If you find yourself in a hole the first thing you should do is stop digging
Who’d have thought they’d become an addict? Not me for sure. How did I end up being stuck in some toilet for hours on end sticking Coke up my nose?
I was born into a decent working class family with good values and what we lacked in material things we more than made up for with love and support. My early childhood was pretty straightforward. I was a happy kid and I thrived, although right from the start I was prone to having temper tantrums for no reason. I was that screaming kid in Tesco’s throwing himself to the floor, much to his mum’s embarrassment. “What’s wrong with you?” she’d ask. But to be honest, I really didn’t know.
I just felt uncomfortable, restless, irritable and angry. Little did I know these were the symptoms of addiction.
My parents split up when I was seven and I was devastated. This was in the 1960’s when things were handled differently. My dad was told to leave and not come back – that a clean break was best for everyone. And so one day he disappeared and we never saw him again. It was as if he had died, but we didn’t get to see the body.
It was very unusual for families to split-up in those days (we were labeled as coming from a “broken home”) and the stigma left us with feelings of guilt and shame. My dad became a taboo subject and was never discussed. I felt really bad when my teacher used to ask about my Dad, so I would lie about him in order to make myself feel better. I liked how these lies made me feel and soon I was living in my own little fantasy world of lies, where everything was OK. I didn’t get all choked up with anger any more, so I didn’t need to throw those tantrums. Lies had become my first mind-altering addiction.
At the age of fourteen I discovered booze, but unlike my mates, who’d have a few beers and a laugh, I was the one who drank until I couldn’t stand up, ran out of money or blacked out. Not long afterwards I started smoking weed, which I took to like a duck takes to water, and I was a daily smoker for the next thirty odd years. I loved taking Acid, Mushrooms, and Ecstasy. I preferred mind-blowing drugs to Barbiturates, I hated Speed and so wasn’t interested in Cocaine until I was well into my 30’s. By this time I had a job with an expense account and a boss who expected me to wine and dine my contacts. Cocaine soon became part of the mix and I drank and used at work for nearly 20 years. I remember getting so drunk one lunch-time that I fell asleep on a park bench, all suited and booted. I woke up surrounded by street drinkers, and thought “Ugh! Alkies!” not realising that I suffered from the same illness that they suffer from – the illness of addiction. Our circumstances may have been different, but under the nice suit or the shabby clothes, we were exactly the same.
My drinking and drug taking went from being a social thing to me becoming very isolated. I didn’t do things by halves and I soon became a real shoveller. I’m not the type who can take some Coke and enjoy the experience. I would take a line and start obsessing about when I could take the next one. I would instantly lose interest in the occasion, while the people around me became an irritating obstacle standing between me and the next line. So I ended up using on my own, usually in the khazi at work. How glamorous!
I didn’t really question my drinking and using – all of my mates pretty much drank and used as I did, until one day after work the penny really dropped. I’d been working late with some colleagues, and someone said “Anyone fancy a pint afterwards?” “Does the Pope wear a dress?” I thought. So we went to the pub, but everyone else went home after just one drink. I couldn’t understand it. Why weren’t they staying until closing time? Before crawling home at two in the morning? With a kebab stain down their shirts? On a Tuesday? And that got me thinking, “Perhaps I am a bit different?”
By this time my drug taking was out of control and had hit a really monotonous pattern. I was so powerless I’d get into work at 9.00, swearing I wasn’t going to use that day, but by 11.45 I was hitting last number redial to my dealer while hoping he wouldn’t answer his phone. He always answered, at 12.00. I’d order my gear and tell myself I wasn’t going to get any money out, while going to the cashpoint. I’d go to the tube, telling myself I wasn’t going to get on the train. I’d go to his flat, telling myself I wasn’t going to knock on the door. I’d knock on the door, hoping he wouldn’t answer. He always answered. I’d tell myself I’d only get one, but then I’d buy three. Every step of the way I was telling myself I didn’t want to be doing this, but I simply could not stop myself.
My rock bottom was remarkably unremarkable. I was lying in bed at the end of a three day use-up, sweating and staring at the ceiling. It was four in the morning, I’d had sod-all sleep for two days and if I was lucky I’d get an hour’s kip before I had to get up and go to work – and the whole insane cycle would start again. I just lay there and said to myself “Is this it? Is this all I’m going to do for the rest of my life?” I’d lost all choice over whether I’d use and I lost all control over how much I’d use once I started. I felt very alone and desperately unhappy. I’d had enough.
If you find yourself in a hole the first thing you should do is stop digging, and so I vowed there and then to stop taking drugs at work, and confine my using to weekends only. That lasted for about 2 days, until I simply had to pick up again. This worried me a lot. I had always been a very capable person, and if I set my mind to something I could usually achieve it. But solving my drug problem was beyond my mental abilities. I had lost hope.
In desperation I phoned a drug rehab project, who asked me to come into a day programme for 6 weeks. I couldn’t. I had a full time job with a lot of responsibility, and couldn’t just take 6 weeks off.
“In that case” they said. “go to as many Cocaine Anonymous meetings as you can, and come here twice a week to have your saliva swabbed”
I thought they were joking – I’d never heard of Cocaine Anonymous, and why would they want my saliva?
“To make sure you haven’t been lying to us about using drugs” they said.
“Charming” I thought. “They’re treating me like some king of drug addict.”
At which point another penny dropped. You don’t have to be a street user with a needle sticking out of your arm, or stuck on a crackpipe, to be an addict. You simply have to have lost the choice of whether you use, and lost the power to stop using once you start. That’s what addiction is, and I definitely qualified as an addict.
So I found a Cocaine Anonymous meeting, and it really wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be full of desperate low-life nutters, but instead it was full of positive, confident, optimistic people with a real sense of purpose and hope. I sat there very quietly, feeling quite scared. I don’t remember much that was said, except a lady was sharing her life story and her experience was so similar to mine it was uncanny.
Then they started talking about God, and I thought “Oh for Christ sake, not God! I hate bloody God and I hate Goddy people”. I had made the common mistake of not listening properly, and jumping to the wrong conclusion. By God they do not necessarily mean the Jesus and God type God you get from organised religions, unless you happen to believe in that type of God. What they actually mean is any power greater than yourself. That could be Mother Nature, a dead relative, the power of love, humanity, whatever. In Cocaine Anonymous you are free to choose any type of Higher Power you want. So as long as I could accept that my life run on my own terms was pretty disastrous (which it was), and that I needed to adopt a different approach to sort myself out (which I did) accepting a Higher Power was easy. I was that desperate I was willing to put my pre-conceptions aside and just go for it. I had a “Why the hell not?” moment, and I jumped in with both feet.
And here’s what I learned.
Addiction is an illness that affects some, but by no means all, people. If you have this illness there is no cure – you’re stuck with it for life, so you either do something about it, or in my humble opinion, you have a shitty life until it kills you.
The illness works in such as way that if I take any mind altering substance, even half a lager, a puff of a spliff, a small line of Coke, or a cheeky half an E, it will set off a physical craving, and a mental obsession that is so powerful that I will have no choice but to put more drink or drugs inside me.
People who suffer from addiction do not have an off switch – so we will keep on taking drugs for as long as we can. In my case I had 25 years of taking drugs against my will or my better judgement. My drug taking wasn’t safe, glamorous or enjoyable, but I kept on coming back for more.
Given all of the above, the only way I can keep myself safe is not to have the first beer, puff, line, or cheeky half. The Cocaine Anonymous 12-step programme is a pretty straightforward process that restores people’s ability to choose not to have the first one.
I needed to ask somebody to show me how the process worked, my sponsor, who guided me through it with patience and good humour, but never once judged me. The process involved getting very honest about my illness, my using and my fears. I had to gain a little humility and put the needs of others before my selfish desires. And somehow it worked. The compulsion to use drink and use drugs lifted from me and I am now free for as long as I remember the golden rule, I will never be cured, and so I have to keep working the simple programme every day.
My addiction’s not going to take a day off, so neither can my recovery. But it’s not difficult or arduous, in fact it’s a pleasure.
I used the think life without drink or drugs would be boring. The reality was my life as an addict was boring – very boring, very very boring indeed. I was a scared, insular person who spent an inordinate amount of time hiding in the toilet. The drugs had taken away my confidence and my self-respect.
But I’m not that person any more. I am happy (most of the time), I’m interested in people, and I still go to football, gigs and parties. But instead of spending most of the evening locked in the bogs sticking Coke up my nose, I actually enjoy the people I’m with and the occasions I’m at.
Who’d have thought a life-long career addict like me could end up happy? Not me for sure. But I’m so glad I did, and you can too, by simply reaching out to Cocaine Anonymous.
What have you got to lose?