The first of two interviews with a young addict in recovery.
Most people like to hear tales from those who vanish into the unknown, then live to tell about it: the patient who dies during surgery and “comes back to life,” the climber who suffers life-threatening injuries in the wilderness and crawls back to safety, or the driver whose car catapults into the reservoir and escapes at the last possible moment through a strategically opened window.
Parents of addicts find life-and-death stories from recovering addicts especially irresistible. When a parent meets an addict with months or years of sobriety, they will endure the retelling of how that person inhaled, injected or swallowed nearly every substance, prostituted themselves to pay for drugs, lived on the street rehearsing their overdose, got arrested, did time – just to get to the end of the story to find out what it was that turned the addict’s life around. They are, of course, trying to gauge where their child is in this bizarre continuum and, while that can’t be known, parents can certainly benefit from accounts of recovering addicts. Specifically, what helped them and what held them back in their difficult journey?
One such recovering addict generously agreed to be interviewed for the benefit of parents. She is a 25-year-old alcohol/methamphetamine addict with six years of sobriety. It’s completely incongruous to hear such bleak stories coming from her serenely beautiful countenance, as she speaks bluntly about her addiction. Following the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) principles to which she adheres, she will remain anonymous.
Could you give me a thumbnail sketch of your drug history?
I was about 14 the first time I really got drunk, and from there went to pot, then to my drug of choice, methamphetamine. I finally dropped out of high school and lived on the streets. I could have gone to my Mom’s house but I couldn’t use there, so I bounced from house to house, mostly to older men because they could provide drugs and alcohol. I was arrested several times and was on probation. They drug tested me but never picked up the fact that I was still using. My charges go on forever; I’ve got multiple possession charges, stealing from stores – I had an assault, a burglary. I nearly ended up in prison when I was 19, the last time I used.
Did you have any issues which led you to use alcohol, like anxiety, depression, relationship problems, body issues?
I always felt like I didn’t fit in. It was “them” and “me.” The first time I got drunk it was “us.” I felt a part of, I felt funny, I felt beautiful.
Were you ever able to discover what that was about-was there some depression, or something that made you feel apart?
No, I think it’s just an illusion that I get occasionally now, if I’m not doing the things I need to do. I can feel apart from everything.
Did the drugs get rid of your issues, or did you get high, or both? Were you self-medicating or were you having fun?
It was a blast when I first started. It wasn’t exactly self-medicating, but it was like a spiritual experience. All of a sudden the world was right. When I first started using meth, I became that good student. I could stay up all night and finish my homework, I was motivated to go to school, I could wake up early, I had all this energy, my room was clean. It was the miracle drug.
At what point did your performance start to go downhill?
I quit going to school. It got to the point where I couldn’t make it through a whole day without getting messed up. I would sit in class full of anxiety.
When did you realize you were addicted and not just partying?
When I was a senior. I remember thinking, I wish the only problem in my life was what nail polish I was going to wear for prom. I wanted those problems instead of-how am I going to get high today? By my senior year I knew-I had tried to stop. Every morning I would wake up and say, “Today’s the day that I’m not going to use.” Then in an out-of-body experience I’d be picking up the phone dialing the drug dealer. I went to my Mom and told her I thought I had a problem and she flew me to a friend of mine who lived in Oregon. I stayed with him but I went crazy. When I get sober, life gets worse at first.
How did relationships fit into this at the time? Like your friendships or boyfriends?
If you had drugs, we were friends. I had an illusion that I had had some friends, but in sobriety they disappeared. I had one friend who stuck with me through the whole deal. I had boyfriends who used with me; most of them were older. My relationship with my family was awful.
Do you have siblings?
I have one older sister here in town. My mother lives here, too. My father is in prison for manufacturing meth.
During your drug abuse, were you blaming yourself, or others?
I didn’t really blame others. I just thought if I could go to school it would be better, or if I had the right guy it would be better. Deep down inside I knew-I had a lot of remorse and guilt for the things I’d done. I knew it was about me. So I just kept thinking, “Just say No!”
Did there come a time when you thought you needed to go into treatment? That you had to stop but couldn’t do it by yourself?
I had seen my dad go in and out of treatment so I didn’t think it worked. I didn’t really feel I could go anywhere. I was so hopeless. The reason I went into treatment was because I thought it would look good to the judge.
Where did you go?
Highland Ridge, for 23 days. Then some lady came to talk to me about her experience at The Haven. I was ready to tell her no because I was almost through with treatment, why would I go through another one? I was convinced I was going to tell her no, but when she asked me again, I said yes. It just came out.
What was waiting for you at home after treatment?
Just my mom. My dad was already in prison. I don’t think I would have stayed sober had I not gone to another treatment center, because I hated AA meetings, I hated everybody, life was still so bleak. I went to The Haven and started listening to other people.
How was The Haven different from Highland Ridge?
First of all there were so many AA meetings. They have really tight alumni. People who have been through The Haven and are sober hang out all the time. They do two trips a year-they go to Powell and Moab with the residents and the alumni. It just gives you hope. I heard people’s stories-and they didn’t look like their stories.
So at The Haven you found a peer group that you could relate to? How long were you in there?
You had 23 days then added three months with no break in between. What part did longevity of treatment have to do with your success?
I think it cleared my head up enough so that I could hear things. It hurts to get sober, and I was tired all the time. After three months of sobriety I could make it through a day without feeling down.
Was there a time when you stopped thinking that you had all the answers -that somebody else might have some answers?
When I was about six months sober. I’d been out of treatment a couple of months and I was about to drink again. I’d been trying to do it on my own, going to meetings but not really getting into the program. I hit a wall where I felt I had three options: to drink, to kill myself, or to do the program of recovery. In one of those three I’d find relief. I was at my Mom’s house looking at the liquor cabinet and it was talking to me. I just picked up the phone and called someone and finally surrendered. I couldn’t do this anymore; I just didn’t know what to do. I think that was the first time I really took a suggestion.
Did you relapse after The Haven?
No, I didn’t.
That one phone call did it?
Yes. It could have. That thousand-pound phone is the hardest thing to pick up.
This interview will be continued in next month’s Catalyst.
Kim Hancey Duffy is a freelance writer and a member of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Coalition on Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs.