The financial cost of meth addiction?

I lack the time to write as much or as often as I used to, but someone shared this on Facebook and it got me thinking… It’s an article where addicts were asked how much their habits cost them. I can’t let this subject go without writing something…

Wow… I don’t even know how much mine cost me. I can’t say how much it cost altogether, or even on average, because it did vary over the years. But at the end, up to around September 2013, I was buying from a dealer who ripped me off for R400 a packet. I don’t know how much a packet contained… probably around one gram. I usually bought two packets a day, but sometimes only one, and very rarely up to four packets. Yes, I used a lot of meth. No amount was ever enough.

If I take R800 a day as a best guess of the average, assuming 30 days in a month, that’s R24 000 a month. That’s a shitload. How did I even get that right? (It is worthwhile mentioning that I didn’t use that much in the years prior to 2013. That’s the last year I used, and my usage had reached an all time high, more than double what I had used before then, thanks to a jump in salary from one job to the next. So the cost was less in the years before then, but the point is the same… the consequence of the cost of neglecting other financial obligations was the accumulation of long-term debt.)

Computer programmers do earn well in South Africa, but even so, in 2013 my salary after tax was a little more than R30 000 per month, so spending that much on drugs was more than stretching my budget beyond reason… I didn’t turn to crime, or sell anything I owned… It was more like a juggling act. Buy for a few thousand from one dealer, then get credit… then abuse the hell out of that credit. Pay back several thousand at the end of the month, and start the cycle again. Add another dealer. There were the odd days, of course, when I went without, but the debt added up. My car was almost repossessed twice.

Between all the meth madness and debt, somehow being on it increased all my other addictions, which included cigarettes, coffee, chocolates (as many as three to four chocolates every day), Nandos chicken for some reason, and loads of Kit Kat ice cream. I once washed down a whole chicken with 2 litres of Coca Cola, ate my family portion of chips, and saved the two burgers for breakfast. And I don’t know why, but Kit Kat ice cream was heaven in my mouth when I was high. I could eat a whole container of it in one go as well. (Hmmm. No need for hyperbole here. It wasn’t one sitting, but it was one afternoon, and I did it several times.) Also yoghurt… I’d finish a large tub of yoghurt in one extended gulp. Unlike most meth addicts, in my last two years of using, I actually steadily gained weight, because my food addiction was almost as serious as my meth addiction. I loved the fact that I could eat as much as I wanted and stay thin, to such an extent that I managed even overdoing that… like everything else. (I have gained far more since, of course… eating like a pig when you aren’t using a central nervous system stimulant adds weight rather rapidly.)

Side note: I don’t know how common gluttony and meth addiction go hand in hand. When I used to attend meetings, I didn’t hear of others who over-indulged in food while using meth. I did meet others who were tolerant of the drug in terms of not losing their appetite, like myself, but my case went a bit past tolerance. Like, if tolerance was a line in the sand, I used it to launch a long jump from that line. I became accustomed to eating far more than normal… You know you ain’t normal when you start numbering your meals. Breakfast 1… breakfast 2, lunch numbers 1 to 2, sometimes 3… And I ate between meals. What can I say? I love to eat. I still love to eat. (And that is still a problem.)

It is strange to think just how much money I wasted on my addiction. It’s like thinking of a completely different person, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that I was somehow a different person then. But I wasn’t. That was me, just me, going to wild extremes of excess, neglecting all of my responsibilities and being limited only by how much money I could earn or borrow. It’s important to me to be cognisant of the fact that I was not a different person. Meth doesn’t do that – it doesn’t turn you into a monster or a different person. What it does, is exaggerate your worst qualities, but those character traits are always there. (Off the topic of today’s post, but this is why I don’t buy it as an excuse for somebody who commits crimes or other despicable acts under the influence. Being high does not excuse you from the responsibility of your actions. Anyone who is a monster on meth is most probably a monster anyway.) I’m not prone to wild excess anymore, but I always keep my natural inclination to overdo everything and be a glutton in the back of my mind, and I’m still paying some of those debts… not the direct ones to drug dealers of course, but the indirect ones to my credit card, my overdraft, and the car repayments of a car I haven’t had for years. And there may still be physical debts too, some other long term harm and a price to pay that I haven’t discovered yet…

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

Asking me to prove there is no god is like asking the child to prove that the emperor isn’t wearing clothes

The Emperor’s New clothes is a story I loved and hated as a child. I loved that the child could see through the bullshit and prove everybody else wrong, but I hated it because I could not understand how everybody could believe something that was so obviously false.

But I understand now. Sure, the story is about pretence rather than faith, but that doesn’t matter. The fact is, being an atheist nowadays is like being that child, crying out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. The difference is, nobody joins in the chant. Nobody starts singing, “The King is in the all together, But all together the all together”… Nobody.

That’s what it’s like… That’s the reality of being an atheist, when some idiot asks me to prove that there isn’t a god. That’s what it’s like when you dismiss my criticism of your Bible… That verse over there – is allegory. The pseudo-scientific explanations you give for the curses of the old testament… You don’t realize that by choosing to provide “explanations” for impossible events, which reveals that you disbelieve in the separate impossible events, yet continue to believe in your god, you don’t prove my criticism wrong. No, you dismiss the Bible itself. You dismiss the very claim, but continue to believe anyway, despite having no evidence for that belief. You’re like someone in the parade, watching the naked emperor go by, giving me explanations for why his dick is hanging free… Maybe the clothes are allegory in that instance? In every instance, you have an explanation, and you rationalize away why you can see every bit of his skin from every angle, yet the rationalization somehow does not conclude the obvious solution… that there are no clothes. There is almost certainly no god.

The other day someone asked what we, as atheists, would accept as evidence of god.

That’s a very good question, but one that is of course, impossible to answer. Ask any believer what god is. Go ahead, try it… There is no single definition of god, not even among believers who belong to the same denomination of the same church. Yet I am asked not only to prove that this thing, this thing which clearly is not real, does not exist! Further, I am asked by someone who doesn’t even have a fucking clue what their own god is, what I would accept as evidence. What the fuck? I would accept God Himself, revealing Himself in some way that was clear and unambiguous. I can’t define how that would happen, but I can say that no words, nothing any person says or does, would ever convince me. The only thing that would convince me is God Himself. And I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

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Josh’s school concert 2016

Last night was the last performance of Josh’s school concert. I caught up with his grade 2 class and their teacher, so that she could get a photo of him posing with me before he led his class on their Mickey Mouse march around the stage.

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Once an addict, always an addict?

Getting back to writing about meth addiction…

On the 4th of this month I reached two years and eight months clean. That might not be a significant milestone to most, but it is to me… That’s about as long as I was using in my last stint of active addiction, so it is something of a personal achievement. I didn’t write a post with that as the title (although I will write such a post when I reach three years clean) because it is only really meaningful to me, but still… In the first half of those two years and eight months using, I really felt like there was no hope of cleaning up. I depended totally on the drug and could not imagine life without it; could not imagine not tweaking. In most of the second half of that time, I wanted to stop… tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes, and just one more hit doesn’t end… until the time that I did stop, that is. Then, I just stopped, and didn’t even consider using again. My life had reached a point where I made the decision that my drug using days were over, and that was that. So yeah… this means something.

This is also about 14 months since I stopped attending NA meetings, and I can’t say that I miss them. (Full disclosure: I only attended meetings that were part of a program I was required to complete, in order to comply with a court order so that I could get my son back. And I only started that program when I was about 14 months clean. The number 14 repeating here is a coincidence.) So the program was not what made me clean up. It was just something I had to do.

The meetings and that program were more a source of unnecessary stress for me than anything else. Hearing the things that were said about addiction, and about 12 step programs and having a higher power, sponsor and so on, being presented as the only way to do recovery, was a stressful experience, because it made me question my resolve and doubt myself. I don’t do any of that shit, and have no concept of a higher power. There have been several papers published that examine the data of years of NA (actually AA) approach to treatment, and they all conclude that such programs are no better than doing nothing at all.

So about 14 months ago, I was passionate about proving them wrong. I wrote about those papers and books on the subject, intending to read them, but I never got around to it. I also wrote extensively about the 12 step programs being wrong, but since I haven’t attended those meetings for over a year, and haven’t bumped into anybody who believes in all that nonsense, I no longer have any motivation to care about that. I do not, and never really have, worked on my recovery. I work on my life… take care of my son, my job and my interests… No meetings or repetitious steps based on bullshit are required. And it’s better that way.

But every so often, someone like my brother suggests that there is a risk of relapse, a risk of me “going off the rails again”. But why would I? It seems to be based on the assumption that once someone is an addict, they remain an addict, except one that is in recovery… One that is not using drugs.

I don’t buy that. An addict is someone who uses drugs, despite horrendous consequences. In my case, I was a meth addict. And I don’t use drugs anymore. So how can I be an addict if I don’t use? It doesn’t make sense. The idea that you remain an addict seems thus to be attached to the idea that addiction can’t be cured, but must be treated with a so called spiritual program like NA. Well, if the program is bullshit, and it is, then why not the idea that I remain an addict too?

At the end of the day, I don’t really care for the definition and for whether or not people believe that former addicts remain addicts even when they aren’t using drugs. I only care when certain people throw it in my face, and normally, that’s in a situation where the person (at least in my life) is trying to claim to be better than me somehow. So I don’t buy it. I used to use drugs, so I am a former addict. But I don’t use drugs, so I am not an addict.

Edit: A Facebook friend has reminded me that the psychological – chemical pathway in the brain remains active for a long time, hence the belief that “once an addict, always an addict” and the idea that you must treat it with a spiritual program. He’s right in a way – that pathway does remain active. But so does any psychological pathway of any behavioural problem. I still don’t buy that a spiritual program is the solution. In my case, simply focusing on my life, my family, my work and my interests… on normal healthy pursuits, is better than focusing on something that I don’t believe in and that cannot help me. A better approach would probably be one based on psychology, such as CBT. But I don’t feel the need for such therapy anymore, although I could have benefited from something like that a couple of years ago. It might have made things easier at the beginning. Those drug-induced brain pathways may still exist in my brain, but there is no place in my current life for behaviour that would reactivate them, so for all intents and purposes, I am not an addict… because I do not and will not return to addict behaviour.

Posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Recovery | 7 Comments

Confronting the angry atheist straw man

As an outspoken atheist, I’m often bombarded with atheist straw man arguments. I suppose this is not unusual. Some of those arguments are subtle, and others not. This post will deal with one or two of them…

The worst part of dealing with those straw man arguments is that they are often not presented as arguments. More frequently, they’re presented as questions, some of which are easy to refute – but the refutation is unexpected and unwanted by the person asking the question, since their questions are loaded with assumptions about atheism, assumptions that they are not prepared to question. Whenever I’ve been asked these questions, my answers, which explain the fallacies about atheism that the questions are loaded with, are met with hostility. The person asking the question always reacts that way, and seemingly does not want the fallacy in the question exposed. They then either declare the debate “won” because I couldn’t answer their question (even though it doesn’t really apply to atheism) or they respond with aggressive hostility, all while claiming that I am rude, intolerant and disrespectful. It’s highly ironic, because not only am I not disrespectful, but I am then criticized for refusing to defend a position that does not represent atheism at all. (I call this “defending a straw man.” It’s a term that I made up without knowing or caring if anyone else has used it, but I’m writing it here in case I ever mention it again. Normally phrased as “I will not be goaded into defending a straw man” or something to that effect.)

Some examples:

  1. How can you believe in nothing? The old nothing and then nothing exploded meme. No, I don’t have to explain that, because that isn’t what atheism is about.
  2. Explain how this thing (holds up some complex thing) came to exist by chance alone. How can you possibly believe this came to be by chance? Sorry, but I don’t believe that. That isn’t what atheism is about.
  3. You must have some special knowledge, to know that god does not exist. You’re so arrogant to think that you have this knowledge. Nope. No special knowledge here. In fact it isn’t the atheist who is arrogant. You have that backwards.

Here’s what atheism is about… It isn’t a belief system. It is the rejection of belief systems. It is the theist who presumes that a god created the universe, but not just any god… the same one that he or she was taught about since childhood. Atheism is the disbelief in that assumption. It is the theist who assumes, without evidence, that this specific god created the universe. Thus it is the theist who assumes to have knowledge that he or she could not possibly have. The atheist simply says, “No, that doesn’t make sense. Where did this god come from?” It’s arrogant to provide a magical explanation for everything, and then it’s disingenuous to insist that anyone who points out how preposterous that magical explanation is, is arrogant.

To assume that atheism is the belief in nothing, or that it’s the belief in things existing by chance alone, is a kind of false dilemma. What you have is your belief, and you then insist that atheism is some kind of polar opposite of that belief. As if belief comes down to one of only two possibilities. Evolution is not about anything appearing out of nothing, or by chance alone. Natural selection is a kind of selection, which involves many factors that affect the gradual changes in life forms over millions of years… factors that are far from random. Evolution also has nothing to do with explaining how the universe came to exist. You’re conflating it with cosmology.

But I don’t have to explain evolution to anyone. I rejected your belief in magic purely because there is no evidence for it. I reject not only the god you think of when you say “God”, but all the others that humankind has created.

And when all other arguments fail, I’m told that I (and others like me) are angry. If I were angry, wouldn’t I be the first to say so? Angry with what? Angry with whom? I can’t be angry with god, and which god do you think I should be angry with anyway? I don’t differentiate between them. They all explain what we do not understand using magic. I can’t be angry with the bible. If I am, then I gather you are angry with the Book of Mormon, the I Ching, the Tripiṭaka and the Dhammapada, the Vedas, and a bunch of other “holy” texts.

The simple truth is, calling someone angry is just a way of taking the focus off their argument and attacking the person instead of what they argue. It is ad hominem.

Posted in Skepticism | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Sadness, nostalgia and forgetting Mother’s Day again

I don’t know why I always forget Mother’s Day. It’s just one of those things… This time, I remembered it on Saturday, then totally forgot by Sunday. It’s become a tradition in my apartment, that over weekends Josh and I get up a little late, and my mother makes us breakfast. Bacon and eggs on Saturdays, and just eggs on Sundays. She doesn’t make the eggs quite the way I like it, and her bacon is a little crispier than it should be, but it beats getting up half an hour earlier. This Sunday the proceedings were marred by both me and my son forgetting to wish her.

So I decided to make up for it by getting in my car and going to purchase a Mother’s Day gift. (Little white lie here… I decided to do that on Saturday already, I mean to leave it for Sunday. And actually I went to buy something else – the mother’s day gift was not the main priority.)

Recently my DVD player packed up… I mean it just stopped powering on. Since I watch movies on my hard drive plugged into my TV, and used the surround sound of the DVD system, it meant that all my series were ruined because I had to hear them in normal stereo. So my objective was to find either a decent (but not too expensive) surround sound system, or a Blu-ray system with surround sound similar to my old DVD system.

But going to the shop meant driving to Greenstone Mall. Both Josh and I hate going there these days… I used to take him and Aishah (his sister) there to an indoor trampoline park nearly every weekend. So going there now is a dreadful experience as both of us miss Aishah and get sad every time we drive there. I really do miss the little girl, who has now been in Cape Town with Megan for over a month. We still call every day, and every day Aishah tells me “We going to jump on trampoline” or “We going to buy bubble-gum”. (I used to buy her bubble-gum every time too.) She doesn’t understand that she is now far away from us. I don’t think of her all the time anymore, but I did for the first month that she was gone. But I do still think of her often, often enough that I am still in this weird state of being happy and sad all at the same time. And she will be turning three years old later this month.

Anyway, I parked at the other end of the mall so that we wouldn’t have to walk past the trampoline park. I ended up buying a Blu-ray system there, and a rechargeable back-warmer for my mother. (It’s similar to an electrically rechargeable hot water bottle.)

I then spent most of the day setting the new player up… Not that it takes long to set it up, but disconnecting the old speakers, moving furniture around, hammering the new wire saddles (is that what you call them?) into the skirting for the new speakers, and in one case extending one of the wires… that took hours.

I miss my old player a little… I’d purchased it for a price of in excess of R6000 back in 2010, and it worked well for a long time. The new system was a bit cheaper… R4100 for a LG Blu-ray system, but it is a good system. My stupid piece of shit TV (that I’ve written about before here and here) turns out not to have an optical audio output connector, and the new Blu-ray player doesn’t have a coaxial audio input (SP/DIF) so now I can’t get the TV sound on the surround sound system anyway. (The DVD player has both optical and SP/DIF in.) That’s highly ironic, since my main objective in buying a new system was to be able to hear the videos that I can already watch on the Android TV, in surround sound. Fortunately I can work around this for now by connecting my external drive to the USB input of the new player, but it can’t be left like that, since the front of the player must be flipped open to connect it. I must still find out of I can get a SP/DIF to optical converter cable.

On the bright side, spending so much of my time setting up the new system took my mind off of thinking about Josh’s little sister.

My apologies for this post being boring… On the bright side, it is good to be thinking of “first-world problems” like getting the most out of my surround sound system, rather than the shit that went through my head a few years ago in the throes of meth addiction.

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I really have to watch what I say in front of my son

My son has been back in my care for nearly five months now, and all is well. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. I’m happy. He’s happy, and we are closer than ever. Our relationship is the best it’s been yet, and it’s just going to get better from here on. His grades on his school tests could be better though, and I have been trying to get him to work harder without having to do the OT that has been recommended by his teacher. (“He doesn’t need to have OT and I am happy with his performance, but he could benefit from it.” Whatever that means.) My view is, he simply doesn’t try hard enough… He’s a bright boy, but he rushes through his homework without focusing enough on it because he wants to play games, and I want to try to get him to concentrate without any occupational therapy. (In other words, he is a perfectly normal eight year old boy. Games are more important than homework, and so they should be.) I’m a strong believer in not going overboard with too many extra lessons or therapy. He is doing well enough at school. He’s only in grade two, and maybe he is under-achieving a little, but he is doing fine.

But that’s not what I want to write about today… Instead I need to focus on my sarcasm. I need to make an effort to cut it down a little in front of him. I didn’t understand sarcasm until I was about twelve years old, but Josh is getting it already, and he’s only eight. It’s not just me – he has a Star Wars Lego movie that he watches quite often, and in it, Sidious is often sarcastic to one of his minions (General Grievous). The minion then makes an embarrassing comment, acknowledging praise that was not sincere since it was said sarcastically, to which Sidious replies, “Sarcasm!” and then they all laugh at the minion’s expense. It’s quite silly, but it does convey the meaning of sarcasm effectively enough for a child to be able to understand, probably by accident because I doubt that it was done on purpose. That and my sarcasm seems to have brought Josh to an understanding of sarcasm that I didn’t have at his age. (Actually, unless it is my imagination, children these days are far more sophisticated than my generation was.) And as a result, he has started experimenting with sarcasm himself – quite successfully – generally with his grandmother as the designated victim. When he isn’t experimenting with his own snark, he asks me, after I say something sarcastic, if I was being sarcastic. (I’d be impressed if I thought that it was wise for an eight year old to understand sarcasm, which I do not.)

So here’s what happened this last weekend – it was just one of many examples where I relished the opportunity to mock somebody and have a laugh at someone else’s expense, but one that I could have avoided had I been thinking of the example I set for my son…

So we were at Nando’s, waiting for our order of a full chicken, fries, salad and drinks. Outside, I’d been approached by a woman who was struggling with her lot in life. She was poor, and was selling some kitchen cloths. Since she wasn’t begging but was trying to make an honest living, and was clearly hungry, I felt empathy for her, and had bought some of her microfiber cleaning cloths. The cloths were much like those in the image below, except they were packed such that they were all attached together, so what I had in my hand was a tightly packed rectangle of rainbow-coloured cloths.

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We sat there for a couple of minutes, when an elderly white woman came in and also ordered some food. Then she sat down on the bench waiting as we were. But after a few minutes, the woman became visibly upset. She went to the counter and started complaining, at first to the cashier, and then to the manager. She was shouting and screaming and carrying on about waiting more than half an hour for her food, and making quite a scene. The cashier, who had done nothing wrong, looked embarrassed, and I always feel bad for service staff who get treated unfairly. Ever since I worked as a bank teller twenty years ago, I have felt this way. Eventually she sat down again, after the manager assured her that he would take care of the (non-existent) problem personally.

That’s about when I should have known better, but I couldn’t stop myself. So I did my thing…

I walked up to the counter, and proceeded to complain about their poor service. But I didn’t complain in my normal voice…. Nooooo. Instead I made a voice like Terry Jones from Monty Python, in those skits where he pretended to be a woman… [Squeaky voice] “Where’s my fucking chicken? I’ve been waiting for over half an hour! This is unacceptable! Where’s my chicken?” That (silly voice) got enough laughs already, but I was on a roll and that rectangular pack of super-colourful cleaning cloths became a weapon in my hands. I started waving it around, then waggling it at the cashier in front of me, before resorting to banging it against the counter… Whup! Whup! Whup! Where’s my fucking chicken? Where!?! Where’s [whup!] my [whup] chicken [whup]?

It was funny. I had three cashiers, the two people doing the cooking, as well as the manager, in stitches, not to mention Josh. The rude old woman didn’t say another word, but I wasn’t really thinking about her. I never do. (The victim I mean. The target of the sarcasm. The one everybody else laughs at.) Nor was I thinking about the example I was setting for Josh. And that brings me back to my reason for writing this post… I can’t help being a sarcastic asshole. It’s the culmination of years of practice. But I can make an effort to be less of an asshole in front of Josh.

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