Blog 6: my drug story


I first came to a 12 step-fellowship when I was 14. I’d been using drugs for 16 months. A year earlier I’d been 2 months clean seeing an alcohol and drug counselor after having smoked cannabis for about 4 months.

 

I come from a small country called New Zealand and I lived in a small community where cannabis was a part of daily life. It was seen as being as socially acceptable as alcohol, tobacco, and coffee, and I always knew I’d smoke it when I got older.

I first tried it at 11 at my friend’s house and then again at 12 at a party with some friends and on neither occasion did it actually work, so I decided to pretend to be stoned. I had a great time, I felt alive and spontaneous like I could do or say anything and if I embarrassed myself or made a mistake I was exempt from liability because I  could say I was stoned.

 

I’m not sure what was going on for me at that time that I felt like I needed an excuse for being silly or for making mistakes, and I’m not sure if before I tried weed I ever wished for one, but I do remember clearly thinking “I can do or say anything I like now!” and feeling like that was some amazing state of liberation.

 

The next time I tried it, it actually worked and within 2 months I went from being a scrupulously honest kid to a compulsive liar, a constant truant and a thief.

After a few arrests for possession of cannabis and a failed attempt at controlled using with a drug counselor, my mother (4 years clean in another fellowship) decided to let me go to a 12 step-fellowship. I had asked the year before when I got in trouble but she was scared I’d meet hardened criminals there who’d turn me onto harder drugs.

 

I found the 12 step-fellowship fantastic! I knew being a druggy had a short shelf life and as I was just as addicted to being cool as I was to drugs, I thought being a recovered addict at 14 was a great achievement. I got a special pass from school so I could miss the period before lunch to go downtown and help open the Wednesday lunchtime meeting. I got a sponsor, made some friends, did 2 meetings a week and lost my nagging feelings of guilt and shame that had haunted my year of drug use.

 I fell in love and had my heart broken, and at 6 months clean I relapsed. It took 9 months of selling drugs, frequent arrests, flunking my classes and getting kicked out of school to get me back into the fellowship again. Instantly I felt elated, free of the shackles of inner torment and shame and I proudly proclaimed at every meeting that “this time was different and I’d never use drugs again”

3 years of arrests, rehabs and a progression into harder drugs and harder crime saw me brokenhearted on my 17th birthday, kicked out of home and having lost most of my friends due to my lying and stealing. I was feeling totally ashamed, depressed and weary. I’d been clean for over 3 months three times already and I’d realised that I was now one of those hopeless addicts that keeps relapsing while everyone else gets well.

 

Music and people were the two things I was good at but I hadn’t written a song in months and there were no people left who wanted to hear me play anymore. The drug-cool, bad-boy image had worn off years ago and no one even gossiped about me anymore. I’d become a non-entity in every world I’d been a part of and getting clean seemed like just another one of my pipe dreams.

 

I went back to the 12 step-fellowship anyway because I had nowhere else to go, and I met this cool recovering guy who had just started up a charity to help other addicts get to a 12-step based rehab.

He said the charity would pay for me to go to this amazing rehab in the South Island. This rehab was considered the Mecca of rehabs in my country and I jumped at the chance. Our government had started closing down all the 12-step based rehabs in favor of harm-reduction programs and at 17  I already knew enough about my disease to know that controlled using was not a realistic option for me.

 

Two weeks later this enthusiastic addict was driving me down to rehab where I had decided I’d finally be saved, get clean, then become a big rich rock star and live happily ever after…

 

After 3 weeks at Hanmer I was being kicked out for refusing to wear a hair-tie! To make matters even more humiliating and devastating my Mum had just come down for family week and I was intending she’d see the new reformed me and be all proud and I’d be all redeemed, but instead it was the same old story; she puts herself through hell and humiliation to try and help me survive. Basically I’d been around long enough to understand the rules of rehab; don’t fall in love (or have sex with anyone), don’t talk about drugs etc, so I was trying to do everything right, full of a kind of righteous remorse for all my past bad deeds. What I hadn’t got was Step 1 and so I was being picked on for every little thing in order to push me to a point of surrender where I could finally accept that I didn’t know the answers and I was fucked.

 

I don’t really know if that was their intention, but when they kicked me out I lost hope and with the loss of hope came the loss of confidence, arrogance and ego. I knew I had no chance of survival. I had a surrender experience, or epiphany of sorts, and it wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t enjoy it.

 

There was no silver lining and no immediate relief or grace, just a deep knowing that no matter what happened I’d never be able to work it out, and that for the rest of my life I’d always be completely powerless over my addiction. For addicts in recovery this may sound like the perfect beautiful wake up of self-awareness that we hear about in meetings and hope happens to us. But for me this was darkness itself, the realisation that I was powerless didn’t come with any reassurance or parachute, I assumed this meant I’d keep using for a few years until I died in some insignificant way with no one  but my poor mother, brother and sister really noticing.

 

I gave up and I stopped arguing with people and I stopped fighting with myself. I asked the rehab people to let me stay, not conned or manipulated or argued, just asked, and they agreed.

 

Two weeks later I graduated and asked the sponsor I’d had since my first recovery attempt at 14 to still sponsor me. He said yes, and for the first time, I asked him what I needed to do.

I followed his suggestions, and did a meeting every day, called him every day, read the daily morning meditation book  and the daily inventory pamphlet every day. I spent social time or made telephone calls everyday to other addicts with more clean time than me, I did a little step work everyday, read from the Big Book or the Basic Text every day, and I prayed to something I was beginning to feel might be real every morning and every night.

 

I could say that for me as an adolescent in the fellowship I felt ‘different’ and that being the only teenager was hard, but the reality was I’d spent most of my using trying to hang out with much older people and the fact that all my friends still used was no different for me than most addicts who come in. We are all different; most of us will have something about us that is unique in the fellowship where we get clean. I chose to be proud of my uniqueness not to wear it as a shackle or make it a ‘poor me’. Sure I got sick of hearing “wow I wish I’d done it at your age” but it was always said with love and my fellowship really celebrated me.

 

A lot of people in recovery used a lot more drugs than me, it was really alcohol and cannabis that brought me to my knees. I never used hard drugs very regularly and shot up no more than a handful of times. Some older members used to say I would have eventually gotten hooked on opiates, as though drugs are a progression and inevitably every addict given enough time or resources would go for heroin, but I’m not sure, I never really liked depressants. I think had my using continued it wouldn’t have turned into Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting, nothing that glamorous or interesting. Probably just another loser spending his life smoking pot, on the dole, neglecting the kid of some accidental pregnancy and never really living.

 

 

After a few months some other teenagers, a demographic that in my country had previously only ever come to a meeting or two and never returned, were starting to get clean and actually stick around, so at the age of 18 with some of these kids we started a ‘Young Ones’ meeting and after another year we had about 10 teenage addicts attending meetings weekly with over 9 months clean!

 

I’ve been clean for over 12 years now and when I’m not working as a counselor or touring or recording with my band I spend my time with my loving family and amazing friends. I go to bed grateful and wake up excited. I love 12-step meetings more than ever and being a sponsor to other addicts is one of my life’s great privileges.

The excitement, mysticism, creativity and freedom that I fruitlessly sought in chemicals is so alive in every part of my life today that sometimes I can’t really believe I deserve this life. Recovery meetings are the place I show my gratitude best and I make every effort to be there for the newcomer. I have so many intimate and dynamic friendships in the rooms but I make a conscious effort not to talk to them after meetings until I’ve spoken to every newcomer I can find first, the ones standing alone near the door, ready to slip out, the way I was when my sponsor grabbed me at my first meeting and cornered me for half an hour telling me that “using drugs is pussy” and “it’s the using addicts who have a reason to feel sorry for themselves, not us lucky ones here tonight.” He convinced me from that very first night and I pray that I may help even one addict as much as he helped me.

 

Part of his method was his inexhaustible enthusiasm and his inability to feel sorry for himself or somehow limited by this condition called Addiction. He instilled in me a belief that every task whether it be staggeringly difficult, emotionally painful and scary, or simply boring and monotonous, could be turned into an inspiring act of self awareness and a measure of one’s inner strength. This self-confessed ardent atheist told me time and again that simply the act of living could be a prayer if done with presence and clear intention.

 

New Zealand is a small country with a loving, giving, inspiring and hilarious fellowship and in 2005 I went overseas for the first time to attend a World Convention and discovered that recovery is like that everywhere.

 

It’s hard for me to remember now the despair, shame and longing that was my daily reality, but sometimes when a newcomer opens up and shares from their heart I’m taken straight back there to those first few days and to the life before it and I feel truly humbled. It is deeply healing for me to see myself in newcomers, as I can effortlessly love and accept them for all that they’ve done. When that happens my self-acceptance grows because between us there’s really very little difference, there’s very little at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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