I want to begin this article by telling you how I create poems using song titles. It’s not ‘rocket science’ by any stretch of the imagination. But it is an unusual process.
It begins with me visiting the brainhive that is google, and typing into the search bar ‘All song titles by (in this case) Pink Floyd’.
This, like any google search, delivers a large number of returns. Usually, though not always, one of the top returns provides a comprehensive list of song titles in alphabetical order in one place.
Next, I highlight all the song titles and copy them using keystrokes. I then go to my google drive, open a new document, name it Song Titles by Pink Floyd, paste the titles in place and then create another document that I title ‘Pink Floyd Poem.’
I then return to the song title document and scroll through the titles, picking out some that appeal to me, which I copy and paste into the Poem document. Normally I will gather around 20-25 titles before I begin putting any together to see what theme(s) want to appear.
But when I began scanning the Pink Floyd titles it took about ten seconds to come to the following conclusion: They took a lot of drugs!
Now, I’m not saying that is all this great band did. Of course not. Their canon of work, after all, unequivocally proves otherwise. But it was an interesting insight, and I immediately thought, ‘Hmmm, this could be a poem about drugs.’
And then, when I reached ‘S’ in the alphabetical listing of titles, I found a song titled Stoned Alone, and knew this was definitely a drug poem. In fact, I felt the poem was maybe writing itself!
Of course, this poem didn’t write itself. I wrote it. I created it. And I did so by slaving over the page, and Pink Floyd’s song titles, until I was utterly spent! Because that is what artists do. And I am an artist. At least on a good day!
I now want to make a quick detour and take you back to 1983, when I was barely eighteen years young, and had just left home for the first time.
The truth here is that I left home in less than ideal circumstances – by which I mean I didn’t leave with the verve and joy experienced by those willingly embarking on the adventure of living with friends for the first time. I left home – or was thrown out, if I’m being honest – when a difficult parental relationship reached a new nadir.
This was, it must be said, partly due to me – my rebellious streak had matured nicely at this stage, and I was a know-it-all teenager (weren’t we all!). It must also be said that I was happy to leave home, but only because I was extremely unhappy. In fact, with hindsight I was depressed, most probably seriously.
That state of mind played a role when I decided, with four friends, to rent a house on GreenFields Lane, a narrow street that dates circa 1850 and connects to Douglas Street to Cove Street (the back of the old Tax Office) in Cork City centre.
Nowadays, houses on GreenFields Lane attract rents of approx €700 pm. But in 1983 that was not the case. Our rent was fifty pence per week, split between five of us. Now before you start thinking, ‘Wow! 10p a week rent. That’s amazing.’ I must point out that old saying ‘You get what you pay for’ very much applies in this case. Because our new abode was FAR FROM a palace.
The house had two bedrooms, one of which was accessed by going through the other. That second bedroom was also six sq feet smaller than it should have been, as the neighbour had annexed a portion of the room a few years earlier.
Downstairs contained a living room of half decent size, and a small kitchen whose only fitting was a belfast sink. We had no running hot water, no shower or bathroom, and the only toilet was in the backyard. Do I need to say it was at best dirty, at worst in a terrible state of disrepair? I didn’t think so.
But here’s the thing. We gleefully embraced this cheap, centrally located citadel because it represented freedom, and – being utterly naive – we knew no better.
I know now that subconsciously (at least) I wanted to wallow in both the misery of a trauma filled childhood and the unhappiness it had created. So, the dank, dusty and dreary lit environment totally suited me. As did the freedom to drink and smoke weed seven days a week.
All of this was achieved (that’s definitely NOT the right word) on a small salary from a part time job in Dunnes Stores, supplemented by a business arrangement with our friends.
We had a lot of visitors to Greenfields Lane. Mainly because very few 18-25 yr olds lived out of home in 1983 and having a Gaff, any kind of gaff, to go to was amazing.
And so, our business arrangement was simple. Call any night you like. But bring some hash. And they did. Frequently. By which I mean every night.
This, of course, offered me an opportunity to suppress my miserable mindset in the haze of an ongoing herbal high. An opportunity I grabbed with both hands!
I want to make clear now that I am in no way proud of that period of my life. And I am certainly not endorsing the use of drugs or alcohol as a form of self medication. There is absolutely no benefit in taking this route. It does not solve – or even ease – any of the problems that motivate the behaviour. In fact, it exasperates them.
Which is why, when I left Greenfields Lane, having collapsed in the middle of the afternoon in town, I was a wreck. I was, at six and half stone, grossly underweight. And my head was a complete mess.
Sadly, I did not learn the lesson that self medication does not work at that time. But then I was really still a child, and there was no information about these behavioural patterns available to me at the time.
Consequently, I went on the self medicate with drink on a number of occasions later in life. And in the mid 2000’s I took to gambling. The mire that habit created was incredibly challenging. Insomnia, stress and tiredness were my constant companions, and I actually thought I was insane for a while. The truth is, in a way I was.
Thankfully, that period led me to seek help, and doing so was a major turning point. Because, via therapy, I began to understand I was self medicating because I held within me a large quantity of unresolved complex childhood trauma. And once you understand, you can change.
Today I rarely drink. And when I do I have one or two bottles – at the most. I haven’t had a hangover for almost ten years. I haven’t taken a drug or gambled for even longer. Best of all I don’t miss any of those habits, and I am rarely depressed.
But why am I telling you all of this? It’s not, I can assure you, to brag about my sobriety, which – somehow – I reached without entering a programme.
And it’s certainly not because I have a poem to share. Poems, in the bigger scheme of things, are irrelevant.
No, I tell you this because last Saturday was World Mental Health Awareness Day. Frankly, I would argue that ONE DAY A YEAR is a paltry gesture when it comes to dealing with the mental health problems currently at play in Ireland. And we definitely need a lot more than awareness if we are to shift the landscape.
But awareness is a good place to start – especially if the awareness is being raised by people who have recovered telling their story. I learned first hand that has the power to inspire. Because that is how my journey to recovery began. And maybe, if I’m really, really lucky, this piece will be the start of that journey for someone else.
So, if you are reading this, and you have even an inkling you have a mental health issue, or are self medicating, please talk to someone. Ring your doctor. Talk to a friend. Call a helpline. That first step is vital. And if you hesitate – which you will – do it anyway. You have the courage. You have the strength. Even if you think you don’t.
Now, back to the poem. Stoned Alone is a piece that can be read as a celebration of being stoned, even though it was not written with that intention in mind.
Not that I had any intention in mind, apart from playing with words and sounds. I will say, however, that, in my experience, the dark places represented in this poem are far more dominant in real life than the bright – particularly if you come to drugs with trauma at play in your psyche.
That is why I chose the ‘Confusion and corrosion’ extract as the foundation for a piece of art that may be part of a possible mental health exhibition.
Those dark, dark places when the mind is a beehive, and a wasp nest, and a war zone all at the same time cannot be forgotten. Even when one is ten years sober.
Stay safe. Stay well. And look after your mental health.
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