The winner of the 2017 Surrey Hotel writers residency award on her opioid addiction

Serena Benson was the grand winner of the 2017 Surrey Hotel writers residency award in association with the Spinoff. Here she writes about the project she worked on at the Surrey – a chronicle of her drug addiction nightmare.

After seven years in recovery, I’ve mustered up the courage to chronicle my journey into addiction and recovery with brutal honesty. I was addicted to opioids. Some will know these as heroin, morphine and codeine, but there are many manifestations. My addiction began with prescription codeine after I lost my fourth baby. I was discharged from hospital with a script for 120 of the little bastards. I was in a great deal of physical pain at the time, but it was the emotional pain I wanted to end. I was, together with the pills, a recipe for disaster. Within three weeks, I began a descent into madness.

I write not of the good madness – the spark that one needs to hold on to and nurture – but of the bad madness, a place where I was trapped by chemicals, and driven to extraordinary measures to get my fix.

I was convinced that I had discovered the answer to life.  With the drugs, I could feel no emotional pain and I could no longer see matchbox-sized babies in my dreams. These pills were just what I had been looking for. How didn’t other people know how wonderful they were? All doctors should prescribe heavy duty opioids for sadness. The world would be a much happier place.

Admittance form on day one of rehab

This became my go-to argument when my doctor began getting suspicious. On one occasion, I asked him why this marvelous cure for mental illness had not yet been discovered. But I was lost somewhere in my head and I doubt any surgeon could have located me in the mess I had created. I’m sure if they sliced off the top of my head to look inside, they would have discovered some monstrous hybrid mass.

Had my brain dissolved and evacuated my body? Because in its place, the hybrid mass had only one function – to scream for drugs.

I was most certainly not a drug addict. I wasn’t scoring drugs on the streets. The pills were simply a type of medication that I needed, because I was special. No matter how many times I tried to explain the special needs of my brain, nobody got it. I was honestly miffed. And of course, utterly delusional.

My drug use rapidly escalated as my tolerance grew. Barely a minute passed when I wasn’t planning how to get more. I was swallowing around 120 pills a day and when my stomach started to shut down, I fashioned my own suppositories.

I wasn’t sleeping for fear of withdrawal. But night time was my friend as I shoved handfuls of drugs down my throat and entered a world where nobody could touch me. During these nights, I would play hide and seek with myself. Mostly, I hid behind curtains for long periods. Yes, I found myself every time, which was something I found ridiculously hilarious at the time.

I also began speed baking late at night which made me super proud. This ended one night when I chopped off the top of my finger and mixed it in with the cake batter. After trying to reattach it with a band aid, I conceded defeat and had it sewn back on at the hospital.

A post in the daily recovery journal

Writing about my addiction has been more terrifying than I expected. I opened a Pandora’s Box full of the horrors of withdrawal, and revisited the damage I had inflicted on myself and others. Some memories had to be banked as they instantly invoked a state of extreme anxiety.

Some addicts seek help before they hit rock bottom and some need to hit rock bottom, to lose everything, before they reach out. I was the latter. My life was gone. I was a million different pieces of crap wreaking havoc on those who were still in my life.

My rock bottom was on the floor of my parents’ bathroom, vomiting blood and writhing from the pain in my stomach. It was in the arms of my mother that I found strength. She held me that night as she had so often before. I no longer believed that I could survive without drugs, yet I knew my time would be up if I continued.

The blood filled me with terror and a day later, I had managed to get myself on a plane and admit myself to rehab. Finally, the pain of staying the same became greater than the pain of change.

My time at The Surrey Hotel was mentally taxing but therapeutic. It’s with enormous gratitude that I thank all those involved in getting me to this point. To those at the Spinoff and the Surrey Hotel, I thank you. To those who stuck by me in addiction and played a part in my recovery, words are simply not enough.

During my time at The Surrey, I pushed out 20,000 words. I’m now most of the way through the manuscript and am in talks with a publisher.


Entries are open until June 21 for the 2018 Surrey Hotel Steve Braunias Memorial Writers Residency In Association With The Spinoff Award. Writers of any discipline – apart from YA fiction, and screenplays – are invited to email a brief outline of their project to madeleine@thespinoff.co.nz.

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