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An introduction to Emergent Divergence

Hello and welcome to Emergent Divergence, my name is David Gray-Hammond. In this blog I will be discussing autism and autistic rights, addiction and substance misuse, and mental health (and the intersection at which they overlap). I myself am autistic with co-occuring OCD, psychotic experiences and complex trauma, i am also in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

The goal of understanding and acceptance of these issues is a journey that i hope you will join me on as i seek to delve into the viewpoints of those who hold them close to their hearts. I look to advocate on the behalf of those whose voices may not necessarily be heard.

I hope that you find this blog informative and thought provoking.

You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and read more of my writing on NeuroClastic.

Find a link to a session I did with Aucademy on autism and addiction here.

Continue reading “An introduction to Emergent Divergence”

Autistic, Ace, and dating: A complicated affair

The world of dating is complicated and nuanced. There are unwritten social rules everywhere, and often, unrealistic expectations. I am lucky now to be in a relationship with a fellow ace whom I love dearly, and accepts me as I am, but prior to this, I took 8 years off of dating.

Here’s why.

I am an autistic male. Autistic men are often seen as “creepy” because we love intensely, are socially awkward, and deeply passionate about our (often) very niche interests. Even those of us who mask, find people losing interest as soon as they learn we are autistic. Stereotypes are abound about autism.

I am also asexual. This presents a unique challenge for a world that expects men to be overly sexual. Toxic masculinity tends to judge men on their willingness to engage in regular sex. In the past I masked my asexuality with hypersexuality, which was deeply traumatic.

Living on the intersection of these two identities means that I am never what is expected of men in the dating world. I am not the confident “alpha male” that toxic standards want me to be. I can go years without sex (most recently I went 8 years without sex), not through celibacy, but purely because there are other forms of intimacy I prefer.

I had resigned myself to a life of solitude because I didn’t see a world in which anyone would be interested in me. Once I dropped the mask, people seemed less attracted to me, romantically speaking.

When I joined dating apps I felt that I was just going through the motions. I hadn’t even recognised my own asexuality. So you can imagine my feeling of serendipity when I met a woman who was asexual (but had not advertised it).

She helped me come to terms with my own asexuality, and accepted every part of me. It was a vital step on my journey of self-acceptance. Many men like me struggle to find this, but here was the proof that it was possible.

Autistic and/or asexual people get a rough deal when it comes to dating, but it is more than possible for us to find a partner, should we want one. Autistic people especially are drawn to each other, and when we meet, we understand each other to a depth that is difficult to describe to the layperson.

Don’t give up. I was ready to, and then I found the right person. Unfortunately, even neurotypicals have to wade through a sea of crap before finding the right person. While this problem may be amplified for those of us on one or more spectrums, it is not an impossible problem.

Re-earning trust after active addiction

Those of us who have been through, or are currently in active addiction, know all too well that very few people trust us in the early days of recovery. To an extent it’s justified. We cheat, lie, and steal to meet the requirements of our addiction. But what happens when a person stops using?

When I was in early recovery, my family and friends were very strict around me, and constantly worried that I would relapse. It was very obvious to me that everything I did was being evaluated for the warning signs of active addiction. Truthfully? I know that even today they still worry.

Recovering addicts need an element of trust. Much like taking the training wheels off of a bicycle, it is important that addicts feel able to recover in whatever way works for them. But trust has to be earned.

We as addicts can start to earn back that trust by being open and honest. Talk about your feelings, set boundaries, admit when you are craving after the object of your addiction. Show people that you are doing the hard work needed to recover.

In my opinion, we never stop recovering from addiction. Addiction doesn’t go away, it merely goes into remission. People need to see that we are doing all we can to prevent it’s return. Recovery takes hard work and dedication.

If you are in active addiction right now, it probably seems like an insurmountable challenge to stop using. I assure you that while the challenge is steep, it can be tackled one step at a time. Write your own map of a journey that will work for you.

Trust me, you’ve got this.

Autistic representations in the media: The wider conversation

If Sia’s film did any good for the autistic community, it opened up a wider conversation about how autistic people are represented and portrayed in popular media. There are very few, if any, perfect representations. One could argue that this is an impossibility anyway, given the diverse nature of autistic presentations.

This has opened up the wider conversation of disability representation in general. One might think that in the “enlightened” 2020s, disabled actors have ample opportunity to portray their own disabilities on screen. Sadly, the vast majority of disabled roles are given to non-disabled folk.

My personal opinion on this, is that it comes from a place of ableism. The people in charge of casting assume that we won’t be able to handle the pressure of working in the media. To put it another way, they believe that non-disabled people are more capable of portraying us. Our capability is always in question.

This also highlights a greater issue. Media representations don’t care if their portrayal is authentic.

Autistic people especially have to sit through unrelatable characters, with what is usually rather offensive stereotyping. The people on charge of these projects don’t seem to do any more research other than the bare minimum. They don’t care if their portrayal is accurate, as long as it is entertaining.

We need to continue to put pressure on production companies to put disabled actors in disabled roles. We have the right to tell our own stories. Autistic people have cried out #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs for years. And it’s time that the world started listening.

Autistic people are not a stereotype. They are a beautifully diverse tapestry of human experience, and we as Autistics have a right to decide how that tapestry is shown to the world.

Nothing more, nothing less. We certainly won’t settle for less.

An introduction to gaming addiction amongst Autistics

Another lesser discussed addiction for autistic people is gaming. Video games offer an escape from the real world, with minimal health consequences compared to other addictive escapes such as substance use.

Gaming addiction can be an easy trap to fall into when you are looking for an escape from the world. In fact, when I was using drugs, I was also gaming for 18 hours a day. I was so depressed in the real world, and video games offered me an acceptable break from my grim reality.

What’s the appeal of gaming?

Online gaming allows for socialisation without the pressure of in-person interaction. You are speaking to people over a headset, usually about the game you are playing, which is likely a special interest. In this medium, it is acceptable to infodump and talk about the video game at length, as opposed to other scenarios where this might be penalised.

For autistic people who have immersed themselves in the game story and lore, and developed expertise in things such as the loot systems within the game; this knowledge is actively rewarded with social standing amongst other gamers and more positive outcomes in the game.

Video games offer structure and logical rules that can be easy to follow. In a world full of chaos, gaming allows for some semblance of control. It is not surprising then that so many autistic people feel more comfortable in the digital world than the real one.

Many video games offer a rich story with thousands of hours of background (also known as “lore”) that one can become completely engrossed in. In my game of choice, Destiny, there is so much lore that in nearly 7 years of playing, I still haven’t read it all.

With this in mind, it’s easy to see how the rewards of escaping into video games may cause Autistics to fall foul of addiction to them. Like any good thing, there is such a thing as too much.

Some of the signs of gaming addiction (from my own experience) may be:

1. Inability to walk away from the game

2. Excessive use of the game, to the point that it is affecting relationships.

3. Skipping work or school regularly to play the game.

4. Excessive anger or violence when the game is interrupted.

Gaming addiction is now recognised in the International Classification of Diseases, and as such, there is a growing base of support for this phenomenon.

If you think you may be addicted to gaming, and are looking to stop, please consider speaking to a mental health professional. Addiction is a complex condition, which can move itself from one medium to another. If the root causes of addiction are not addressed, then the likelihood of relapse, or the addiction transferring to another medium are more likely.

[GUEST POST] Dating my way back to healthy

Written by Sarah Snow

CW: Suicide, Rape, Cancer, Intimate partner violence

After leaving an abusive relationship, I developed a plan to create healthy relationships as a way to heal past traumas. I was determined to never choose another situation where I would give away my power to someone else, and by using my background as a psychology major and the years I had already spent in therapy, I came up with a personal plan to heal. I embarked on a year long journey to become trauma informed, heal my trauma, and then create new relationships that would support me in my growth.

Trauma is when a distressing event causes extended long term damage to our brain and nervous system, resulting in poorly regulated emotional responses and long term issues. The more helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized, and our bodies will replay the event repeatedly through our behavior until it is healed. When childhood trauma is not resolved, a sense of fear and helplessness will follow us into adulthood. When trauma isn’t healed, over time it can look like personality, family traits or culture. Healing is ultimately a lifelong discovery of learning the ways we have been holding ourselves back in our lives, and overcoming all of the limits placed on ourselves by our own minds. 

In my own life, I experienced many traumatic events and have a long list. When I was 3, my mother drove off of a cliff and was crushed between a truck and a tree, resulting in a head injury and her being permanently physically disabled, which meant many responsibilities fell to me as a child, due to my father being absent and neglectful. My mother’s bipolar went undiagnosed until shortly before her suicide in 2018. I was bullied and socially ostracized by my peers while growing up. All of this and more impacted how I function today.

I was late diagnosed with Aspergers officially in 2007 when I was already 26, and thus share a story that is common with many other autistics in my age group of millennials who grew up being the scapegoated child, whose behaviors got them labeled as the “bad” one in the family, when all they really needed was empathy and more effort from those around them. All of these traumatic experiences added up to me scoring an ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score of 8. Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood and are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 6 adults reported they had experienced four or more types of ACE’s, and the economic and social costs to families, communities, and society totals hundreds of billions of dollars each year. (Find out your own ACE’s score here.)

I then went on to have cancer twice as an adult, before leaving my psychologically and emotionally abusive marriage of over ten years. My marriage taught me that if someone only “loves” you when you do what they want, it’s not love, it’s control. My entire story is one of survival and overcoming my circumstances to make the best of what I was given. We all have different starting points, but almost every single one of us carries some form of trauma that is waiting to be healed.

“We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”

Doctor Who 

The single biggest risk with trauma is the fact that it causes a chronic belief in the idea that paranoia and mistrust are actual prerequisites of survival. You start thinking that assuming good faith in anyone is actually dangerous, because it leaves you open to being dominated or exploited. This generates a negative feedback loop, which ultimately means that you no longer have the ability to trust anyone, because you assume that the only outcome of attempting to do so will be pain.

Trauma is healed in safe environments where we feel seen, heard, understood and accepted. I knew I would need to have healthier models around me for the behaviors that I was trying to create in myself. Because trauma shatters your sense of security, it’s important to create supportive non judgmental environments that give us opportunities to experience feelings of safety and trust. Surrounding myself with people who could offer me grace and understanding that I’m always trying my best even when I’m not always at my best became a priority in my recovery. I didn’t know what healthy was yet, but I knew that it was what I ultimately wanted, and I wasn’t willing to settle until I had it. But because I didn’t have any relationships to begin with yet, I began with myself instead.

“Attract what you expect, reflect what you desire, become what you respect, and mirror what you admire.” 

– Deb Sofield

Despite a decade of being told daily by the man who I married that I wouldn’t make it out of our marriage alive, I was still deeply shocked and traumatized when my former husband reacted to my request for an amicable divorce by raping me and then throwing me out into the cold a few days later on October 14, 2019. My world turned upside down and was suddenly a terrifying and unpredictable place. I was immediately very afraid of men in general, I felt they were all out to get me somehow, but I didn’t want to have that crippling fear of people anymore. I went out of my way to reach out to a few select men I already knew who seemed fairly non toxic and self aware, and could model for me the healthy boundaries that I was trying to emulate. During the early days of being homeless in my van in the winter of 2019, a dear friend from high school reconnected with me and agreed to help to guide me through my healing process by providing me a friendship as a safe place to process my trauma, and I will always be grateful to him for the time and effort he invested in me to do so. Around the same time, I also approached a local facebook friend that I trusted to spend time with, and he helped me to trust in my process and my spiritual journey. In 2020 shortly after I found stable housing I sadly lost both relationships due to being emotionally reactive and having trauma responses before immediately regretting burning my bridges, but the reasons for my actions don’t matter, ultimately I am responsible for the consequences of lashing out at them.

Both of those men practiced a relationship style called polyamory, having consensual loving relationships with more than one partner, which led me to discovering a relationship style called Solo Polyamory, the practice of having multiple loving relationships while still maintaining independence and living as a single person. As someone recovering from Intimate Partner Violence I found the idea of putting my autonomy and freedom first empowering, and embraced the concept of dating myself. I never really understood hierarchical ranking the importance of human beings by applying specific labels to them anyway. Everyone is a partner. Love is love!

Dating myself meant setting fun dates to focus on self care, but it also meant becoming the kind of partner that I would want to date, so I had to get very honest with myself quickly about what would potentially hold me back once I actually was dating other people again. In order to attract what I wanted, I had to first become it. I learned the difference between loneliness and being alone when I started enjoying my own company. I started journaling lists of my triggers and areas I still needed to grow, but also listed the things I was doing right, and wrote myself love letters. Finding a balance and practicing self compassion was so important! I made a list of goals and went back to therapy. I started following mental health professionals on social media. And I started reading self help books on codependency and attachment theory as well as childhood trauma. One of my favorites is “Unf#ck Your Brain: Using Science To Get Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs and Triggers,” by Faith G. Harper, Phd LPC-S ACS ACN. This taught me that an underlying issue was my own boundaries. Boundaries are limited rules within our relationships, and can be rigid, porous, or healthy. They can be physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, or financial. In addition to being extended to others, they also apply to ourselves. Learning healthy boundaries was a key factor in my eventually finding healthy relationships. 

The Four Principles of Healthy Boundaries
1. Let people down, but don’t let down the people who matter.
2. Make conscious compromises
3. Be comfortable with discomfort
4. Don’t be the elephant in the room.

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Also instrumental in my recovery was in teaching myself green flags. I knew about red flags from my earlier classes in preventing Intimate Partner Violence and the patterns I had already seen in my marriage to my ex husband, such as lovebombing, gaslighting, shaming or belittling, isolating, testing boundaries, blame shifting and fault finding to not take responsibility, among others. But learning that there were also green flags to look for allowed me to create standards for myself and identify things to look for in the healthy relationship I wanted but had yet to experience. These relationship green flags include open communication, vulnerability, empathy, integrity and personal responsibility, self sufficiency, healthy hobbies, spirituality, long standing friendships, the ability to self reflect, honors boundaries, practices self care and has long standing friendships. Affection, maturity, confidence – suddenly I knew exactly what I was looking for. 

I became very intentional in my search. In the early fall of 2020 I created what I called my “recipe for a mate,” a list of qualities I wrote out to narrow down my search. I became specific and in addition to green flags, I identified my own values that I wanted to see reflected in a romantic relationship, such as understanding consent, being a child at heart who likes to play and a best friend before anything else. I knew my standards were high but I also knew that I was able to reciprocate anything that I was requesting, so I refused to compromise until I found it. 

I slowly began to put myself in situations where I would meet other people, but I did not use dating sites or apps because I knew I wouldn’t find the love I was looking for amongst people just trying to fill a void of loneliness. If I wanted to find someone like me, I was going to find them in places that people like me hung out in. The search began by letting my friends know that I was starting to look and was open to finding someone else again, and then due to it being a pandemic I simply began being more active in Facebook groups created for people with similar interests as me. Then I was patient and just leaned into the pause. I knew I was ready so I waited for love to come and find me, and eventually it did!

“An old alchemist gave the following consolation to one of his disciples: no matter how isolated you are and how lonely you feel, if you do your work truly and conscientiously, unknown friends will come and seek you.”

Carl G. Jung

I learned by trial and error. Success is a function of correction; try, try again! The first relationship found me by commenting on a post I made. We discovered things in common and mutual interests but then I started overlooking red flags once my feelings got involved. Things started escalating quickly which should have been another red flag, but at the time I didn’t know any better. It ended badly after a few months but it taught me a lot about searching for partners who appreciate things rather than judge them, and who can take responsibility instead of justifying and laying blame. This was the relationship that taught me to recognize trauma bonds, the process through which you begin to confuse abusive behavior for love. In healthy love, your affection for one another grows over time. In a trauma bond, it’s instantaneous because it’s not love, it’s attachment, an idea of love that makes you feel better about a preexisting issue in your life. With every failure I was able to narrow my search, and every time I walked away from toxic it got easier. Already having several newer healthy relationships to walk towards helped to leave the toxic behind me where I left it.

After learning to identify and walking away from trauma bond relationships, my patience and resilience paid off, and love started showing up in my life, usually in unsought for and entirely unexpected ways. This led to an entirely new challenge, how to navigate healthy relationships for the first time, which ended up being much scarier than I first anticipated. Being autistic, I had to teach myself small talk for essentially the first time, and in the beginning I would bombard my dates with infodumps as a way of attempting to bond. Many of the people I had started talking to were neurotypical and not on the spectrum at all, and while they were willing to meet me in the middle this also meant I had to learn more effective ways of communicating, such as using “I” statements that didn’t come naturally to me. However, I keep trying to do better than I did the day before, and things get a little easier each day. 

My new healthy relationships are teaching me how to be a better person and a better partner, which in turn makes me a better parent for my children. Each of my partners is showing me with effort and not words what it means to care for the people you love. One of my relationships is about five months old and he has yet to actually say I love you, but he shows me daily in how he shows up for me and is present in my life that he already does, so I know it will come eventually when he’s ready. He’s been the literal opposite of my ex’s love bombing and future faking, slow and steady was everything I needed to teach me how to trust.

In summary, healing trauma will only happen in an emotionally supportive environment, and to achieve that we have to be selective about the people we surround ourselves with, especially during the dating process. Invest your time in yourself first to become who you want to attract. Take a personal inventory of strengths and weaknesses, then turn those weaknesses into strengths and goals to smash! Learn to be okay with being alone. Brush up on your own relationship skills. Get intentional and know what you want before tuning in and broadcasting your signal. Take it slow and put in the time to get to know someone. Be willing to walk away when things aren’t working. Don’t chase or force anything, trust in the timing and most importantly, expect the unexpected!

**********

Sarah Snow was previously a psychology major, before becoming a mother and teaching preschool. She had breast cancer twice before leaving her ex husband and becoming an advocate for intimate partner violence and trauma education. When she isn’t spending time with her wonderful kids or volunteering at her local library, she loves writing and painting, and living a peaceful and intentional life!

Lessons I have learned about trauma

I haven’t spoken extensively about it, but my life has been one of extensive trauma. Not necessarily one consistently traumatic experience (although I’ve had my share), no, I have been- as most would put it- very unlucky. I have rolled from one traumatic experience to another.

These traumas set the stage for my mental health problems and addiction issues. As one psychologist put it “it was inevitable that you would experience psychosis and addiction”. I often wonder what life would have been like had I learned to process my trauma from an early age.

That leads nicely into my first lesson. You can not spend your life wondering about the “what if?” of your past. No amount of bargaining will make traumatic events unhappen. We must accept our pasts and learn to grow and move forward.

Another lesson I have learned is that trauma leaves you with psychological wounds. If left to fester, those wounds will form obvious scars that may appear in increasingly unsettled behaviour. For the sake of not perpetuating our trauma, we must allow ourselves the time, space, and resources to heal. Perhaps the hardest lesson we learn is that we are worthy of the time it takes to heal.

A difficult, but necessary lesson that I have learned, is that we don’t have the right to act out the effects of our trauma on other people. There was a time when I took my suffering out on others. Once again, this perpetuates trauma, leading to generation upon generation experiencing increased suffering.

It was necessary for me to take time away from the world, and look into the darkest recesses of my own being. I had to root out my triggers, and learn to coexist with them, slowly desensitising. This has been an imperfect, and at times messy, process. I am still coming to terms with a lot of the trauma I have been through. It’s okay to admit that you are working on stuff.

The greatest lesson that I have learned, however, was to be kind to people. Altruism feeds the proverbial soul, and whilst kindness costs very little (in general), the rewards are extensive. I could not have reached the place of strength that I am at in my recovery without learning to be kind.

Love yourself, love your scars. Love every part of you that survived the traumas you have faced. We are all worthy of healing, and we all have the capacity to make a difference in our own lives. Our individual experiences give rise to the great beauty of our diversity, and I believe that is something to be celebrated.

Undiagnosed: inpatient treatment, pre-diagnosis

Something I haven’t spoken about in great detail is the experiences I have had in an inpatient psychiatric facility. There was good and bad in the experience, but unfortunately, it was overall, quite traumatic.

I have been an inpatient twice in my life, the first was because I required an inpatient detox to help me get sober, the second (the one I will be focusing on) was due to psychosis.

It was around the beginning of May 2016 when it happened. My voice hearing and paranoia had been getting worse since finding sobriety, and one night I just snapped. My mother found me catatonic in the living room, muttering about things that she didn’t understand.

An ambulance was called and I was taken to the local accident and emergency department for immediate psychiatric assessment. Upon assessment, it was made clear to me that I could go into the psychiatric hospital voluntarily, otherwise they would section me.

The psych ward was a scary place, many of the patients (to my eye) were far more ill than I was. I felt as though I was being held without due course.

At the time, I did not have an autism diagnosis, and was in fact diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (also known as Borderline Personality Disorder, according to my psychiatrist). This diagnosis was used to invalidate and gaslight me throughout my entire hospital experience.

As many will know, the NHS here in the UK is terribly understaffed due to government cuts. This was no different on the psych ward. Between 5 and 8 members of staff were responsible for around 20 patients, all of whom were profoundly ill.

Many patients were violent, and little happened to them. When I did see restraint (both physical and chemical) it was used on a small woman who had already calmed down. It seemed to me that medication was a punishment in there, rather than the lifesaving treatment that I know it to be now.

I was having regular meltdowns, I tried to elope several times. I was threatened with police and told that I was attention seeking and “seeking” specific diagnosis. There answer was to pump me full of antupsychotics. By the time I was discharged, I could barely string a coherent sentence together.

This practice was known as chemical restraint, and it was used to make patients easier to cope with when the staff were so terribly outnumbered.

I knew my diagnosis was wrong, and my psychosis continued long after I was discharged.

Being an Autistic in a psychiatric hospital was honestly, deeply traumatising. I was invalidated and gaslit at every turn, I was bullied by other patients, I was treated as a nuisance. I would like to think that a formal diagnosis would have resulted in at least some understanding, but sadly that didn’t happen until the following November.

Inpatient facilities need to look really carefully at how they recognise and engage with autistic patients. The experience was so unpleasant for me, but I wasn’t safe anywhere else, so I felt trapped.

It was the longest month of my life, and thankfully I now have an advanced directive in place stating I should only be hospitalised if nothing else is working.

Psychiatric hospital is necessary for some, but in this country, it has a long way to come in how it handles autistic patients.

Emotional Sobriety: the crux of recovery

The journey through recovery takes several important steps. First you must stop engaging with your addiction, in my case, stop using drink and drugs. Next you must learn to live without your addictions. Then, you need to create a life where it is easier not to go back to your addictions.

There is, however, another step. In order to maintain your recovery, you must obtain “emotional sobriety”.

This is probably the hardest part of the recovery journey. It requires you to shine a light into the darkest recesses of your life, and bring those parts of you to a place of peace.

Peace doesn’t mean that things will always be great. Recovery comes with all the ups and downs of life in general. No, peace means an ability to engage with our emotions in a healthy way.

The reason it’s so hard to attain emotional sobriety is because in order to do so, one must learn to live with the scars of past traumas and to weather out your triggers.

Truth be told, I’m not entirely there yet, but it is something I am working on everyday.

When we have emotional sobriety, we learn to react to our triggers in healthy ways. We learn to express our emotions from a place of love and patience. We approach others from a place of kindness.

Without this mindset, there is an increased risk that we will find ourselves bogged down in resentment. As any recovering addict will tell you, resentment is poison to the mind.

Reaching this place requires a lot of hard work. I started by having extensive trauma therapy to come to terms with the things that have happened in my life. I had to unlearn the lessons that taught me to approach others from a place of judgement.

The greatest lesson I learned, was to sit with my emotions, and choose not to react immediately. Sometimes we need time and space from even ourselves in order to respond in a healthy manner.

This step of recovery can take years to perfect. I have met people decades into recovery who still struggle with the concept. It is important to give ourselves the time, love, and self-acceptance that we need in order to reach that place.

Practise a peaceful life. I promise you won’t regret it, and I promise that you are worth it.

Prescription addiction: a significant risk to Autistics

When I was using alcohol and drugs, a lot of them were illicit substances or novel psychoactives. But there was a group of drugs that made up the bulk of my drug use, and that was prescription medication.

Specifically I was addicted to opiates, benzodiazepines, and a lesser known drug called pregabalin.

My use of these drugs was extremely out of control. I would start my day with a full bottle of either liquid morphine or liquid oxycodone. I would continue to top up with slow release oxycodone throughout the day.

I would take around 200mg valium a day, not to mention the clonazepam and lorazepam that I was also prescribed.

Pregabalin was probably the most out of control. I would take up to 4000mg in a single dose. All of these drugs were mixed together, and I overdosed frequently.

These drugs were especially insidious because I could get them free on NHS prescription, and I was incredibly good at manipulating doctors.

Prescription drugs represent a huge risk to the autistic community. Even if you don’t feel you can navigate the (often) peculiar social rules of obtaining illicit drugs, it is likely that you can get prescription medications relatively easily (although in some countries, the cost may be prohibitive).

Opioids like morphine, oxycodone, and vicodin, are especially worrying. As an autistic person, something about them made me feel at peace with the world. They would turn down the background noise, easing my senses. It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket with rose coloured glasses on.

They made everything feel okay.

What I couldn’t see, but became increasingly obvious to anyone watching me, was that these drugs were killing me. Even today at nearly 5 years sober, I live with the damage that prescription drug addiction did to me.

I remember my doctors switching me to opioids mixed with paracetamol in an attempt to curb my use. I simply taught myself to extract the opioids out of the mixture, and threw out the paracetamol.

Unfortunately it was an imperfect process, and my liver still carries the damage.

This is why I believe that a mental health assessment needs to be carried out when prescribing addictive medications. If we are aware of the risk of addiction, we can watch more carefully for the signs of misuse.

It scares me thinking about how many Autistics may be using prescription medications for reasons other than what they were prescribed for. Their lives could very well be at risk, if not now, then in the future.

We need realistic drug and alcohol education that teaches us how to use substances responsibly, rather than teach abstinence; an unhelpful and often unobtainable goal.

Doctors need to be more aware of traumatised populations when prescribing certain medications.

The social issues that amount to addiction need to be addressed.

Until this is done, the autistic community will continue to be at risk. The next tragedy could be someone you know and love. Addiction can come for anyone.

The autistic community: a love letter

As Autistics, we often feel ostracised from the communities we live amongst, but over the past year I have seen autistic people step up and help many people.

None of us could have foreseen the pandemic, no doubt that this particular natural disaster will be remembered in history books in perpetuity. But something I want people to remember are the people who reached out to lift up other members of their community.

The autistic community especially, has been going above and beyond to support each other. From emotional support to financial aid, many of us have done our part.

If anyone asked me what autistic culture is to me, I would point them towards the culture of support and uplifting that I have witnessed and benefited from personally. We are a demographic that simply won’t stand for injustice.

I am proud of this community for knowing its own importance. When so many of us are alienated from society, tens of thousands of us have come together to demand equal rights and equitable treatment for all Autistics.

I am certain that without the autistic community, I would not be here. This is a community that welcomes all and fiercely defends each of its members. So many of us owe our lives to this community.

This has made me realise my responsibility to future generations. This community, this bastion of acceptance and justice for the downtrodden, needs to be preserved.

We must preserve our community, and make sure that we leave it in a better place than when we discovered it. An imperfect community, yes, but we work hard to ensure that it is there for all who need it.

I’d like to finish by saying thank you. Thank you to the countless Autistics and allies that make this community into all the good things that it is. Without you, so many of us would be lost. You have given us a place to call home.