Unusual Medicines by David Gray-Hammond: book review

When I first heard that David Gray-Hammond was releasing a new book: Unusual medicine: Essays on Autistic identity and drug addiction, I knew it was going to be an important and affirming read. David’s previous writing is powerful and meaningful to me and many other Autistic people who have experienced addiction and substance use.  

There are parts of Autistic experience which are rarely spoken about, things which are erased, invalidated and ignored – Autistic people have used substances to dull the clamor of the world, unnoticed, for too long. David shares his journey to the self to show other Autistic people, and those who love and support us, that there is a way out of addiction:

“By discussing my struggles and strengths, I am able to help others. By discussing their strengths and struggles I am able to give voice to previously unnoticed aspects of my own identity.”

David Gray-Hammond, 2023, p.57

Noticeably, the book is just as important for the reader as it is for the writer, and together we create a narrative which makes sense of our neurodivergent bodyminds.

Those of us who were realised in our Autistic embodiment in adulthood, must unpick our past coping mechanisms – not coping mechanisms for being Autistic – but rather for living in a world which will not tolerate us. So many of us turn to drugs, alcohol, smoking, binge eating and much more to escape reality or to desperately have our needs met. I, like David, was trying to make sense of the world through substances, being undiagnosed meant I was looking for answers to questions I simply didn’t know existed. Interestingly, in Unusual Medicine’s David reflects that even if he had had the correct diagnosis he believes he would not have received the support that he needed. Early intervention is important but so too are recovery supports, all of which should be accessible to Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people. If we are not helped in our formative years, the odds are we are going to make an appearance in recovery groups.

Throughout Unusual Medicine David shares intimate details of his addiction, including how he experimented with his body, keeping notes on which substances gave him desired effects at which quantities. Most Autistic people rely on routines, so when we fall into harmful habits it is difficult to get out of, harder still when the support for substance use is centred on neuro-normativity:

“Society will only intervene and provide when a person is deep in crisis. For autistic people this can mean that we are ignored for years, because we don’t present like a neurotypical person when in crisis”

David Gray-Hammond, 2023, p.117

Our crisis points look different, between us and neuro-normatives, but also between ourselves. Sobriety looks different for different people. I, like David, needed to change my social group and came to the realisation that I had very few healthy relationships in my life to help me recover (“How do you rebuild healthy relationships when you weren’t sure you had any to begin with?” p.98).

There is so much more which I could share with you about Unusual Medicine, how David describes the fallacy of abstinence-based approaches, the deeply ingrained ableism in mental health services, and the one-size-fits-all approach to recovery, but I am afraid that I will not do it justice.

As with everything David writes, Unusual Medicine: Essays on Autistic identity and drug addiction, is not just a reflection on neurodivergent addiction, it is a love letter to the Autistic community. A raw journey into the self, a powerful reflection on the cruel absurdity of social constructs, ultimately leaving us with the message: all addicts deserve to recover.

Find Unusual Medicine (and David’s other books) by clicking here.

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