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Dancing With the Demons: The Deadly Romance of Heroin

CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.

Restlessness within its very self, dissolved and self-dissolving private property"

— Karl Marx The Communist Manifesto


Life is cheap

Kodan is dead. Who was he? He was a man who died before his time, of an overdose of heroin. He thought he could have one last blow-out before going into rehab. It was a blow-out all right. It blew out his life.

It’s an old story this. Anyone who has ever had dealings with junkies knows a version of this story. The junkie tries to go clean. Six months off, a year, but that old niggling urge is still there, like the voice of absolution whispering in his ear. And then one day there it is in front of him, for real, in the hands and eyes of another junkie, and he thinks, “well it can’t do any harm. Just one last time, for old time’s sake.” And the deed is done, the dose is too strong, the heart gives way and - bang! - he’s dead.

Life is cheap, they say. For a junkie it’s worth precisely ten pounds a wrap, with all the inevitable consequences: the degradation, the lies, the hurt, the betrayal of love, of friends and family, the manipulation, the theft, because to a junkie nothing really matters but junk.

It hurts to have to say this of my friend, but it’s true. In the end the person he betrayed the most was himself.

I first met him some time in the early nineties. He wasn’t really a junkie then. He was just practicing. It was late summer and the poppies were out, nodding on their stalks like little green sages with a secret message to convey. You’d be walking along with him and his neck would rise. “Pop, pop, pop,” he’d say: like that, turning his head left and right like a radar dish. “Pop, pop, pop.” And he’d leap a fence into someone’s garden and come back with all these poppy heads. And then later he would boil them up to make this awful, greeny-yellowy slop. I tried it myself once. I was sick for two days.

But I never saw any harm in Kodan’s obsession then. He was the most down-to-earth, yet the most cultured man I ever met.

We were good friends. We talked a lot, about anything and everything, about philosophy and art, about politics and religion, in the pub or at home, as we skedaddled here and there, from the far south of England, to Scotland, his home. We talked to save the world. And Kodan could listen too as well as talk. He could absorb your thoughts and play them back to you. He made you feel as if no one could understand you like he could. He was comfortable with intellectual intimacy.

So we had a bond, Kodan and I. It was only later that I discovered he had the much same bond with everyone else.

I said, “Kodan, there’s a fine line between being merely a charming person, and being a con-merchant, and sometimes you come quite close to that line.”

He said, “ah, but at least I know where the line is.”

It was also later that I discovered that that’s all the talk ever was to him: just talk.

Who knows what forces drive us this way or that: why Kodan chose to be a junkie, while I chose to be a writer? And he did choose. He worked at it, over a number of years. From poppy tea to codeine tabs, from cough linctus to “chasing the dragon”, from skin popping to, finally, the whole junkie works, the needle, the spoon and the tourniquet. To him this was all the height of romance, like dancing with the demons, like a love affair with death. It was his version of poetry.

There’s something else about junkiedom: the lure of the inevitable decline. Because all junkies follow a certain trajectory. Sooner or later, it happens to them all. They even have their own expressions for it. “I’m a scum-bag junkie.” “I’m a rob-yer-grannie junkie.” In the end the call of chemical absolution is too strong and the bonds of mere loyalty too weak. That’s the game every junkie is playing, sliding ever closer to the moment when he will betray every decent thought he ever had, every hope and every dream. Every chance of redemption.

The J-word

One day Kodan was paying me a visit. I used the word “junkie”.

“We don’t use the ‘J’ word,” he said. “It’s like calling a black man a nigger or a gay man a queer. There’s as many types of heroin addict as there are people using it. We don’t all mug old ladies for their pension books you know.”

He was wrong about that.

I was also noticing something particular about his habit. It was pure self-indulgence. He didn’t score drugs to share them, like other drug users share spliffs or pints, or a line of this or that. He wasn’t concerned about how you were feeling. It was a ritual played out with himself alone. He was an S.S.S., a member of the Secret Society of Swallowers, engaged in an experiment with his own body-chemistry, in the laboratory of his blood.

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I said, “there’ll come a time Kodan, when I’ll stop being your friend. You‘ll think it‘s about money or something, but it won‘t be.”

He said, “but you don‘t care about money, Chris. It‘s not important to you.”

I said, “that‘s where you‘re wrong, Kodan. Money isn‘t all that important, sure, except when it’s matter of trust. It‘s your word I care about.”

And I was right. I fell out with him in the end. He paid me a visit and he was lying to me again, from the second he walked through the door. Claiming he’d been mugged and he’d lost all his money; claiming he’d “accidentally” bumped into a friend on the way down, a dealer, and that was why he was late, and could he borrow some money, till next week? And I knew there was no accident involved and exactly where his money had gone. I asked him to leave, and I’ve never seen him since. That was last year.

When I heard he’d died I was angry with him. I was marching up and down in my living room shouting at him in my head. “You stupid big lunk,” I was saying, “you stupid bloody twat.” I was still angry at the funeral. I couldn’t believe that that was his body in there, in that coffin, lying like a 37 year old lump of meat in its box. Angry because he’d made me be there. Angry at the stupid bloody church music and the stupid bloody prayers.

It was the following day when I realised what I was really angry about. Someone showed me a picture of him from when I’d first known him, when he still had something to give. He was fresh-raced and alive. I burst into tears. I thought, “I’ve come to say goodbye to my friend.” And I knew that I was angry because I’d never see him again, because he’d died before I’d had the chance to forgive.

Because in the end I don’t care if he was a junkie. He was my friend and I loved him.


© 2009 Christopher James Stone


Suzy on April 18, 2016:

Kodan was my big brother. He was the most influential person in my life. Although his own worst enemy.

Thank you Chris for keeping his story alive. For keeping him alive in your heart as he is in mine.

Thank you everyone who has read his story and cared enough to comment.

He had his faults, he had his demons but he loved his family and friends and we all miss him. Not a day goes by that i dont talk to him. Not a day goes by i dont miss him.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on September 21, 2014:

Thanks Susan. I'm glad these old stories are still having some impact after all of these years. If you like my writing I wouldn't be averse to having them shared around on facebook or twitter or amongst your friends.

Susan1000 on September 20, 2014:

No, I read the last comment too. And all of the others. Thank you for your insight.

kathryn1000 from London on June 04, 2012:

That's a shame.I love your writing.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on June 03, 2012:

Thanks kathryn. You are probably the only person ever to have read that last comment.

kathryn1000 from London on June 03, 2012:

What a beautiful last comment..and a well told tale.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on May 06, 2012:

No, life is not cold and empty without heroin, it only seems so because the addiction itself has created a hole in you which can only be filled with heroin. You've given me the best explanation I've ever had for why heroin is so hard to kick, when you say "Heroin is my girlfriend". How sad, to replace a person in your life with a chemical. You see, you are SUPPOSED to yearn for a job and a girlfriend and shit like that. Life is about suffering to some degree. It's how we grow. The pain, the suffering, is a stimulus to growth. It's all about empathy in the end. We need to be able to empathise with other people, and we can't do that if we are all wrapped up in our safe little chemical duvet. My observation about Kodan is that he never stopped being a baby. He was stunted in his growth because heroin had taken the place of all those real things he needed to make him grow. Heroin makes you indifferent to life, and that is its lure, and that is why you should remove it from your life. Don't use methadone though: that's worse. Hypnosis might help. Acupuncture, hard work, Narcotics Anonymous, someone to talk to, someone to care about and a clear vision of yourself, fully alive once more, fully able to take your place in the family of life. I wish you luck.

Uglattoboy on May 06, 2012:

I have tried and used every drug except pcp and Heroin is the only drug I can honestly say I am addicted to, I regret using it, I have kicked before for 6 months clean using metadone but life seems so cold and empty without it, I dont know if life is normally that empty and I did not realize that until i used, the seocnd I stop using Heroin I start feeling empty, I start yearning for a job, and a girlfriend and shit like that, whenever I a on Heroin , I can look at the prittiest girl and not give a fuck about her, I love not needing anything, Heroin is my girlfriend, it fills the part that is empty in me ,without it I feel like i have a hole in me that nothing can fill, i know it is a lie, I have to kick this stuff and commit to Yashua Mashiah ,I believe in him but I am still struggling.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on July 31, 2011:

Thanks Russell. This was written a long time ago now, but it still lives.

RussellLHuey on July 31, 2011:

Amazing hub! I voted it up. THanks.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on September 13, 2010:

Yes Frances, it was few years ago now. I still talk to him in my head occasionally, usually to tell him off for being such a twat for killing himself like that.

frances green on September 13, 2010:

I remember Alan too he was charming and poetic unlike anyone I had met before I felt that the barriers I had inside me became transparent when I talked with him which was unsettling but good in the way that I became aware of them. I did not feel comfortable with him for long as I would feel a sense of danger around him. Thanks for the article I did not know he had died.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on September 03, 2010:

William Burroughs came off junk, but actually, if the junky get nice clean stuff, and has clean needles, and doesn't need to commit crimes to get hold of the stuff he can live a long and productive life. It's actually quite benign as a drug, aside from its terrifying addictiveness. Not sure about the pain of writing. Sometimes it's painful and then I don't do it, which is why my output is so small. But when I'm running with it, there's nothing more exhilarating for me. Kodan was a writer too, though the lure of his addiction drove him away from it, as it drove away all the good things in his life.

pgrundy on September 03, 2010:

What about William S. Burroughs? He managed to be a writer and a junky at the same time. Not all junkies go into the inevitable decline followed by a horrifying death but that's the story we tell the most--maybe it's the one we remember most, the most visible one. I've been an addict and a writer and honestly, Chris, I don't know which is more painful some days. Writing probably won't kill me though and addiction will, so, one day at a time and all that--but there are plenty of days when I think the writing is part of the illness not part of the cure.

I've been thinking a lot about the stories we don't tell lately. Not like heroin is a wonderful thing, but life is just so complex. I'm so sorry you lost your friend. But I'm glad you write because you are so good at it.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on August 31, 2010:

I have no clue who Kodan was but I know stories such as this. Playing with drugs is like disarming bombs - you might or you might not ... Great story!

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on August 31, 2010:

Hi Anne, yes he was a good man at heart. It's a pity how it ended.

Anne Stewart on August 30, 2010:

Thanks for that Chris.............first time I've looked here for some time, but, this is truly the Kodan I remember! He ripped my beautiful poppy heads too.......when I'd invited him for dinner!

I remember his box.....this story put me back there and funnily enough the fondness I had for Alan washed through me like warm stream.

Christopher James Stone (author) from Whitstable, UK on August 30, 2010:

Lady G: I always think that addicts are essentially romantics. It's the pain of the real world they can't stand. The point of heroin is that it is a pain killer. It numbs the soul as well as the body. The real problem is its illegality. If it wasn't illegal Kodan would be alive today. And if it wasn't illegal he wouldn't have ended up doing all those bad things he did in order to get hold of it.

saddlerider: I'm lucky in that I got off all those bad drugs in the end. Glad you included booze in your list, as this too is a powerfully addictive drug. I'm sure Kodan is in a better place. I've always said I'd write a book about him one day.

saddlerider1 on August 30, 2010:

I have been surrounded by addictions of all kinds most of my younger life, saw my father and mother both hit the bottle to the detriment of their health. A few of my friends were strung out on heroine, LSD and other chemically induced drugs. I dabbled with weed and hash at parties, but due to my jock life I kept my body active in sports and never became addicted to cigarettes, booze or drugs. I feel badly for those who can't kick it now. Coke is a big party drug and I have told my sons to stay clear of it, so far they have listened. Great hub sorry for the loss of your friend, he must be in a better place now.

Debra Allen from West By God on August 30, 2010:

My husband is an Addiction's Counselor and he is also a Crisis Team Member at the local Mental Health Center. He sees this stuff every single day of his life. He also helps those who are in danger of themselves and need to be committed into a mental health or drug rehab center. He helped me write a hub about the commitmment process an what is all entails and what kinds of things that the person whom is doing the committing will go through. It's: Involuntary Commitment Process

I am sorry for your loss. The grieving process always starts with denial and straight into anger. I am glad that you didn't take the road that your friend did. It truly is mind boggling as to why certain people go the route of addiction.

msorensson on July 25, 2010:

I roomed with a recovering drug addict the first semester I was in graduate school. She was very fortunate that her parents could send her to such an expensive drug rehab facility in Honolulu and one of the requirements to graduate from there was to be outside for one semester, to be in school.

She told me everything she went through and no matter how passionate her story telling was, and I knew it was real, I could not relate to it. It was like watching a play and hearing a soliloquy.

She recovered, got married and now has a life. I don't think most of the drug addicted people are as fortunate.

I can understand the compulsion, now, but not then. It is actually more complicated than a chemical dependence, and one feels compassion for during the time of addiction, I know, they were living a hell on earth.

I am sorry that your friend died at such an age.

Perhaps in the next lifetime he would be more aware.

Eileen Hughes from Northam Western Australia on April 02, 2009:

cjstone, yes it is such a wicked waste of life. It make you wonder when you see people winjing for nothing. Life is beautiful if we let it be. Enjoy life and dont go down that path.

We can only try to help them. But in the end it is up to them. No one can make them see what they are doing to themselves. Great hub. thanks for sharing

Whikat on March 30, 2009:

Thank you for sharing your story CJ, in all honesty it made me cry. Every word you wrote I could relate. My daughter's father is a junkie. When I first met him, I did not know he was a junkie, because he was extremely intelligent, handsome, and polite, but after a while he turned into somebody a lot different than the man I met. His addiction tore our family apart. I have no idea to this day if he is alive or dead, but I thank you for letting me forgive him finally, and hopefully remember the good I once knew in him.

ColdWarBaby on March 23, 2009:

There are those of us who are not content with reality as we find it. We can choose many different ways to alter our reality. Some of us make the wrong choice.

Condolences CJ. Unconditional love is what it is.

the eye on March 16, 2009:

I'm really sorry about your lost. It is hard to lose a close friend. But I wish you, me, everybody could look back and give thank to have the lucky of know and enjoy with, this special person. I wish everybody could look back and forgive to everybody everyth and after all, to ourselves.

I did mistakes with drugs also, never h, but every bad thing we do to ourselves, we will pay later. It is good to talk about it. That is the way to solve it. And more people can learn about our own mistakes.

I tried drugs because of one ex-girl friend. When I wake up I discovered she used to put me drugs on my drinks. She were a disco-junkie and wanted me to be in so i would get her everything.

We are living difficult times. We have to walk slowly in any relationship. No relationship worth your own life.

Dave Todd on March 16, 2009:

Sorry to hear about Kodan. I just finished rereading Fierce Dancing a couple of nights ago, found your blog and then found this. I must say that reading that final chapter, I was astonished at how far your loyalty and patience had lasted, yet it's clear from your writings how precious such incredible individuals are to you. Thanks for your honesty in writing this, which must have hurt.

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on March 15, 2009:

A really great look at the inner construction - and deconstruction - of a friendship when one becomes an addict.  I had a friend in NY who went down that road with crack.  He would call me up in the middle of the night trying to sell me his boom box or what not.  I never bought anything, but I would invite him over for a cocktail and maybe a spliff to help him over the hump.  He'd say he was coming but then would call and say he found someone to buy whatever it was.  Another friend and I sent him home to his parents, but he said he was afraid to fly, so we bought his bus ticket.  He simply got off in Washington DC, sold a couple of his suitcases, and came back.  He ended up hanging himself from the light fixture in his kitchen and of course I got the call.  Had to indentify him, etc.  Some people can't be saved.  Or maybe I just don't know how to.

Thanks for a great work!

hchogan from California on March 15, 2009:

The story was amazing, the writing was fabulous, and the best part was "he died before I had a chance to forgive." You are a great man!

Elena. from Madrid on March 15, 2009:

Hi CJ -- This was a tough one. You discuss the topic from within, it rings so close to home that it's painful. My brother died of AIDS which he caught sharing a needle (or one thousand) while doing H. This line "He wasn't concerned about how you were feeling. It was a ritual played out with himself alone" reminded me a lot of my brother's addiction...

Aquila ka Hecate on March 14, 2009:

My apologies, Lady G - I misread your comment I guess, based on years of hearing the same old "Addicts are left permanently brain dead" misinformation.

I'd also been told, you see, that addicts never recover the use of their brains fully. Which is patently untrue. My entire system was so badly abused that I died in a shabby hospital in Joburg. Brain and all.Which must have been such a relief to my friends and family. The person who is alive today has better brain processing power and a healthier body than the one who died ten years ago.


Terri in Joburg

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 14, 2009:

Years ago one of our favorite restaurants was closed due to the owner being hooked on cocaine. He lost everything due to that addiction. Your story brought that memory back. Sorry that you lost a friend to it. Hopefully others learned something positive from his abbreviated sojourn through this life. It certainly impacted you and now you have left something behind with which others can learn. That just might be Kodan's legacy.

Steve Andrews from Lisbon, Portugal on March 14, 2009:

Hi Chris! As you know I have lost many friends to drugs and alcohol but some do overcome their addictions although I have to admit that most don't. I was reading about Marianne Faithfull earlier today and a film is being made of her life. She is one who was a junkie but overcame it.

Julianna from SomeWhere Out There on March 13, 2009:

Ohhhh!!! That was a story in itself, it is so sad that drugs take the lives of so many, but how wonderful that he was able to call you friend and no matter what you were his buddy. You were angry because you cared for him and he left you, but in your heart he will always be. Everytime you see a poppy do not look at it as something bad, but as a reminder of a friendship both of you had , remember him , for the wonderful person he was. :)

Debra Allen from West By God on March 13, 2009:

I didn't say that you don't get more brain cells, just the ones that were there are fried.

Aquila ka Hecate on March 13, 2009:

"Once brain cells are destroyed they don't come back. They are gone for good."

I'm not sure how true that is, Lady Guinevere.

I'm an addict myself (alcohol and benzodiazepines) who crashed and died ten years ago.

My brain seems to be in better shape than it ever was - and I'm 49 now.

Perhaps that's an argument for a distinction between mind and brain> though.

Thanks Chris - as always, you've given me something to really think about.


Terri in Joburg

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on March 13, 2009:

Great piece, Chris!  As goldentoad said, once hooked, there's no turning back. Say g'bye to 'em while you can.  So sad.  And as Lady G added, drugs and alcohol do change the brain chemistry and then the body chemistry, so quitting cold turkey is not as easy as it sounds to those who've never been addicted.  I'm ever amazed that anyone can quit for good by willpower alone.  I had the good sense to limit my chemical intake to pot and an occasional hit of speed because too many friends' lives were ruined or prematurely ended by dancing with demons. And I give thanks every day that after downing a quart of Johnny Walker daily for 10 years, most of my brain cells were (and are) intact.

IMHO, LIFE is a better high than any that one can get from a needle or a bottle. 

Debra Allen from West By God on March 13, 2009:

My husband wors as an Addictions Counselor and als a Crist Intervet=ntion Team Worker. He sees and hears of this all the time. He tells me they may be addicted, but they always have choices and they always know exactly what they are doing. Drugs and alcohol really do change the chemistry of the brain and then the body mechanisms. Once brain cells are destroyed they don't come back. They are gone for good.

VioletSun from Oregon/ Name: Marie on March 13, 2009:

Sad story, as it reminds me of my Dad who died of an alcoholic overdose, who was brilliant and cultured but his addiction destroyed all that was beautiful. Touching read.

Susan Reid from Where Left is Right, CA on March 13, 2009:

Dear CJ, Beautiful writing. I'm very sorry for your loss. Kodan sounds -- well, he sounds the the prototypical addict. Smart, intellectual, charming and ultimately, fatally flawed.

Your description of the siren song of the needle/spoon (or pipe or pill or pint or whatever your poison happens to be) is spot on. I heard a story just the other night of a guy with 13 years of sobriety who decided he'd do a little junk with his girlfriend. It was not ok. Not at all. So now he's climbing back up the ladder with 8 days. God love him.

I also heard someone say that addiction is the only disease where people yell at you. How true that is! Yes, I know it's hard to look beyond the lying/cheating/stealing. Unless you understand the insidious beast that controls the addict's mind, body and heart, it's easy to be angry -- outraged, even. And yes, it's tragic to watch people we love self-destruct.

Your ending shows the value you place in the friendship. It's sad that you don't have your friend anymore. But I hope you can take comfort knowing he's finally out of pain. MM

Pest from A couch, Ionia, MI on March 13, 2009:

My best friend cut a guys throat for a few rocks..ironically in a trailer park...I lost him to prison, But I think he would have cut my throat for those rocks that night. Excellent read!

Cris A from Manila, Philippines on March 13, 2009:

it is unfortunate that regrets and loss have to happen for us to realize how much we truly love another person, a friend, a family. Thanks for sharing this as it made me think of those people dear to me and realize that I still have time in my hands.

goldentoad from Free and running.... on March 13, 2009:

I've done all kinds of shit, but H only a few times, never slammed, lost many friends by way of prison, death, and addiction as I had to turn my back on them. But once they are gone on that trip, and there is no return, I say good bye and move on, they have their choice and I have mine.

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