Cypress Hill ‘Hits from the Bong’ is the soundtrack to the setting of an East London flat. A few friends surround you, but in all honesty, your attention is not with them; it’s completely within yourself. Absolute tranquillity floods every inch of your body as you arrive at complete and utter solace. You ride on the enjoyment of what is going on inside you, whilst nothing else is happening around you. And at this point, I wonder how such a beautiful feeling as this described to me above can have such life destroying consequences. But then again, there is nothing ‘beautiful’ about drug addiction.
Gary Dyer is sitting next to me on a bench. It’s a gorgeous summer’s day and directly in front of us is the breathtaking view of Southbourne beach, just outside Bournemouth. He is recently 42; which almost marks the tenth year of his being entirely clean of drugs and alcohol. He wears a tank top that shows off an extremely muscular and healthy looking physique; which makes sense given his current job title as Doorman at Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen’s Club in Bournemouth.
Ignorance conjures up images of the stereotypical heroin addict’s back story: a tough and abusive childhood, neglect, poverty, depression, tragedy and thus heroin becoming the escape. Those expectations are soon disproved however.
“I had a great childhood. I was a very loved kid and absolutely no abuse!” Gary explains. “I grew up in Romford in Essex and came from a working class family. My parents worked really hard so my grandparents looked after us mostly.”
His grandparents, however, were deaf and dumb which he feels may be part of the reason he became disruptive as a child. “They couldn’t give me proper attention, so I started trying to get it wherever I could. I wasn’t good at school either,” he continues. “I didn’t like lessons or learning so I started showing this dysfunctional behaviour. I just wanted to be good at something and I wasn’t really.” It probably didn’t help that his brother, Bradley, who is 18 months older, showed success in sport and was involved in various semi-professional sporting clubs in the area.
By age 14, Gary had been expelled from school and soon embarked on a series of jobs with his father including working at various markets and in kennels, but none of them lasted long. It was at this time that he started experimenting with drugs such as smoking cannabis.
In 1986, by the time he was 16, Gary had found a job working in the local post office as a postal cadet. “There were older people there that I worked with who I really connected with and they accepted me. I felt like I had finally arrived,” he says fondly. “I made friends from all different parts of London and it was great! We used to all hang out together at the weekend.”
To put it into context slightly, this was all happening around 1987 to 1989, when illegal raves were in their hay-day and popping up all over the East London area.
“You have to understand, it was a proper drug culture at that time. We all lived for the weekend and the party drugs that came with it. We all got ‘things’ off each other,” Gary explains.
The standard procedure seemed to involve a £10-15 entry fee, followed by a drug and alcohol fuelled rave frenzy with friends that usually went on until noon the next day.
“We would take speed, acid, ecstasy to get that proper party buzz that lasted for hours and hours. We all looked to the weekend.”
And what happened when extra money was needed to fund these wild weekends? Evidently quite an elusive business came synonymously with the party culture Gary was experiencing. “We would sell pills in clubs. I could sell 100 pills a night of E, acid, speed, at around £15 a tablet.”
The party fever never ended and at age 20, Gary went to Tenerife. “I was like Danny Dyer’s character in ‘The Business’!” He muses. “Ah, I was living the dream. I would sell pills along Veronica Strip, sleep with different girls every night! The rave drugs progressed from every weekend, to every night. They were the proper fun days.” He pauses for a second, and makes a U-turn in the previously elated tone of conversation. “At that time, I didn’t know I had an illness. I was prone to addiction. There are still people I know who live for the weekend and for things that ‘fix’ you and make you feel good. It’s all about running away from real life and that’s your vice. Whether it’s food, or going to the gym or drugs.”
It was now the early 90’s and Gary had returned to the UK, where the party still hadn’t stopped. “It was like a rave epidemic in England in an era of party drugs. We all even went on a march in Trafalgar Square to make illegal drugs legal!”
Nevertheless, a more attractive invitation from old friends in Romford was soon to beckon the 23-year-old in the form of a new venture in Gran Canaria. “I knew things were getting out of control, but I wanted to prolong the party lifestyle. Some old friends called me and asked if I wanted to come and party whilst earning money. As soon as the opportunity came, I went out there.”
Now back in the Canary Islands again and selling pills to tourists to earn money, the excitement of the party drugs was beginning to wear thin. “The buzz was running out. I needed to try new things to get it back. I would go missing for ages to smoke crack with the locals. But that can be hallucinogenic and make you really paranoid. It was uncomfortable being that high.”
You ride on the high before returning to a vague sense of normality. For every up, there must be a down. But what if you’re so ‘up’, you completely lose sight of the down?
“I felt so erratic; I needed something to take that away. And the solution seemed to be heroin. I never once thought it would be an addiction. It’s an opiate; a painkiller and depressant. I was comfortably numb and mentally satisfied.”
A sudden flash of inspiration comes over Gary as well as a slight diversion from the severity of the heroin addiction creeping ever nearer in his life story. He rings Steve, a friend who he was with in Gran Canaria and also a recently recovering heroin addict. They both end up in a frenzy of laughter as they reminisce over the wildness of their six months there whilst Steve is on loud speaker.
“If in doubt, rob a Kraut!,” howls Steve. “That’s what we would do when we were short of money, knock out a German tourist and take his wallet – remember that Gary!”
“Oi Steve, remember this one; it was 6am and we needed gear. So we asked these locals who got us in the back of their van and drove 300 miles around that mountain. We were so high and paranoid thinking they were going to mug us, you were like “Gal, hold me gold, hold me gold!” I was like, I don’t want it!” By this time, everyone present in this conversation is laughing at the thought of two paranoid, high idiots screeching in the back of a van.
“Listen, Gary, have you heard from Tony?” The tone changes drastically as concern is very tangible in Steve’s voice.
“I had a missed call from him earlier. Why what’s wrong?” Gary replies with equal concern.
“I don’t know. I think something’s happened,” Steve says rather bluntly. The two finish their conversation abruptly but affectionately.
A very different feeling is present now as Gary rings another friend, Tony, who is currently undergoing his drug rehabilitation. A solemn voice answers the other end of the phone and a look of relief comes over Gary’s face. A very different conversation is had compared to the hilarity and fast pace of the previous one.
“Steve said you haven’t been in contact for a while?”
“Yeah…sorry. Listen, I’ve got my Secondary,” says Tony with vague detectable joy in his voice.
“That’s brilliant mate! Ah well done. I’m really proud of you.” Gary replies encouragingly.
Drug rehabilitation comes in stages, which follow a 12-step programme. The patient undergoing the treatment will initially participate in the Primary stage of rehabilitation (which includes detoxifying) and if successfully completed, will then be eligible for funding for the Secondary stage of rehabilitation, which includes meetings and therapy to help the recovering addict to remain clean.
“I think I want to buy my council flat you know, start a proper life.”
There is obvious disagreement in Gary’s face and he attempts to select a tone of voice both comforting and reassuring.
“You can’t think of that yet, Tone. You’ve got to build up from the foundations of your recovery. Get out of Essex and start a new life somewhere else, somewhere calmer. At least give it a chance, you can always go back to Essex if you hate it. I did that, I thought I’d hate Bournemouth and it would be boring. But I’ve been here eight years now and I don’t even look back. Keep going to meetings, I’ll come with you. But remember, Tone, we’ll never be millionaires financially. But we can be millionaires spiritually again.”
The phone goes dead. And so does the conversation for a minute or so. All that can be heard is the sea beating along Bournemouth’s coastline and the sounds of children playing down below on the beach.
“That’s the trouble,” Gary finally says thoughtfully. “You want everything back straight away when you’re recovering; money, stability. But you can’t. You have to just focus on being clean for the next 24 hours.”
He pauses again, deep in thought, and then shakes his head in disbelief. “He nearly lost his legs because he was injecting into his groin and now he wants to try and buy a flat! It’s too much. But I’ve been there, when you stop putting a drug into your system that’s been there every day for years and years, there’s a massive void that needs to be filled.”
After this tangent of both euphoric nostalgia between Gary and Steve, and the gravity of conversation between him and Tony also, we eventually return to the narrative of Gary’s life, and he is now 23 and back in the UK after a chaotic six months in Gran Canaria.
“I wasn’t addicted but I would obsess over heroin. I would hang around with people from Romford who were heroin addicts. I didn’t want them to know I wanted it so I’d ask them to let me try a bit and quickly I got into the cycle.”
He explains that, along with his newly acquired weekly wages on a Friday, he would buy heroin and smoke it on the foil. “I would be in these people’s flats Friday, Saturday, Sunday and very quickly those days became Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as well. After a month of doing that it’s pretty much in your system and suddenly I was addicted. I would wake up and need it.”
The chilling fact is it all sounds too easy. By age 24, without really realising it, Gary Dyer was addicted to heroin.
“From then on life was like Groundhog Day – get up, get some gear inside you to get going, get money to use more and more. Then do exactly the same thing day after day. That’s your life. People do it until they die because they don’t know a way out, and I thought that was it for my life now.”
Of course with an expensive addiction such as heroin, there’s the matter of where the money comes from. Understandably, it would seem inherently difficult to hold down a job whilst you are also addicted to a Class A drug.
“I was clever with the jobs I chose – doing nightshifts meant that you could get away with looking tired and not ‘with it’ because even the normal people looked like that on nights.”
Gary explains that in every job he had in the first few years of his addiction, he used heroin constantly. “On my breaks I would go out to the car, have a hit, and go back. I was on heroin the whole time.”
It’s hard to comprehend how someone on such a drug as heroin is able to hide their addiction so successfully. The stereotypical heroin addict would probably physically look as an addict would – extremely underweight, gaunt, unable to hold conversations or achieve any level of productivity. In reality, however, this isn’t always true.
The recent death of ‘Glee’ actor Cory Monteith who played Finn Hudson is a perfect example. He had been taking drugs since the age of 12 and died in July this year aged 31; of a toxic combination of heroin and alcohol. He had been addicted to the drug for years which included the whole time he had worked on the show, yet this was an almost unknown fact until his recent death in a hotel in Vancouver.
This appears to resonate with Gary’s story: “Every day from when I was 15 until I became clean when I was 32, and I mean every day, I had a drug in my body. Be it cannabis, ecstasy, ketamin, heroin. But I looked healthy all the time, I just ate crap to maintain a healthy weight and even though I lived with my parents they never knew what I was going through.”
That is the frightening truth that comes with addiction; if you know how to conceal it then it’s possible to keep it going without those around you suspecting anything, which can unfortunately have disastrous consequences.
As the addiction took its toll, Gary ended up without a job as a result of being unable to keep them down or simply not turning up because he didn’t want to. “Spearmint Rhino is the longest job I’ve ever had. I’ve been there eight years now!” He chuckles. And thus, the money for the heroin then started coming from shoplifting instead.
Just before he was 30, the quality of the heroin available was deteriorating, and this ended up being the reason his parents found out about his addiction.
“The heroin that was about wasn’t good so I started withdrawing. I was going cold turkey in my parents’ house. They locked me in a room for three days until I could go to rehab on the Monday. I was dry-retching and then I would just vomit and have diarrhoea at the same time; I was too weak to get to the bathroom. I was turning over mattresses and throwing them against the wall. It was awful, it broke them. I was like Renton in ‘Trainspotting’.”
Gary finally went into The Priory at age 30, which was paid for by a best friend he grew up with who had made it as a professional footballer. “I didn’t want to get clean then, I actually ‘used’ while I was in there,” he winces. “I met this Chelsea football director there and when we came out I went to live with him in this mansion in Surrey. He gave me a room, a job, cash, a car. But the obsession was still there. I ended up writing off the car he gave me whilst dropping off at the wheel due to using just before driving!” Gary laughs in almost disbelief at the thought of the memory.
“From there, it got to the point where I was like I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want this fear of getting up and having to get money to put more drugs in me. You can’t stop something like that for anyone but yourself. I tried doing it for my parents but that didn’t work. You have to want to do it for yourself.”
Surely, overcoming such an intrinsic addiction that has been your life for so long cannot be a simple case of mind over matter?
“People think it’s the drug, and it is. But it’s you who stops it. When I finally got to the point where I was like I have to stop. I went through every step of the recovery as I should and I became clean.”
After living with his friend in Surrey, Gary went to live in Nottingham for a short while before friends in Bournemouth persuaded him to complete his recovery there. The much slower pace of life ended up playing a major role in his recovery.
“I went to the meetings and dealt with my recovery. The 21st of September marks exactly ten years since I put any drug or alcohol in my body,” he says proudly.
“I started going to Spearmint Rhino and got friendly with the manager, Bob. He suggested that I should apply for my doorman’s badge and so I did.”
Gary has now been a doorman at the club for eight years. “You renew your badge every three years…and I will be renewing it for the third time next year… so yeah, eight years!”
Today, Gary boasts a fantastic physique due to his vice now being within the gym instead of drug addiction and endeavours to continue to help his friends who are in their respective recovery processes.
A turbulent life of heroin addiction and all that comes with it has ultimately produced a truly inspirational character. Hopefully he can instil optimism to other recovering addicts to come out as triumphantly as he has done.