It all started back in the year 1998, or at least, that was when I had my first experience with any form of treatment. Prior to that, I could have been termed ‘out of control’, and hopelessly lost on ‘the downward spiral’, but I guess in a way, I didn’t seek help until I genuinely needed it.
I had been quite a heavy pot smoker since the age of fourteen. That was back in 1990 (seemingly, though, back when the dinosaurs walked the Earth!), and things were fairly typical. My grades at school were nothing to worry about; my social life was quite active, and their appeared to be no real negatives to my drug usage. The fact that my mother smoked pot (though not with me, and she had no real way of knowing that I was using it regularly, either) and my Uncle did also, served to merely reinforce that drug usage was a normal thing. All the guys at school were looking for ways to get into it, so that kind of made me pretty popular and served as another indicator that things were fine how they were.
I drifted through the greater part of high school with no real issues related to my smoking of pot, and that served to prove the conventional ‘adults’ wrong when it came to drug usage.
In 1994, I was accepted into a performing arts high school, and I moved out of home.
Free from any boundaries or regulations laid down by parents, I gradually moved into a social group where speed and acid were a regular weekend activity. It wasn’t long, though, before I started turning up to school speeding off my dial or tripping out of my brain, quite intentionally and eagerly. There were few teachers that bothered to take any interest in my behaviour, and I was simply labelled as an eccentric and very difficult to deal with amongst the staff, which of course made me extremely popular with the students.
Before I knew it, I was using a substance every day, whether it was pot, speed, acid, or excessive amounts of caffeine.
By the end of that year, I had started a relationship with a female student, and managed to hide my use of various substances for the better part of two years. Though towards the end of the relationship, the lack of a real person in my qualities was extremely evident. I had also started to use heroin regularly during this time, and found that it suited all my needs perfectly, especially when it indirectly caused my relationship to decompose to the point where it was just easier to drift apart.
Free from the restraints of any relationship or any real family ties, I became quite a relentless addict, and excelled at my chosen career. I held down the odd job, but nothing for any more than six months or so. In the end, it became pointless even trying to find work, due to the need to score heroin and also my deteriorating appearance.
I drifted in and out of homelessness, and started to move around a lot. As fate would have it, I found myself in Darwin, where I endured homelessness for seven months on and off. A man that I had teamed up with said that he was going into a detox unit, and I quizzed him about what they were. He explained it to me, and for want of a better place to be, I was assessed and accepted also.
It was the best week of my life! I felt like a newborn when I emerged from the unit seven days later. Though my joints ached and I couldn’t sleep, I had energy for the first time in a long while. My thoughts were clear, my skin was healthy, and my hair had some bounce.
It lasted about a week.
I hit rock bottom about three months later, and decided to head home to Sydney. I checked into the detoxification unit again in Darwin, and was surprised when they didn’t even bat an eyelid in regards to my return. I did another week of detox, and left on the day I got my dole payment, heading straight for the bus terminus.
I didn’t feel anywhere near as good this time, and the four day journey from Darwin to Sydney was done primarily on a diet of cigarettes, bad coffee when someone took pity on me and bought me a cup, and one sausage roll in Queensland. The only thing that kept me even remotely sane was the thought that I would be with my family again, and that somehow they would make everything okay.
Everything was okay for about two weeks. I even managed to get a job as a telemarketer during that time, and life seemed good again. I got a phone call from a friend who was still in Darwin, and she said that she was coming down, which was great. I was looking forward to it. But then the thoughts of seeing her again, and the memories of using with her, brought with them a real nostalgic feeling to my days, and without even really thinking about it, I went and scored some heroin. I used probably four times in one week, and deluded myself into thinking that I would keep it at that.
When my friend arrived, she had brought with her some morphine, and we shared what she had. This was on the day of my grandfather’s funeral, and I remember sitting in the Church feeling absolutely nothing. While that may sound demented and cold, it brought with it a very familiar and comfortable mindset and I knew that I would use again to the exclusion of everything else in my life.
It took less than a week before I was homeless again, and using daily. My friend was also in the same boat (having never really gotten out of it in the first place), but it seemed as though there were a great deal of resources and outreach organisations to help her remain at least accommodated. I managed to get a bed in the shelters a couple of times, but spent most of my nights on the streets, watching the prostitutes and other junkies, just to pass the time. Every now and then I slept, but it was a very lonely three months for me.
My friend ended up being arrested for a failed bag-snatch, and that left me literally all alone. I went two whole weeks saying four words a day to one person. That person was my dealer, and the words were “do us a gram”.
I went two days with nothing when I couldn’t raise any cash. My ‘earning avenue’ had been closed down, and I was left with a dole payment to support me, which lasted the better part of one day. I got the phone book out, and, as a last resort, checked into a detox facility in Sydney. I rang my mum, and she told me to come home for the night and she’d take me out there in the morning.
I found the detoxification unit to be quite comfortable, and very relaxed. It was so relaxed that I managed to get in with a quarter of an ounce of marijuana in the back pocket of my jeans, and a pipe in the front pocket.
After a couple of days, I called my little sister, and she agreed to bring in some heroin and a couple of syringes, on the premise that it was for someone else. She brought it in; I gave her the money, and went and had a shot.
While in the detox, I was given the opportunity to go onto a trial pharmacotherapy program. I did what they told me to do, and got on it.
A week after exiting the detox, I found that the program and me didn’t get along well at all. It was like I was back on the speed, and I found that I was getting really vague to the point where I couldn’t even decide on whether or not to shower, eat breakfast, shave, or get dressed in the mornings. I couldn’t concentrate, and my senses were excruciatingly heightened. I could feel every minute of every day in graphic detail, and not being able to sleep more than three hours a night made it even worse. The counselling I had to undergo as part of the trial seemed pointless, and I was prescribed medication, which I didn’t want or even like.
I started using speed again during my time on the pharmacotherapy program, and it wasn’t long before the cravings for heroin (in my mind) took over, and I justified my reasons for quitting the program.
Homeless again after an argument with my mum, I once again wandered the streets of Sydney. After what seemed like an eternity (though it was only three days), I could feel heroin again. I used solidly for a week.
One day, I was at my pot dealer’s house, and he got a phone call while I was sitting around chatting. He handed the phone to me, and I was surprised to hear my mum on the other end. She informed me that she’d found somewhere for me to live that was cheap rent with a ‘semi-supported’ style set-up. If I wanted help, I could get it there, but if not, then there was no pressure; I could just live there. I took her up on the offer, and headed to her house that evening.
After dinner, we all bundled into the car, and we drove around for about an hour. I was on the nod, so I didn’t really pay much attention to where we were. I asked where on earth this place was, and mum said that we were almost there. I was completely lost, and when we pulled onto a dirt road (about an hour later), I started to suspect that something was not quite kosher. I stayed silent and nodded off again.
After about two and a half hours of driving around, we finally arrived at the destination. I found out very quickly that it was a rehabilitation unit in Sydney’s outskirts. I had no idea of where I was or how to get out of there! It was a work therapy farm totally isolated from everyone and everything on God’s earth!
I learned quickly here that there is no gain to be gotten in life from having a poor attitude towards anything. There, in that place, we were required to work an average of ten hours per day, six days a week, and there was no concession for a time to detox. I was handed a shovel at 6:30 the first morning I woke up there, was thrown into a horses stall by 7:00, and received the instruction to remove all the excrement and urine from the sand.
I learned the value of hard work for no reward, and that lesson has stuck with me. Within two weeks, I was working steadily for ten hours a day, then hitting the gym, while managing to do my share of the daily chores around the living quarters. It was not uncommon. Everyone who stuck it out longer than a couple of weeks really threw himself or herself into it. It was good, hard, sobering and challenging work.
The only thing that it lacked was ‘group work’.
I stayed a total of three months at this place, and I learned a great deal about the truths in life, but I learned nothing about myself aside from finding out that I am not lazy, that I do not hate working, and that I am completely capable of looking after myself.
I left that place with the intention of finding a place where I could learn about how to deal with my demons. I had the whole “poor me” disorder thing beaten, and I was ready to tackle my worst enemy… me!!!
I snuck out the day before payday, and, to my credit, headed straight to another rehab. I was horrified to discover that I would need $100 up front to join the program, and that I had to do an assessment first. I had intended to go straight from one program to another, but it just doesn’t work that way. I booked in for an assessment, and had it that day. When I left the waiting room I didn’t know what to do. I was essentially homeless, had very little money on me, and didn’t even know whether or not I’d be accepted onto the program. The guy told me to come back again in one or two days. He’d seemed a little put out that I left one program with the intention of going to another, and I was left with the impression that he was, for the most part, somewhat grieved by the whole affair. I felt pretty down, so not surprisingly, I ended up back in the suburbs.
I used enough heroin in the two days between programs to put an elephant on the nod, but in the end, I was accepted onto the Program.
I was there for five weeks. The first three were really good, intensive group work. I found it informative and instructive. From there, I was shunted to another suburb, where my days were to be filled by working in a Church based distribution centre, dotted by an hour of counselling and another hour or so of group work for the week. A couple of us decided that there was no way we were going to put clothes on coat hangers for twelve months (which was the length of the program, and apparently our work therapy placement for the entire time) and we did the bolt.
My using hit record levels after leaving. I was doing crimes I never thought I would do, and I was using in places I never thought I would use. If there is one thing I have learned about relapsing, it is that a head full of rehab and a body full of smack don’t go well together.
I hooked up with a guy from down south who was also doing the Rehab Shuffle, and we carved up the South Coast for about three weeks straight before we decided to give Darwin a try, thinking that a fresh start somewhere neutral was exactly what we both needed. I was not what I would have deemed a ‘successful’ user in Darwin, so my contacts were limited, and using in general is much harder in a smaller place, so the reasoning seemed quite commonsensical.
We phoned a rehab in Darwin and did an assessment over the phone. We were accepted, and we jumped on a plane the next day.
We eventually got into a detox, and after a week in there, we went to a rehab centre, where I spent the better part of a year.
That started out great. There was nothing but work therapy, with the constant threat of groups and lectures. The groups and lectures didn’t eventuate for some time, which left me with plenty of opportunity to work around the property and go to the gym, which was a room set aside with about 100 kilos of weights and a bench in it that wobbled when you tried to use it. After about two months, the groups kicked in, and we started to spend a lot of time sitting and learning about stuff that really didn’t have any relevance at all (eg, safe sex, early harm minimisation strategies, how our mum’s and dad’s contributed to what we had become, etc). Several of us got itchy feet, and we orchestrated a system that allowed us to get morphine and speed in pretty much at will. For a month, we beat urine screens and got away with being idiots, hurting no one but ourselves in the end.
We were ejected from the centre after two members of the group decided to put everyone else in to save their own skins, but that was okay. I wasn’t getting anywhere there, anyway.
After three weeks of using on the outside again, I discovered for close to the last time that I didn’t want to be a junky anymore. I rang the detox again and got back in there. From detox, I called the same rehab centre and told them that I wanted to come back. They thought that I was joking, and didn’t take me seriously. A couple of days later, the manager of the detox rang them and informed them that I was indeed enthusiastic to go back, and that she believed that I had changed somehow. She informed them that I had refused most of the medication from the detox, and that my contingency plan was to head somewhere else if I didn’t get back in. The rehab centre took me seriously then, and they came out to do another assessment on me. After one hundred and one questions as to why they should take me back, they finally agreed to. I headed off for a second try.
I lasted six months there this time, and in all honesty, I was asked to leave over something I had no part in. During these six months, I learned a great deal about drug usage (harm minimisation, cognitive emotive therapy, etc), drug trends, and, above all, I learned patience and humility. When I left there, I felt confident that I wouldn’t use to the point where I needed a detox again.
I started volunteer work as a cook for a church based organisation in Darwin, and I did this for about eight weeks. During that time, there was a guy who was using, and I dabbled occasionally; it was the cannabis use that got to me in the end. I was smoking so much of the stuff I couldn’t even move unless I absolutely had to. At the end of my time with that organisation, I checked out another church based program. I had most of the skills needed to get on with my life in a drug free fashion, but I just needed something in my life to make drug use seem unattractive. The gym hadn’t worked, education hadn’t worked, and even employment hadn’t ‘fixed’ me; they had all been great in the short term, but somehow, drug usage became a part of them. I got onto this particular program and very quickly found that I was in the right place for me. The program was structured rightly for my needs, with a good balance of work therapy, group sessions, and free time. I found a structure within it that the other places were missing. There was a routine there, and I was also exposed to as many people as I wanted to meet. In the other centres, I found that being cut off from society, even to the point where you had to seek permission eight hours beforehand in order to use the phone, became tremendously enraging and oppressive. At this place though, your choices were your own. If you messed up, then you had to deal with the consequences. If you didn’t show up for a group, it was only you that missed out. The whole atmosphere was different at this program, and I was ready for the changes that needed to be made.
It wasn’t long before I made some good friends that I still have to this day. Granted, a lot of people didn’t want anything to do with me, and would try to cut me down at a moments notice. That still happens two and a half years down the track, but the truth behind it is that I got my act together in that place, and it’s still together today. I am currently studying for my Certificate IV in Alcohol and Other Drugs, and I work full time for a church as the Supervisor and Maintenance Officer of a Hostel. I am set to go to training college for the church in the year 2005 to train, which basically means I will be a Minister of Religion come 2008.
It is my intention to help people who are like myself. I intend to lend a hand in the process of showing people the way through the head mess that is addiction. Whether or not they find their way to God isn’t up to me, but I can certainly point them in the right direction.
This was made possible by various treatment centres. While I may have only ever finished one program, everywhere that I went for help played a part in the person I am today. Completing a program is merely a step. It is no more important or vital than starting a program. I believe that when you are ready, the place or the time won’t matter. Rehabilitation Centres are just buildings, and no magic goes on in there. No rehab has the cure, and no one person has the right way. Rehab is a place where you can find yourself, do some learning about why you use drugs, and maybe find out a little bit in relation to where you stand in the whole cycle of life.
I know in my experiences, I entered treatment with the question “What on Earth am I doing?” but left asking, “What am I doing on Earth?”
I stopped asking “Why me?” and started asking “Why do I keep doing this to myself?”
I know what I have to do, and that took four years to find out. But it is four years out of my life that will allow it to go on for many more.