No one to turn to: autistic addicts and reforming social connections

There is a common theme amongst many addiction recovery communities. It’s the concept that addiction is inherently selfish and inwardly focused in nature.

While I can’t talk for everyone, I can say that in my own personal experience I was particularly selfish during active addiction. Everything was about my need to get high, my need to escape, my need to be someone else.

This kind of behaviour can have a serious detrimental impact on the relationships and personal connections that many of us take for granted. When we achieve sobriety, it’s important to rebuild those relationships and connections.

But what about the autistic people who feel they had no connections in the first place?

Many of us as Autistics experience a great deal of isolation and loneliness throughout our lives. We are regularly alienated by our peers and made to feel like outcasts. How do you rebuild healthy relationships when you weren’t sure you had any to begin with?

When social isolation may be one of the reasons you entered addiction in the first place, the concept of building relationships in sobriety can be overwhelming.

I was very privileged. I had a small group of childhood friends who were happy to welcome me into my sober life, but for those without that privilege, sobriety is a daunting task.

This, I believe, is where the importance of online communities comes into play. Taking the “in person” pressure out of social scenarios can make a huge difference. It is vital to have access to friendships in recovery, and Internet friendships can be just as valid and fulfilling as those we experience on a face-to-face basis.

Autistic people get the short straw when it comes to socialisation. It is vital that autistic addicts have the support of healthy relationships to help them rebuild their lives post-active addiction.

This is something that addiction treatment services must take into account when treating autistic clients. It is well known that addiction can make you socially dysfunctional, it is important that autistic people (who may have been struggling with socialisation for years prior to their addiction) have additional support for the vital task of forming and maintaining friendships in recovery.

If you are an autistic addict, entering recovery, unsure who you can turn to, please seek out autistic spaces. So many there will be willing to support you. If you are the friend or acquaintance of an autistic addict, be ready to approach them with love and understanding. Recovery can seem insurmountable, and they will need all the support they can get.

An introduction to novel psychoactives

Novel psychoactive (NPA) substances formed a large part of my drug use, and yet many people have not heard of them. NPAs exist in a legal grey area in most countries and represent a significant risk of harm.

What are NPAs?

A simple explanation is that an NPA is chemically similar to an illicit substance, but differs just enough so as to avoid being prohibited under drug laws in most countries.

Two famous NPAs are spice and mephedrone (MCAT). Spice in particular represents a very dangerous group of cannabinoids that have caused a great deal of harm here in the UK.

These drugs can be bought online without having to access the dark web. Vendors sell them as “research chemicals” and avoid scrutiny by stating that they are not intended for human consumption.

Why are NPAs so dangerous?

Unlike their illegal counterparts, very little research has been done into the long and short-term effects of using these substances. We do not know how they interact with the body.

They are also dangerous because in the case of an overdose, we do not know if they will respond to typical medical interventions due to their chemical differences.

Due to their purity, NPAs tend to be a lot stronger than their illegal counterparts, making the risk of overdose much more pronounced.

What is the Novel Psychoactives Act (UK)?

This was a piece of legislation that effectively made the supply and possessions of NPAs illegal in the UK. It was heralded as a landmark piece of legislation, but was fundamentally flawed.

Prohibition does not stop people from using substances. Using spice as an example; when this act came to pass, spice production entered the black market. When a drug enters the black market it’s impossible to guarantee strength and purity.

The number of people using spice actually appeared to rise, and the number of people presenting at drug and alcohol services for treatment as a result of this increased. We also rapidly discovered that spice causes significant mental health problems.

Spice also made its way into the prison system in various forms, thereby causing harm to an already vulnerable population. Spice began to turn up in things such as the liquid for e-cigarettes, and its use amongst drug using populations boomed.

The psychonaut community

When I was using NPAs, I came across the psychonaut community. As an autistic person, I felt very at home. This was a group of people who experimented with NPAs so as to keep meticulous journals of how much they took, how long they lasted, and how they effected them.

Sadly these days I see an awful lot of people in the psychonaut community talk about administering these drugs to themselves or autistic loved ones as a sort of “cure”. This was not the case when I was active in the community.

NPAs present a significant risk to society, but very little education about them is provided. The online market for them is still very much alive, as well as the growing black market for such substances thanks to the Novel Psychoactive Act.

My advice to anyone interested in NPAs is to avoid using them. The risks are too significant. By all means study them from an academic point of view, but please, do not use these substances. The risks far outweigh the benefits.

The relationship between autism and cannabis use

Spend even a little while in the autistic community, and you will begin to notice that cannabis is a very popular drug for this particular demographic. Ranging from recreational, infrequent use, all the way to daily (what would be clinically described as “habitual”) use.

Cannabis is probably one of the least harmful drugs in terms of imminent risk, however there are risks associated with it that scientists are still trying to understand.

So why is cannabis a popular drug amongst Autistics?

Cannabis is a calming drug. I wouldn’t really describe it as sedative, although it can certainly help you sleep. This presents a number of attractive benefits for autistic people. People who typically experience anxiety and insomnia at a higher rate than the general population.

It also enhances many sensory experiences. Food becomes more enjoyable, and activities such as sex can be greatly enhanced by its use. As anyone in the autistic community will know, many Autistics are sensory seekers, so enhancing that experience can help with self-regulation and general enjoyment of life.

Cannabis is typically (in my own experience) enjoyed by those on the fringes of society. There is a sub-culture surrounding cannabis use that promotes the idea of not accepting the status quo, of doing what makes you happy. In my experience, many cannabis smokers meet the autistic ideals of honesty and having a direct nature. This, then, is perhaps some of the reason why autistic people are so drawn to cannabis.

We also can’t talk about cannabis without discussing self-medication. Autistic people experience trauma and significantly higher rates than neurotypical society. As a result, we seem to be more prone to mental health conditions. Cannabis use is legalised for the treatment of those conditions in several countries now, and where it’s not, there is a booming black market.

For autistic people who perhaps don’t have access to universal health care or health insurance, cannabis can represent a relatively safe and affordable option for relieving both psychological and physical pain.

Finally, we must consider one factor that neurotypical society tends to forget. We are human. Humans as a whole are rather enamoured with substance use. Many people safely enjoy the recreational benefits of cannabis use, and that includes autistic people.

I, personally, support the full legalisation of cannabis (although I no longer partake myself). Prohibition has done nothing but drive cannabis into the hands of criminal syndicates, and has needlessly filled our prisons with people who don’t deserve to be there.

We must consider that the harms done to the general population by prohibition are somewhat potentiated by being autistic. We are a population that does not fair well with systemic harms.

Society and its relationship with alcohol

This one is a spur of the moment post.

I just read about Macmillan’s “Go sober” campaign to raise money for people affected by cancer. In principle this is a great endeavour. People drinking less is great for public health, and it’s raising money for a worthy cause. You can understand then why I was disappointed by the comments section.

Comments ranged from “you’re destroying the hospitality industry” (because apparently you can’t go to a pub and drink something non-alcoholic?) to “I can’t cope with lockdown without being drunk”.

I am certainly not saying that all these people have drinking problems, but I do believe this is symptomatic of a society where consuming alcohol has become so normalised, that sobriety is considered weird or antisocial.

So many people, when I tell them I have been sober for nearly 5 years, give me the age old answer of “Well done! I could never do that!”.

How do people not see that as concerning? If alcohol is such an important part of your life that you could never see yourself stopping, then I think a short period of sobriety may be a good learning experience.

Many will see this and assume I’m the self-righteous recovering addict who doesn’t want people to drink because I don’t myself. That is untrue. All of my friends and family enjoy a drink. I still enjoy spending time with them while they are doing so, and I have no personal problem with alcohol consumption.

What concerns me is the culture of drinking in the western world. So many of us drink to relieve negative emotions. Binge drinking in the UK is one of the biggest causes of accident and emergency attendance. We are a world of people that are so worn down by the world that we need to numb ourselves.

This of course gets into a larger conversation of how the socio-economics of the world drive a society where people can’t imagine being sober. I won’t get into that now.

Society as a whole needs to reevaluate its relationship with mind-altering substances. To do this we must consider access to mental health services, appropriate housing, ending food poverty, and reducing work related stresses (to name but a few).

To my friends who do drink. Try having a couple of weeks off. Learn to socialise without alcohol. You’ll be surprised by how much fun you have, and you’ll probably save a fair bit of money in the process.

Let’s create a society where the choice to not drink is just as normal as having a drink.

A moment of temptation: Overcoming a mind that seeks to destroy itself

I have written a lot about making the decision to seek sobriety. What I haven’t talked about is the moment when I realised I was in this for the long haul.

Roughly three years ago, I had an accident. I can’t really remember the details of the accident, but it appeared that I had fractured my wrist. I went to my local accident and emergency department at the hospital.

While being triaged I went through the usual song and dance that I think many addicts go through. This entails explaining to doctors and nurses that I can’t take opioid pain medication. This usually gets followed with a brief summary of my story, and a congratulations from the medical staff for finding sobriety.

This, usually, protects me from being offered anything that could trigger my addictive behaviour. This particular evening, it did not.

During triage they established that I was in significant discomfort with my wrist, and offered to get me some pain relief. Having explained my history to them, I assumed this would be paracetamol (Tylenol to me american readers) or ibuprofen.

The burse came to me and handed me to white circular pills. She walked away.

Thank goodness I looked at what was in my hand, because I immediately recognised them as dihydrocodeine. A moderately strong opioid that I had a long history of abuse with.

I was faced with a dilemma. These pills had been handed to me. I could pretend that I didn’t realise what they were and take them. I would probably have been able to get away with it. After all, this was the hospital’s mistake, right?

I really wanted to take them. I sat and stared at them for what felt like an eternity. Imagining the gentle feeling of euphoria and calm that I could so easily have if I just swallowed these pills.

A second thought crossed my mind.

I saw my family gathered around my coffin at my funeral. I saw my mother, sister, friends, heartbroken that I had given into my addiction. I remembered the years of pain and suffering that drugs had brought me.

Every moment of trauma came flooding back.

I pressed the alarm and called the nurse. She took the pills and apologised for the mix up. I said nothing of the temptation that I had experienced.

This was the moment when I realised that if I wanted to stay sober, I could never ease up in my dedication to that cause. Sobriety as an addict requires hard work and commitment to growth.

I look back at that moment now as a proud one, albeit somewhat painful to remember.

I do believe my autistic mind helped in that situation. My ability to replay memories with startling precision, and my strong sense of right and wrong, guided me to the right decision.

Addiction is a lifelong condition, and it doesn’t go away just because you stop using. You will battle with this state of mind for the rest of your life. But it can and does get easier. Everyday, you work towards creating a life where it is easier not to use.

I live today surrounded by love and beauty. I owe that to myself for growing beyond the confines of my addicted mind.

The work is hard, but I promise you it is worth it.

Two identities: The problem common to both autism and asexuality

Both autism and asexuality are identities that are often misunderstood by the general public. Myths abound about both of them, some more harmful than others. There is however one myth in particular that is common to both.

This is the myth that both autism and asexuality are products of some kind of damaging/traumatic event.

For years, the antivax crowd has spread the narrative that autism is caused by damage as a result of vaccination. This has led to a great deal more conspiracy theories surrounding the so called “causes” of autism, ranging from the claim that 5G causes autism through to the wonderfully outrageous concept that Peppa Pig causes autism.

This of course has spawned a plethora of quack treatments such as MMS (chlorine dioxide bleach) abuse and chelation therapy. Quacks regularly use these abusive treatments to “cure” autistics, instead causing a great deal of harm.

You can understand, then, why it concerned me to learn of some of the rhetoric that is regularly turned on the asexual community.

Many have been accused of only being asexual because of sexual trauma, or mental illness. Many have been told it needs to be fixed or cured.

Having seen how out of hand this has become in the autism treatment industry, it terrifies me to think that my fellow asexuals may also be subject to things like behavioural therapies and other quack cures.

The harm that has been done to the autistic community is immense. We need to dispel these myths before it happens to another community.

Asexuality is not a lifestyle choice. It is not the result of trauma, or mental illness. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, an identity. It is who we are, and it is valid. We do not need a cure or to be fixed.

This Autistic will not stand by while another community is harmed the way that so many of us in the autistic community already have been.

I am proud to be both autistic and asexual.

Parallels: My autistic identity and my asexual identity

I only recently publicly admitted to being asexual. It was a great weight off of my shoulders, although I don’t believe that it was too surprising to anyone who knows me well. Much like my being autistic, it was just part and parcel of who people already knew me to be.

There is a distinct difference, however, between my autistic identity and my asexual identity.

My autistic identity is diagnosed. It is confirmed by rigorous testing and interviews with people who are considered experts. Then, on the other hand, we have my asexuality.

There is no test for asexuality. Being asexual (or any sexuality for that matter) comes down to finding the identity that fits best for you. No doctor or self-purported expert can confirm your sexuality. It’s something that you have to come to terms with yourself.

This means that I have spent a great deal of time battling with a part of me that tried to deny it. In fact, part of the reason it has taken me 30 years to come out is because I spent years doubting myself, trying to talk myself out of it.

This has opened my eyes to the reality of self-diagnosis for autistic individuals. How many Autistics live in a duality of happiness for finding their identity, and crippling doubt because they have been denied the privilege of diagnosis?

I often dream of a world where everyone has fair and equitable access to diagnosis. Then I dream of a world where people don’t need diagnosis, a world where neurodiversity is celebrated for what it is, and not treated as a medical issue. I also dream of a world where services are not gatekept by those requiring a diagnosis.

No one deserves to live in doubt. Be they autistic, asexual, or both, they deserve to live comfortably with their identities. A life of self-acceptance and love for who they are.

I am proud to be autistic and on the ace spectrum. I won’t let self-doubt keep me from speaking my truth.

We all deserve happiness and fulfilment.

A thing of beauty: Living authentically autistic

For many years I was at odds with my autistic self. I blamed all of my struggles on being autistic, and truth be told, I wanted to be cured.

I was privileged to discover the autistic community a few years ago, here’s what I have learned.

While autism itself can be a disability, when viewed through the lens of the social model, being autistic is a beautiful state of being that I now find myself excited to share with the world.

Being autistic makes me single-minded in the pursuit of my interests, a gift that many do not recieve.

I am surrounded by a community of people who share in my experience while being just as individual as me.

I notice the little things in life, like the way and old book smells, the way the rain runs down the window, the lilt of my loved ones’ laugh.

Being autistic gives me a unique outlook on the world that I would not trade for anything. While some may be put off by my “out-of-the-box” thinking and blunt honesty, I am surrounded by a culture of acceptance in our community.

I take comfort in the autistic community and its celebration of the diversity of minds.

Thanks to being autistic, I no longer feel constrained to societal expectations. I have learned to love my differences. It’s what keeps me going on the more difficult days.

I love being autistic, and I love this community.

Embrace yourself, you won’t regret it.

The impact of no healthy autistic asexual representation

I recently realised that I am on the asexual spectrum. More specifically I am greysexual. This means that I rarely feel sexual attraction, and can go a long time without sex with no issues.

Most recently, I went through an 8 year stint of feeling no sexual attraction, and engaging in no sexual activity.

Prior to this I had been through years of being hypersexual. This wasn’t because I wanted the sex, I was doing what I thought was normal. I felt like that was the only way of expressing romantic intimacy. It was traumatic acting against my own orientation.

The reason I did this, I believe (in part), was because growing up, I had never seen healthy autistic asexual representation in anything. As a teenager all I saw was stigmatisation of autistic asexuals.

Sheldon Cooper for example. As a teenager I really related to his character (although as an adult I see the problems with his character). Unfortunately, Sheldon’s implied asexuality was portrayed as childlike, and indicative of negative outcomes for adults.

I was taught by shows like The Big Bang Theory that if I wanted to be an adult who was accepted, I needed to be having sex. Sex was what drove adults. I never understood it, but there it is.

If you want to be accepted, you need to be having as much sex as possible.

That thought was bouncing around my skull for years. I engaged in sex despite not wanting it. I caused myself harm.

Perhaps had I seen healthy representations of autistic asexuals, I would have known it was okay to be me. Instead I masked my sexuality like I masked my autistic neurology. And as we all know, masking comes with a steep price.

Simple acts of Radical Kindness: Maintaining my own wellbeing

As those who have followed my writing will know, I have a number of complex mental health issues as well as being an autistic addict in recovery.

I am coping with the fallout of those mental health issues more often than not. For this reason, I have had to develop a toolbox full of coping mechanisms to get by in the world.

Today I would like to talk about my two primary mechanisms, without which I would lose my wellbeing.

The first I have mentioned a few times, and that is communication. As I have said previously, my mantra is “open communication is the key to recovery”.

I do my very best to communicate my feelings, emotions, and mental state as often as possible. In particular, I am open and honest with my friends and loved ones, and with professionals working with me.

Without this open communication, it would be impossible to be supported in a way that is effective for me. The relationships we cultivate are important to our wellbeing, and open communication is vital to healthy relationships.

The second thing I do is something I call “Radical Kindness”. I call it “radical” because in the world we currently reside in, all acts of kindness are an act of radical opposition to the oppression we live in, especially when our own wellbeing is at stake.

Radical Kindness is simple. When you are feeling down, lonely, bored, empty. Whenever you need something more. You seek out opportunities to perform acts of altruism.

This can look like one off acts of kindness, or sustained endeavours.

For me it looks like volunteering at the local food bank, speaking to the homeless man being ignored on the street, donating a small amount of money to someone in need. The aim is to take the focus off of my own suffering by doing something good for another person.

Radical Kindness is the reason why I started my blog. Writing allows me to sustainably reach out and attempt to help others. My goal is to be the person that I needed 10 years ago.

These two coping mechanisms can look different for every person using them, but I strongly believe that they can help many people.

Next time you are struggling, communicate, and try helping another person. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by the results.