Recovery Part 4: Can I Kick It? Yes, You Can
I have a confession to make.
Do you remember me telling you how BPD often consists of this hole - a chronic feeling of emptiness?
Well, years ago, I started taking the powdered leaf, known as kratom, from the Mitrygana speciosa tree, native to South East Asia and particularly Thailand. It's a deciduous tree that can reach up to 30ft in height and belongs to the same family as coffee (Rubiaceae).
Above: Mitrygana speciosa leaves (source: Wikipedia Commons, Uomo vitruviano)
Thailand's failed war
The plant has an interesting history.
Kratom has been used for centuries in Thailand where traditionally labourers and farmers would pick and and either chew of fresh leaves, or steep the dried or fresh leaves in tea. The benefits included combating fatigue and increased productivity while working out in the fields. In fact, it was seen as a positive sign if your daughter was to marry a kratom user vs. a marijuana smoker as it implied he was a hard worker.
Kratom has also been used in ceremonies, for unwinding after a day of work, and to treat medical ailments, particularly pain, morphine withdrawal and as a substitute for opium.
Most users are male, with females preferring to chew on betel nut.
Due to its rising use during the Opium Wars, kratom was banned in 1943 under the Kratom Act. After the last Opium War in 1967, the Thai Government taxed opium so heavily, many users were no longer able to afford it and turned to kratom instead.
Thus, with its rising use, kratom was added to the 1979 Narcotics Act where the policy was to destroy any Mitrygana speciosa tree on sight via burning. This resulted in significant damage to rainforests which were set alight or destroyed via herbicide.
Understandably, this angered many environmental protection agencies since large number of these trees lie within protected reserves, posing a great threat to ecosystems.
However, things have now changed. This year, Thailand became the first South-East Asian country to legalise kratom for medicinal purposes after its 76 year ban.
In small doses it acts like a slight stimulant, but not really noticeable to the observer. In larger doses, it acts more like a sedative.
Although it's not an opiate, two compounds in kratom (mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine) work with the opiod receptors of the brain, explaining its use for those coming off opiods such as heroin, and opiates such as codeine or opium.
As for me, I originally started taking both White and Red Indonesian strains in capsules back in 2016. Red for pain since I get debilitating monthly cramps, and White for depression - a slight euphoria, confidence and enhanced productivity.
Green strains lie somewhere between the two.
It was great! I felt like I actually had some motivation and felt happier all round.
The downward spiral
For a couple of years, I managed to take it or leave it. Some days I'd have 3-4g in a tea (by the way, it tastes absolutely disgusting!) and a few days could pass before I had it again. There were also breaks in between.
But when I returned from travelling around Europe, we moved into my mother's house temporarily.
That was my big mistake.
We'd rescued a street kitten in Bosnia and with UK stealth van living already very tricky, add an adventurous and roaming little fella into the mix, and we just couldn't see it as very safe for us or Mouse's welfare.
It was only supposed to be a temporary solution.
But my ex, J, wanted to stay in the UK for a while to earn money, so I agreed to stay in the house, and he stayed away for stints of up to 3 weeks initially, taking the van with him.
But this was no ordinary house.
In truth, it was like a crack den, minus the crack.
We were sharing a room with no furniture, a huge tortoise pen that was as big as the single bed we both shared, and which was also having to function as a lounge, an art studio and an office for J.
There was also very little in the way of privacy and no sense of personal boundaries. You'd be asleep and my mother would just start a conversation with you, sometimes at ungodly hours.
At night, we'd be woken up by the tortoise clawing at the side of the pen, or headbutting - something they apparently do when feeling a bit broody or territorial. If it wasn't the tortoise, it would be any of one her three cats that woke us up wanting feeding.
But it didn't stop there. My mother is a hoarder and has mental health issues of her own, with an incredibly negative and critical outlook.
When J and I arrived, the sorts of things you could find were piles of rubbish left outside the bathroom door, in the hall, on the landing, scalpels on the stairs, biscuits welded to train tickets, broken glass in the lounge, which also didn't even have a floor, a broken shower, lights not working...and the remnants of a cake my younger half-sister had thrown at my mum eight years ago still attached to the wall.
There's more but perhaps that's enough to paint the picture. Sometimes you'd just have to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all just to keep sane.
I have no intention of shaming my mother. This unfortunately was the result of years of self-neglect, previous alcoholism issues, depression and compulsive shopping. Despite her reaching out to mental health services in the past, no one ever seemed to take her seriously - even going as far as to tell her she wasn't depressed.
But the other issue was, I didn't get on with her very well.
In fact, I hadn't lived with my mother for any real length of time since I was 11, when things got so bad with her and her alcoholic partner, I had to move in with my grandparents who fortunately lived 5 minutes away.
The wounds were still there. Wounds that I thought had been healed, but I was so wrong.
So many times I had to bite my tongue, but when I was trying to concentrate on my art, and the house and noise was just carnage, I'd try to speak up for myself, and a big fight would ensue. This is why I've never been much good at establishing boundaries - they'd never existed to begin with.
With J gone, I had no way of coping as I'd never learned how to soothe myself. I reverted to a small child again, only this time my grandparents weren't around the corner to collect me and it would trigger an episode. I'd reach out to J over email who remained rather logical and emotionally detached, which only made me feel worse.
The solution came in the form of kratom.
My dosing starting creeping up gradually. Even when J was here, it was obvious that he hated our environment. Who wouldn't?
We tried to clean the place up - especially J who cleared lots of space and organised the bursting loft, though I realise this was probably more for his own sanity than anything else.
By the end of summer last year, I couldn't take it anymore.
Me, J and Mouse drove up to Scotland and spent 3 months touring in the van. For the most part, I managed to stay off the kratom by weaning down my dose. The new environment and stimulation helped a lot and I really enjoyed the trip, keeping myself busy with Inktober.
On my return, my kratom usage spiralled out of control again and come February, I realised I was addicted - hook, line and sinker. I asked J to take control of my supply and ration my doses. This was all happening at the exact time I was building this website.
And then COVID happened.
I went back to my mother's and J stayed away even longer to work - 5 months in total with a one week visit in between. I'd begged for him to come back for a while, but I felt completely abandoned while the fights with my mother became more regular, my mental health deteriorated and my addiction grew.
I now had no one to help me come off it.
I tried asking my mother to take control of my supply, but she is so forgetful and distracted, she'd leave it lying around.
It was also costing me a fortune.
When the news came in July that J was leaving me, I was more reliant on the kratom than ever since it had acted as a substitute for him while he was away.
But now J was never coming back, and there was a catch...
The NHS won't give me any DBT therapy unless I'm completely clean. Coming off kratom is hard, just like with opiates, and the thought of doing it now seemed impossible without treating the underlying issue.
And I was nursing a broken heart and the loss of my home.
In the past, there have been times when I've not been on top of my supply and have run out.
Just 8-12 hours without kratom, and the withdrawal would start. Although what I would go through is nothing in comparison, I kept thinking of that scene in Trainspotting where Renton is locked in his room by his parents to go "cold turkey" from heroin.
Waking up with bedclothes drenched in sweat, leg aches and twitches, headaches, flushes of hot and cold, chills and complete body weakness - essentially like really bad flu, combined with depression.
And this week I'm going through it all again. But this time it's for good.
My supply I had intended to taper off with didn't arrive so I've been forced to go from 25-30g per day to "cold turkey". Some users insist they don't experience bad withdrawal, but perhaps this not only depends on your physical metabolism but your psychological attachment, since mind and body are interlinked.
Above: Powdered kratom (By English Wikipedia user Ingenium, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4653775)
I reached a low point on 8 August. I was later told this was the Lion's Gate astrological change where the sun is in Leo and a sign of personal transformation.
I'm not sure how much I believe that but I try to keep an open mind about such things since I don't really know anything about astrology!
I'm so physically weak, walking just 10 metres is exhausting, I'm hot and cold and once again drenched with sweat every morning. Nights are particularly bad and I've been getting stomach pains.
To help, I've been taking diazepam, combined with drinking passionflower and damiana tea, under the advice of someone skilled in plant medicine and addiction. I've also been drinking lots of water and taking various vitamin supplements.
The only thing I can do is lie on my back all day and either write, read or listen to audiobooks. That might sound pleasant, but combined with everything else going on, it really isn't.
Now I don't expect any sympathy by telling you this. I got myself into this mess, but I don't think kratom should be judged by my own abuse and addiction issues.
The kratom isn't to blame.
My own programming is.
It's a medicine for many people, not only for pain relief, but has saved the lives of many heroin and opiate addicts. I've heard the personal stories of many of these people myself, including a women who's son has fibromyalgia where kratom is the only thing that works for him.
I'm also not condoning illicit drug use. However, nature has provided many medicines which I feel the Powers That Be suppress. They suppress through both media scaremongering, together with factually incorrect information as if Big Phama is always the safer alternative.
Why is that?
Safety? Possibly. But just look at the number of potential side-effects with any pharmaceutical.
My personal belief is because there's no opportunity to patent and exploit financially, together with political agendas at play.
Let's take L-Trytophan, a naturally occurring amino-acid, shown to be helpful for depression by elevating serotonin. It was banned by the FDA in 1990.
Four days prior, what came out in Newsweek? The headline: "Prozac: A Breakthrough Drug for Depression".
Following significant media coverage, Prozac, without being fully tested for safety, was patented and flooded the market.
Coincidence? I doubt it.
Prozac (fluoroxetine) is the most commonly-prescribed anti-depressant in the world. I've been prescribed it myself.
I'm not saying that prescribed anti-depressants don't help some people - for many, they might be the only answer. But I've heard enough stories to make me very wary of taking them again, particularly without a therapy used in conjunction as a bare minimum.
The bottom line is the human race survived for a long time without the use of synthetic chemicals, and many tribes and communities still function today without the intervention of Big Pharma.
However, that does not mean that any natural medicine shouldn't be treated with the utmost respect and with the appropriate guidance. Just because something is natural (e.g. spider venom) doesn't mean it's safe.
It's now been 5 days since my last full dose so I'm gradually getting over the worst of it of the physical effects, though it's going to be a very tough couple of weeks. And with my van gone, I'm still stuck in the house since I can't yet sleep in my bell tent again.
You might be wondering if I'm going to switch to another addiction as a coping mechanism?
This is what's tended to happen in the past. But this time I have a different plan.
I have to pass a few tests before being given the ok and if so, I'll be telling you about another plant medicine and therapeutic intervention which I'll save for another time.
Maybe that A Tribe Called Quest song should be my personal anthem.
Wish me luck and I hope you enjoyed reading!
P.S. If you'd like to learn more about kratom, as well as the challenges faced in Thailand, this PDF is an interesting read