and die. My stomach would be in knots, and I could only think bad thoughts. Maybe not even a panic attack…but that’s what happened to me for many years. Anyway, I was doing my usual…. I had locked myself in our tiny bathroom, light off, curled up in a ball on the cold floor sweating out. I began to cry, because I was so tired, and I knew this would last for ages. Then I had an idea…the Calpol…. almost instantly I felt some relief. I got up and went into my mum, half crying, saying I needed to have Calpol. She shook her head. No, she said. You can’t just keep taking it. It’s bad for you. Tell you what…I am taking you to the doctors tomorrow…get to the bottom of this.
I felt pure fear run through my body. I just walked away from her and went to the bathroom. Now I was so scared. So scared. After a while, I got up and started pacing the hallway. As a kid, I would do this for hours. If my mum was awake, she would be trying to comfort me. But usually, by this time, she had taken her last lot of meds and was fast asleep. Nothing would wake her. Nothing. And this was happening now. I went into the living room where she slept and tried to wake, her, to tell her that this time I was dying. But she didn’t respond.
And that’s when I had the idea.
I would just take the Calpol myself. I remember spending ages trying to open the child lock on the bottle and then when I did, carefully pouring the two-spoon full and taking them and then putting the bottle back. And that become a nightly thing. I would wait for my mum to go to sleep and then take the Calpol. After a while I stopped using spoons and just took a few gulps from the bottle. When it was finished, I hid the bottle at the bottom of the bin. For a few nights I didn’t have Calpol. How could I? I couldn’t ask for it. Not unless…. yes…genius.
The next morning, I had been up most the night with bad panic attacks. When my mum woke up, I said I had a sore throat and was hot…. which was true. I said I didn’t want to go to school, I didn’t feel well. My mum bought this and off to bed I went. After about an hour mum said I should have some Calpol, but when she went to the cupboard…it was gone! Had I seen it she asked…noooo…I am not allowed to touch it I reminded her. Damn she said…. I will go and get some.
And I said….no can I go and get it, and some Lucozade? I was only allowed Lucozade when I was sick. It came in this big glass bottle with cellophane around it. It was so fancy. My mum sighed and smiled. She knew I loved going to the little shop, that had the chemist next to it, and getting stuff. So, she wrote me a note and off I went. I kept the note in my pocket, got to the chemist…where they knew me very well. and I picked up the Lucozade off the wooden shelf and then the Calpol that was opposite and put it down on the counter and gave them the money. And that was that. No one said nothing about me buying it.
And no one had seen the bottle I had pushed up my jumper sleeve.
And that’s how I lived for about two years. Taking Calpol most nights. “Only when things are bad” I would say in my little head. I can hear that voice now. I started stealing it a lot. I was not stupid, I didn’t keep taking it from the chemist, I would go to the high street and take it from Superdugs. Never got caught, not once.
By 11 I was taking it day and night. I had this routine; I would wake up and take 1 gulp. Two gulps around 5pm and then 3 gulps when I could not sleep. Then two gulps in the morning. Then…. nothing. It was not working the same. The panic attacks were back and worse than ever.
My mum used to take these dissolvable tablets for headaches. Big tablets that she dropped in water and drunk. Always pulled a face as she did so. She once said to me that the tablets were like Calpol but for adults. She only ever said it once. But it stuck. SO, whilst she was sleeping, I snuck to where she kept her medication, got a chair so I could reach the high place she kept it and got one. I read the instructions, a big, massive piece of paper and was scared when I read the side effects. I measured out the amount of water and dropped one of these tablets in and watched it fizz away. Once it was done, I took a big gulp.
And then spat it across the kitchen floor. I was heaving. It was the most disgusting thing I had ever had. There was no way I could take that.
One evening I watched my mum dissolve her tablet in the water, and I asked her why she didn’t put in her tea. She laughed and said fizzy tea…. that would be disgusting.
And that night I dropped a codeine dissolvable tablet into a can of coke and a whole new secret world opened up to me. I did that on and off for years. When things were bad.
Sometimes I would just crush a whole codeine tablet into a spoonful of Calpol. I say sometimes. I mean daily between the ages of around 11-13 years.
Sometimes I would just “lucky dip” my mums’ tablets and take something. Wait to see what the effect would be.
By the age of 13, I was self-medicating in such a complex way that I was like a chemist. I would only be able to take certain tablets from my mum at certain times because she needed them and would notice there were gone. But not the codeine tablets. She had so many of them as the doctor just gave her a box full every time, she picked up a prescription. She would often give a box to her best friend who had chronic back pain. And so, my supply of codeine was never ending.
When I was around 13 someone showed me speed. An older female. Said it was not real drugs. Not like coke and stuff. And she showed me how she just rubbed it in her gums. I took a bag and did nothing with it for a few days. One night, in the peak of a panic attack in my room, knowing I had to be somewhere in an hour or so. I stuck my finer in the bag and rubbed the speed across my gums. I didn’t feel a rush of energy the way the girl had said. I felt clam. Levelled out. I felt like everything was moving at the speed it should.
And so, between the ages of 13- 15 I self-medicated with codeine and speed. Wake up, rub a bit of speed on my gums, grab a banana, drop my first codeine tablet of the day into my coke, and off I went. I would have on average, 3 codeine tablets in a fizzy dink a day and speed on my gums whenever I felt overwhelmed (Which was a lot).
When I first turned 15, I was sent away. To the isle of white for 5 months. On the second night I got really sick. I remember the people there sitting with me at one point. I was sweating out and shaking and being sick. When I laid on my side, I could hear this rasping in my breath that made it sound like the air could not get out. And the workers asked me lots of questions
DO you take recreational drugs? I replied no
Did you take anything before you came? Cocaine…crack…. heroine…? I replied to no. Which was the truth.
A GP came to see me, but I don’t really remember any of it. Between anxiety attacks and feeling like I was going to die I just wanted to be left alone. I remember ages later a conversation with lots of professionals and my mum in the room and them discussing my “drug use” with my mum, explaining to her the events that had taken place. My mum just shook her head. “She does not take drugs” she kept saying over and over.
I become angry when they didn’t believe her. When one of the social workers said my mum was wrong.
I become very aggressive. How dare they say that. She was not wrong. I didn’t take drugs. Well, a bit of speed, but that not what they were speaking about.
It was not until years later that I realised the true extent of being addicted to prescription drugs. I’m talking years later. In the past 12 years. I had no idea the impact of what I was doing at such a young age and did not know you could go through almost a “cold turkey” when you stop taking many of these drugs. I must have taken hundreds of antidepressants growing up, just what ever I could get to be honest.
But if you ask me did, I take “drugs” …no. I never took street drugs. They were bad. Everyone knew that. Professionals were always going on about the dangers of these drugs. All the adults around me.
But the other stuff. That was different. In my head that was different.
Now…. I can barely stomach a paracetamol. I must be very unwell to take any medication and the only tablets you see me taking daily is vitamins. I avoid all medication. Recently I was prescribed strong medication because of pain in my knee. I read the side effects and just couldn’t. Took it back to the pharmacy. I have no plans to take HRT medication. Because I am scared. Because I know that I can quickly become addicted to how prescription drugs make me feel.
I wrote this blog 2 years ago. Right when I first started blogging. But never put it out. A conversation with someone I respect, and their personal experience with Lean reminded me that people are still not being educated o the dangers.
I was a child and was suffering so much trauma that I felt I had to do something to make the bad feeling stop…even for a little while. Some children self-harm, turn to alcohol, weed…. harder drugs.
Some put codeine in their coke and pretend it’s the norm.
Knowing that Calpol and codeine was what got me through my childhood and teenage years scares me in so many ways. But it’s just another part of who I was. Another part to acknowledge and not hide away.
Calpol and codeine instead of mental health services and support. Things need to change. My mum took me to the doctors many times about my mental health. Sometimes things were put in place. Usually nothing. I have spent a life time self soothing. Because in 1989 the mental health services for children were shocking. I had the same issues through out my teenage and adult years for the same reason.
How many children are not getting the support they need because they don’t have a safe space to talk…..really talk….