The dark side: Facing up to the things I have done as an autistic addict

A myth that I have seen online, that I find very worrying, is the idea that autistic people live in a state of childlike innocence. I get the impression that some people believe that we don’t do bad things, but this is patently untrue.

If you have read my writing or followed my work, you will be very aware that I am not only autistic, but also a recovering drug and alcohol addict. With that world comes a lot of things that I regret deeply. I am not proud of the person I was a decade ago. I’m proud of who I have been for almost 5 years now, but prior to that, I went through a very dark period in my treatment of others.

As an addict, I was quick to violence, and a skilled liar and manipulator. Nothing would come between me and my substances, and if something did, I would bulldoze right through it.

Two things I regret in particular were things that I did to my family. I stole my mother’s painkillers after she had received major spinal surgery, and I stole my sister’s money to buy drugs. At the time, I couldn’t see past my need to get high. I was desperate and suffering deeply, doing what I thought I needed to in order to survive.

Beyond that were the circles that I existed within. While I’m not sure that the people I lived with at the time were aware of the extent of it, I surrounded myself with criminal/gang types. I sold drugs for them in return for drugs I could use. I was the type of person who carried a knife because I believed that I would one day need it.

I remember one particular event in which I had become extremely ill 300 miles from where I lived, and a dealer I was involved with believed I had stolen his drugs and run off. He threatened to harm my family. My solution? Threaten him back and scare him off.

Autistic people are human. We fall in with the wrong crowds; in fact, we are often more susceptible to that than the general population. We are often lonely and want desperately to belong and contribute to something. Predatory people sense that desperation for connection and our social isolation and groom us to do their dirty work and position us to take the fall and be the scapegoat should they get caught.

What we need is people who can guide us away from these crowds without judgement (like any one, to be honest).

When autistic people grow, I think it can cause a kind of schism when they look back on who they were. So many people I know celebrate me as “a really nice person,” but that doesn’t always sit well with me. I know the sort of person I used to be, and I struggle to reconcile that with the person I am today.

Looking back, I can see what pushed me into that dark world. It was trauma. My mental health was in pieces, and I had turned to drugs. From there it was very easy for people to manipulate me and turn me into something that I wasn’t. Still, I take responsibility for the person that I was.

Autistic people experience trauma at a much higher rate than the general population. We are oppressed from many angles, and made to feel like aliens in our own homes. Is it any wonder then, why we are drawn in by people seeking to use us for nefarious reasons?

As I said, I take responsibility for who I was. I can’t ask for forgiveness without doing that. But please, don’t assume that autistic people are innocent or childlike. We do have vulnerabilities in that we can’t always sense when someone is dangerous or manipulative. But we are capable of doing bad things. We are adults at the same age as others, we want the same things, but we have less access to those things.

Believing that we are incapable of harmful behaviors is a lie people tell themselves because they do not want to think of us as adults. They want to control us, devalue our opinions, and keep us from having autonomy. Autistic people don’t learn healthy boundaries because they grow up having their boundaries and autonomy and needs ignored and pathologized by parents, teachers, and “autism therapy” providers.

At a subconscious level, nonautistic people don’t want to teach autistic people about the dangers of manipulation, coercion, and controlling behaviors because autistic people would recognize those same behaviors in them.

The fact is, adults do not want to teach autistic people sexual education and notions of consent, the dangers of police misconduct, drugs and alcohol, etc. because seeing autistic people as being sexual, as capable of breaking the law, or as potential future addicts means that the autistic person will one day have some control over their own autonomy. Instead, the goal is to keep them sheltered.

Educating autistic people about adult topics is not robbing them of their innocence. It’s equipping them with boundaries.

Consider how autistic people may have ended up in a position to do bad things. In my opinion, we rarely end up running in the wrong circles by choice. We are often victimised by those pretending to care while instead taking advantage of us.

Consider questioning how an autistic person’s childhood may have led them to making the decisions that they have in their teen and adult years.

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4 Responses

  1. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

    While not having a relationship with addiction myself, I do relate to the struggle at conciliating and making sense of a past one doesn’t feel proud of (especially for the harm one does to others) with the identity one has forged. People telling me that i’m a good person doesn’t sit well with me either, I hate this tendency of classifying people as all good or all bad when we’re just human. We’re whole.

    But what I most appreciate about your post is how you pointed out that we often don’t reach dark places by accident. Well meaning people are often responsible of this when they disregard our boundaries and our feelings are made to not matter in comparison to theirs because they are majority and we aren’t.

    Being told we’re All Wrong without explanation creates inability or a significant struggle at accountability in the right moment one’s asked for it. How do i hold myself accountable if the damage isn’t even being named? How do i take responsibility if the feedback often received is only “you play the victim”, “you’re being unreasonable”, “people your age don’t do that”, and people don’t explain how so i can do better in an effective way? People love demanding accountability and not putting the leg work to help prevent harmful cycles to happen. It’s literally that one dog meme, in this case the format would be “be normal! No Help, ONLY NORMAL.”

    And the worst of all is that well meaning people do this and enablers of abuse cycles paint themselves as the only people who “understand their feelings of inadequacy” and do nothing to challenge harmful patterns, but use them for an often bigoted agenda.

    So yes. It’s very important that autistic people grow up being considered as whole people, not just “innocent” or “demons”. Instead of considering us fundamentally ruined, we all should commit to name the d*mn damage in order to assert limits. The idea that dissent supposedly equals “dismissal of personhood” is already proven a dangerous idea.

    And lastly, you bring perhaps the most accurate of points:

    At a subconscious level, nonautistic people don’t want to teach autistic people about the dangers of manipulation, coercion, and controlling behaviors because autistic people would recognize those same behaviors in them.

    Thank you very much for writing this.

  2. Thanks for this article.

    I’ve sometimes seen the same tendency within online spaces for/by autistic people, and maybe even contributed to it with some comments. There are now and then comments popping up to the effect that autistic people are somehow not built to pull off manipulation or ego-games etc. This “inability” is generally framed as a positive (or even superiority).

    I think facts of life disprove this: autistic people are like all people complex, including morally complex. And while we all have some room to choose, what / who is around is matters and makes some choices easier and others less so.

    I also have a past with addiction, though relatively innocuous to others (food-related). But based on family history I know that it’s not black and white, people don’t need to be “bad” to get into addiction, those who manage to stay out of it can take some credit, but also were often helped by people and circumstances (like myself). I think the best thing to do is see this realistically and keep the more constructive choices as available / visible as possible.

    But heck, it’s really not banal to get out of addiction (or avoid it if you’ve got the psychic wounding that it grows on). I quite liked Lance Dodes’ work on this (The Heart of Addiction), and many other books helped me (not sure what would be if I hadn’t had the leisure and support to work through all this).

  3. Interesting and well-written article, thank you for sharing! I’ve noticed that if someone doesn’t fall into the trap of thinking autistic people are innocent, sinless cherubs who can do no wrong, they tend to swing to the other extreme, thinking that autistic people are inherently dangerous just because they’re autistic. In both cases, there is a faulty assumption that autism governs all of an autistic person’s behavior, rather than being one factor among many that determines how a person may act in a given situation. Of course autism affects an autistic person’s behavior–it would be foolish to claim otherwise–but you can’t absolutely predict an autistic person’s behavior just by knowing they’re autistic. We’re human beings who make both good and bad choices, just like everyone else.

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