Getting Help: Drug Addiction Series Part VI
This is the second of two interviews with a young addict in recovery.
by Kim Hancey Duffy This is the second part of an interview with a 25-year-old alcohol/methamphetamine addict who has six years of sobriety. The first part can be found at www.Catalystmagazine.net
What part did your family play in your addiction and recovery?
Eventually my mom stopped giving me money. If I told her I needed money for gas, she would offer to follow me to the gas station and fill my car up, rather than give me money. That's the kind of stuff that saved my life. My dad was in prison, and my sister was pretty much done with me. I had made her life pretty bad.
After I got sober my mom continued to play a huge part. She was always there. She showed up every week for family night when I was in treatment. She still didn't give me money but would go with me to buy groceries. Little things that my mom did played a huge part.
She gave you shelter, food, or gas – nothing else?
Pretty much. She was getting to the point where she didn't know what to do anymore. One time she bailed me out of jail and said I had to come and live with her and go to treatment. She gave me a list of the things I had to do, and I really wanted to do them. But the second I got out of treatment, didn't live at home, didn't go to treatment, I used right away.
I'm sure you meant it when you said it.
Yes. I wanted that. I just didn't know how to stay sober.
If you were sitting across from a set of parents now whose daughter was coming out of treatment, how would you advise them? Say they were going to give her use of a car or give her cash every week – what would you say to them?
Sometimes helping like that hurts the most. I had to get to a point where I had no other options, where I had burned every bridge. Parents have the best intentions, but sometimes they take away the chance of hitting that bottom.
You believe somebody has to hit bottom?
Absolutely. It can be anything, but there has to be enough desperation to stop. If I could use today and have no consequences, I would do it. Parents should take away privileges. I convinced myself that my life was all right, that I was managing well – and still using. I'd think, "I still have a car; I can still afford my drug habit; I don't have to prostitute myself. I'm still okay."
Some parents worry that they're spoiling their kids by paying for treatment programs. Do you think that's possible?
Treatment is good if you're ready.
Can it help you get ready?
Yes. I remember when I first got sober, I got a taste of a good life. So yes, I think it can help. But when I first went into The Haven I didn't really intend to get sober.
You said earlier your relationship with your peers at The Haven helped you get sober. Did any counselors help bring you to the next level?
Yes, actually. When I was at The Haven I was 19 years old, and I thought that my life was over. The rest of my life was going to be unhappy, bleak, awful. Fun, as I knew it, was over. I remember telling this guy that worked there that I didn't know how to be happy, how to smile, how to laugh. And he said that when he was at this stage he felt that way too, but after a year and a half of sobriety it got better. He could laugh now. And for me now, I'm like a little kid, I have fun at everything. I'm a feeling-chaser. That's why I wanted to get high. If sobriety wasn't good, I wouldn't do it. I have so much fun today. I have so many friends. My life is full.
So did you go to any other programs other than Highland Ridge Hospital, The Haven, and an outpatient program at the U?
AA and drug court, which helped somewhat, but the thing that helped most was AA. Drug court was good because they drug-tested me, and prison was always hanging over my head, but I don't think it was enough to keep me sober.
Not if your cravings were too strong. Were you ever given prescriptions to get off drugs?
Antidepressants, but I don't know that they helped. Without drugs, I was restless, irritable, and discontented. It didn't matter if I was on antidepressants or not; I still felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Like a dog roaming around a room trying to find my spot and I just couldn't find it.
Do you still feel like that?
No, I'm able to sit by myself, relax, read a book. In early recovery though, I'd go upstairs, I'd go downstairs, I'd go outside, I'd go inside, I couldn't find what I was looking for.
Do you still have cravings?
Not so much cravings, just thoughts, like, "It's a nice day. A cold beer would be great." But I don't have the compulsion to have it now.
What do you change that thought to? What tool do you grab for in that moment?
I can call somebody, I pray, or I just remember. Sure it might taste good, but in light of the havoc it causes, I'll have a diet Coke.
Does it ever seem like that addict's life happened to someone else, like you can't believe it was you?
Sometimes I look at the life I have today and can't believe it's me. I live in a beautiful house, I have an awesome job, I've got a great family, and I show up for work, I show up for other people, I do service work. I always figured I was going to die before 25 – but I turned 25 this year, and I'm alive and well. Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve this. I always had the thought that I was just destined to live in a crack house. I can't believe that I'm where I am now.
Do you ever have "using dreams"?
Oh yes. Usually before I'm about to celebrate a birthday. But not often.
Are they upsetting?
They're always really vivid. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I think, "God, how am I going to tell people that I used?" Sometimes I can taste it, it's crazy. I picture using with my sister who has never done drugs or alcohol. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think, "Have I really been sober six years?"
Where do relationships fit in your life now? Good friends, boyfriend?
I'm probably closer to my mom than I ever have been. We go on trips together. It's amazing. She's been my rock. I have the best friends in the world. People who, if I had nothing, they'd still be there .
Do you think of drugs or alcohol every day?
Not anymore. I sponsor a lot of new people and it helps me remember. Sitting here in this nice house, with my good job, it could be easy for me to forget what it was like then. So I constantly work with new women and I remember exactly what it was like.
When you work with other young addicts, what do you see in them that tells you if they are ready to get sober?
Desperation. It's a gift. To be desperate and to be open are the two things I look for. A lot of people have this denial and they think they're willing, they want to be willing, but they're just not ready to do the work. You know, I was willing to go to any lengths for my drugs. But I ask these women, 'Can you call me every day? Can you pray? Can you go to meetings?' And it's like asking the world of them. Sometimes we just want to find the easier way.
Can you identify something in the ones that are ready versus the ones that are not?
I wish that I could; it would make my life easier. Sometimes the desperation and the willingness come and go. After six years of sobriety, it's easy for me to think that I've got my shit together and I don't need this stuff anymore. There's no guarantee that willingness will stick around. Priorities change. People get married and stop going; they change jobs. Or they move and don't start up with a new community. But my alcoholism will always be with me.
How long did it take before you could put this behind you and actually begin to plan a future?
I don't know if that ever comes. It's still so current in my life. Everything that happened in my past is my biggest asset in helping these women. Some of the worst experiences I've had have become my greatest asset for these women.
Are they astonished when you pull out your stories?
Yes, none of us look like our stories these days.
What do you think about this experience now that you have six years of sobriety? Do you feel solid, vulnerable, lucky, unlucky?
I feel absolutely lucky. I've had the opportunity to live two different lives. I'm honored to be a member of AA; I'm honored to be of service and help women. I honestly believe that's why I'm here. There were so many times I could have died out there.
So you're not sorry this happened?
Not at all. It's my biggest asset today. I look at things so differently. I don't know if pity is the right word, but I almost pity those women whose biggest problem is finding the right nail polish for prom. Are they able to be so grateful for their life today, embrace the things that they have, and cherish other people? I used to envy their life, and I can't say that anymore.
Kim Hancey Duffy is a freelance writer and a member of the Salt Lake City Mayor's Coalition on Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs.