Truth, lies, and double standards

When is a lie acceptable and when is it not?

This past Saturday, I took my son Josh to a child’s birthday party. There, I mentioned to a woman, who used to be his foster mother, that I was taking him to see Justice League on Sunday, but I was worried about the age restriction. He’s nine years old until next April and the age restriction is 10. (As it happened, they didn’t check so my worry was for nothing.) “Just lie”, she said.

Here’s the thing… Around the end of 2010, when I was nine months clean for the first time, just a day before we were supposed to get Josh back, my ex ran away back to Cape Town and used meth. I fell apart emotionally. We didn’t get him back, and having realized that she had used and regretted it, I convinced her over the phone to stop, stay clean for a week and then return to Johannesburg at my expense, where she would test negative for a drug test.

They realized that I’d lied, and so his foster mother, her husband at the time (my brother) and a rehab counselor, sat me down and gave me a long lecture about lies. All lies are wrong, and it was unacceptable that I lied, at all. It wasn’t even so much about what I’d lied about – it was that I’d lied at all, and they made it a big deal. Nobody other than myself saw the irony, that this story of all lies being unacceptable was itself a lie. We didn’t get Josh back, and then I did relapse too, and used meth for nearly another three years.

So hearing her encourage me to lie on Saturday felt a little strange. I’m not complaining. It means she trusts me nowadays. But still, she doesn’t seem to be aware of the double standard. In retrospect, my behaviour back then was to be expected. I lied in defense, an act of self preservation. I was on the verge of suicide, having had my girlfriend run away and after looking forward and planning to get my son back for months, being told that couldn’t happen. Suddenly I couldn’t get him back and they did not see that this was more traumatic than Megan running away herself. I was punished for it, not only for lying but for being human, for reacting the way I reacted even though it was totally normal. They contacted Child Welfare and what had been a private arrangement became formalized foster care, which took years to be removed.

There are other times when lies confuse me… Twice recently, I have been accused of lying by someone at work, in front of the whole office, when I was telling the truth. That was insulting and hurtful. I have to assume that it was about the way that I said what I said, and give the person the benefit of the doubt rather than consider alternative explanations for why he might have thought I was lying.

I haven’t lied about anything for years, but of course when I think about it, there are situations when I would be comfortable telling lies. Imagine an employer who has no respect for boundaries, who believes that just because he is entitled to intrude on you at work (which he is), that he is equally entitled to intrude on you at home in your personal time, and imagine that this employer asked you prying questions about what you do with that personal time. (It doesn’t happen where I work and this is only an example.) In that case, I would lie and feel that it was not only acceptable but also the best course of action. Telling a story then would certainly be better than saying , “It’s personal” or “none of your business”.

But did you see what I did there? I justified why it is acceptable for me to lie. This is important – we all do that. All of us, without exception. We all lie. Our own lies are acceptable. But when we catch other people lying, it means something. It might mean they are not good people. It might mean they cannot be trusted. But it doesn’t mean that about ourselves.

Lies are about survival and self preservation. An addict’s lies are just the same because they believe their drugs are necessary for their survival. The attachment of drugs to survival is a mistaken one and it shows something going wrong in the mind of the addict, but it is no more an act of deceit than the other examples of lies I have given. It doesn’t make them any less trustworthy than anyone else, when we all lie for the same reasons anyway. But this does leave me confused as to when lies are acceptable and when they are not. So I try to always tell the truth. It’s been working for a few years now, but there have also been times when the truth gets me into trouble. We don’t necessarily want the truth. We want to hear what we’d like to be true, yet we judge those whose lies we dislike, not necessarily because they aren’t true.

Posted in Addiction, Family, Methamphetamine, Recovery, Relationships | Tagged | 3 Comments

I don’t have any answers to explain how I went from somebody who could not imagine life without meth, to someone who can’t imagine ever using again.

Oh, that’s a horrible title. Excuse me but I’m tired – writing this late on a Sunday night. Plus I need to test Open Live Writer on a newly setup computer. Plus I hate that last post of mine being on top of the page…

I had an interesting conversation, at a child’s birthday party of all places, with a man whose brother is an addict. I was trying to explain how much I hate the 12 steps, and how I admit the opposite of step one as admitted by 12 step believers – that I was absolutely not powerless over my addiction but rather that I was in control, choosing to use despite horrendous consequences – which in turn means that I was accountable for all that happened, and that this is a more difficult approach than the 12 steps which is all about not taking responsibility. But I couldn’t get through to him. Actually I never did get around to the 12 steps being about not taking responsibility, because I hardly got a word in after saying that I wasn’t powerless.

According to him, I was not choosing to use, but making excuses not to stop. That isn’t a purely semantic difference… making many little choices to continue using and to get drugs, is the way I see it was. You don’t get to make a plan to have money, drive to places, organize drugs and meth pipes, find an opportunity to use and be able to explain your whereabouts, and so on, in autopilot. Those are active choices, not passive ones. But somehow I can’t find the words verbally as easily as I do when writing about it, and that annoys me. Also the guy wouldn’t fuckin’ shut up and let me speak.

Then, as if I wasn’t annoyed enough, he remarked something as my son walked past… He asked if I can honestly say that I chose using meth over my beautiful son. I don’t think he meant to be condescending but it sure came across that way. I didn’t bother to continue the debate because I could see that he already made up his mind. To him, I had been powerless, because no one would choose drugs over their child whom they loved, and then eventually I had found a way to stay clean, for myself. That’s the key, and it’s one I’ve heard before. Anyway, even if I wanted to, I found I did not have the words to verbally rebuke his argument. But I have them when it comes to writing…

  1. I did not choose drugs over my son. More on this later but if any such choice existed, it was imposed on me. To think it was one or the other is a false dichotomy.
  2. I didn’t choose sobriety for myself. If it was for me, I’d still be high on meth, because that’s what I liked for me. I chose to be clean for others, and then realized days later that I liked being clean, liked not being confused, and so on. But it wasn’t for me at the start.

To expand on my first point, I never saw a choice between my son and drugs. That was imposed on me. I wanted both, and I know of people who did not have their children removed, who have raised their children well enough. I know of others who brought up more addicts too though. So it probably wasn’t wise, but the point is I saw no such choice when I used meth.

Meth may be a bad example because it really does take over your whole life and leave you incapable of doing anything properly, but I do now feel that to a certain degree, the consequences of using drugs is often more about consequences imposed on addicts than about the effects of the drugs themselves. Because addiction is criminalized and the stigma attached to it, some of those consequences are unfair.

But getting back to the point of my title… I then changed the direction of the conversation to something more positive. I know how and when I stopped using drugs. But I do not know how I went from that person who couldn’t imagine a life without meth, to someone who could not imagine ever using again. I can’t emphasize this enough – it’s not just that I am not interested in using any more… It feels like I was never an addict. And I can’t explain how I went from there to here. I wish I could. It’s like a switch was flicked in my brain. It’s a good thing, but unfortunately I have no formula to give anyone else. I don’t know why my recovery has been so successful. What I do know though, is that what works for one does not work for everyone, and it annoys me when people expect that “It only works if you quit for yourself” bullshit to apply to me. I don’t know what worked, but that wasn’t it.

Posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Parenting, Recovery, Relationships, Skepticism | 1 Comment

I once touched a girl inappropriately.

I read that the best way men can use the #metoo hash tag is to tell the stories of abuse; expose it and own it, so here goes mine…

I was twelve years old, in standard five (now called grade seven) in Miss Godsiff’s class at John Graham Primary School, in Plumstead, Cape Town. I was a shy boy who just wanted to be left alone, shy especially of girls. Two girls who sat behind me in class, [Redacted] and her friend, always used to tease me by breaking off bits of pencil eraser and throwing it at the back of my head. I hated that, hated being teased. (I’m not mentioning the name of [Redacted]’s friend, because she has the same first name as the other girl, who I touched.)

To reiterate, I was dreadfully shy. I hated going to school, and would stress about it, have bad dreams about being teased by girls. Guys, I could handle, because if a guy teased me, I’d simply hit him. I had not yet found how to use words effectively, so when girls teased me, all I could do was beg for them to stop.

We sat in those small wooden two-seater desks, and on this particular day, another girl decided to tease me. She sat in the seat to my left and proceeded to make fun of me. I don’t even remember what she said, and it couldn’t have been for more than two or three minutes.

So in a moment of anger, I reached over with my left hand. With my hand under the seat, I reached up, my fingertips brushing her dress between her legs. She leapt from her seat! Literally she shot up into the air, and called me a pervert, then went to sit somewhere else and left me alone. She never teased me again, and at that point in time, I was happy because I’d made her uncomfortable just as she had done to me.

But I’ve thought of the incident over and over again, in the years since 1984. How messed up is it, that I thought being uncomfortable from being teased, and being uncomfortable from having a hand shoved towards your vagina, are equivalent? Those two things are not the same, nowhere near the same. For what it’s worth if you read this, I am sorry. I am so sorry, and have been sorry since 1984. I didn’t even quite touch you directly, and my intentions were not as dire as many may be, but the end result was the same.

I was good at athletics back then, and after that, whether I was winning the 100 meter sprint, or completing the school cross country, I’d see her there, cheering me on and calling my name. So stupid… it didn’t occur to me, not even then, that she’d teased me because she liked me.

Ironically, though I’ve lost contact with most of my old school friends and acquaintances, both [Redacted] and the woman whose name I won’t mention, are in my friends list on Facebook. I hope they read this. I don’t expect the apology to be accepted, but I am sorry, and I learned that day that I should never do such a thing again.

Edit: I knew writing anyone’s name was a mistake… I have removed the girl’s name that I shared, since she contacted me and would prefer it not be there, especially since this post has already been shared several times. Apologies for the sloppy editing.

In case there was any misunderstanding, her name (just the first name) was included to make this more personal, and place the incident in context. (As opposed to “One day when I was 12 years old, I was pissed off so I stuck my hand up a girl’s dress”, which really doesn’t cut it for a blog post.) I wasn’t blaming her teasing me for my actions. It was meant to highlight how a troubled child might construe anything as an excuse. It was more about me being anxious and shy than her being annoying. Funny how she didn’t even remember any of it… that habit of her and her friend throwing bits of rubber at the back of my head pissed me off for months. Also, her friend who also sat behind me, didn’t really share the same first name as the girl who was the victim of my temper. It just started with the same letter. (I do sometimes embellish irrelevant details if it helps the story.) There, now there are no embellishments here.

(Why do I remember so many things, so many years later?)

The point of this is to share my wrongdoing, however slight it may seem to some, in the spirit of the #metoo hash tag… to confess to doing my part to the detriment of women, in the hope that other men may be inspired to share their wrongdoings as well. Admittedly it wasn’t much of a wrongdoing, as I was a child. But it’s still something. It’s still touching a girl without her consent, and could have resulted in trauma to her.

Was this post a bad idea? Please feel free to let me know in the comments. This blog is getting a fair amount of traffic now… around two to three hundred views a day, which is a fair amount for me anyway. Old posts receive a large portion of that traffic too, which means I cannot gauge from the page views whether a post is good or not. A couple of years ago I could, but not any more. Without feedback, I don’t really know…

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A year of nothing but problems…

A few years ago I naively expected sobriety to be nothing but a good, normal life without problems. I was wrong. Sometimes life sucks no matter what.

One good thing happened this year: I bought the apartment I’d been renting since 2010. However, I didn’t take the levy into account and am slightly in arrears there. But besides that…

  1. I have a bad credit listing because of a credit card from years ago. To prevent legal action, I have to pay 10%, which is over R6000 a month, an impossibility considering my other expenses. I did make arrangements to pay 5% for three months though.
  2. There have been issues at work.
  3. I’ve had endless problems with my car. It cost me a fortune, and although I got most of it fixed, I now have a battery that goes flat if I leave it connected when the car is not running (so I’m disconnecting it every day) and no handbrake. The handbrake mechanism on my car consists of the handle and brackets in one piece… At least it used to be one piece. Mine has broken off at the base.
  4. Issues with my son at school… His teacher is in her first year, and I’m convinced she just isn’t very good at her job. He frequently comes home not understanding a homework task, and then comes back days later still not understanding it, even after getting her to explain it again.
  5. The teacher has been pushing for me to send hi m to OT (occupational therapy), but that isn’t so simple. I can’t afford it and she doesn’t want to understand that. And even if it were free, that would create issues with the lift service that takes him to and from school. The guy just leaves him there if he’s late.
  6. There have been issues between my mother and my son. Firstly I resent her being there. Secondly she cannot control him. Thirdly she is rude, complains and is annoying all the time. Nothing but shouting, moaning and groaning, and he answers back. The other day he got destructive and turned one her many potted plants (in my small apartment) over. While his behaviour might seem unacceptable, I don’t blame him. An adult that argues with him at his level, and is unpleasant the rest of the time, is not doing anybody any good.
  7. My mother’s health has been problematic. She’s going to two different hospitals quite regularly now, and somehow it is my responsibility alone to get her there. It’s a bit much. I do my best though.

I’ve probably left some stuff out. The point is, everything is a bit of a mess at the moment. A mess that is difficult to fix. Most of the time I’m at work, and I’m under pressure and thus can’t focus on the personal matters (or even the car trouble right now). At least the car is running. It wasn’t for a few months. Whether some of that work pressure (preventing me from attending to personal stuff) is unreasonable or is a result of my own procrastination with solving the personal issues, is something I am uncertain of. So I don’t blame work.

None of my problems are impossible to solve. And when I think about them, they’re not really that bad. But still, having so many problems prevents me from being comfortable. When things are uncertain, I can’t relax. Even my sleep is interrupted by unpleasant dreams.

Up until about a year ago, my catch all phrase was, “At least I’m not on meth any more”. It was my excuse for not losing other bad habits, like smoking cigarettes or eating too much, and a justification to say that at least my problems now are normal and that I am living a normal life. But that line is wearing a little thin…  I no longer identify as an addict, and as a former addict, the junkie problems I used to have are a distant memory.

I’d like to write off this year and have a fresh start, if only that were possible…

Posted in Family, General, Parenting, Recovery, Relationships | 2 Comments

The problem with Middle Eastern countries is not Islam, it’s zero separation of church and state

Secularism is the key to a mature and successful democracy. Well, lately I hear that socialism would be better, but let’s keep it simple…

If you look at countries where people are guaranteed basic human rights, where people of colour and of the LGBTQ community are treated fairly and not persecuted, what you find is secular countries, countries with a division between church and state via a secular constitution. No countries are perfect, but one can observe that this is true.

So the reason that Middle Eastern countries are places where people suffer, where women and gay/transgender people are treated badly, is not “Sharia Law”. It’s that those who hold power are religious leaders. Islam happens to be the religion there, but Christianity would be just as bad, if not worse. And it used to be that way centuries ago. If you actually read their holy books, the Bible when you stop cherry picking the good bits, is just as bad, if not worse than the Quran.

That’s why it gets to me when I read people carrying on about Sharia Law and immigrants, people who assume that every Muslim is a terrorist. That part of it is a clear fallacy of composition… A terrorist is Muslim; therefore all Muslims are terrorists. (Bullshit!) Of course it’s more than just that – you have to cherry pick and ignore all the acts of terror and murder committed by people who aren’t Muslim.

It’s not just Christians who think this way. I spend a lot of time in atheist groups on Facebook, and have noticed this blind hatred for Muslims has spread everywhere.

One has only to look at the US to see that I am right. Donald Trump and his minions with their Make America Great White & Christian Again… The longer they are in power, the more harm they do. While they’re unlikely to destroy a mature democracy, they sure are doing a bang-up job of fucking it up. Christians are calling for women to have no rights over their own bodies, with the euphemistic name of “pro life”. LGBTQ people have rights there, but not for long if the evangelical Christians have their way. And so many of those Christians make hateful statements about their former president just because of the colour of his skin. Even Trump, buffoon that he is, believes in the conspiracy that Obama is Muslim and not American. The Donald is a fucking joke. But a joke with power. A joke that stopped being funny a year ago.

Anyway, my point is this: Imagine a US with its secular constitution dissolved… Imagine America with a Christian government, ruling with Christian law. What you have then is even worse than Middle Eastern countries. Islam is not the enemy. Lack of secularism is. And if Donald Trump carries on doing his thing for much longer, that means the US is the enemy of the whole world.

Posted in Skepticism | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The rot at the root of 12 step programs

A few days ago, I read a status on one of the atheist groups I belong to. A woman mentioned that she’d taken part in a Discworld cosplay, dressing up as a Terry Pratchett character and later shared photos online, when the conversation had been derailed by her cousin, a person who’s been in and out of rehab for years, who claimed that magic and witches come from Satan. For now I’ll ignore the absurdity of the religious beliefs and magical thinking of her junkie cousin, and focus instead on why such a person’s beliefs, the beliefs at the foundation of 12 step programs, are neither a healthy nor an evidence-based way of doing recovery.

She did mention to me that her cousin takes no responsibility for her addiction – it’s the devil who made her do it, you see. And I replied to her that this is what NA (I mean all 12 step programs) are all about: not taking responsibility.

Consider this – step one says something like, “I admitted that I was powerless over my addiction; that my life had become unmanageable.” Both of those statements are a lie. A comforting lie, but still a lie. The rest of the steps are built upon that rotted foundation of comforting lies.

Let’s examine those two statements…

Powerless over my addiction?

  1. I liked meth. No, I loved meth, loved being high on it. I chose to do so despite all the problems it caused in my life.
  2. Other than at the very beginning, it is fair to say that after a few years of using the drug, I knew the consequences that it caused, and those that would be caused if I continued using.
  3. I thought about those consequences, considered the pros and cons, and decided to use anyway.
  4. I procrastinated. “I’ll quit”, I told myself, “tomorrow”. But tomorrow never comes because it is always today.
  5. Sometimes I had to make a considerable effort to get those drugs. Waiting for days if I didn’t have the money; finding a dealer, meeting a dealer; waiting for hours for the dealer to show up; buying a meth pipe, or making one if I had to; then going back to the dealer because he sold me bad meth and I wanted proper meth. All of those things took time and effort, and thousands of little choices, thousands of opportunities to change my mind and decide not to use meth.

No, I was never powerless. I was very much the one driving my own addiction.

My life had become unmanageable?

Um, how about no? Due to the consequences, that I was aware of, coming true, my life was a mess. It was absolutely a chaotic mess and seemed out of control. But that was only because I chose to continue using despite horrendous consequences.

What then?

If I wasn’t powerless, and my life wasn’t unmanageable, then I have no one to blame but myself. Without being powerless, I have to admit that I was personally responsible and accountable for everything that went wrong in my life and the lives of everybody I touched.

That’s a lot to face up to. It sucks to admit how badly you messed up. It is way more difficult than accepting the comforting lie of 12 step programs. No devil made me do it. (And by the way, this evil Satan you believe in is a product of the Middle Ages. The one in your holy book that you don’t read was a tempter, an adversary, like an employee of god.) Not that every addict blames the devil, of course… But if you are the one responsible, and you never really lost control, no higher power is necessary to help you. You can be equally responsible for being clean and sober.

I’m not going to bother looking at the rest of the 12 steps today. The point is, they only need a god because you’re supposed to accept being powerless over your addiction.”Practice powerlessness”, that’s what the therapist who ran the outpatient program group session at the place I mentioned last time used to say… I remember at one stage they had a final year university psychology student there attending the sessions, and it drove me nuts… I wanted to go up to the student and ask her if she could believe what she was seeing, and if she thought it was OK that people were being taught to deal with serious issues such as addiction by referring to what is nothing more than comforting lies and magical thinking. “How can you sit there and say nothing? This is not psychology, it’s bullshit.” But I never said it, because I had to pretend to agree with the nonsense and “show progress”, or risk not getting my son back.

When you see through the comforting lies and realize there is no need for a higher power, the foundation falls out from under the 12 steps. The rest of the steps follow from those and they make no sense either, so the whole program is woo. Besides, if you’re in and out of rehab, you might want to think about the fact that it isn’t working. Stop asking god to help you (or blaming the devil for your mistakes), and take responsibility for your own life.

Posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Recovery | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I didn’t know… the place where I did the court-stipulated outpatient program has closed down.

The SANCA rehab I attended for my outpatient program, has closed down most of its parts. In happened in December 2015 already.

SANCA is the only rehabilitation organisation accepted by the courts in this country, and when I was still in active use of meth around 2011, I was given a court order that stated what I had to do to get my son back. It involved two programs:

  1. A parenting course. (Which was really a generic program for offenders called NICRO. Useless, as I had no criminal record unlike everybody else there, and there was no parenting course involved in the program.)
  2. An outpatient program had to be completed at SANCA.

There’s a SANCA office, the “official” one, in the middle of the Johannesburg CBD. I always hated that place. It was always busy, and even going there for a drug test, which I needed to do before getting Josh back, was painful. Sometimes I’d go there and there was no queue, but they’d make me sit and wait anyway. Then, even though I was just there to do a test that would take a minute, it turned out to be doctor’s day… the day that the doctor came to see patients with appointments. Then, they’d make me sit there for three hours waiting while the people who arrived for their appointments were immediately attended to. And I’d been sitting there since opening time because I needed to get to work. Did I mention I hated that place?

Full disclosure: It was the same place I went for drug tests during active addiction, before I got my son back. I had to have a test before being allowed to see him (which is illegal but was a stipulation of my brother – Josh’s foster father at the time), so I’d abstain from meth for five to six days, then go for a test. If I passed, I saw him; if I failed, I threw the test results away. It was hit and miss and maybe it didn’t help that I associated that place with those times.

But going there when I was already a year clean and knew I had no chance of relapse, and being treated like that, was just annoying.

Then one day they told me about the SANCA in Martindale, Phoenix House. That place was heaven by comparison. It was a good place, professionally run by committed, friendly staff. Unlike the government place in the Johannesburg CBD, it was privately run but affiliated with and funded by the government. (And thus its programs were also recognized by the court system.) I only went there for a test, but ended up deciding to do their outpatient program.

I took Megan along and we both did both programs. Unfortunately she didn’t stick around with me and so in the end, I got my son back alone, on 15th December 2015. She came to court though and agreed to have him be returned to me.

But I did not know that Phoenix House had closed down most of its services, including its outpatient programs, by then, since I’d stopped attending their NA meetings months before that. And they closed down because they lost their Social Development (government) funding. This sucks, especially considering there’s been quite a scandal recently about the corrupt government minister in charge of social services.

It leaves me sad. That was a good place. I didn’t like that it was a 12 step program, and I don’t agree with those programs, but it was many times better than sitting for endless hours in a government-run mess of bureaucracy.

The repercussion of this is that any other addicts in this area, who get court orders stipulating that they complete SANCA outpatient programs, don’t have the option of going where I went, which was so much better a place than the options they’re left with. I’m glad not to be one of them any more…

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