'My parents had no idea of the damage their hippie values did to me'

Simon Mott's family was privileged, creative and loving. So how did this young man lose 20 years of his life to drug addiction and crime? He recounts how he came back from rock bottom

Tuesday 11 October 2011 00:00 BST

There's one moment in my life that will always be etched on my mind. I was in my late 30s, I'd been using heroin for 20 years and had overdosed for the umpteenth time. This time, I woke up on the kitchen floor with a syringe hanging out of my arm. I realised if that had been the shot that killed me, it would have been my mother who found me. I imagined her seeing me dead on the floor of my horrible flat that hadn't been cleaned for months. I knew that was something she would never be able to get over and it filled me with horror and shame. It was the moment I began to turn my life around.

I had always been a bit of a wild child – I got into the punk scene when I was about 14 and started using recreational drugs such as speed and LSD. I first came across heroin when I was 16. I was at a friend's squat in Islington and someone produced some. I was only too willing to try it. It was unlike any drug I had ever had.

I felt an incredible warmth throughout my body. It was like being in a bubble. I was totally at ease and felt I'd found the answer to all life's woes. I was addicted immediately. I wasn't dependent – that took some time – but I was totally hooked. It was like falling in love at first sight. Little did I know my 20-year struggle with heroin had just begun.

I come from a very privileged background. My family moved to Belgravia when I was in my early teens and I went to a private school called Town and Country School in Hampstead. It was one of those schools whose philosophy was to let children discover their own potential, so there was lots of freedom. Personally, I had a problem with boundaries to begin with, so I simply wasn't able to manage myself under that regime – for me it just meant chaos.

My parents had no idea of the damage their hippie values did to me. They were beatniks who had met at art school. My father was a university professor and Marxist philosopher and they both shared the same values as a lot of post-war, middle-class parents did at that time – very left wing, believing that it was OK to let their kids run free. My parents believed that I was very artistic and all my skill and potential simply hadn't been tapped into. But their intention to encourage creativity and a free spirit totally backfired.

I eventually got expelled for various reasons, including not turning up to games lessons and taking drugs, so they sent me off to a kibbutz for a while. I think they knew I was taking heroin but it wasn't really spoken about. At the beginning I used to smoke heroin and always swore over my dead body that I would never inject it.

But when I came back from Israel I walked into a friend's flat in Maida Vale and they were all sitting there injecting. They had moved on from smoking to shooting up in the six weeks that I had been away. I said, "Oh my God, what are you doing?" Within two hours my resolve had broken and I'd asked one of my friends to inject me. It was an overwhelming, instant effect – an amazing, orgasmic rush. At the back of my mind I knew I was getting in deep, but another part of me told myself I was in control and could stop whenever I wanted. Looking back, I was totally predisposed to addictive tendencies. I'm certainly not from a dysfunctional family, but I had issues within it. I'm a twin and my twin brother and I had a lot of difficulties with each other. We were never close and always highly competitive. I think we were both constantly fighting for my mother's love and approval. I resented him. And as a child I had undiagnosed ADHD. I also had low self-esteem and I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I was looking for something to fix me because I didn't feel OK on the inside, and heroin was just the thing.

I moved from job to job and country to country, but the problem just came with me. I would always find myself back in the same position with a needle in my arm. Eventually, I came back to the UK and my existence was reduced to a life of petty crime. I was a shoplifter and an opportunistic criminal. I realised very quickly that being an addict was all-consuming. It totally limited my life, as every day I would get up and have to look for a way to make enough money to get the drugs I needed to keep the demons away. In monetary terms it was probably about £50 a day.

I cringe at the memory. Every day I became more of a mess; my hygiene was terrible and I got thinner and more wasted. I didn't care. I became kamikaze and would just walk into a shop and pick up a TV. If I got caught I'd surrender immediately. I ended up wanting to get caught, as I thought maybe if I went to prison I could get some help.

But for me that never happened. They saw that I came from a respectable family and so they would send me off and expect my parents to pick up the pieces. They stereotype addicts and the more deprived background they come from, the more likely they are to get a prison sentence. I probably had about 20 offences to my name, but still they would only give me a conditional discharge.

It only ever gets worse if you are an addict. You cross more lines, you take more risks and your tolerance grows so you need even more drugs, until you get to the point where, rather than just getting stoned slumped in the corner, you desire total oblivion.

But that rock-bottom moment when I overdosed was the moment the drugs no longer worked for me. Even the highly efficient painkiller that is heroin couldn't kill the fear of me imagining my mother finding my body. I felt utter despair and completely defeated. I couldn't walk into another shop and steal again. I had nothing left to give. I begged for help and was given one final chance to go to rehab. That was nine years ago and I've been clean since.

I'm 47 now and basically lost a good 20 years to my addiction. I am making up for it now. After I was clean for five years I started to work in rehab. I'm now a therapeutic manager at the Cabin rehab centre in Chiang Mai in Thailand. I've been here for six months in one of the most beautiful settings in the world and it's a job that is beyond my wildest dreams. We teach a modern take on the 12 steps and are probably one of the top-10 rehab centres in the world.

There are still consequences. I have Hepatitis C as a result of sharing dirty needles. I have a 26-year-old daughter; I let her down repeatedly. I hurt her so badly it's taken years to gain any trust. She is still angry with me and has issues of her own. Those years can't be undone. But I'm so thankful they're behind me.


Interview by Lena Corner

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